Page images

[1584 A.D.]

of his grandfather. He wanted justice to be observed in the tribunals, and not frequently himself examined the lawsuits, listened to complaints, read every paper laid before him, and was prompt in his decisions. He punished the oppressors of the people, unscrupulous functionaries, and extortioners, both corporally and by putting them to shame (he had them clothed in sumptuous at


tire, seated in carts and driven by the hangmen through the streets). He forbade all drunken excesses and only allowed the people to divert themselves in the public houses during the Easter holidays and at Christmastide; at every other time drunken people were sent to prison. Although he did not like daring reproaches, yet at times Ivan detested coarse flattery; of the latter we will give an instance: The voyevods, the princes Shtcherbati and Iri Boriatinski, who had been ransomed by the czar from captivity in Lithuania, were honoured with his favour, were given presents, and had the distinction of dining with him. He questioned them about Lithuania. Shtcherbati spoke the truth, but Boriatinski lied shamelessly, averring that the king had neither troops nor fortresses and trembled at the name of Ivan. "Poor king!" said Ivan quietly, shaking his head: "how I pity thee!" and suddenly seizing his staff he broke it to splinters over Boriatinski's back, saying: "Take that, you shameless fellow, for your flagrant lying!"

[ocr errors]


(Built by Ivan the Terrible, who considered it so beautiful that he had the architect's eyes put out that he might not build another)

Ivan was distinguished by a wise tolerance in matters of religion (excepting that of the Jews); but although he at first allowed the Lutherans and the Calvinists to have churches in Moscow, five years later he ordered their churches to be burned. It is possible, however, that he had heard of the people's dissatisfaction and was afraid of some scandal; in any case he did not hinder their meeting for worship in the houses of their pastors. He was fond of disputing with learned Germans upon matters of faith and was not angry at contradiction: thus in the year 1570 he had a solemn discussion in the palace of the Kremlin with the Lutheran theologian Rotsita, whom he accused of heresy: Rotsita was seated before him on a raised platform covered with rich carpets; he spoke boldly in defence of the dogmas of the Augsburg Confession, and was honoured with tokens of the czar's favour.

Ivan evinced esteem for the arts and sciences, showing marks of favour to educated foreigners. Although he did not found academies, yet he con

[1584 A.D.]

tributed to popular education by increasing the number of ecclesiastical schools where the laity also could study reading, writing, religion, and even history, and in particular prepare to become clerks in the chanceries; to the shame of the boyars, many of whom were not yet able to write. Finally Ivan is famous in Russian history as a lawgiver and organiser of the state.f


Deeply tragic were the life and destiny of Ivan the Terrible! As we penetrate into the full signification of his work, we are involuntarily drawn to the comparison which suggests itself between him and the hero czar of the eighteenth century. It was not without reason that, according to tradition, Peter looked upon Ivan as his precursor: they had both entertained the same projects. Even in the circumstances of their childhood and early youth there were points of resemblance; but Ivan had not a tender, loving mother at his side, and this difference was an essential one. There is also another very essential difference: by nature Ivan was a man of more abstract character, less capable of and less inclined to practical activity; for this reason he at times confided in others, then suddenly became suspicious, but never acted himself. It appeared to him that the duty of a czar was only to direct the activity of others. Although this is a true view in ordinary times, it may sometimes become a false one, and Peter served Russia as much with the carpenter's hatchet as he did with the sword of Pultowa. The practical Peter believed in his people, and if at times he overstrained the bow, yet it was as if he felt that matters would adjust themselves. Ivan lost faith in everything and everyone; it may also be added that Peter thought less of himself and in this respect he was larger minded than his terrible predecessor. The painful impression produced on the historian by Ivan's trying to secure a refuge in England, has no parallel in the life of Peter. Also, however terrible were the executions and punishments in the time of Peter, and although at times there may be observed in them signs of personal irritation, yet the impression produced by the narrative of the devastations in Novgorod is still more distressing. Practical statesmen never go to such lengths as abstract theorists: Peter never entered into theoretical controversies, which were foreign to his nature. For the same reason Peter, however well disposed he might be towards foreigners, always counted himself a Russian, while Ivan took pleasure in tracing the descent of his race from Cæsar Augustus. It was also for this reason that Peter could not entirely abase himself in sensual delights; he had too much work on his hands; his was a practical, not a contemplative nature. And this is one of the principal causes of Peter's success and Ivan's failure; another and more important reason lies in the fact that Russia was weaker in the time of the Terrible czar than in the time of Peter the Great.b

