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dangerous to speak well of, Izvolsky boldly took his side and declared that the conclusion of peace with Japan was one of the greatest triumphs of modern diplomacy for which every patriotic Russian ought to feel grateful.
On another occasion I published an article on Izvolsky's negociations with Count Aehrenthal* on the eve of the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina by the Dual Monarchy, the result of which was the suspension of official relations between Austria-Hungary and Russia for several months. Izvolsky requested me to modify the statements I had put forward, whereupon I replied that, if he put me in possession of facts which would justify such modification, I would make it unhesitatingly, but not otherwise. He then obtained permission from the Tsar and from the Austrian Emperor to lay the confidential documents before me, on condition that I would keep the contents a profound secret. In due course I went to the Foreign Office, and in a room behind Izvolsky's study the secret papers were placed in my hands and I was left to study them at leisure. On my return home I drew up a paper in which I amended two or three details of no real importance, and I brought it to the minister, telling him that in no other respects did I feel justified in altering the narrative of which he complained. During the somewhat heated discussion which ensued he exclaimed : “And yet I always looked upon you and treated you as a friend !' Pardon me if I challenge that statement,' I retorted. It is true that you gave me important information from time to time which was highly appreciated by the newspaper which I represent; but you did this solely because you wished the facts to be made known and you preferred my setting of them to that of my journalistic colleagues. But friendship had nothing to do with your action. It was purely a matter of professional interest to you and to
And the proof is that when a couple of months ago I asked you to confirm or deny my information that you had received an important note from the Serbian Government, you refused point-blank to answer me, even though I undertook not to reveal your answer.'
* At Buchlau, in Moravia, where I spent some time as the guest of Count Berchtold. The article appeared in the 'Fortnightly' for Nov. 1909.
The upshot of this conversation was our complete mutual estrangement. After the lapse of a few weeks, however, Count Witte informed me that the minister wished to speak to me. I refused to call on him, alleging that I had nothing to say to him. Some days later Witte again earnestly requested me to see Izvolsky, who had an important statement to make to me. I went. The minister addressed me in terms which I shall never forget: 'I asked you to come in order that I may apologise for what I said to you on the last occasion of our meeting. I see your point of view clearly. I know that you wrote congruously with your convictions, and I respect your motives. You were right in characterising our relations as those of two acquaintances furthering each one his
his own interests. Henceforward, if you will, we shall be real friends, you will have my confidence, and I will communicate to you everything I can, consistently with my duty as minister.'
From that day until the hour of his death our friendship subsisted, and one of his last requests to me as he lay in hospital in Paris, still confident of recovery, was that I would collaborate with him in the patriotic work which he had undertaken of making known the truth about Russia.
Witte was a wholly different type of man, physically and intellectually. A giant in stature, awkward in gait, embarrassed in manner, homely in speech, and utterly careless of his personal appearance, he attracted attention in whatever society he happened to be, and displayed keen consciousness of the fact. He sometimes reminded me of Paul Kruger, with whom I discussed the conditions on which he would end the South African War. And he certainly looked more like a Boer-one of those curious reversions to type which one sometimes meets, for he was of Dutch extraction on his father's side-than like an accomplished Russian nobleman.
