THE POLITICAL AND INTELLECTUAL EVOLUTION
I.—The Conflict of Ideas and Principles.
'After the Battle of Montlhéry (1465), the Bishop of Paris, with councillors and Churchmen, waited on Louis XI. at Tournelles, and besought him in all gentleness to allow his affairs to be directed, for the future, by good counsel. This counsel was to be given him by six burghers, six Parliamentary councillors, and six clerks of the University. … Sixteen years later, in 1481, the Comte du Perche was arrested, by Louis XI.'s orders, and shut up in the narrowest cage that had yet been constructed—a cage only a pace and a half long—all because he had tried to get out of France. …" (Michelet, Histoire de France, vii. 301; viii. 343).
Between the years 1551 and 1571, a somewhat similar drama was played out at Moscow, amidst circumstances which, though certainly different, possessed many points of analogy. I have already referred to the current of ideas which marked the opening period of Ivan's personal government. The Livonian war, with the diplomatic complications which accompanied it, brought in a draught of European air, which only increased the strength of this current and the complexity of the problems tossed on its eddies. Ivan's father had already presided over the establishment of a foreign quarter in his capital, and under his own particular protection. The Poles and Lithuanians settled there were soon absorbed into the rest of the population, but Ivan's victorious campaigns shortly brought in a fresh contingent of foreign neighbours, prisoners of war, or involuntary immigrants, gathered on the battlefields and in the towns and country places of Livonia. The suburb on the right bank of the Iaouza to which they were confined long preserved a certain autonomy, for it became a centre of Western culture, and a nursery for men destined to play a considerable part in the national history. We have already noted the careers of Taube and Kruse. Other Livonians, who belonged, like them, to this German sloboda—such men as Kloss and Beckmann—figured in the Sovereign's immediate circle, and were actively employed in his diplomacy.
The disembarkation of the English navigators on the northern coasts of the Empire in 1554 opened a new era of European dealings with Russia, and another current began to flow in the opposite direction—from Muscovy to Europe. Ivan IV. sent Michael Matviéiévitch Lykov, voiévode of Narva, whose father had blown himself up rather than surrender that town, to travel in Germany, for purposes of study and observation.
And the eastward journeys taken by Russians, which had hitherto been made for pious objects only, began to alter their character. Vassili Pozniakov, a merchant, sent in 1560 to carry pecuniary assistance to the Patriarch of Alexandria and the Archbishop of Mount Sinai, was also commissioned to describe the habits of the countries through which he passed, and his narrative of this journey attained the extraordinary good fortune of being handed down to posterity, and gaining huge publicity, under a false name, and thanks to a misunderstanding.
The fifteenth century had already bequeathed a variety of pilgrims' narratives, quite as interesting, according to the testimony of Srezniévski the linguist, as that of Vasco di Gama, to the national literature. Of these the general public knew nothing, and twenty years after his return to Moscow, Pozniakov's report was equally ignored. But now another traveller, Tryphonius Korobéinikov, attracted general attention. The story of his adventures, reproduced in over 200 known copies, and which ran through forty successive editions, is generally read, even nowadays. It has been accepted in chronographic works, and even by hagiographic writers. Now, Pozniakov and Korobéinikov were one and the same person, or, rather, the second man's story was a simple transcription of his predecessor's. Korobéinikov had been to Constantinople, indeed, twice over, in 1582 and 1593, but he never got as far as the Holy Places.
This confusion, unjust as it is to the memory of the more enterprising of the two travellers, testifies to the progress made in this particular in a very short space of time. True, Pozniakov's narrative owed its principal interest to the religious element which formed its chief basis, and also to the picture it drew of the sufferings of the Christian populations under the Moslem yoke. None the less, the curiosity and sympathy it stirred are proof of an enlargement of the minds of its numerous readers. Muscovy was issuing from the lair in which she had crouched for so many years. She was venturing outside, and from without, others were beckoning and calling to her. That adventure of Hans Schlitte which I have already mentioned had another side, puzzling enough, it is true, but which seems to show that this servant, employed by the Tsar to recruit European workmen and artisans, considerably widened the. scope of his own mission (Pierling, La Russie et le Saint-Siège, i. 324, etc.). He imposed both on Charles V. and Pope Julius III., and put himself forward as an Ambassador deputed to treat for the reunion of the two Churches. Ivan was probably quite unaware of this attempt, but the Hanoverian adventurer, well recommended by the Emperor and warmly welcomed at Rome, made so much stir about it, that interest was awakened both in Germany and in Italy, and that Poland was somewhat disturbed. Thus the episode may be included in that series of gropings which were to result in the final rapprochement between modernized Russia and Europe.
Schlitte, as we know, failed even as to that portion of his mission in which he was quite straightforward, but his very failure had indirect results which served the cause. Ivan, when he heard of the treatment inflicted on his agent by the Livonians, published a ukase at and round Novgorod which forbade the sale of German prisoners in Germany or Poland; they were all to be sent to the Muscovite markets. And at the same time the Tsar commanded that all captives appearing well versed in mining operations and the working of metals should be sent to him at Moscow.