[graphic][merged small][merged small][merged small]

IVAN left two sons, Feodor and Dmitri, the first of whom, at twenty-two years of age, succeeded him. The second, born in 1581, was sprung from a seventh marriage, contracted by Ivan in contempt of the canons of the Greek church, which recognises no union as legitimate after the fourth widowhood. Notwithstanding this circumstance, the right of Dmitri to the title of czarevitch was not disputed, and he was even regarded as the presumptive heir to the crown, as the feeble health of Feodor rendered it extremely probable that he would die without issue.

The character of the new czar contrasted strangely with that of his father. Gentle and timid as a child, and devout even to superstition, Feodor spent his days in prayer, or in listening to and commenting upon pious legends. He was constantly to be seen in the churches, and he frequently took delight in ringing the bells himself, to call the faithful to divine service. "He is a sacristan," said Ivan the Terrible, "not a czarevitch." When not engaged in devotional exercises, Feodor used to shut himself up with his buffoons; or else, from a balcony, he would watch his huntsmen combating with bears. To a mind so weak, the cares of government were insupportable; and he therefore lost no time in transferring them to one of his own favourites, the boyard Boris Godunov, his brother-in-law. He first bestowed upon him the office of master of the horse, and attached to that title many important duties and immense power. Shortly afterwards, by a public confession of his own incapacity, he appointed him pravitel, or regent of the empire.


[1584 A.D.]

From that time on, for eighteen years, the destiny of the Russian monarchy and people was bound up with the personality of Boris Godunov. His family traced its origin from the Tatar prince (mourza) Tchet, who in the fourteenth century had been baptised in the horde by the metropolitan Peter and had settled in Russia under the name of Zacharias. The Ipatski monastery, erected by him near Kostroma, was a monument of the piety of the newly baptised Tatar; it became the holy place of his descendants, who provided for it by their offerings and were buried there. The grandson of Zacharias, Ivan Godum, was the forefather of that branch of the family of Prince Tchet which from the appellation of Godum received the name of Godunov. The posterity of Godum flourished remarkably; the Godunovs owned estates, but they did not play an important rêle in Russian history until the time when one of the great-grandsons of the first Godunov had the honour of becoming the father-in-law of the czarevitch Feodor Ivanovitch. Then there appeared at the court of Ivan the Terrible the brother of Feodor's wife, Boris, who was married to a daughter of the czar's favourite, Maluta Skuratov. Ivan liked him. The exaltation of persons and families through relationship with the czaritsas was a very ordinary occurrence in the history of Moscow, but such exaltation was often precarious. The relatives of Ivan's wives were destroyed as freely as the other victims of his bloodthirstiness. Boris himself, by his nearness to the czar, was in imminent peril, and it is reported that Ivan wounded him badly with his staff when Boris interceded for the czarevitch Ivan, murdered by his father. But the czar himself lamented his son and afterwards showed Boris even greater favour for his boldness, which nevertheless cost him some months' illness. But towards the end of his life Ivan, under the influence of other favourites, began to look askance at Boris, and perhaps things might have gone badly with Godunov had not Ivan died suddenly.

