Ivan the Terrible/Part 4/Chapter 5

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Ivan the Terrible
by Kazimierz Waliszewski, translated by Lady Mary Loyd
Part IV, Chapter V: The Man and His Work
186846Ivan the TerriblePart IV, Chapter V: The Man and His WorkLady Mary LoydKazimierz Waliszewski




I.—His Death.

In August, 1582, Possevino, delivering his report of his mission to the Signory of Venice, expressed an opinion that the Tsar would not live long. Early in 1584, alarming symptoms began to disturb the minds of the persons composing his immediate circle. His body began to swell, and the odour became almost unendurable. The physicians recognised ‘signs of approaching mortification, and, according to Horsey, Bogdan Biélski consulted the astrologers, who announced that death would ensue on a certain date. The favourite did not care to tell his master of this gloomy forecast, but he warned the prophets that they would be burnt alive if it did not come true. This amounted to putting a price on murder, and hence the suspicion as to poison cast, after the event, on Boris Godounov, and the accomplices he is said to have secured for -his ambitious plans.

Horsey further tells the story of an extraordinary scene witnessed by him in the treasure-chamber, where the dying Tsar was fond of lingering amidst all the riches he was soon to quit for ever. One day he desired the Englishman to attend him there. He had a number of precious stones exhibited, and explained their quality and value to the persons about him. Suddenly he took up some turquoises, and said to Horsey, 'See how they change their colour! they are turning paler. That is because I have been poisoned: they foretell my death!' Immediately afterwards he asked for his sceptre, 'made of a unicorn’s horn.' My readers are aware that until Ambroise Paré's days, and even later, the ivory of the narwhale was believed to exercise certain curative properties. The Tsar's physician, armed with this instrument of magic, was made to draw a circle on a table, and within the line some spiders were put down. These died at once, while others, placed outside the circle, ran away. 'Too late!' said Ivan; 'the unicorn's horn cannot save me now!' And he went back to his gems. 'Look at this diamond,' said he to Horsey again: 'it is the finest and most precious of all the Eastern stones. I have never cared for it. It curbs fury and lust; it instils abstinence and chastity. … I feel ill. … Take me away. … We will come back another time. …'

On the day the astrologers had fixed—March 18, 1584—the Sovereign, according to Horsey's account, felt rather better. Biélski reminded the diviners of the fate that awaited them. 'The day will not be over till the sun sets,' was their answer. Ivan, having taken a bath, asked for a chess-board. On the preceding days circulars had been sent to all the monasteries asking their prayers for the 'sick man who repented,' and who likewise besought the Divine mercy—on the faults of which the monks had been guilty with respect to himself! These documents, still in existence, prove that the Sovereign, even yet, was striving to combine his care for the safety of his own soul with that of his political interests. The legend assures us, too, that, though he treated all those about him with a most unaccustomed gentleness, and enjoined his son to follow this example, to avoid wars with Christian Princes, to reduce taxes, and set prisoners free, he never ceased indulging in every kind of physical excess, even going so far as to make an abominable attempt, so Oderborn affirms, on his daughter-in-law Irene, whom he had treated with paternal fondness.

The only points quite free from uncertainty are the date of Ivan's death and a few trifling details connected with it. He had sent for Boris Godounov to play with him, and was setting up the pieces on the chess-board when he turned faint. A few moments later the death-rattle was in his throat, and the astrologers' presage was realized. The last sacraments were administered, and at his own request the usual ceremony of putting on the monkish habit was performed upon the Tsar's person; so that it was the monk Iona who relinquished the crown into Feodor's hands, and the power into those of Boris Godounov.

I have endeavoured to show what the first Tsar of all the Russias was. I must now close by defining some features of a physiognomy by no means easy to reconstitute, athwart all the uncertainty which hangs round so obscure a past.

II.—Character and Temperament.

This uncertainty defies any attempt beyond a general approximation, even as to the external appearance of the man. According to Russian authorities, he was tall and thin. He struck foreigners, on the contrary, as being stout and fat. This, probably, is a mere question of standard. The Russians of that period, as we know, were most of them corpulent to an extent rare in other countries. As to Ivan's stature, everybody is agreed. He was very tall and strongly built, high-shouldered and broad-chested. Yet in the Treasury of the Laura of St. Sergius at the Troïtsa there is a kaftan which belonged, so tradition asserts, to the Sovereign, though Monsieur Glagoliév, who has lately taken and published its measurements (Russian Archives, July, 1902), seems to have been led by them to a different conclusion. As to the Tsar's face, his portraits, all of them of most doubtful authenticity, are no guide at all. Contemporary witness is fairly agreed in describing his nose as long and flattened, or turned up; his eyes as blue, small, but very quick and keen-looking; his moustache long, his auburn beard thick, and grizzled towards the close of his reign. He shaved his head: Capillos capitis utque plerique Rutheni novacula radit, says Printz von Buchau.

During the second half of the Sovereign's life, as to which we possess most information, his habitual expression struck the majority of witnesses as being threatening and gloomy, though he often burst into roars of laughter. But here we come to the moral aspect of his physiognomy, which even now remains a riddle, in spite of the innumerable attempts made to solve it, and we find ourselves face to face with contradictions resulting not so much in a divergence of opinion among observers, as in a division of the subject they observe.

Ivan was energetic to the point of violence, and yet timid to downright cowardice; his pride amounted to positive madness, and his humility occasionally descended to baseness. He was intelligent, and yet capable of saying and doing the most foolish things. Why did he insult Erik just when he desired his alliance? How did he come to call himself a 'stinking dog,' and yet persevere in the behaviour which led him to apply this epithet? To such questions, which might be multiplied without end, some people have thought an answer had been found in the recent discoveries of a science at present enjoying what may prove to bean ephemeral favour. Ivan's father and grandfather appear to have possessed well-balanced minds, but his great-grandfather, Vassili the Blind, was a man whose intellect and will were both equally weak. His mother, Helen Glinski, was a sickly creature, and his father was over fifty when the boy, whose childish health was most frail, was born. His grandmother Sophia may have brought the vitiated blood of the Paleologi, with all that predisposition to nervous complaints which was so strongly marked among them, into her husband's family. Ivan’s brother George became an idiot; he himself had three times as many wives as he had children. His eldest boy died an infant; his second, a man of cruel and sanguinary tastes, died by his own father's hand; another, Feodor, was half-imbecile; Dmitri is said to have suffered from epileptic fits.