Veit Zenge, the Bavarian agent already known to us, dwells, in one of his curious reports, dated 1567, on the Russians' extraordinary facility for assimilating every element of foreign culture—industry, commerce, and art. After the taking of Narva they had at once entered into relations with the Low Countries and even with France. Once a thing was shown them, they copied it immediately, and with singular ease. Ivan did not choose this receptivity should be limited to things only. The beginning of printing—that mighty weapon of intellectual growth which the preceding century had bequeathed to the modern world—dated, on Slav territory, from the year 1491, and amongst the craftsmen Schlitte was to have sent him, the Tsar had asked for printers. There had been printers at Wilna since 1525. In 1550 Ivan applied to the King of Denmark, who sent him, two years later, a man, half printer and half apostle, Hans Missenheim by name, who brought with him a Protestant Bible and some books concerning religious polemics. We have no clear knowledge of the result of this last attempt. The apostle has left no trace, but the printer certainly had pupils, for in 1553, we note the presence of two Russian typographers, Ivan Fédorov and Peter Timofiéviev, and in 1556, that of a typefounder, Vassili Nikiforov, at Moscow and Novgorod. In 1564, the printing of the first book produced by the native presses was completed. It consisted of the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of St. Paul. The edition, though faulty as to spelling, is of handsome appearance. But the work of the printers was interrupted, unhappily, by a popular disturbance (p. 72). My readers will be reminded here of Louis XI., who had to defend the first printers he brought in from Nüremberg against accusations of sorcery. Fédorov and Nikiforov were driven to seek refuge in Poland, but in 1568, Andronik Niéviéja, one of their disciples, took up their work at Moscow, and printed a Psalter, of which a later edition appeared in 1578, at the Sloboda of Alexandrov.
Church books still! Church books indeed; but in such works as these their readers—even their Western readers—found many things we have forgotten how to seek in them. It was literature, at all events; it was intellectual food, and, with the writings of Ivan and Kourbski, of which I shall soon have to speak, and the travellers' narratives, to which I have already referred, this same epoch witnessed the beginnings in Russia of a secular literature which even reached the borders of romantic fiction.
Thus set in motion, the national mind began by transforming certain stories of exotic birth—part of the literary inheritance of the preceding century—which it amplified and adapted to current events. Thus, in the legend of Drakoul, Prince of Wallachia, the incident of the nailing of the foreign envoys' caps to their heads by the voiévode's order was applied to Ivan. In Ivachka Peresviétov's famous epistle to the Tsar, he speaks of two other little books which, he says, he has handed to the Sovereign. One of these is still unknown to us. The other is a sort of novel, half political and half historical, in which the sayings of Peter, Palatine of Wallachia—which are reproduced, indeed, in the epistle—and the chastisement inflicted by Sultan Mahmet on unjust judges and pettifoggers are used to justify the reign of terror inaugurated by Ivan. This story was published in the 'Memoirs of the University of Kazan' in 1863.
The external influences thus entering the Muscovite world of the sixteenth century by all these various paths evoked reactions of divers kinds. In the upper classes of society, among those lettered boïars of whom Kourbski was the most eminent representative, they naturally gave birth to leanings such as those Louis XI. had had to put down in the preceding century. They brought with them a breath of liberty, a germ of independent development, and incited to a direct conflict with that autocratic system which, by virtue of the national atavisms, was gaining continuous and increasing strength. Very different was the impression produced on the mind of the representative of that system. All Ivan perceived in the lessons that came to him from the West was their practical teaching as to the reorganization of his Government on a more modern, but a by no means more liberal, basis. Forced into an expensive war, he realized all that he lacked, from the military, financial, and administrative point of view, to enable him to cope successfully with his European adversaries, so much better equipped than he, and when he tried to provide himself with their war machinery the whole of that bygone world of ancient rights and hereditary privilege and family precedence rose up in his path, and interfered, even on the battlefield, frustrating the movements of his troops, thinning their numbers, and disorganizing the highest commands.
Ivan was certainly no opponent of the family principle, to which he owed his own titles, to say nothing of his excessive pretensions. He was disposed to choose assistants of humble birth, because he needed men who would serve him and obey him. But when one of them fell into the hands of the Tartars and besought his help, he did not fail, when he sent the money demanded for his ransom—2,000 roubles—to write: 'Your likes were not worth more than fifty in the old days!' To serve, to obey, this is what the great boïars, now enrolled in the class of the sloojilyié loodi, knew not how to do, and did not care to learn.
The war in Livonia, with the general mobilization of all available forces it entailed, and the maintenance of that cumbersome organization its continuance involved, made a conflict—the continuation, under a new form, of the old struggle between Muscovite Russia and the Russia of the appanages—quite inevitable. The ancient Russia of the appanages was a confused agglomeration of principalities, large and small, within which the directing principle of politics was the contract between the Prince and the free man who took service with him, as and when he chose; hence no constraint, nothing fixed, nothing eternal. Muscovite Russia was a centralized State, based on universal and obligatory service, on the division of the population into classes bound to perform definite tasks—forced labour in the lower ranks, employed in commerce or in manual toil, and all feeding the State treasury; 'men who served' in the upper ranks, employed in the State army or in administrative service, and obliged, from childhood till they drew their last breath, to give the State their whole life's labour. All of these, whether descended from the free comrades or the free peasants of the old days, were now turned into the living straps and wheels of the Government machine—voiévodes, starosts, for criminal or land affairs—set like so many suction pumps over the very springs of the national life. Wherefore, at every step, liberty was strangled utterly, and duty, regulation, slavery, reigned supreme.
Already, towards the middle of the preceding century, Ivan's grandfather had found himself obliged to crush two of the great families, the Riapolovski and the Patrikiév. This blow only strengthened the resistance which had its focus in the cell of Maximus the Greek. The twofold current, religious and intellectual, of that period corresponded, indeed, with the antagonism in politics. While Joseph Volotski and his followers, the Iosiflianié, were popularizing the Byzantine doctrine of absolute power, the partisans of the old system of freedom found sympathizers among the monks 'from beyond the Volga.' The two oppositions, political and religious, joined hands on the question of the division of power and the legitimate influence to be exercised over the Sovereign. One claimed the boïar's right to sit on the council, and the other that of the Church to intercede.