After Ivan's death Boris found himself in a position such as had never before been occupied by a subject in the empire of Moscow. The feebleminded Feodor had become czar, and as he could not in any case have ruled himself, he was obliged to give up his power to that one among his immediate entourage who proved himself the most capable and crafty. Such a one in the court circles of that time was Boris. At the time of Ivan's death he was thirty-two years of age; of a handsome presence, distinguished for his remarkable gift of speech, intelligent, prudent, but egotistical to a high degree. All his activity was directed to the serving of his own interests, to his enrichment, to the increase of his power, to the exaltation of his family. He understood how to wait, to take advantage of propitious moments, to remain in the shade or advance to the front when either manoeuvre seemed opportune, to put on the mask of piety and of every virtue, to show kindness and mercy, and where it was necessary severity and harshness. Ever deliberate, he never gave way to enthusiastic impulses and always acted with reflection. Like all such characters, he was ready to do good if good did not stand in the way of his personal interests; neither did he stop at any wickedness or crime if he considered it necessary for the furtherance of his personal advantages, and least of all when it was a question of personal safety.

There was nothing creative in his nature. He was incapable of becoming the propagator of any idea or the guide of men into new pathways; egostistical natures are not fitted for such tasks. As regent of the state he was not far-seeing, but only apprehended proximate circumstances, and could only

[1590 A.D.]

take advantage of them for close and pre-eminently self-centered aims. The lack of a good education still further narrowed the horizon of his vision, although his strong common sense enabled him to understand the profitableness of acquaintance with the west for the furtherance of his power. All the good of which his mind was capable was frustrated by his narrow egotism and the extraordinary mendacity that penetrated his whole being and was reflected in all his actions. This last quality, however, had become a distinguishing characteristic of the people of Moscow at that period. The seeds of this vice had long existed, but they were in a very great measure fostered and developed by the reign of Ivan the Terrible, who was himself falsehood personified. By creating the opritchniki Ivan had armed the Russians against one another, and taught them to look for favour or safety in the ruin of their neighbours; by punishments and executions for imaginary crimes, he had taught them to give false information; and by perpetrating the most inhuman villanies for pure diversion, he had educated those around him in heartlessness and cruelty. Respect for right and morality vanished after the czar, who according to the national ideal should be the guardian of both, had organised before the eyes of his subjects such spectacles as the baiting of innocent persons by bears or the public torture of naked girls, while at the same time he observed the strictest rules of monastic piety. In moments of personal danger everyone naturally thinks only of himself; but when such moments were prolonged for Russians into decades, it is comprehensible that a generation of self-seeking and hard-hearted egotists must have arisen, whose whole thought and aspiration were directed to the preservation of their own safety- a generation for whom, in spite of the outward observance of the customary forms of piety, lawfulness, and morality, there remained no inward righteousness. He who was clever beyond the average, was bound to become a model of falsity; it was an epoch when the mind, rivetted in the narrow fetters of the self-interested motives inherent in the whole contemporary sphere of existence, could only show its activity in the attainment of its personal aims by means of deceit. Desperate diseases of human society, like physical illnesses, are not quickly cured when the general conditions of life contribute not to the cessation but rather to the prolongation of the unhealthy state; the terrible phenomena of the "troubled times" can be explained only as the outbreaking of the hidden corruptions accumulated during the awful period of the tyranny of Ivan the Terrible.

The mendacity which constituted a feature of the period is powerfully reflected in the contemporary Russian sources of information, and it would be easy to fall into error and inaccurate inferences if we were to trust to them and accept their guidance; fortunately the evident contradictions and absurdities into which they fall sufficiently testify to their untruthfulness.c


Russia boasted of her power, having in reality the largest army in Europe, yet a part of old Russia was in Sweden's power. The peace concluded with King John expired at the beginning of the year 1590. The second interview with the ambassadors on the borders of the Plusa was fruitless, the Swedes having refused to restore their conquests. Under such circumstances no understanding could be arrived at. Sweden proposed a mere exchange, giving up Koporie for Sumersk on the banks of the Neva. John complained that the Russians annoyed Finland by incursions, ravaging the land like tigers. Feodor reproached the voyevods for their brigandage in the Zaonega, Olonetz,

« PreviousContinue »