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The Contemporary Review, Volume 36, September 1879

These are portents whose gravity cannot be mistaken


When we hear of the arrest of a Senator, of a Director of the Imperial Bank, of Professors, of the son of the Chancellor of the dreaded "Third Section," of the wife of the procurator of a Military Court, of the nephew of the Chief of the Secret Police, and many other such cases, we are driven to the conclusion that, in spite of its furious acts of repression, the autocratic system has become untenable--that it must sooner or later fall. Like the Roman Emperor, Alexander II. might be glad if revolt had but a single neck. But is it possible for him to imagine that there exists but one party of malcontents? Do not the very arrests just mentioned belie such an assertion?

Conspirators are laid hold of by the Czar's _sbirri_ together with men who would not think of armed resistance. Despotism is frightened, in fact, by the very shadows on the wall. Even the Slavophil and Panslavist parties--still the ready instruments of aggressive policy--have both become imbued with Constitutional ideas that look like sacrilege in the eyes of the Pope-Czar. The revolutionists of _Land and Liberty_ ("Zemlja i Wolja"); the Socialist Jacobins who follow the doctrines of the _Tocsin_ ("Nabat"); the Nihilists, properly speaking; and the moderate Constitutionalists, are all alike the enemies of the present form of Government. In some districts the peasantry have risen; and, remarkable to say, the first troop of Cossacks that was led against the insurgents, refused to fight them. These are portents whose gravity cannot be mistaken.

Ten years ago, when the Napoleonic Empire still stood erect, I said, in an article on "The Condition of France," in the _Fortnightly Review_:--

"A mighty change is undoubtedly hovering in the air. There may be short and sharp shocks and counter-shocks for a little while; but, unless all signs deceive, the great issue cannot be long delayed. The calmest observer is unable to deny the significance of the electrical flashes occasionally shooting now across the atmosphere. It is as if words of doom were traced in lurid streaks, breaking here and there through the darkened sky. We are strongly reminded of the similar incidents which marked the summer of 1868 in Spain. Those incidents were then scarcely understood abroad; yet they meant the subsequent great event of September. Even so there are now signs and portents in France--only fraught with a meaning for Europe at large."

This was published in December, 1869. In the following year, September, 1870, Bonapartist rule was a thing of the past.

Czardom, on its part, may play out its last card by embarking upon a fresh war. It will only thereby hasten its doom. Though in Russia concentrated action, for the sake of overthrowing a system of Government, is surrounded with greater difficulties than in France, I fully expect that the day is not far distant when Autocracy must either bend by making a concession to the more intelligent popular will, or be utterly broken and uprooted. "Terror for Terror!" is a war-cry of despair; but on such a principle a nation's life cannot continue. The moment may come when the Tyrant will be driven to bay in his own palace. And loud and hearty will be the shout of freemen when that event occurs--of the men striving for liberty in the great prison-house of the Muscovite Empire itself, as well as of all those abroad who have still some pity left in their hearts for the woes of a host of down-trodden nations.


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