TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE CZAR'S DEATH-BED. FJUROPE is talking of nothing but the melancholy scene.in the Crimea ; and Europe is in the right. No other scene is, for it, fraught with such consequences of good or ill, so full of pathos, so likely to be memorable in modern annals. Shakespeare might have shrunk from constructing a drama at once so tragic and so bizarre as is enacting in that bed-chamber, with the great Monarch on the bed, his figure worn down to ghastly attenuation, his eyes heavy with the drowsiness from which at last there is no awaking, yet when occasionally he wakes, still absolute lord of all around, of his family no less than of his Ministers, able for all that appears, if he willed it, at the twelfth hour to alter the succession, and pass over the heir, who watches, like the rest, with thoughts that must be corroding ; more than unwilling, as we read the accounts, to take up that heavy sceptre, and with it hourly liability to death, yet bound by the position of his House, by his father's will, by his pledges to his bride, by influences, in short, as irresistible as fate, to mount that blood-besprinkled throne. And then the Czarina, good and gentle as our own Princess of Wales, worn out with long anxiety, shocked at her husband's fate almost to the loss of reason, expecting momently the death of her husband, and hourly the death of her second son, and knowing well that her first-born, as he places that Nessus robe of royalty on his shoulders, places also a liability which excludes happiness and forbids ease ; and then the sweet-faced, clear-minded Princess, hurried from her quiet home in Germany to be married in Southern Russia ere the Czar dies, with the wedding, be it one of love or one of ambition, all spoiled by grief and the hurry to be quicker than death,—was there ever anything gadder on the earth's surface ? And outside, the great men of Russia, all whose destinies change with the Czar, and the mighty people praying hopelessly for their "Father," and all Europe trembling lest the event should terminate the armed truce ; and in the distance a small sinister band muttering that all this has resulted from the explosion at Borki, and that in the long contest of fourteen years it is not the autocrat, but the Nihilists who have won. No dramatist could do justice to it all ; no audience bear, if they understood all its meanings, the terrible melancholy of the scene, which, besides all we have quoted from the telegrams, must have in it some feature which none of us know, or the efforts to secure secrecy would not be so unremitting or so harsh. It is a stately figure, after all, which lies upon that bed ; and the world, if allowed to break the cordon of Ministers and Grand Dukes and police, and see what passes, would betray no lack either of reverence or of sympathy. Even the worshippers in the synagogues are praying with bowed heads for their departing foe, who persecuted them, but kept the peace of the world. "They have seen and have survived the Pharaohs," and if they mutter among themselves that the enemies of Israel do not prosper, they still rise to forgiveness for the individual, the product of his race and situation and training.
Amidst the rain of contradictory telegrams, letters, interviewers' reports, and even lectures, provoked by the scene in Livadia, two facts come out with something like distinctness. One is that the marriage of the Cesarewitch will go forward, or has gone forward ; and that all Russia and Europe is relieved that it has not been delayed. Except her face, so utterly unlike that of her kinsfolk, the face of one who feels deeply and thinks clearly, there is little to justify it, but an impression has gone through all the Western peoples in favour of the Princess Alia. Her influence will be great and will be good,—that is the universal decision which has begotten for her a world-wide friendliness, which of itself must support her under her new responsibilities. Her reported resolve, while she accepts the national creed of Russia, not to anathematise that of her own land ; the letter to the people of Moscow, which somehow is felt instinctively to have been written by herself ; the story of her studies, everything, in fact, that transpires publicly or privately, has tended to invest the new Czarina with a popularity of the kind which does not die, and which, when it extends over nations, is of itself a source of power. That the hope is well founded, we do not doubt; nobody can who looks on the face of the Princess, even in a photograph ; but that it will be realised can be only matter of trust, for the wife, even when she is an Empress, can reign only by influencing her husband, and here the second fact intervenes. No one who will speak even professes to understand the inner character of the Cesarewitch, all important though it is to so many millions. A few tutors must know it incompletely, and a few courtiers must understand it rather more thoroughly,. and the Crown Prince of Greece knows it as a comrade knows the character of a travelling companion ; but from them all comes only one intelligible sentence, that of the last-named, who testifies on sufficient evidence, for he was present when an attempt was made in Japan- to assassinate them both, that his friend has "pluck," or, rather, for that is more exact, the courage which silently endures. That is the only testimony yet public, and though that is important—for of all qualities that of passive courage is most needful to a Czar—it gives the world but little light. Is the Heir to that terrible throne able or ordinary, reflective or impulsive, tolerant or tyrannical, of the opinions of his fiance, or of the opinions of M. Pobiedonostzeff ? These are the questions of import- ance ; and there is no one to answer them. The diplomatists. have nothing to say, except that the coming Czar is in face and physique rather curiously like the Duke of York.. Thecorrespondents know absolutely nothing about the matter, and being unwilling to be silent repeat stories which, it is said, irritate the Cesarewitch by their ineptitude, and which, if it were for one reason alone, are sure to be mislead- ing. No heir to a throne, and especially no heir to a despotic throne, is the same the day before and the day after the great change in his fate. It is not only that responsi- bility changes all men by compelling them to think as- well as to feel, but that the release from repression, always. severe however unintended, positively affects the main lines of the character. You see that not only in Frederick the Great, but in men of far inferior genius and. station, who on their accession to independence betray qualities, good and evil, which their closest friends never suspected in them. A Crown Prince is always the object of too much pressure from one side or another ever to be quite himself, and the Cesarewitch has yet to reveal his individuality, which, in all human probability, will be as separate as that of any member of his House ; of Paul, the man of fierce whim ; of Alexander I., the Greek ; of Nicholas, the autocrat ; of Alexander II., the gentleman ; of Alexander III., so like a conscien- tious moujik or Russian peasant on the throne. There is little chance that it will prove ordinary, for the speciality of the Romanoffs is the speciality of their Empire, a certain tendency to exaggeration in all things ; and. we see no reason why it should. be otherwise than good. Characteris not hereditary, but the instincts are, and the dying Czar and his Czarina have, by unusual testimony, been two persons in whom conscience, possibly unen- lightened conscience, but still conscience, ruled supreme. The world, however, must wait for further knowledge ; though the uncertainty as to the character of a man who, will have so much in his hands, the continuance of peace to begin with, and the continuance or modification of the Russian autocracy, deepens the agitation of the nations, and the universal sense that let who will have cause. of complaint against Alexander III., his departure is nothing less than a calamity to the world.