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ART. II.—Inedited Memoirs of Admiral Chichagoff, a Russian Minister of State.
SOME men are born for slavery, and others for liberty, says the ancient philosopher. This opinion will cease to appear paradoxical, if it be considered as an observation made à posteriori, rather than as a principle laid down à priori. If, indeed, only a slight variation be made in the phrase, it will then be altogether borne out by facts; as, for instance, should it be said that a man may be a slave under a free government, and reversely, that he may be free under a despotic, absolute, or even tyrannical rule. Even this, however, may still seem paradoxical in our age, when man's freedom is viewed as a thing identical with liberal institutions, and is supposed to be secured as soon as such institutions are obtained. Although, however, no two things ever more essentially differed from each other, still this delusion has spread so generally, that philosophers and statesmen, and crowned heads, are bewildered by it. The universal fallacy lies in thisthat it is assumed to be enough to unfetter man's hands and feet, in order to render him free. Thus, however, a more galling slavery is often substituted, by which the head and heart are bound with chains of iron immeasurably more heavy. The ordinary mode of proceeding should be reversed. First secure to men their internal liberty, that of their hearts and heads, which can only be done by purifying the one from bad passions and low ambition, and by chasing ignorance from the other. Then, and only then, can external liberty be acquired and fixed on a foundation of rock, against which the powers of time shall not prevail. Internal liberty is the substance; external liberty is the shadow of it: the one is an eternal thing looking through time; the other a meteor of to-day, and of no more.
It was in conformity with this principle that the enlightened individual, with whose manuscript we have been favoured, said to the Emperor Alexander, when the latter wished to give a constitution to his subjects: "Sire, first teach your people to know what is right, and inspire them with reverence for it, and then a constitution will start up of itself into existence." But the well meaning Alexander was himself not internally free, and was consequently incapable of persevering for three days together in one resolution; the result of which was, that neither the apprehension of right, nor a constitution, has in reality made its appearance in his dominions; or, in other words, a constitution on parchment only has started into existence, but never went beyond the precincts of the cabinet.
But our author himself exhibits the best living proof of the foregoing remarks. He lived under two tyrannical governments, those of Peter and Paul; and under two despotic ones, those of Catherine and Alexander; yet, though he filled high official situations, being admiral at one time, and at another a minister of state for several years under the reign of the last-named Emperor, he ever remained free. He left Russia for France in 1819, and finally settled in England. We understand his residence is at Brighton, where, to the lasting benefit of internal liberty, he has at length succeeded in adding the transitory advantages of external freedom. Had he never possessed in reality the former, he would have been deprived of the latter in 1832, when the Emperor Nicholas issued an ukase, recalling to their country all Russians residing abroad, on pain of losing their property. But the Emperor Nicholas, although he is powerful enough to reduce whole nations under his rule, has been unable, with all his power, to bind a single fibre of a free man's heart; and Admiral Chichagoff preferred his freedom to his fine estates, and is not the less contented in his cottage at Brighton, which, if viewed from the moon, would appear of as much importance as the vast dominions of the Emperor.
We shall yet mention one incident of our author's life. His name belongs to history, from the circumstance of his having in 1812 defended the passage of the Berezina against Napoleon, though he was unable to prevent the latter from crossing the river. But how did he fail? Though much has been published on this question, no satisfactory answer has yet been given; and the Russians, growing impatient, resorted to a jest, and affirmed that the Admiral was unsuccessful because the wind was contrary. It would be better to ask why the Russians, though equal in numbers, were defeated in every battle fought during that portentous campaign? When this question shall have been answered, it will be easy to resolve the other, namely, why the Admiral, with 12,000 troops, could not beat Napoleon? In the mean time, it is but just to remark, that according to the confession of the French themselves, he alone performed his duty on that occasion, and had the other commanding officers done as much, Napoleon would have been captured with his whole army. Here stops our narrative as regards the events which personally concern the Admiral; for as he is still living, we feel somewhat uneasy under the Damocles sword of discretion, which hangs over our neck. We can therefore only claim that reward, which, as some one has said, authors should receive for what they have not done; though we think it the greatest discovery to be yet made in our age. But is it in fact only that reward to which we are entitled?
Have not we, more fortunate than that quack of old with his lanthorn, found something by the aid of our editorial taper? Yes, we have found a man. We have found what Goethe would have called "Warheit" (truth), that is, a reality, and not the ghost of a man, and when he shall have left God's earth, Dichtung (fiction), or circumstances which he modified, but which could not modify him, shall be narrated, then an epic poem will start forth. Every man's biography, it has been said, is an epic, or a tragedy, which is no less true.
We have now done with the Admiral, but not with his memoirs. From these it would appear, that the only sovereign, of whom Russia may justly boast, was Catherine II., surnamed by him and others, the Great. As men are naturally curious-and this is an invaluable quality in them--to have a near view of those whom the world calls great, this consideration alone would justify us in selecting, on the present occasion, that part of the memoirs which refers particularly to the reign of Catherine. There are, however, three other important questions intimately connected with this subject, which are treated at large here,-questions which Prince Talleyrand considered as the most vital for Europe. The first is: What has Europe to expect from Russia encroaching, giant-like, upon her? The next is the Turkish question, in which the most important interests of Europe are involved; and the last, but not the least, is the Polish question, which comes so home to our hearts, if not to our interests. This subject, of such momentous import, gains, if possible, in importance, by being treated of by a minister of the very state most concerned in it.
