The Assassination of the Czar
(From a Correspondent)
The Pioneer, April 9, 1881
The great voice of the Giant Bell of the Kremlin at Moscow, called “Ivan Velikiy,” whose heavy tongue has uttered no sound for the last twenty-six years, was heard once more on the morning of March 2nd (14th). It appears from the Moscow Gazette and other papers that the masses of the people had heard of the attempted assassination, but were not yet aware of the Emperor’s death. They were accordingly thrown into great panic upon hearing the first of the bell’s three long and solemn peals; and thick crowds at once began to gather round the eminence, in the heart of the ancient metropolis where the Kremlin stands. Before the third and last stroke—immediately echoed by the four hundred gold-domed churches of the “holy, white-walled mother city,” as Moscow is called by the patriots—had died out in the air, there had collected a compact mass of bareheaded, haggard, “black people,” as the peasants and poorer classes are called, which surged to and fro, completely blocking the adjacent streets and squares. The voice of Ivan Velikiy (the great) had resounded three times, and it meant the death of the Emperor. The Czar-kolokol (Czarbell) speaks only to announce imperial deaths and coronations.
It is in the midst of such large and spontaneous popular gatherings that the national pulse of Russia can be best felt. Here, there is no premeditation, no organized loyalty, no forcible assembling by the police. A crowd of fifty thousand men can never act a part. The descriptions given below are not taken from official papers, but are extracts from letters written by private individuals and very moderate patriots as regards the Imperial family, as almost all the ruined Russian nobility now are. One of these writers says:
“Never did I witness such a sincere, unanimous grief. Never did I think that a ragged crowd, 50,000 men strong, composed mostly of our working factory heads, peasants, and beggars, vicious and half-starved as the Moscow populace now are, could stand for two long hours, suffocating each other around the many Kremlin churches and weep, as I have seen them weep today. . . . It seemed as if their hearts were breaking. . . . It was a terrible strain upon one’s nerves. ‘We are orphans, orphans! . . . Our father has left us!’ were the exclamations most heard. ‘To whom hast thou abandoned us!’ was the cry of a thousand voices in simple forgetfulness of their traditional duty to shout le Roi est mort—vive le Roi! . . . There was hardly a street beggar in Moscow today while the solemn Liturgy for the Dead was chanting but dragged out a long-hidden copper to buy a wax taper with, and placed it lighted with tearful prayers before the image of St. Alexander Nevsky, the patron saint of the dead Emperor—‘for the eternal rest of Father Czar’s soul.’ . . .”
Whatever, then, the secret feelings of the better classes—and the sympathy of even those, we are sure, was in most cases sincere—the grief of the millions of serfs liberated by the late unhappy reformer was profoundly sincere. It is already evident that Alexander II is destined to figure in the calendar of Russian Saints. The elements are not wanting. He is certainly followed to the tomb by a loving popular adoration, which will speedily make his weaknesses of character to be forgotten. The term “martyr” is already applied to him. He has fallen a victim to his kindness of heart. Instead of seeking safety in the shelter of his closed carriage as supplicated, his chief thought was for the mangled guards and other victims that strewed the pavement. An officer of the guards, who was an eyewitness, reports the following conversation with Count Gendrikoff, who was in attendance on the Emperor. After the explosion of the first bomb, the Count rushed to the Czar, and finding upon inquiry that he was uninjured, he exclaimed, “Sire, Sire! don’t leave the carriage!” The Emperor replied, “Don’t disturb yourself about me. I am safe. I must get out to see the wounded: it is my duty!”
A sinister fate seems to have pursued the Romanoffs, of whom not one, as alleged, has met a natural death, since Peter the Great. Peter II died in youth, poisoned. Anna, his successor, died under very suspicious circumstances. Ivan VII, a child of only a few months, was dethroned by Elizabeth and—disappeared. Elizabeth Petrovna, Peter the Great’s daughter, died very suddenly, and was succeeded by Peter III, her sister’s son, who, after a reign of only a few months, lost his life by a court revolution headed by his own daughter Catherine II. That Empress, as public rumour—always restrained in Russia—gives it, though not altogether a Romanoff by blood, died of slow poison. Her son, the Emperor Paul, was strangled in his bed. Alexander I died poisoned, in 1825, at Taganrog. Nicholas I forced his confidential physician, Dr. Mandt, to give him the poison he needed, and committed suicide, sacrificing his life to Russia, that his son and heir might end the disastrous Crimean war, which his sense of dignity and pride prevented him from doing himself. And now the tragic event of March 1st (13th) closes the dreary list of Imperial catastrophes. There is a superstition in Russia that none of the family can survive his sixty-fifth year. The late Czar, it is known, lived under perpetual apprehension from this idea—one now seen to be too well-founded.
Among the sympathetic telegrams that came pouring in, from all parts of the world, was one, couched in very eloquent terms, from Mr. Blaine, the present American Secretary of State. With good taste and tact, Mr. Blaine made it a condolence from “the millions of free American citizens to the Russian millions made free, in their great bereavement for the loss of their liberator.” Those who love to study coincidences must be deeply impressed by the fact that both Lincoln and Alexander, the liberators of the enslaved, died the same wretched death at the hands of assassins.