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The Contemporary Review, Volume 36, September 1879

But the illness as the manifesto of Alexander II


At

the same time vague murmurs were heard in society against the absolutistic _regime_ which had led Russia to the brink of utter ruin. From the southern part of the Empire, where opinion, since the days of Cossack and Ukraine independence, had always been the most advanced, threatening tales came up of a spirit of rebellion among the peasantry, upon whom the relay duties and other hardships connected with the war weighed most heavily. There was a universal feeling that the removal of Nicholas from this world's stage would be a blessing.

In the midst of this darkening situation men learnt that the Czar was slightly indisposed; immediately afterwards, that he was--_dead_. He had only taken a cold; but the illness--as the manifesto of Alexander II. afterwards said--"developed itself with incredible rapidity." The manifesto added:--"Let us bow before the mysterious decrees of Providence!"

Was the mystery a real or merely an apparent one?

Abroad a rumour quickly spread of foul play having once more taken place in the Winter Palace. In the German and the Danish press--for instance, in the Copenhagen _Faedrelandet_, and the Berlin _National Zeitung_ and _Volks-Zeitung_--surmises were openly uttered that the Russian Emperor had died from poison. Not a few thought he had fallen a victim to a palace plot in the interest of the maintenance of the dynasty which was endangered by his obstinacy.

In a medical journal of this country it was shown that the bulletins concerning the course of his illness were, at all events, quite at variance with well-known physiological laws. In a lithographed pamphlet--attributed to Dr. Mandt, the physician-in-ordinary to Nicholas--it was alleged that the Czar, in a fit of life-weariness, had himself asked for strychnine, and forced his physician to prepare it for him. A noted Russian writer, Mr. Ivan Golovin, in a book published at Leipzig about eight years ago,[47] refers to the statement of this pamphlet. He himself remarks that the reason for the head of the Emperor having been covered up, when lying in state, was, that his features were so terribly disfigured by the poison as to render it advisable to conceal the face.

It is impossible to unravel the truth. This much can, however, be said beyond mere probability, that, if Nicholas had not been suddenly taken away, the contrast between his iron rule at home and his continued defeats on the field of battle would have roused a spirit of rebellion and mutiny very similar to that against which he had to contend in the ensanguined streets of the capital at the beginning of his reign. As it was, men expected that his successor would prove more pliant. The prevailing feeling of dissatisfaction did not, therefore, at first assume a revolutionary shape.

Perhaps it was a consciousness of being surrounded by men who watched him closely which made Alexander II. speak out in rather a peremptory tone in his manifesto of March 2, 1855. Monarchs who fear an attack upon their sovereign privileges often seek to terrify their would-be antagonists by bold language. "I hereby declare solemnly," Alexander said, "that I will remain faithful to all the views of my father, and _persevere in the line of political principles_ which have served as guiding maxims both to my uncle, Alexander I., and to him. These principles are those of the Holy Alliance. If that Alliance no longer exists, it is certainly not the fault of my august father." The fling against Austria, which had half taken the side of the Western Allies in the Crimean War, and the covert reference to Prussia, which had refused making common military cause with Russia, was unmistakable.


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