My readers will guess the conclusion: Ivan the Terrible was probably a 'degenerate,' one of those 'paranoics' to whose psychology Lombroso has devoted so much attention.

The most evident weakness of this explanation is that it does not explain anything at all. Before the days of the Italian psychiater, Reveillé-Parise (1834) and Schilling (1863) had already made an attempt to establish the fact that genius is always a form of neurosis, and very often of madness; and this theory may be traced back to far more ancient authorities, from Aristotle down to Pascal. More recently Monsieur Méjja (Nevrosis de los Hombres Célèbres, Buenos Ayres, 1885) has told us that almost all the great men of the Argentine Republic have been drunkards, neuropathic subjects, or madmen. What of that? It is an established fact, in the eyes of Lombroso and his disciples, that Napoleon's genius was a phenomenon produced by epileptic neurosis. Does that take us any further? Epileptic neurosis is a label—it is not an explanation. The fact still remains that between such a degenerate as Napoleon and such a degenerate as Ivan a huge difference exists: that the acts and behaviour of one present a logical sequence, a harmony, entirely absent from those of the second; that the first, though he may be mad, if that please you, acts like a reasonable being, and that the other betrays, or seems to betray, frequent symptoms of mania; that it is the reason for these differences which has to be discovered, and that-the hypothesis of malady of the brain in both cases may alter the conditions of the problem, but does not solve it.

The interpretations laid on the character and temperament of Ivan the Terrible seem to me based, in the first place, on a general error, which I am inclined to consider an anachronism. The subject under examination has been treated as though he had lived in our own day, and an analysis correct enough in itself falls to the ground because it has been arrived at without any regard for historical surroundings, which ought to have been taken into account. Take such a man as Louis XI., with the faculties everyone recognises him to have possessed. Put him down into the nineteenth or twentieth century, and ask yourself whether he would be capable, now, with his inherent caution, of falling into the snare laid for him by Péronne, and letting himself, with all his cunning, be conducted right up to the walls of Liége, there to witness the destruction of a town that was under his own protection. Surely not! Then, why was he guilty then of this twofold piece of folly, aggravated, in the second case, by downright infamy? Because he was the man of his own time, of a half-barbarous period during which we see, even at the very top of the intellectual ladder, a lack of that arrangement and discipline of the mental faculties which years of hereditary intellectual culture have now made a common thing, even in a much lower order of intelligence. Louis XI. was a man of impulse, like most of his contemporaries, and like certain eccentric persons of our own day, who owe the quality to certain atavisms which make them 'throw back' to former generations. Apply this elementary clue to the person and career of Ivan the Terrible, and you will have gone a long way, in my opinion, towards finding the desired solution.

Even oftener than in Louis XI.'s case, Ivan obeyed his impulses. Some of these came from without—the result of impressions produced by the men or the events about him; others came from within, and these he owed to his birth and education. Combined with his grandfather's intelligence—though his own was broader—and his energy—though his was weaker—the Tsar, whose father's influence on him was nil, possessed his mother’s passionate and violent heart. His action was often taken with a jerk, in most irregular fashion. But the man who conceived the idea of the Opritchnina and put it into execution cannot be said to have been lacking either in will or in sequence of ideas. I have already shown the value of the theory according to which he always made over his power to other people, because he did not know how to use it himself. But Adachev and Sylvester were no more the masters of Russia between 1548 and 1560 than the Tsar Simeon was from 1575 to 1576, though the Sovereign was pleased, in the first case, to give himself out as the victim of his favourites, and in the second, to play a farce with his phantom Sovereign for the world's benefit.

Ivan, according to Printz von Buchau—a really reliable witness, the most faithful of them all—was violent-tempered to such an extent that the smallest annoyance made him 'foam like a horse.' Often he quite failed to restrain and master his rage. But often, too, as during his struggle with Batory, he showed himself extraordinarily pliant. In this case, when he had given up everything, or very nearly, on the battlefield, he disputed the victory, foot by foot, in that of diplomacy, never neglecting any expedient nor the smallest chance of success.

I have already spoken of his education. It is not surprising, considering the lack of affection, and even of kindness, he experienced, and the perpetual terrors he had to endure, that he should have contracted a timidity which sometimes took the form of want of confidence in himself, and sometimes that of physical collapse in the face of danger. But the man who held his own for twenty years against all the Kourbskis in his Empire was no coward. From the same source, thanks to those who brought him up with an equal care to flatter his worst instincts and offend his best feelings, he drew that scorn of men in general which accident transformed into downright hatred. Taube and Kruse both speak, as men who know, of his listiges krokodilisch Herz.' Cunning he was, indeed, and cruel. He had been ill-treated and scoffed at in his youth, and all his life long he seems to have sought impossible revenges. He seems to have felt a passionate need of jeering at men, when he could not or did not desire to make them suffer otherwise ; a bitter pleasure in putting them in the wrong, and taking advantage of it; an utter and absolute lack of sympathy and pity. This last feature he possessed in common with Peter the Great, and it had its roots in the same cause. Read these lines addressed to Kourbski after a victorious campaign: 'You have complained that I sent you to distant towns, as though you were in disgrace! With God’s help, we ourselves are now much farther off. … And where did you expect to find repose after such great fatigues? At Wolmar? We are there now, and you have had to flee whither you did not expect to go!' … And remember the story of the favourite Opritchnik Vassili Griaznoï, who was taken prisoner by the Tartars. Did his master pity him, and take compassion on his fate? No, indeed! 'You should not have gone into the infidels' camp for no reason at all, Vassiouchka, or, having gone there, you should not have slept like a top according to your usual habit! You thought you were out hunting with your hounds, and would have caught your hare, and instead of that the Tartars have caught you in your form, and tied you up to their saddle-bow! … These Crimean fellows do not snore, like all of you, and they understand how to humble you, pack of women that you are! … I wish they were like you! Then I should be sure they would not dare to cross the river, and still less should I have to fear I should see them appear at Moscow! …'

Yet after he had thus made merry at the captive's expense, Ivan paid his ransom, just as, after he had torn his beard out in the presence of Devlet-Ghireï's envoy, he consented to treat with the Khan. This is a true picture of the man. For if there was no method in his madness, he had constant recurrences, at all events, of the most perfectly lucid reason, and the very same irascible despot who raised his staff to strike the Protestant pastor who dared to compare Luther to St. Paul in his presence was soon to be seen calmly arguing with Rokita.