We start with our author from Catherine the Great, and wish, above all, to know, why she is to have that appellation? What is it that makes man or woman great? A wise Indian, questioned on the same subject, gave an answer rather quaint, but by no means void of good sense, namely, "that your great man ought to have fire enough in his belly to burn up the sins of the world." This, translated into our European idiom, means nothing more than that your great man ought to have one idea, and to be determined to sacrifice his life in order to realize it for the benefit of mankind. In what remote glimmering in the soul that phrase originated, in what great master ideal, we shall not now stop to investigate. And what says the Admiral on this subject:
"Catherine may be said to have been great, both by the good she did, and by the evil which she averted having, in the one case, wrested the imperial sceptre from imbecile hands, whilst in the other she retarded the epoch when the same sceptre was destined to be seized upon by yet more unworthy ones."
From this passage we may perceive that as yet, at least, the greatness of Catherine is only of a negative quality. But let us hear further:
"She was the first autocrat who conceived the idea of a progressive government, by spontaneously making concessions to the people at the expence of absolute power. The Russians, up to her time, had no experience beyond that of a rule more or less oppressive and brutal; Catherine desired to teach them to value the benefits of a social existence, guaranteed by institutions. Compared with her predecessors, she proved a new Astræa to her subjects, having created for them a golden era. In her time men were as free in St. Petersburgh as in London, and might be as well amused there as in Paris. Individual liberty was guaranteed to every one of her subjects; security was general, and public order preserved without the inquisitorial measures adopted by her successors."
Thus we gather at length that Catherine had an idea; that of converting into men the millions of her subjects, who, up to her time, were little more than slaves; and also, that she actually did restore to them the rights of men. The question which most naturally follows is this: Have they in consequence become men, or was it not in the power of Catherine to render them such? We shall see by the Admiral's own showing, that it would be beyond human power to root up in a quarter of a century the evil that had grown there for ages. No wonder, therefore, even Catherine herself did not succeed. The reasons which the Admiral gives are somewhat novel, and account not only for the existence of despotic rule in Russia, but also afford an insight into the character of the Russian people-which latter was really the mainly invincible obstacle to the accomplishment of her wishes.
"The first thing that struck the mind of Catherine was the absence of all political institutions. The sovereigns of Russia have ever, in fact, viewed their empire as a farm belonging to themselves. The people are to them merely as a herd of cattle, of which they may dispose according to their caprice. Trained to this condition from their infancy, the Russians do not suspect the possibility of a different state of things. Whilst an Englishman is taught from his childhood that he is free, and that no one has a right to deprive him arbitrarily of his property, the Russian, on the contrary, is told from his birth that every thing belongs to his Maker and to the Czar; that he is of himself absolutely nothing, and that the latter can dispose of his property and life. Such was at that time, and is still at the present day, the ground-work of the government, destitute of principle, and of the nation, destitute of right.'
Whence comes it, that the Russian government has acquired this almost superhuman power over its subjects? The Admiral tries to explain it in the following manner:
Many attempts have been made to define the character of the various
species of government, and to assign to each some exclusive cause of existence. The fact is, that there must exist an infinity of governments, and that the best is always that which suits the nature of the men whom it is to rule. In every country there is some appropriate kind of virtue and honour, but neither of these qualities forms the basis or principle of any government. These unite together from an infinite number of causes, and once associated, they are subject to the vicissitudes of fortune, and reap the fruits of their right or erroneous judgment. They hold together as well as they can; some organize themselves more or less well; some more or less badly, others again cannot organize themselves at all. No example has been yet furnished of two different nations having adopted the same mode of constituting and maintaining themselves; but it remains an incontrovertible truth, that so long as a nation does not obtain a government corresponding with the character of the men who compose it, it is placed in a false position and will be agitated and restless until it shall discover the conditions indispensable to its internal tranquillity. support of this opinion numerous proofs may be adduced from history: for the present, however, it will suffice to instance England and Russia. Up to the revolution of 1688, England had been a prey to internal troubles, but since she gave herself a constitution suitable to the character of her people she has advanced in riches and power, and has constantly been progressive. She received the best organization of which she was capable. Russia, on the contrary, as if she were doomed for ever unto ' chaos and ancient night,' has never received any kind of national organization, no kind of right, liberty, moral guarantee, in short, none of those advantages which the English knew how to secure to themselves; and yet strange to say, her growth has been such as to inspire with fear nations ranking infinitely above her in civilization. Why is this? Because the Russian nation is a compound of races differing so much from each other, that not one of them has been able to become dominant, and to impress its character on the government. In the midst of this absolute absence of popular character and influence, the nation has been reduced to nothing, but the government has become all powerful. without check or limit, the most despotic possible, and consequently the worst possible. Notwithstanding this Russia exists and grows immense, and up to the present moment she has followed an ascent course, as though she possessed a good government, and were not without political institutions. And all this is owing to the people being ignorant and without any marked character; and from their being scattered over a vast territory, they cannot enlighten each other by coming in contact. They are thus rendered passive, and incapable of an unanimous sentiment: they hesitate, and let others act for them. This is the sole condition which agrees with their nature; and the force of circumstances, independent of the will of men, performs the rest. It necessarily follows from the foregoing remarks, that every nation possesses such a government as it deserves, and in Russia there is despotism because there are slaves. Thus in this instance, and perhaps in every other, despotism is an effect and not a cause of slavery; and it may be affirmed, that were there no slaves, there would be no despots. Little attention has hitherto been paid to this subject, owing to which many fatal errors have arisen.