1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Arakcheev, Aleksyei Andreevich

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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 2
Arakcheev, Aleksyei Andreevich by Robert Nisbet Bain

ARAKCHEEV, ALEKSYEI ANDREEVICH, Count (1769–1834), Russian soldier and statesman, was descended from an ancient family of Great Novgorod. From his mother, Elizabeth Vitlitsaya, he inherited most of his characteristics, an insatiable love of work, an almost pedantic love of order and the most rigorous sense of duty. In 1788 he entered the corps of noble cadets in the artillery and engineering department, where his ability, especially in mathematics, soon attracted attention. In July 1791 he was made an adjutant on the staff of Count N. I. Saltuikov, who (September 1792) recommended him to the cesarevich Paul Petrovich as the artillery officer most capable of reorganizing the army corps maintained by the prince at Gatchina. Arakcheev speedily won the entire confidence of Paul by his scrupulous zeal and undeniable technical ability. His inexorable discipline (magnified into cruelty by later legends) soon made the Gatchina corps a model for the rest of the Russian army. On the accession of Paul to the throne Arakcheev was promptly summoned to St Petersburg, appointed military commandant in the capital, and major-general in the grenadier battalion of the Preobrazhenskoe Guard. On the 12th of December 1796, he received the ribbon of St Anne and a rich estate at Gruzina in the government of Novgorod, the only substantial gift ever accepted by him during the whole of his career. At the coronation (5th of April 1797) Paul created him a baron, and he was subsequently made quartermaster-general and colonel of the whole Preobrazhenskoe Guard. It was to Arakcheev that Paul entrusted the reorganization of the army, which during the latter days of Catherine had fallen into a state of disorder and demoralization. Arakcheev remorselessly applied the iron Gatchina discipline to the whole of the imperial forces, beginning with the Guards. He soon became generally detested by the army, but pursued his course unflinchingly and introduced many indispensable hygienic reforms. “Clean barracks are healthy barracks,” was his motto. Nevertheless, the opposition of the officers proved too strong for him, and on the 18th of March 1798 he was dismissed from all his appointments. Arakcheev’s first disgrace only lasted six months. On the 11th of August he was received back into favour, speedily reinstated in all his former offices, and on the 5th of May 1799 was created a count, the emperor himself selecting the motto: “Devoted, not servile.” Five months later he was again in disgrace, the emperor dismissing him on the strength of a denunciation subsequently proved to be false. It was a fatal step on Paul’s part, for everything goes to prove that he would never have been assassinated had Arakcheev continued by his side. During the earlier years of Alexander, Arakcheev was completely overlooked. Only on the 27th of April 1803, was the count recalled to St Petersburg, and employed as inspector-general of the artillery. His wise and thorough reorganization of the whole department contributed essentially to the victories of the Russians during the Napoleonic wars. All critics agree, indeed, that the Arakcheev administration was the golden era of the Russian artillery. The activity of the inexhaustible inspector knew no bounds, and he neglected nothing which could possibly improve this arm. His principal reforms were the subdivision of the artillery divisions into separate independent units, the formation of artillery brigades, the establishment of a committee of instruction (1808), and the publishing of an Artillery Journal. At Austerlitz he had the satisfaction of witnessing the actual results of his artillery reforms. The commissariat scandals which came to light after the peace of Tilsit convinced the emperor that nothing short of the stern and incorruptible energy of Arakcheev could reach the sources of the evil, and in January 1808 he was appointed inspector-general and war minister. When, on the outbreak of the Swedish war of 1809, the emperor ordered the army to take advantage of an unusually severe frost and cross the ice of the Gulf of Finland, it was only the presence of Arakcheev that compelled an unwilling general and a semi-mutinous army to begin a campaign which ended in the conquest of Finland. On the institution of the “Imperial Council” (1st of January 1810), Arakcheev was made a member of the council of ministers and a senator, while still retaining the war office. Subsequently Alexander was alienated from him owing to the intrigues of the count’s enemies, who hated him for his severity and regarded him as a dangerous reactionary. The alienation was not, however, for long. It is true, Arakcheev took no active part in the war of 1812, but all the correspondence and despatches relating to it passed through his hands, and he was the emperor’s inseparable companion during the whole course of it. At Paris (31st of March 1814) Alexander, with his own hand, wrote the ukaz appointing him a field-marshal, but he refused the dignity, accepting, instead, a miniature portrait of his master. From this time Alexander’s confidence in Arakcheev steadily increased, and the emperor imparted to him, first of all, his many projects of reform, especially his project of military colonies, the carrying out of the details of which was committed to Arakcheev (1824). The failure of the scheme was due not to any fault of the count, but to the inefficiency and insubordination of the district officers. In Alexander’s last years Arakcheev was not merely his chief counsellor, but his dearest friend, to whom he submitted all his projects for consideration and revision. The most interesting of these projects was the plan for the emancipation of the peasantry (1818). On the accession of Nicholas I., Arakcheev, thoroughly broken in health, gradually restricted his immense sphere of activity, and on the 26th of April 1826, resigned all his offices and retired to Carlsbad. The 50,000 roubles presented to him by the emperor as a parting gift he at once handed to the Pavlovsk Institute for the education of the daughters of poor gentlemen. His last days he spent on his estate at Gruzina, carefully collecting all his memorials of Alexander, whose memory he most piously cherished. He also set aside 25,000 roubles for the author of the best biography of his imperial friend. Arakcheev died on the 21st of April 1834, with his eyes fixed to the last on the late emperor’s portrait. “I have now done everything,” he said, “so I can go and make my report to the emperor Alexander.” In 1806 he had married Natalia Khomutova, but they lived apart, and he had no children by her.

See Vasily Ratch, Memorials of Count Arakcheev (Rus.) (St Petersburg, 1864); Mikhail Ivanovich Semevsky, Count Arakcheev and the Military Colonies (Rus.) (St Petersburg, 1871); Theodor Schiemann, Gesch. Russland’s unter Kaiser Nikolaus I., vol. i., Alexander I., &c. (Berlin, 1904).  (R. N. B.)