Judging by his constant fits of rage, one might fancy him imbued with that insensate fury which afflicted the Norsemen, according to the Sagas, and under the influence of which they would spend their strength against trees and rocks, when there was no living adversary within their reach. But this passionate being did not war with mountains, nor yet with windmills. He was no Norseman—he was a Mongol, rather, cold in his anger, and as perfidious as he was cruel, full of artifice and hypocrisy, but knowing what he wanted, and only wanting reasonable things, or which seemed so to him, considering the circumstances, subtle, refined, full of a universal curiosity.

If he sometimes overshot his mark, it was because he did not know how to control his temperament; and if he made more victims than he had enemies, it was because, as Lombroso remarks, and very truly this time, 'Once the horrible delight of shedding blood has been tasted, the necessity for slaughter becomes so imperious that no man can master it.' And he adds, 'It almost seems as if physical love were often connected with this phenomenon, and as if the sight of blood imparted a special stimulant to this passion. … These sanguinary scenes are almost always followed by shameful fits of debauchery' (L' Uomo Delinquente, i. 389).

This explains the Sloboda of Alexandrov.

And here, too, the historical surroundings must not be allowed to slip out of sight. Soloviov was certainly wrong when he quoted the example of St. Philip as a rehabilitation of the habits of his period. Saints have always been the exceptions everywhere. Was Ivan an exception in the opposite sense? The docility with which the massacres he ordered were endured would seem a proof to the contrary. There is no doubt that by their means he aggravated the savage atrocity of the instincts and habits of those about him, and sowed the Russian soil with a seed of blood, whereof the murder of his younger son at Ouglitch, the reign of the false Dmitri, and the horrors of the 'troublous times' were the harvest. But the Chouïskis and the Kourbskis only reaped what they themselves had sown by teaching him who was to become their executioner to disdain human dignity and human life, and scorn all justice and every law.

And Ivan’s education bore a much closer resemblance than has been commonly imagined to that of all the European Princes of his time. We all know what the childhood and youth of Don Carlos—that cruel tormentor of the men and beasts about him, that hideous monster who had the birds brought in from his hunting excursions roasted alive, and delighted in mutilating the horses in his stables—were, before the fictions of poets and romance-writers cast a glamour over them.

Some people have regarded Ivan's propensity to confess his crimes, and even exaggerate them, to which I have already referred, as a sign of mania or neurosis. This, as it seems to me, is merely a symptom of the actor's temperament, frequent in the case of men who, having every other passion likewise, have that for showing themselves off, attracting onlookers' attention, even to their own disadvantage. Look at Luther, amongst the Tsar's own illustrious contemporaries. He carried his mania for this sort of thing beyond all the limits of decency. And, in this matter, Ivan proved how modern he was. None of the Sovereigns of ancient Russia had felt his need or possessed his gift of speaking, discussing, either vivâ voce or in writing, on the public square or between four walls, with a fugitive boïar or a foreign envoy, ceaselessly, unrestingly, without decency, too; for on these occasions he undresses his soul as he might undress his body; he strips it naked, he shows all his sores and all his warts, and cries, 'See how ugly I am!' He exaggerates them, writing to Kourbski, 'Though I am still alive, I am nothing in God's eyes, thanks to my vile actions, but a corpse, unclean and hideous. I have done worse than Cain, the first murderer; I have imitated Esau's shameful excesses; I have been like Reuben, who soiled his father's bed'’ Which does not prevent him from thinking and saying that the man to whom he confesses himself guilty of so many shameful acts is quite in the wrong as to the disagreement between them. But if he cannot make himself admired, he is quite willing to inspire horror, so long as people notice him and pay attention to him. Jean Jacques Rousseau must surely have been trained in the self-same school.

Though he generally appears in tragic parts, Ivan, as I have shown, does not object to play chief buffoon at his own Court. Any part will do for him, so long as he can be upon the stage. Now and then he mingles the two styles together. The aged Tchiéliadnine falls under suspicion of being a conspirator. The Tsar is not content with handing the traitor over to the executioner. He steps down from his throne, seats the astonished boïar upon it, bows to the ground, salutes him by the title of Tsar, and then thrusts his dagger into his heart. 'You were able to think of taking my place, but I am able to kill you!' Printz von Buchau recognises features of resemblance between Ivan the Terrible and a certain cardinal celebrated for his jovial gestures and talk. He is also struck by the extreme mobility of the Sovereign's countenance and attitudes; the very expression of his eyes and his voice changing from one minute to the next. The Tsar would be talking with some of the gentlemen about him, his language might be gentle and his gestures kindly; but supposing one of the persons with whom he was conversing was slow to understand his meaning, his words instantly became rough and his manner threatening, and everybody was in expectation of some outburst. And with all that, so the same witness tells us, there was something about him which would have marked him out as a great personage, at all events, if he had been put in the middle of four hundred peasants, and dressed exactly as they were dressed.

In him, as in most men, the mania for putting himself forward was a form of pride—a pride which in his case was overweening, though by no means so extravagant as it has been taken to have been. Acquainted as he was with both history and geography, he may very naturally have believed himself superior to all the other European Princes—to the Emperor himself, who was only an elective Sovereign, or to the Sultan, who could not trace his family and titles back to the Romans. Did not a Pharaoh of the twentieth dynasty claim to be master of the whole world? And do not certain Sovereigns in the Far East still betray symptoms of a similar infatuation?

This pride, too, had something to do with Ivan's dislike of risking his own person in the tumult of battle, which might have placed his hierarchic Majesty in too dangerous a position. And in this, as I have already observed, he was only obeying the traditions of his race. Ivan, like his grandfather, was no hero in the commonly accepted meaning of that word. Such men as Alexander, Hannibal, Gustavus-Adolphus, Charles XII., Napoleon, come and go like meteors. For labour which is to endure, men like the Rurikovitchy are far more reliable. It is true that Louis XI., though he had nothing in common either with Alexander the Great or with Napoleon, exposed his own person bravely at Montlhéry, but then Louis XI. was not a semi-Oriental Sovereign.