Ivan's attitude with regard to the problems thus put forward strikes us as being partly in close conformity with his historical precedents, and, as to another part, quite peculiar to himself. He cannot be taken to be the first autocrat, nor even the first terrorist, Russia had ever known. From the fifteenth century onwards, terrorism had become an habitual weapon of government in the hands of the Russian monarchs.
Was Ivan the Terrible the representative and champion of a powerful and strongly-centralized monarchy, which he had received with all its ancient traditions, but which he sought to renovate; the disappointed idealist imagined by some Slavophils, who in his despair, so they assert, struck with his own hand at what he had failed to transform, grew wilder and wilder as the ruins thickened round his feet, and ended at last in a very madness of murder and destruction? This seems a somewhat hasty conclusion, which must not be unquestioningly accepted.
In the Tsar's case, as I have already admitted, there was some admixture of intoxication and even of frenzy; but both the person and the policy of Ivan have their admirers, and his work has been by no means doomed to come to nought. Some of his reforms even yet impart their special and recognised character to Russia, and to her political and social organization.
We have quite as much difficulty in recognising him in the tragic actor, for ever seeking picturesque poses and dramatic effects, depicted by Constantine Akssakov ('Works,' 2nd edition, i. 114, etc.), as in the base and vulgar despot stigmatized by Kostomarov, or the mere maniac ranked by Mikhaïlovski ('Critical Essays,' 1895, p. 112) as a common lunatic. From his ancestors, Ivan inherited a State the archaic basis of which was in process of transformation. Certain principles of the old appanage system he sought to eliminate, but others he sought to maintain, subject to their being brought into harmony with the necessities of modern existence. From his intellectual masters, from Joseph Volotski and Vassiane Toporkov, he learnt that his power, divine in its essence, could not be circumscribed, nor divided, nor controlled; and Nature, to conclude, had endowed him with a headstrong temperament, violent and irritable, a fiery and disordered imagination, and a mind, quick, subtle, penetrating, and ingenious, but ill-balanced, most unsettled, and prone to exaggeration and excess.
The peculiar way in which he understood his part and played it was the outcome of all these things. He felt it to be very great, and concluded that everything else must be subordinated to it. When he met resistance he broke it down, as his fathers had done before him; but his effort was greater, because the resistance was more powerful, and his violence was greater, too, because he was violent by temperament.
He did not admit, any more than his ancestors had done, any encroachment on his will in the form of unsolicited advice; but the practice of his own will and pleasure, which he followed like them, was mingled with a certain roughness and extravagance, because he was rough by nature, and of a most fanciful mind. Yet his fancies, as I shall endeavour to show, never went so far as to lead him out of his path, and though he persevered in it—if not in everybody's teeth, in the teeth of the majority at all events—he claimed to be no despot at all. In this particular, realist as he was in practice, he had built himself up a theory borrowed from the most transcendental ideology. What was it all about, and for what reason was the Tsar imposing this severe law, or that effort, on his subjects, who were trying, some of them, to escape it? Was it to create a great Empire for himself, to conquer Livonia as he had conquered Kazan and Astrakan, to win triumphs, cover himself with glory? No indeed! His one and only aim was to bring his people to a knowledge of Divine truth! Vainly, then, and falsely, did they attack his person and rebel against his rule. For this rule, properly understood, far from being despotic, had nothing personal about it. The powers that really directed it were: the Divine mercy, the grace of the Mother of Christ, the prayers of all the saints, and the benediction of the ancient Sovereigns! The reigning Tsar only intervened as the living expression of all these hypostases, amongst which the boïars, importunate and perfidious counsellors, muddlers or traitors, 'barking dogs who strove to bite their master,' had no place at all. The Tsar, when he listened to none save whom he would, and punished as he saw fit, was only insuring the existence within his own Empire of—the kingdom of God!
It is clear that with a man who claimed such authority and such a mission, discussion was impossible, and no division of power practicable. Let us pass on to the history of the struggle.
II.—The Disgrace of Sylvester and Adachev.
There has been a dispute, and it still continues, as to the character and performances of the men to whose influence Ivan was pleased to submit, and whose advice he condescended to take, for a certain time. The most probable solution of the question, taking into consideration the many apparent contradictions in their actions and opinions, is that they began by halting between the two parties which stood face to face. At a later period, following the natural bent of their origin, their intellectual associations, and their political connections, they brought over a portion of the opposition to their side, and ended by attempting to form a special group, a select centre, of which they themselves would have been the leaders. Kourbski's passionate apology leaves us in very little doubt on this head.
