1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Isvolsky, Alexander Petrovich
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Isvolsky, Alexander Petrovich
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ISVOLSKY, ALEXANDER PETROVICH (1856-1919), Russian statesman, was born in 1856 in the government of Vladimir, of a family which for generations had appertained to the lower officialdom. At the age of 20 he received his first diplomatic appointment at Rome, and was thence transferred to Philippopolis and Bucharest, where, by the patronage of Princess Urussov (wife of a future Russian ambassador at Paris), he made his reputation. Thence he was sent to Washington and the Vatican. At this time he was already so much the coming man that, upon the retirement of Count Lobanov, his mother-in-law, Countess Toll, saw fit to inform Count Muraviev that her son-in-law, upon his appointment as foreign minister, would bear him in mind. Muraviev, who already carried his nomination in his pocket, resented this condescension, and relegated Isvolsky to Belgrade and to Munich, where he had the rank of a minister plenipotentiary. Returning to favour in 1899, he was promoted to the Legation at Tokio, where, however, under the influence of German reports concerning the Japanese army — and especially its artillery — he misjudged Japan's advent as a Great Power. His eleventh-hour conversion could not avert the conflict of interests which led to the war of 1904-5, from which Russia emerged defeated, but enabled him to veil a serious diplomatic error by relinquishing the odium of failure to his successor, Rosen. He himself went to Copenhagen, where he negotiated the passage of Adml. Rozhestvensky's fleet through the Great Belt (Oct. 1904). There also, in July 1905, he had his historic interview with the Emperor William II. in which an alliance between Russia, Germany and France was proposed. Isvolsky was ignorant of the “personal” treaty of defensive alliance “between Germany and Russia, entered into by the respective sovereigns at Björkö.” Though this secret compact did not bear his signature (since he had not been present), the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Count Lambsdorff, fell over its repudiation, and was, in May 1906, succeeded by Isvolsky.
Russia's military prestige was at a low ebb, her finance in a state of chaos, the Tsarist régime discredited and the country in the throes of revolution. At this time, Isvolsky displayed great physical courage in that he went about St. Petersburg unattended, but also great lack of faith in the existing order, since, having discovered that through an irregularity his pay depended on the Privy Purse, he caused it to be charged to the Treasury as the first act of his tenure of office. He also raised his brother to the office of Procurator of the Holy Synod and his Goadachev relations to high diplomatic appointments.
Slowly he restored the national prestige, for he asserted loyalty to France as the first principle of policy and brought about the Anglo-Russian agreement in Persia of Aug. 31 1907, which was followed on June 9 1908 by a meeting between King Edward VII. and the Tsar Nicholas II. near Reval. The long Balkan troubles of 1908-12, which originated in Count Aehrenthal's exploitation of Russia's transitory weakness, called for great care, especially during the crisis of 1908-9, which laid bare Russian impotence. After four years at the Foreign Office, which gained Russia the time she needed to recuperate, Isvolsky succeeded M. Nelidov as Russian ambassador in Paris. He lived to see the World War of 1914 and the Russian revolution of 1917, which forced him into impoverished retirement at his villa at Biarritz. He died on Aug. 18 1919. An accomplished man of letters, a competent critic of art, a linguist of rare perfection and charming in manner, but cynical and pleasure-loving, he was certainly one of the chief diplomatic personages in the reign of the last of the tsars. He married Marguerite Carlovna, née Countess Toll, a Balt of great charm whose influence at court was impeded by her ignorance of the Russian tongue. By her he had one son, who fought in the Dardanelles.
- (W. L. B.)