Ivan was Oriental, too, in the ease with which he would pass from the heights of insolence, in prosperity, to the depths of humility when evil fortune overtook him. And yet he is not broken down by adversity. He bends his back, he crawls, but he is always ready to rise up again. The qualities of the European and the man of culture reappear in some other features. He does not like coarse flattery. The following anecdote, reported by Guagnino, the probability of which is strengthened by several others of the same nature, would appear authentic. Two voiévodes, Joseph Chtcherbatyi and George Bariatinski by name, who had been taken prisoners by Batory, were ransomed by the Tsar. He plied them with eager questions. The first spoke honestly as to the King of Poland's power; the second, thinking to please his master, contradicted his comrade's assertions, declaring Batory had neither men nor forts, and that the Tsar's very name made him tremble. 'Poor King!' quoth Ivan, 'how I pity him!' And then, grasping his spear, he dealt the impudent courtier a sudden blow. 'Here are your wages, impostor!'

After his own fashion, Ivan was more cultivated than the majority of his Russian contemporaries, and quite as much so as the most enlightened European Princes of his period—if not as to what he knew, as to his desire of knowledge, at all events. In this he differs essentially from Louis XI., 'who had a mortal hatred of literature,' and said 'learning made him melancholy.' He was more like Francis I. But to what did his knowledge really amount?

III.—Knowledge and Intelligence.

He knew many things, drawn from his wide reading, but he was incapable of understanding them thoroughly, or setting them in clear order in his mind. During the first years of his reign, when, the government being in the hands of the boïars, he had long hours of leisure, and was driven to commune with himself in savage loneliness, he read everything that fell into his hands and roused his curiosity—sacred history, Roman history, Russian and Byzantine chronicles, the works of the holy Fathers, and menologies. His memory retained many passages, and by preference he chose those that seemed to him applicable to his own person, his position in the world, and the part he desired to play in it. His correspondence with Kourbski gives us a sort of inventory of the knowledge he thus acquired, and also some idea of the use to which he knew how to put it. It constitutes a pamphlet in two parts against the boïars, combined with a treatise on the absolute power, both of them elaborated by means of quotations which are certainly from memory. In most cases, indeed, the words are not exactly quoted, though there is nothing to indicate any intentional alteration. Gregory of Nazianzus and St. John Chrysostom, Moses and Isaiah, the Bible and the Greek mythology, the 'Iliad' and the legends of the Siege of Troy, which have been incorporated into the ancient literature of Russia, have all been laid under contribution, and present us with an extraordinary mixture, in which we come on names which must be astounded to find themselves in such close proximity—Zeus and Dionysius along with Abimelech and Gideon, Æneas beside Genseric, King of the Sauromates (sic)—Ivan writes his name Zinzirikh—swarming with the most improbable anachronisms, and in which the boldest political aphorisms rub shoulders with the most unexpected philosophical considerations. And yet, in spite of Kourbski, who calls all this literature 'old woman’s talk,' this confused tumult of memories and impressions, this chaos of imagery and confusion of ideas, forms a solid whole, bound together, evidently, when we look at it closely, by a thin but always visible thread, which connects it all with one sole and only object, the theory of sovereign power as the author conceives it—supreme and absolute, Divine in its origin and superior in its essence. And little does it matter, in all truth, that the self-taught writer confuses dates and events, talks of the division of the Empire under Leo the Armenian, makes a mistake of two centuries as to the period of the conquest of Persia by the Arabs. His trumpery barbarian's learning is a thing of nought. It is the ideas and feelings that live in it and use it which are important, and when we see the fiery despot juggling with things of which his father and grandfather knew nothing at all, and turning them into arguments in favour of a theory of which they never dreamt, or to which, at all events, they never gave a thought, we realize that a new world has come into being, and that to have been conscious of that fact is in itself sufficient to make the glory of the extraordinary man who, in spite of his lack of modern science, was the first, in his own country, to acquire the instinct, the taste, the passion, for modern progress.

On this impressionable nature, indeed, memories acted like events. To such an extent did they take hold of Ivan's thought and rule his speech that the erudition he had gathered up so confusedly in his mind was a law to him as much as it was his servant; it dragged him perpetually from one subject to another; it suggested the most unforeseen digressions to him, and at the same time the eagerness he threw into everything, like the rage that almost always shook him when he was writing, rendered him incapable of using his knowledge with discernment, weighing the elements he drew from it, and considering how he should employ them.

And though he may be fond of showing off what he knows, or fancies he knows, he is, speaking from the literary point of view, above all things a controversialist, wordy and prolix to excess, but skilled, amidst all his digressions and circuitous ways, in finding out his opponents' strong and weak points, and bent, most especially, on striking home. Kourbski, according to the fashion of those times, was a learned man—in other words, a man of wide reading—and the Tsar breaks him down with his own booklore, convinced, and rightly so, no doubt, that the other will be quite incapable of verifying the accuracy of his quotations. But, knowing him as religious as he is lettered, he does not forget to address himself to this weak point, and we find him calling up a picture of the fugitive boïar helping the Poles to destroy the Orthodox churches, trampling the holy ikons underfoot, and presiding, like a second Herod, over massacres of innocent children. … He weeps over the victims and their executioner, for he loves the lyric, and by no means despises the pathetic. Kourbski has said something about the blood he has shed in the Tsar's service. 'And I,' replies Ivan, 'have I not shed my blood too? If not from wounds made on my body, at all events in the tears of blood your treacheries have drawn from my eyes! …'

We may agree with Monsieur Klioutchevski ('Course of History,' i.) that this rhetoric betrays more artifice than conviction, more phosphorescent brilliance than heat; but it is an anachronism to seek in the sixteenth century, close to the Scholastics, all the sincerity and emotion the modern soul has learnt, since those days, to put into its external manifestations. As for taking the Tsar's letters to be a collective work in which his favourites were his collaborators, this conjecture, borrowed by Monsieur Mikhaïlovski, an acute but biassed critic, from the author of an inferior novel ('Prince Kourbski,' by Fédorov, 1843), will not bear even a superficial examination of the document, in which Monsieur Mikhaïlovski himself recognises the existence of a perfect unity of style and composition, and in every line of which the author's hall-mark, his personal touch, is evident.