After the year 1551, the great council of the Empire, the boïarskaïa douma, only sat in the most intermittent fashion, for it had been relegated to a secondary position by the 'private council,' the inception of which at this period I have already mentioned (p. 37), and which is easily recognised as a reproduction of analogous institutions belonging to the history of the Western monarchies: the consistorium principis or consilium aulicum of Germany, the commune consilium of the Norman Kings in England, or the consilium regium of France. On this council Adachev and Sylvester sat with Kourbski and some other boïars and Churchmen, amongst whom Kourbski mentions the Metropolitan Macarius and three Morozovs, Michael, Vladimir, and Leo, while other documents give us the names of Princes Dmitri Kourliatey and Simon Rostoyski. Until the period of the war in Livonia, Sylvester's influence seems to have been preponderating, at all events, if not undivided. His position as an ecclesiastic, his masterful temperament, and his meticulous pedantry, together with the qualities of a supple and wily courtier, revealed in the Domostroï, naturally gave him a strong hold over the mind of the young Sovereign, who was profoundly religious, and not over sure of himself, as yet. But in 1553, the first difficulty between the mentor and his pupil arose. In the course of a somewhat serious illness, Ivan was led to occupy himself with the matter of his succession. The hereditary succession to the throne by primogeniture had only recently been established, and the Tsar thought it prudent to make the nobles swear allegiance to his son Dmitri. Suddenly, Prince Vladimir Andréiévitch, the Sovereign's uncle, put forward his own claim. This was a return to the old appanage system, according to which uncles took precedence of their nephews, and the rage and agitation of the sick man may be imagined, when he saw most of his boïars side with this claimant, and support his pretensions. What were their motives? A certain regard for the old custom, no doubt, but, above all things, a feeling of jealous pride as to the maternal relatives of the young Prince to whom they were expected to pay homage. The government of such a child should certainly have suited them—it would have insured them years of oligarchy. But for whose benefit? When the Chouïski and the Biélski fought for power, in Helen's days, it had been a struggle between the descendants of the ancient Sovereigns, at all events; now it would be a fight between mere parvenus. And round the bed on which Ivan lay, expecting death, the viélmoji obstinately clung to their non possumus. 'We will not kiss the cross for the Zakharine.' To 'kiss the cross' meant to take the oath. Already Vladimir and his mother were doing all in their power to stimulate their supporters' zeal, opening their treasuries, showering promises, while the Zakharine themselves had taken fright, and seemed inclined to bow their heads.
At this crisis, Ivan's failing eyes sought Sylvester and Adachey. They were certain to support the few defenders of the legitimate heir with all their strength! Disappointment! The only men who proved energetic and faithful, and succeeded in rallying a few boïars to the cause, were Prince Vladimir Vorotynski and the diak Ivan Mikhaïlovitch Viskovatyï. Neither Sylvester nor Adachev lifted a finger. They did not refuse to take the oath themselves, but they observed the most cautious neutrality, and carefully abstained from taking any part in the passionate discussions which disturbed the quiet of the very chamber in which the dying man lay, and increased his suffering. The favourite's own father, the Okolnitchyï Feodor Adachev, went so far as to declare himself openly in Vladimir's favour. Thus a whole day dragged out. The next morning the Tsar was better, and Dmitri's partisans increased in number. Ina fright, Vladimir hurried to the sick-chamber, in which hitherto he had not deigned to set his foot. Those who had been faithful from the outset stopped him on the threshold, and one voice—one only—was raised to beg admittance for him—the voice of Sylvester, bound to the monarch by old ties of friendship!
Ivan recovered, and he did not forget. In performance of a vow made during his illness, he departed on pilgrimage to the monastery of St Cyril at Biélooziéro, taking his wife and son with him. If Kourbski is to be believed, Maximus the Greek endeavoured to prevent the accomplishment of this pious undertaking. The monks of Biélooziéro were the disciples of Joseph Volotski, and on his way thither, at the monastery of Piésnoché, on the Iakhroma, the Tsar was to meet an illustrious disciple of the same school, Vassiane Toporkhov, who had been exiled by the boïars in 1542. The Albanian monk is even said to have warned Ivan that his boy would die on the journey, and, whether as the result of the exposure of a delicate child to the winter weather, or of an accident—for, according to some versions, Dmitri was drowned—the prophecy came true. The Tsar brought home a corpse. But he saw Toporkov, and, according to Kourbski, again, asked his advice. What was he to do to keep his boïars in order? 'Never have anybody about you except people who are less intelligent than yourself,' was the reply. It is not very likely that the answer, which is very nearly impertinent, took this form exactly, although the story, introduced into one of the letters written by Kourbski to him, was never contradicted by the Sovereign. We may, therefore, conclude there is some truth in it. But what is still more certain is the state of reciprocal irritation and distrust which reigned between the Tsar and his boïars from the very morrow of the experience through which they had just passed. The refractory nobles' refusal to take the oath was nothing, clearly, but yet another form of their incessant protest against that new order of things of which Dmitri's succession would have been a perpetuation.
In the course of the following years the opposition grew stronger. Some historians, relying on the absence of active resistance or armed rebellion, have gone so far, indeed, as to deny the existence of any struggle at all. They have confused the Muscovy of the earliest Tsars with the France of Louis XI. Owing to the absence of strongly-constituted classes in Russia, the resistance, in her case, could not assume the same character, become collective in its nature, oppose violence with violence. But the men who, like Biélski, offered their services to the enemy, and besought that enemy's assistance to enforce their abolished privileges, or who, like Mstislavski, showed the Tartars the road to the capital—such fugitives and traitors were insurgents, neither more nor less!
Now, just in the year 1554, this flow of emigrants to foreign parts increased to an alarming extent. In July, Prince Nikita Dmitriévitch Rostovski was stopped. and arrested on one of the roads leading to Lithuania. It was then discovered that all his family and his numerous relations, the Lobanov, the Priïmkov, had been in treaty with the King of Poland. From the point of view of the old appanages, there was nothing criminal in all this. It was no more than a putting into practice of the 'right of departure,' and so strong were the ancient ideas and habits, still, that the Tsar did not dare to use too much severity. Rostovski, on the intercession of a great number of influential persons, was merely interned at Biélooziéro. But the Tsar was none the better pleased with those who interceded for him, and amongst these, again, was Sylvester.