Ivan certainly does not hold the first place in the intellectual movement of the period, and the part he played in the struggle then going on between the moral idea elaborated in the hermitages of the north, and the coarse corruption prevalent among the great majority of Russians, was neither the best nor the worst. This conflict had brought two eccentric types face to face and into bitter conflict. There were solitary ascetics on one side and heroic bandits on the other, and both classes lived on the outer margin of society. Ivan remained in the middle. Highly gifted as he was, his mind was not sufficiently ripened by study, nor, above all, was his soul so filled with generous impulses, as to enable him to represent the noblest tendencies of a chosen few. He went to the Stoglav firmly intending to support the reform party, and he failed to adhere to his intention, less from lack of energy than from want of conviction. In religious matters he continued, at heart, to belong to the old school, in which the wearing of the full beard and of the odnoriadka—a garment recently recalled to honour—were matters of doctrine. Nil Sorski's teachings glided over his intelligence, but never reached his conscience. And, on the other hand, he possessed no means of initiating himself into the wider intellectual currents of Europe, whether in the domain of science or in that of art. Europe was still too far away, and Russia too far behind the West. Ivan turned his mind to the most pressing matters, and those easiest of accomplishment. What he asked his neighbours to give him was results—engineers, artisans, printers. This is the course generally pursued by backward peoples anxious to make up for lost time. Look at Japan. In this fashion, too, artificial and superficial civilizations are attained. Modern Russia is an example of this even in the present day.

The detractors of Ivan the Terrible have gone the length of refusing him any originality at all, declaring all he did was to walk, and rather clumsily at that, in the rut his grandfather had cut for him, defend old theories against literary attack on the part of the opposition party, and turn over ideas drawn from the books he had read. The historic prerogatives of the Boïarchtchina were already broken down, the appeal to the new strata of society had begun, the attempts to reorganize the communes on the autonomic principle were nothing but a return to the older form of these institutions, and Ivan, even in his conception of the part he was personally called to play, simply drew his inspiration from the teachings of Holy Writ. These over-severe judges seem to me to forget that it takes something to make anything, and that Napoleon did not find the elements of his Code in his own brain. Besides, they graciously grant the great value of the reforms carried out in the early years of Ivan's reign, though they give all the credit for them to the men who were about the Sovereign. Have they taken the trouble of reading the thirty-seven proposals as to the reorganization of the Church, and the ten proposals or rough drafts of laws, for the organization of the State? If so, they should have realized that the man who wrote these pages was the man who corresponded with Kourbski at a period when Adachev and Sylvester were both far away. In both cases the spirit and style are identical, and that style is most personal in its nature. Adachev, Sylvester, and Kourbski certainly had no hand in the Opritchnina, and yet the Opritchnina and the reforms of the year 1551 together form one complete whole. I have demonstrated this already. And it is because Ivan's biographers could not understand what the Opritchnina was that they have refused to grant him what they have granted to his fellow-workers. Peter the Great was never deceived in this matter.

Ivan was the first of the Russian Tsars, not only because he was the first to assume the title, but also and especially because he was the first to comprehend the realities corresponding with it. The theory was there, no doubt, and had been worked out, ever since the fifteenth century, in the literature of the country. But neither to Vassili nor to Ivan III.—the Great—had it occurred to lay hold of the concrete meaning of that theory—the idea of a Sovereign whose power came to him from God, and who was responsible to God alone for the way in which he used it, unaided, as the sole representative of the Divine will and the Divine wisdom, on whom no human assistance could be imposed, and who could not accept any control whatever.

To this theory Ivan added a personal commentary of his own of which none of his predecessors had thought, and which none of his successors were to adopt. Peter the Great was to regard himself merely as the first servant of the State; Ivan regarded the Sovereign's person as a kind of Divine essence, and boldly set it far above the State. 'We know,' he writes, after pouring abuse on Batory, 'what is due to the majesty of Princes. But the Empire is majesty, and above that majesty stands the Sovereign in his Empire, and the Sovereign is above the Empire!' (Note handed to Possevino in September, 1581, 'Historical Documents,' x. 223). Poland had won the day, and Muscovy was forced into submission. But the Tsar set himself above this necessity—he hovered in higher space, where no such outrage could reach him. The idea is a subtle one, but it is a feeling rather than an idea. Ivan's ideas and feelings have often been confused together, and a short analysis must be devoted to them.

IV.—Ideas and Feelings.

Ivan the Terrible went through a great deal of suffering, and these sufferings, which he exaggerated as he exaggerated everything, have been rightly ascribed to a twofold moral cause—to his very lively consciousness of all the faults and vices of the political and social organization over which he had been called to rule, and an equally painful consciousness of his powerlessness to apply any efficacious remedy to them. This painful sensation was repeated in his own consciousness, in the midst of the personal weaknesses of which he recognised the shamefulness, and the useless acknowledgment of which he was perpetually multiplying. But it is a mistake, in the first place, to take all this for an exceptional case of self-distrust. It is the eternal history of the human race before Medea's video meliora proboque, and after it, for ever and ever. Historians of the school of George Samarine are certainly mistaken when they take Ivan to be a man who lived lonely and misunderstood. He alone, according to their theory, recognised that the habits of his period were full of terrifying symptoms of decomposition and awful omens for the future, and, finding nobody would share his scorn and hate of all these things, he grew so bitter in his loneliness that he struck out blindly at everything around him, because he did not know how to separate the evil from the good, either in himself or his surroundings, and also because his will was not so strong as his intellectual superiority was great. This judgment wrongs the Sovereign and his period. Ivan knew and frequented the company of men far more capable than himself of conceiving the necessity, and also the conditions, for a renovation of morals. In this particular the disciples of Nil Sorski aimed at a much higher ideal than his. On the other hand, the Tsar, in his struggle with his boïars, knew right well what he was doing, and the objects at which his blows were struck. To represent him, as Bestoujev-Rioumine has represented him, as a sort of Hamlet, constitutionally inclined to abstract reflection, and stumbling hither and thither at every step. the moment he entered the world of realities, is an historical absurdity. The Opritchnina was not an abstract idea, and Hamlet would certainly have been quite incapable of playing the most delicate of games with the most finished of diplomatists of his time.

Ivan had a will of his own. Some people have thought they perceived a proof of the weakness of his will in the instruments he chose to carry out his plans—instruments which he constantly destroyed because he could not find suitable ones, and which he nevertheless replaced, because, being himself unable to give form to his own ideas, he could not do without them—a man of meditation, not of action, a theorist, an artist too, who could conceive what was good and beautiful, but had not the skill to pass from conception to realities; and a man, also, who sought sensation and picturesque effect even in the horrors of the torture-chamber. … This is the theory put forward by Constantine Akssakov. It seems to admit the possibility, for the head of a State, of doing everything himself. In this even Peter the Great could not succeed, and he has been blamed, with some show of justice, for having lost himself in details. The great man could not find enough helpers. Ivan's helpers were inadequate, like Biélski, or vile, like Skouratov; but he set to work in his own person, and put his own hand to the task, oftener, indeed, than he should have done.

Like Peter the Great, again, he was a carrier on of a previous work. He followed in his grandfather's footsteps, and was, like him, the champion of similar interests—moral, intellectual, social, and more especially political—in the struggle between the future and the past. He brought in a few new ideas, but more particularly some new weapons, of his own. Ivan III. had fought in silence, with an axe. Ivan IV., true to his own period, did not, indeed, put the axe back into its bear-skin sheath, but he supplemented the labours of the executioner by the action of his economic reforms and of the power of speech. Was he not bound to speak, since men's tongues were wagging all round him? Silence was to fall once more, when the theory of the absolute and despotic power had triumphed, and the Empire was subject to its rule; and no faint echo of Kourbski's bold clamour was to rise till Europe witnessed the coming of another epoch of revolutionary disturbance, and heard the voice of Radichtchev. But Ivan, in the sixteenth century, could do no less than follow the impulse which prompted every intellectual being, even in Russia, to discourse.

Yet, contrary to the general opinion, he proved himself much stronger in practice than in theory; for though within the borders of his own country he maintained his adopted programme against every Kourbski of them, and carried it to its logical conclusion, and though, outside them, he yielded to nothing but Batory's genius and the good fortune which attended it, his ideas, both as to politics and religion, frequently strike us as vague, confused, and unsettled, and his powers of reflection by no means correspond with the power of his instinct, which is extraordinarily sure, as a rule. He is instinctively inclined to depend on the masses of the population, and yet he gives over his peasants to be squeezed by his 'men who serve.' Devout as he is—a fortnight after his marriage in 1547 he makes a pilgrimage to the Troïtsa, and goes the whole way on foot, in spite of the bitter cold—and deeply convinced of the excellence of his form of religion, as his discussions with Possevino and Rokita prove, he frequently gives vent to sallies savouring strongly of free-thought. On other occasions he shows a tolerance which does not seem to be founded on any principle, for it is intermittent and opportunist. The Protestants had an experience of this when they were first permitted to build two churches at Moscow, and then vilely maltreated after they were built. After the taking of Polotsk in 1563, the Tsar was present at a general drowning of the Jews in the river Dvina. Just at that moment there was an interdict on all Jewish trading in Muscovy; but Ivan gave a very singular explanation to the Polish envoys when they complained of this edict. 'The Jews,' he said, 'were turning his subjects away from the Christian faith, and, further, they were addicted to guilty attempts to kill with poisoned herbs.'

The Tsar was here alluding to a most extraordinary story. Giovanni Tetaldi, a Florentine agent, who lived in Russia from 1551 to 1565, and whose recollections have been published by Monsieur Chmourlo (St. Petersburg, 1891), speaks of certain mummies, the introduction of which into the country would seem to have resulted in a smuggling trial, complicated by aggravating circumstances. These embalmed corpses, imported from Africa via Constantinople, were, it appears, much sought after in Russia, and there was a considerable traffic in them, which, like that of all kinds of spices, was in the hands of the Jews. To play a trick on some of these, a Polish merchant sent them, as though it had been a mummy, the body of a recently executed criminal, which he had previously stuffed with aromatic herbs. Mummies paid no entrance duty, and the Jews were accused of habitually and fraudulently introducing, under this name, products liable to a very heavy tax. To this sin the popular imagination had added homicidal intentions. Ivan does not seem, however, to have taken any pains to clear the matter up, being quite satisfied with the repugnance with which the Jews inspired him personally. This man of impulse was, after his own fashion, likewise a man of sentiment.

No one can deny that there was a great deal of sentiment in the fixed idea of going to England which he nursed until he died. That was the romance of his life, and though he did not overlook the practical side of the adventure, he put a great deal of fancy into it. The alliance against Batory and the marriage with Mary Hastings were part of the same dream.

Ivan's exceedingly personal conception of his part and way of playing it, his impetuous vigour of action, his exuberant mimicry, his fulness of gesture and redundance of language, have built up the illusion as to his having been a sort of hero-Cossack, out of the cycle of Ilia of Mourom. It must be admitted, indeed, that this cycle was only definitely closed in Russia by the reforms of the eighteenth century, and that up till that date the existence of the race ruled by Peter the Great was spent in a series of exploits, and lulled by the harmonious chantings of its rustic bards. Ivan shares with Ilia of Mourom that quality of humour which still exists in the national temperament, and his fits of furious rage. But the Tsar's psychology is far the more complicated of the two. Behind the external mask which imparts a family resemblance to these figures, and in spite of the dreamy quality common to both, we note, in Ivan’s case, a great depth of realism. After he passed away, leaving his iron sceptre in feeble hands, and carrying the secret of his all-powerfulness with him into his grave, his people was to sing on, and dream on, for another century. But he had shaken it rudely once, and his life had narrowed the space available for heroes who would not wake out of their dreams and take their place amongst realities, in the hierarchy, under discipline. Such as they had better flee to the Ukraine.