From that time forward, probably, the pope's position and that of Adachev were very much undermined. The two comrades' behaviour when the Livonian war began did nothing to restore their credit. They loudly espoused the cause of the boïars, who, in their dislike of the effort the war necessitated and of the disturbance it caused in the traditional trend of the Muscovite policy, condemned the whole enterprise. Yet up to July, 1560, Adachev seems to have been actively employed in diplomatic work. It was not till this period that, being sent into a kind of honourable exile far from Court, he re-entered the ranks of the army, then in Livonia, as third Voiévode of the first regiment. At the same time, Sylvester went into voluntary retirement at the monastery of Biélooziéro, the common refuge of all fallen grandeurs. In his 'History of Ivan' Kourbski has confused events and dates, and connected these disgraces with the illness and death of the Tsarina Anastasia. According to him, the ex-favourites were accused of having poisoned her. The Tsarina fell ill in November, 1559, and died ten months later, after the departure of Adachev and Sylvester, and the very duration of her sufferings would seem to preclude any suspicion of foul play, which, indeed, would have been punished after quite a different fashion. After that event Sylvester and Adachev underwent a trial. Disgrace is in itself a downward slope, and no doubt some sentiment of caution or some remnant of consideration prevented Ivan from at first revealing the full depth of his resentment. But even now the accused men escaped. One received a sentence of still more distant banishment, to the monastery of Solovki on the Frozen Sea, while the other, after a short stay at Fellin, in Livonia, where he had been appointed voiévode, and where, in all probability, he did not keep himself quiet, was sent to prison. No attempt on the Tsarina's life was recognised, evidently, nor, most likely, discussed by the judges; for as to proof people were not over particular in those days. In later years Ivan, in fits of fury, and with the angry clamour of some wild aurochs bellowing in the forest for his mate, reproached his faithless friends with having parted him from 'his doe.' But even then, though he called Sylvester before the 'judgment-seat of the Divine Lamb,' he would not, he said, 'seek judgment against him' here below. And in his very charges he contradicted himself. At one time he accused the two parvenus of having sought to place their aristocratic supporters on a par with the Tsar, at another he asserted their intention of dragging their followers down to their own level. He blamed them for having carried out some of the reforms he cared for most, and which he was still pursuing, such as the conversion of the freeholds into fiefs. The grievances pleaded in the Tsar's correspondence with Kourbski are nothing but arguments for the purposes of his controversy, and when he came to polemics, Ivan was never overnice as to correctness or good faith. To demonstrate the interference of third parties in the affairs of his Government, he did not hesitate to exaggerate and alter facts. Sylvester and Adachev, according to his story, had brought him into such a state of tutelage that they even measured out his hours of sleep to him. 'I was like a child; I had no will at all!' And this argument was also used as a retort when Kourbski complained that his own strength had been overtaxed. 'By whom? Was he not master, then, with the pope,' and 'Adachev, that dog taken off a dung-heap?'
The war in Livonia, undertaken and carried through against the advice of the whole of the 'little council,' in itself suffices to dispose of all these allegations. After the Siege of Kazan, 'all the wise men,' as Kourbski testifies, advised the Tsar to remain in the town for some time. We know he did nothing of the sort. Later, in 1555, the same counsellors met with better success when they begged the Tsar not to flee before the Tartars. A consideration of these facts will enable us to gauge their undoubted influence. Some information as to Sylvester's personal share in it is furnished by one of his letters to the Metropolitan Macarius, concerning the appointment of a prior. It proves that the Tsar commissioned the pope to look into the merits of the candidates brought to his notice. But he had to embody his conclusions in a report, and in the Sovereign's absence, the whole business remained unsettled.
From the day on which they refused to stand by Dmitri, Sylvester and Adachev ceased to be Anastasia's friends. Their destiny may have been affected by her premature end, and it is probable, likewise, that their fall was hastened by some other event, of which we know nothing. All this period of the reign is wrapped in obscurity.
The close of Sylvester's life, too, slips out of the historian's ken. Adachev died in prison at the end of two years. 'If they had not parted me from my doe,' Ivan kept saying, 'Saturn would not have had so many victims!' The confession is worth remembering. Kourbski mentions a widow of Polish origin, Mary Magdalen by name, accused of guilty relations with Adachev, and executed, with five of her sons. At the same time, several of the ex-favourite's relations—his brother Daniel, with his twelve-year-old boy, and his father-in-law, Tourov, three brothers of the name of Satine, whose sister had married Alexis Adachev, and others—are said to have been put to death. A great deal of blood was certainly spilt. Ivan was then beginning a system of wholesale executions, by families at a time, and it was to be long before the red stream was dried up. To the ferocity which marked the habits of that period—my readers will not have forgotten the bloody hecatombs of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth, of Philip II. and Charles XI.—he added the fierceness of his violent nature, and the caprice of a half-Oriental despot. Kourbski mentions, at this time, a Prince Michael Repnine, invited to one of the Tsar's banquets, who refused to take his share in the general merriment, and, pulling off a mask the company had tried to force upon him, trampled it underfoot. A few days later, Ivan had him killed in church, while the Gospel was being read. A similar adventure is said to have befallen Prince George Kachine. The monarch, though he did not disclaim all the facts, denied that he had ever profaned the sacred edifices. According to Guagnino, another member of the upper aristocracy, a young Prince Dmitri Obolenski-Ovtchinine, likewise perished, about this time, in consequence of a quarrel with the Tsar's new favourite, Feodor Basmanov, whom he had offended by an insulting remark—'My ancestors and I, we have served our Sovereign like honest men. You serve him like the men of Sodom!' But on this point Kourbski contradicts the Italian chronicler, and here is another and an instructive proof of the degree of confidence of which Kourbski himself is worthy. Amongst the friends of Sylvester and Adachev involved in their disgrace he mentions, together with Prince Dmitri Kourliatev and other less prominent members of the group, dozens of whom were massacred or exiled, a certain Prince Michael Vorotynski. This gentleman, a valiant soldier, who had won glory on many a battlefield, was sent to Biélooziéro for the first time in 1559, sent back there soon after his recall from exile in 1564, and passed on this second occasion through the torture-chamber, we are assured. After being roasted over a slow fire in the presence of Ivan, who himself raked the hot cinders under his body with his staff, he is said to have died on his return journey. Now, as to this person's first exile, we have official and documentary evidence, and it proves him to have enjoyed a considerable amount of comfort. He complains that he has not been sent the Rhenish and French wines to which he has a right, and asks for various supplies—fresh fish, dried raisins, lemons, prunes—for himself, his family, and his twelve servants, all kept at the Tsar's expense in a prison which would seem to have been by no means a Gehenna. Can it be that people so well treated within the prison walls were thus cruelly handled before being sent there? ('Historical Documents,' 1841, i., No. 174).