Imagination held a great place in the moral existence of the man we are now studying, and in this there is an essential difference between Ivan and Peter the Great, one of the most positive intelligences the world has ever known. He is also distinguished from his great successor by his very high opinion of his own powers, which is most curiously mingled with that distrust of himself and others of which he was never to rid himself. Peter, like that builder up of a colossal American fortune whom a reporter lately questioned as to the talents to which he owed his success, would have readily affirmed, 'Talents? I have none at all! I work—I work myself to death, and that is all!' Ivan thought he had a great many talents, if not every one. He represented a race of foreign conquerors, and in this very fact of his origin he recognised an element of personal superiority. In Peter the Great we see the consciousness and pride of a common nationality strongly developed. As to certain sides of his temperament, the Reformer was of the populace, and was proud of it, and he would never have said, when handing over some ingots of gold to a foreign workman, 'See well to the weight, for all Russians are thieves!' Ivan frequently made speeches of this kind. He was always talking about his 'German ancestors.' Do the Viennese archives contain a last will, according to which the son of Vassili left his Empire to the House of Hapsburg? I have not been able to verify this fact, which has been advanced by Kostomarov ('Monographies,' xiii., p. 304, note), and I think it most improbable. But the clumsiest fables often have some foundation in truth, and Veit Venge was no doubt merely echoing some remark that had fallen from the lips of the Sovereign—who was fond, it seems, of tracing back the derivation of the word boïar to Baiern (Karamzine, ix., note to p. 166)—when he speaks of the Bavarian descent of Ivan the Terrible. Ivan’s real last will, and the best expression of his being, is to be found in his work, to which I must now return for the last time, so as to sum up its nature and point out its results.

V.—The Results of His Reign.

The massacres ordered by Ivan have been notoriously exaggerated by his enemies and his detractors, the first egging on the second. Kourbski mentions the entire destruction of families—such as the Kolytchev, the Zabolotski, the Odiévski, the Vorotynski—all of which appear in the inventories of the following century. The gaps created in the ranks of the aristocracy by emigration were certainly much larger, and even so they were not entirely emptied. Ivan's conduct in this particular was not dictated by any fixed principle, and he himself endeavoured to ensure the future of three great houses—the Mstislavski, the Glinski, and the Romanov—whose fidelity seemed guaranteed by lack of connections in the country, by a material state of dependence, or by family relationships. The two first-named families had just arrived from Lithuania, and the last was related to the Sovereign’s own house.

The principal factors in the weakening of the aristocratic element were economic causes and political measures. In the course of the sixteenth century, as a result of the condition of debt to which everybody had been reduced, landed property began to crumble away of itself in the boïars' hands. In the registers kept by a moneylender of that period, named Protopopov, is a list of noble names, and the archives of the Monastery of St. Cyril afford proof of the continuance of this state of things. In 1557 Prince D. D. Oukhtomski, whose credit with such persons as Protopopov had probably become exhausted, sold the monks a village, with twenty-six hamlets round it, for 350 roubles; three years later he received 150 roubles, and gave up possession of four more outlying places. At about the same time the community acquired a large property, also belonging to this family, and in 1575 it received another lot of meadows, 'for Masses'; so that, in one way or another, the whole of the Oukhtomski properties passed into the same hands (see Rojkov, 'Agriculture … in the Sixteenth Century,' 1899, p. 396).

Now, this financial distress amongst the great families was the direct consequence of the new political system, and the obligations it had cast upon them. Universal service implied residence at Court, or near it, even if it did not imply active military service or the performance of some official function or other. When the nobles had lived on their family properties they had found it hard enough to draw a scanty income from them. Once they left them, they were very soon ruined. Thereupon came the Opritchnina—that is to say, wholesale dispossession under the conditions I have already described—and this dealt the position, economic and political, of the persons concerned its death-blow. Ivan’s system of guarantees increased the effect of emigration twofold—nay, a hundredfold, seeing that for every fugitive there were from ten to a hundred persons who had to pay for him. Except for the Stroganovs, you will not find a single instance of a large fortune in the aristocratic class which escaped this other form of massacre. If in the present day some few authentic descendants of Rurik and Guédymine, such as the Troubetzkoïs, the Galitzines, the Kourakines, the Soltykovs, the Boutourlines, still possess some worldly wealth, their opulence only dates from the eighteenth century, and from the favours of some Empress.

And thus a class which already differed from the Western aristocracies, in that the feudal principle was entirely absent—from it, was completely and democratically levelled. The hierarchy of the service did indeed create new titles and fresh prerogatives, guaranteed by the miéstnitchestvo, but these were not corporative elements in the Western signification of the term. They rather tended to break up the family and reduce it to atoms, on which the hold of the absolute power continued, and grew perpetually stronger.

This revolution, which had seemed destined to benefit the popular element, brought it nothing but the bitterest fruit. The new system was a house of two stories, both built on the same plan. The officials were upstairs, the serfs below, and slavery everywhere. But in this matter all Ivan the Terrible did was to complete or carry on that which had been the Moscow programme for two centuries past, and the Opritchnina itself was no more than an extension of the policy applied by the Tsar's predecessors to all their conquered towns and territories. It was a sort of colonization backwards. As to colonization in the normal direction, it continued to depend on private enterprise; but Ivan opened a wider field for it.

Westwards his expansive policy failed. It would not be just to cast all the responsibility for this on him. If Peter the Great, when he took the same road 150 years later, had found his way barred by a man like Batory, instead of by a madman like Charles XII., the result of the Battle of Poltava might have been very different. Eastward, Kazan, Astrakan, and Siberia make up a noble score in Ivan's favour.

From the economic point of view, the conquest of Kazan did not result in the immediate advantages that might have been expected from it. The trade of that place, which the Tartars had exaggerated in their desire to induce the Sultan to retake possession of the town, was a disappointment to the English merchants. Ivan did not fail to seek compensation elsewhere. When he offered the Swedish traders a free passage through his dominions, even for going to India, he stipulated for a similar privilege for his own subjects, in their enterprises, existing or to be undertaken, with Lübeck and even with Spain. In 1567 the chroniclers mention the departure of Russian merchants for Antwerp and London, and in 1568 English authorities mention the presence on the banks of the Thames of two such Muscovites, Tviérdikov and Pogoriélov, who were taken to be Ambassadors. They performed both offices, no doubt, and devoted their endeavours partly to diplomacy and partly to mercantile affairs.