The only absolutely convincing documents we find among the records of the many trials connected with that of Sylvester and Adachev contain no reference either to torture or to execution. These prosecutions generally arose out of some plan to go abroad, imputed to one boïar or another, and invariably ended in mere precautionary measures; the culprits, whether acquitted or pardoned, had to undertake not to leave the country, and to find security to that effect. This occurred in the case of Prince Vassili Mikhaïlovitch Glinski in 1561, and in that of Prince Ivan Dmitriévitch Biélski in the following year; on this last occasion, nine-and-twenty prominent men, for whom 120 others went security, gave their signatures.
It will be noticed that this form of procedure implied an acknowledgment of the right claimed by the interested parties. Theoretically, indeed, this right remained unaffected. It had formerly been exercised as between one appanage and another, and the reason of its existence had passed away now Russia was a unified whole; yet it still subsisted as the counterpart of that freedom claimed, without the smallest regard for frontier lines, by the nomad peasants themselves. But since the fifteenth century, a twofold current of emigration, affecting every class, had been flowing with increasing strength between Muscovy and Poland.
Guedymin's descendants swarmed at the Tsar's Court, and at that of Warsaw, the descendants of Rurik were legion. Through a Princess of Tver, who married Olguerd, many Polish families descended from that Lithuanian Prince were related to Russian houses. The ancestors of the Odoiévski, the Biélski, and the Vorotynski had lived partly in one country and partly in the other; some of them had served Casimir, and some had served Ivan the Third. The Mstislavski had only left Lithuania in 1526, when they made way for the Czartoryski, a member of which family had once been Governor of Pskov. In 1521, the last Duke of Riazan had sought refuge in Lithuania, and with him representatives of some of the greatest of the Muscovite families—a Biélski, a Liatski, a Vichnioviétski, a Chérémétiév.
Still the stream flowed on, and the Terrible himself hesitated, at first, to check it effectually. Prince Ivan Dmitriévitch Biélski, in spite of the heavy security already mentioned, soon made a fresh attempt, and was once more pardoned. Ivan Vassiliévitch Chérémétiév's turn came in 1564. Kourbski declares he was tortured, loaded with chains, and punished, in the person of his brother Nikita, whom the Tsar had strangled. Concerning Nikita we know nothing, but very shortly after this, we find Ivan Vassilévitch in possession of his posts, and it was not till long afterwards that he was exiled to Biélooziéro, where he seems to have provided himself with a fairly comfortable retreat.
These details are indispensable to the understanding of an episode identical in its nature with all those we have just reviewed, but which the unrivalled personality of its hero lifts out of the ordinary category.
III.—The Flight of Kourbski.
Born towards the year 1528, descended, through the ancient Dukes of Smolensk and Jaroslavl, from Vladimir Monomachus, and belonging, like them, to the elder branch of the Rurikovitchy, Prince Andrew Mikhaïlovitch Kourbski was naturally involved in the disgrace that fell upon his friends. After his failure under the walls of Nevel, and the subsequent unsuccessful and suspicious negotiations with the Swedes for the cession of Helmet, he had special reasons for meditating escape. In 1564, declaring, as all who did like him declared, that nothing but pressing danger had driven him to such a course, he took the plunge. If he had stayed, so he averred, his head would have been in danger. Well received by the King of Poland—he had probably taken his precautions to insure this—he was assigned an establishment worthy of his rank, and did not hesitate to bear arms against his fatherland in his new master's service. He spent nineteen years in his adopted country, and did not make himself beloved there. His wanderings have passed into a legend. My readers may know the story of Vaska Chibanov, the bearer of the first letter addressed to Ivan by the refugee, 'From my master to Your traitor.' They may have seen a picture of the scene. Ivan, having received the message, leans, as he reads the letter, on his hunting-spear, and drives it into the messenger's foot. … A Moscow bookseller, who bears the name thus glorified by the heroic henchman, takes a pride, nowadays, in adorning his publications and circulars with this picture, which has no historical foundation. Chibanov did not go to Poland with Kourbski. It was on the scaffold, on which he suffered after being arrested with all the fugitive's other servants, that he proved his fidelity by refusing to deny, and by defending, his master. Kourbski's letters, like Ivan's replies, were probably not sent to their destination in this fashion at all. Messengers for such a purpose would doubtless not have been easy to find. These missives were open letters, intended for publication, and reached the persons to whom they were addressed by means of their publicity. One of the Tsar's lucubrations covers sixty pages, and the monarch would certainly not have gone to so much trouble for Kourbski alone. The fact that this argument was carried on coram publico lifts the incident above the dulness of everyday life, and constitutes its chief interest for us, now.