The development of industry in Ivan's time was rather superficial; the field was widened by the annexation of the eastern provinces. The acquisition of the Lower Volga favoured the development of fisheries. There were ninety-nine establishments of this kind at Péréiaslavl in 1562. After the occupation of the banks of the Kama by the Stroganovs, and the discovery of salt-mines near Astrakan, the salt-works there attained great importance.

Ivan's financial policy does not call for praise. It may be summed up as a series of expedients, all savouring more or less of robbery. Fletcher mentions several of these. Governors of provinces were treated with the utmost tolerance till they had gorged themselves with plunder, when they were forced to give up the spoil. The same system was applied to monasteries, which were allowed to heap up wealth in the same way. There were temporary seizures or monopolies of certain forms of produce or merchandise, thus made to bring in very large profits. Fines were imposed on officials for imaginary offences. The English diplomat tells an almost incredible story about a capful of live flies demanded in this way from the Moscow municipality.

The taxes themselves were managed in the most senseless manner that could have been devised. Generally speaking, every fresh need resulted in the imposition of a fresh tax, and there never was the smallest care as to fitting the burdens to the means of those who had to bear them, nor the slightest prudence as to killing the goose that laid the golden eggs. By the time the end of the reign was reached, the bird’s laying-powers were very nearly exhausted.

The interests best served by the conquest of Kazan and Astrakan were those of the Church, whose borders were thus enlarged. Gourii, first Archbishop of Kazan, made a good many converts among the Tartars; but this triumph of orthodox proselytism was counterbalanced, till the close of Ivan's reign, by the prolonged resistance of the paganism still existing in the interior of his dominions, and especially in certain districts in the province of Novgorod. As to the Tsar's attempts at religious reform, which he soon abandoned or only carried on in a most perfunctory fashion, they produced no appreciable result at all, and the intellectual and moral condition of the clergy was in no way altered by them.

Yet, from a more general point of view, there was a visible increase in the intellectual life of the country. Though the schools planned in 1551 never were anything but plans, though printing did not get beyond the stage of rudimentary attempt, the author of the letters to Kourbski did none the less witness a certain upward trend of ideas, which took their flight out of the narrow walls of the cloister and the confined circle of religious discussion into the world of secular thought. This beginning of the secularizing process was one of the great conquests of Ivan's reign.

On the other hand, Ivan, even in his international dealings, could not or would not break with certain barbarous traditions which harmonized but ill with progress such as this. Just as in past times, envoys sent to his Court were often treated as if they had been prisoners of war, and the fate of his genuine prisoners of war continued to be lamentable. The happiest thing they could expect was to be sold or given to the monasteries as serfs. Occasionally they were simply thrown into the water. In 1581, Ivan gave orders that when the Swedish 'tongues'—in other words, the persons, belligerents or nonbelligerents, taken with a view to obtaining information—had served their purpose, they were all to be killed. Polish and Swedish captives were used as current coin in the exchanges arranged by Tartar merchants on the Constantinople markets.

But as he stood, with all his faults and vices, his errors and his crimes, his weaknesses and his failures, Ivan was popular, and his was a genuine popularity, which has stood the twofold test of time and of misfortune. This, too, is a result. In the cycle of the historic songs of Russia, the Tsar holds the place of honour, and is shown in by no means repulsive colours; he is open to every feeling of humanity—severe, but just, and even generous. True, indeed, his sacerdotal majesty lifts him up so high and surrounds him with such an aureole of glory that no critic would dare to lay his hand upon him. But we feel that, in spite of that, all the popular sympathies are with him. When he indulges in savage orgies over the corpses of the vanquished Tartars, or hands one of his boïars over to the executioner on the merest hint of suspicion, the masses are on his side; they applaud the carnage, and rejoice in their master's joy. Even when they cannot applaud, they shut their eyes respectfully, religiously, and cast a mantle of decent fiction over that which makes their consciences revolt. The populace will not admit that the Tsar killed his own son. The Tsar of the bylines bestows a noble reward on Nikita Romanovitch, who, at the peril of his own life, saves that of the victim; for the moment the order was given the Sovereign had repented. This Tsar has some weaknesses, indeed; he is apt to be choleric, and his first instinct is not always his best. Under the walls of Kazan, whither the intentional anachronism of the poets has already brought Ermak and even Stenka Razine, Ivan taxes his artificers, who have been too slow about blowing up a mine, with treason, and threatens them with the gallows. The chiefs, cowards in this case, as always, according to the popular historians, shelter themselves behind their subordinates. But one young soldier speaks boldly in defence of his fellows, the mine blows up, and the Tsar acknowledges his own mistake and the merit of the humble hero. Passing into the conquered town, Ivan spares the Tsarina Helen, who comes out to meet him bearing bread and salt, and is content with having her baptized by force and thrust into a convent. But he has the eyes of the Tsar Simeon, who shows less goodwill and greater dignity, torn out of his head; and here, again, the populace applauds the victor.

This is the theory of morals peculiar to the period to which Ivan's name is attached. The ideal it evolves is one of material greatness and brute force—a twofold postulate to which the Russian race has proved itself ready to sacrifice everything else, though it has endeavoured to delude itself as to the value of the end pursued, and the extent of the sacrifice it has entailed. In this other dream, Tsar and people both had their part, and they were to make it a living reality on the day when Peter took Ivan's place, and completed the incarnation which gave birth to modern Russia. But when Ivan died, this work was in the embryonic stage. His labour had been one of destruction, more especially, and he had no time to build up again. Still less had he ensured the continuity of his effort. The legacy left his country by the luckless adversary of Batory, the murderer of the Tsarevitch, his own heir, was a war with Poland and a state of anarchy. The germ was there, too, of a fresh inroad by the rivals of the Slavonic West, destined, under the shelter of the false Dmitri, to reach Moscow itself, and of a triumphant return of the aristocratic oligarchy, which, favoured by the general crumbling of the unfinished edifice, was to recover its old advantages. This was to be the history of the seventeenth century. But Peter the Great was not to guard his inheritance any better against future risks; and yet, after a fresh eclipse, Catherine was to come, even as he had come. The strength was there still, increased materially and tempered morally—the imperishable pledge of a mighty future.