In that lazy land of Poland, where he had found shelter, Kourbski must have had a great deal of time on his hands. He turned it to account by writing a 'History of Ivan,' to which I have already referred, and in which he has done his utmost to condemn his former master's personal government, and extol the 'little council' and its members. To this end he divides the reign into two parts—the period of glory, previous to the disgrace of Sylvester, Adachev, and Kourbski; and the disastrous, criminal, and shameful period which followed on that event. In the service of his cause, he has drawn largely on his imagination, and has composed a list of Ivan's misdeeds, in which, as we have seen, many errors may be detected. Yet part of his accusation has been accepted, tacitly or explicitly, by the accused person, and part has been verified by other authorities. The historian also turned his attention to ecclesiastical history, and that, considering his own antecedents, in a somewhat unexpected spirit. In Russia he had been the friend, not only of Maximus the Greek, but of that Artemi who was accused of heresy before the conciliable of 1531. In Poland, where he was face to face with a Catholic propaganda which threatened his coreligionists, he suddenly discovered, in some dark corner of his mind and heart, a spirit of fierce and suspicious Orthodoxy.
And at the same time, the patriotic instinct stirred in the voluntary exile's heart. As a Polish poet once said in exquisite verse, 'A man's country is like his health: it is not till he has lost it that he knows its worth.' Kourbski, sending Prince Constantine Ostroski his Slav translation of one of St. John Chrysostom's homilies, indignantly exclaims against the idea that this magnate, who, though a subject of the Polish King, belonged to the Orthodox faith, should have thought of translating it into that 'barbarous language'—Polish! And he plunged into violent disputes with the Lithuanian partisans of Theodore Kossoï and other Muscovite heresiarchs, once his own friends. And he warred against the Jesuits, those 'wolves brought into the fold,' even though he turned their zeal to account against the Protestants. And, not to howl with the wolves, but to be better able to fight them, he began to learn Latin in his old age, and advised one of his comrades in exile, young Prince Michael Obolenski, to leave his wife and children and put himself to school, at Cracow first of all, and then in Italy—a precursor of the troops of students, male and female, who now besiege the doors of our teaching centres. Some of the fruits of this busy effort—fragmentary translations of St. John Chrysostom and Eusebius, and a preface written for the 'New Pearl' (Novyï Margarit)—have been preserved to us.
But, above all other things, Kourbski mended his best pen with a view to his explanation with Ivan. In his pleadings we find more rhetoric than truth, less reason than passion. He enumerates his services and the ill-treatment he has endured; he vents imprecations on the Tsar's crimes and his abuse of power, on his dissolute life and the unworthiness of his new favourites—such men as Basmanov and Maliouta-Skouratov, debauchees or bloody ruffians. Copiously and laboriously, he exhausts all these facile themes, yet never lays a finger on the heart of the question, the complex and deep-seated causes of the disagreement between the Sovereign and the portion of society which refused to accept the master's will.
This fact diminishes the historical value of the document. But that its author should have been able to sting the Tsar of all the Russias into taking up the gauntlet and entering on a literary duel; that he should thus have made his own disgrace and rancour echo far and wide, and drawn the ancient struggle between past and future, between the partisans of the old and new system, between the two rival branches of the house of Rurik, into these narrow lists, is in itself a great matter, and marks an epoch of capital importance in the national history. It is an eloquent affirmation of the entrance of the great Northern Empire upon the track of modern life.
By his rank, Ivan might have scorned the offered provocation, and his overweening pride would have seemed to make such a course most probable. But his own temperament, and, added to that, his modern instinct, gained the day, and to this circumstance we owe, not only a most precious historical document, but a remarkable writer. I do not refer to Kourbski. His style is diffuse, confused, and dull. Ivan's is more prolix still; he sheds no light on the dispute, and shows no more anxiety than his opponent to bring it back to its proper limits. His pleading, like Kourbski's, is all one-sided, and he limits his replies and his own attacks to facts and interests of quite secondary importance. Did he have such a boïar killed in church or in his dungeon? Did he or did he not attempt Kourbski's life? All this is not really important. But, still, the Tsar invests his arguments, in part at all events, with that which the other never succeeded in putting into his. Not style indeed—Kourbski's style is bad, but Ivan has no style at all—but spirit, vehemence, sustained energy, words that tell, phrases that hit the mark like an arrow from the bow. 'You who call yourself just and pious, how came you to fear death so much that you sold your soul to save your body?' And he proves his learning, too—gives us bits of Scriptural exegesis. This is a controversy between two learned men! Kourbski has quoted Scripture to prove that a monarch ought to listen to his counsellors. Has he forgotten Moses, then? He has denounced the executions ordered by Ivan as crimes. And how about King David? As to the right of departure, put into practice by the noble fugitive, as to the other privileges claimed by him and his adherents, not a word. The sole political theory the meaning and formula of which the Tsar condescends to evoke and set forth, is that of the absolute power. 'We are free to punish and to reward as it seems good to us, and no Russian Sovereign has ever given an account of his actions to anyone on earth.'
I have already pointed out, and shall again have to show, in the political history of the Moscow of that period, a sort of tacit agreement whereby realities were concealed under appearances, and which sometimes ended by completely disguising facts and persons, and the parts these persons played. These two adversaries, though they crossed pens in public, as I have said, were to observe an agreement of this kind, and, to the very end, to avoid tearing the veil asunder, though under its shadow they dealt each other mighty blows. To defend himself against the mass of quotations with which the Tsar sought to crush him, Kourbski appealed to the superiority of his own literary education. 'You ought to be ashamed to write like an old mad woman, and send so ill-composed an epistle into a country full of people who know grammar and rhetoric, dialectics and philosophy!' The allusion to the publicity of the controversy is clear enough here. But both parties continued to shirk the pith of the question.
The dates of the first three letters thus exchanged are unknown. Ivan dates the fourth from Wolmar, the day after he took that town, in 1577. The victor does not fail to draw arguments from his late triumph. He has won it without the help of Kourbski and his friends. Kourbski's reply appeals to Cicero; but this time his opponent swerves. He writes again, but no answer comes. Batory has appeared upon the scene, and given the Tsar other things to think of.
In his own country, Ivan's great antagonist has found apologists and detractors, all equally convinced. The first seem at present to be carrying all before them, and while they await the statue which will no doubt stand, some day, on one of the Moscow squares, they are erecting a literary monument which is not devoid of value to the glory of the nation. In the eyes of the learned author of the 'History of Russian Literature' (Pypine, ii. 171, 172), as in those of an older biographer (P … ski, Kazan, 1873), Kourbski, with all his faults, and in spite of them, is the most eminent representative of the civilizing ideas assimilated by the Russia of the sixteenth century. He marks the comparatively high level to which a Russian of that period, far from the Western centres of information, hampered in his search after knowledge, choked by Government terrorism, might yet raise himself. Kourbski was a man of science, too, who strove to widen the field of knowledge which had satisfied most of his fellow-citizens. He was also the first public writer his country possessed, and, to crown it all, he was its first citizen, in the true sense of the word, the first who fell in love with the idea of progress, and was capable of lifting his voice against a brutal despotism.
These are noble titles, but they need verification. Kourbski's Moscow career is still veiled in great obscurity. The details of his residence in Poland are better known, for life there was more open. These details do not reflect much honour on the wanderer. Though sufficiently well provided with money and land by the country of his exile, he was an odious master, a hateful neighbour, and the most detestable and unruly of subjects. While he was translating St. John Chrysostom and calling out against despotism, he committed, or allowed his stewards to commit, abuses of his own power quite as monstrous as any of which Ivan may have been guilty—such as shutting up Jews in dungeons full of water … and leeches. At war with everybody, beginning with the King, who was certainly anything but a tyrant; in perpetual rebellion against every authority, even in such matters as the taxes payable on his new properties, or the recruits he was bound to furnish from them, he made himself generally hated.
What he would seem to have especially represented and personified is that class of men with whom Ivan found himself forced to struggle—men whose intelligence was open to certain elements of civilization and certain ideas of freedom, but who interpreted them all in a narrow sense, to suit their own caste or clan interests. Some people have gone so far as to deny that he was one of the group of boïars who clung obstinately to their superannuated privileges; but did he not put forward his claims to the Duchy of Jaroslavl? The fact of his poverty has been alleged. If that is so, he was nothing, when he passed over into Poland, but a vulgar fortune-hunter, for in addition to the Starosty of Krev, to ten villages and 4,000 diéssiatines of land in Lithuania, the town and castle of Kovel, and twenty-eight villages in Volhynia, a very liberal sum of money was bestowed upon him. And this would have involved an abominable deceit practised on Sigismund-Augustus, who, as his letters granting the concession prove, believed himself to be giving an equivalent for the wealth left behind in Muscovy.
All these advantages Kourbski gained in his newly-chosen fatherland, after having dreamed at Moscow, if not of recovering the appanage of his ancestors—and yet one of his peers, Chouïski, when he ascended the throne soon afterwards, was to claim exactly similar rights—at all events of protecting what remained of his inheritance against the encroachments of the State, and increasing it at the State's expense; of defending his right to sit on his master's councils, too, and make himself heard there, as well as his claim to yield him just so much obedience as might suit his own convenience. Thus, partisan of progress though he may have been, he remained a laggard, dallying behind his time, amidst the formal traditions of bygone centuries. He had an ideal, no doubt—the political ideal, though he did not dream it, perhaps, of the hospitable country he despised and detested, even though he had come to break bread at her board. But this ideal, anarchical enough in its own birthplace, dangerous and even fatal, was not susceptible of transportation to Muscovite soil. Once across the frontier, it collided with different conceptions and habits, it was transformed into a mere negation—refusal of service, desertion, treachery. And thus it comes about that in the popular legend, and in spite of all the exile's pains to endue him with that appearance, Kourbski's crowned adversary is not, and never has been, the persecutor of innocence oppressed. He is, and always has been, 'the destroyer of treason on Russian soil.' That is the one thing the Russian people has perceived and understood in the drama in which itself played the part of the ancient chorus, together with the fact that when the Tsar massacred or ill-used his boïars he did it in defence of the humble and the weak.
This needs explanation, and for that purpose, Kourbski's career may serve. Most of Ivan's historians have refused to admit that the people sided with the despot. What did he offer the mass of the peasants, husbandmen yesterday, half-serfs to-day, and soon to be utterly enslaved—to these beings whose backs were bent in never-ending labour, bound to the soil, and more and more ground down, more mercilessly cheated, as the needs of the State increased? Yet the facts speak for themselves. Ivan has been sung, lauded, extolled, by the population of helots whose slavery and misery he deepened. When suffering has reached a certain pitch, any change, even if it should increase the torture, is a benefit. In 1582, the peasants of one of the Polish properties bestowed on Kourbski made a complaint against their new master. They had known others, who had not made their life any too easy, but this one they could not endure! The complaint was admitted to be well founded, and my readers may imagine in what fashion Kourbski had been in the habit of treating the unhappy moujiks on his Russian vottchina. There were thousands of Kourbskis in Russia, and this one was a liberal, a man of progress! The hatred all these men inspired built up Ivan's popularity.
The exile died at Kovel in 1583. His family, which had embraced Catholicism in Poland, returned to Russia and to the Orthodox faith, and died out in 1777. In the struggle between the old régime and the new order of things, Kourbski, the most illustrious of the champions of the past, was, taking him all in all, neither a hero nor a martyr. And for this reason, before we plunge into the heart of that battle, where the bloody phantom of the Opritchnina awaits them, I have desired to show him to my readers, as an example of the kind of adversaries with whom Ivan had to deal.