His education, despite the circumstance that he had graduated in the University of Odessa, had done less for him than for the average Russian graduate of those days-and even for them it was wont to accomplish very little--and he owed most of his success in after life to his inborn gifts, which were truly remarkable, despite the artificial imitations in which they were unfolded. He had none of the defects and few of the advantages of Western culture. In manners he and Izvolsky were at opposite poles, the latter fashionably attired, possessed in abundance of the small change of conversation, very well read, an art connoisseur, slow to talk but an æsthete in language, and a diplomatist even in the little conven. tionalities of social life ; while the former was negligent in his dress, uncouth in his movements, and would blurt out his views in the racy phraseology of his less cultured countrymen and scatter unweighed phrases which sometimes left a caricature in lieu of a picture of his ideas in the minds of his hearers. The gaps in his knowledge of history, geography, and politics were many and considerable, and when revealed in his conversations with diplomatists gave them a wholly false idea of his rare powers of assimilation and vision. Accustomed to think, so to say, wholesale of men and things, he was often bewilderingly inexact in details. His judgment oscillated between extremes; he seemed incapable of appreciating the intermediate shades, and took little or no account of the relative or the conditional. By nature impulsive and of an impatient humour, he often uttered opinions and ascribed motives to his adversaries which he subsequently discovered to be erroneous; but he generally contrived to persuade himself that he had always held the amended view. On one occasion, during the abortive revolution which culminated in the creation of a legislative assembly (1905), he requested me to ascertain the objections which the liberal parties made to his premiership and the real motives of their refusal to accept office in his administration. I was engaged in expressing them calmly and objectively when he jumped from his chair, struck the table with his clenched fist, and in angry tones asked how I could say such things of him when I knew as well as himself that they were poisonous lies. I laughed and inquired, 'Whose opinions did you ask me to expound, mine or those of X, Y, and Z. ?' whereupon he realised the situation, and apologised for the outburst, but continued to pour the vials of his wrath upon the absent X, Y, and Z.
Witte was unduly sensitive to flattery, especially when it came from crowned heads and famous statesmen; and both he and Izvolsky were pathetically concerned-as their respective memoirs too plainly show-to be known as members of historic Russian families, as though such kinship could add a cubit to their intellectual or moral stature. Kaiser Wilhelm, who was a past-master in the art of flattery and seduction, had, therefore, no difficulty in playing on Witte's most sensitive chord; but it is fair to add that, despite this great initial advantage, the monarch was powerless to move the Russian statesman from the stand he had taken on matters involving the welfare of the State or the honour of his sovereign.
For, despite all his defects, Witte possessed some of the highest qualities of statesmanship; and, inexact though he was in matters with which he was wont to deal in conversation, he bestowed the utmost care in mastering all those subjects which had a direct bearing upon the right ordering of the State. And, in all these cases, the ease with which he filled up the gaps left by his defective education was astounding. Thus, without any speculative knowledge of finance, in which he had a good deal to unlearn, his meditations upon the facts gleaned by experience enabled him to rise to a most difficult situation, establish Russian finances on a solid gold basis, and provide the treasury with a surplus which tided the country first over the war with Japan and then over an abortive revolution, without having recourse to a foreign loan. In this arduous task, as in the construction of railways and in the encouragement of industry, Witte had a free hand ; Alexander III, who admired the rugged force and simplicity of his minister, first gave him full scope to deploy his capacity in finance, railway-transport, and industry, and finally allowed him practically to govern the Empire as he thought fit. If Nicholas II had been able to follow his father's example, and abandon the cares of State to his genial minister, the history of Russia, and indeed of Europe, would have run on lines very different from those traced by the Goremykins, Protopopoffs, and Stürmers, who flitted across the stage like firebrands unleashing the forces of destruction at every turn.
M. Izvolsky, who is certainly not prejudiced in favour of his eminent countryman, depicts this curious condition of a state within the State as follows : Vol. 286.--No. 469,
*Then a phenomenon, strange and incomprehensible to the European mind, was witnessed-that of a Finance Minister who had created little by little, a State within a State, and who had superimposed, so to speak, upon the many different organs of the Government, other organs of similar functions, but deriving their powers directly and solely from his Ministry. In this way Count Witte had the control of an innumerable crowd of functionaries of all denominations and all ranks, a network of schools of lower and even higher grades, a vast territory-a veritable kingdom, in fact, of which he was sole master—an army, a fleet, even a diplomatic service. Furthermore, on account of his constant tendency to extend indefinitely the power of the State to the detriment of a personal initiative and activity which was still in its infancy in Russia, one may say that for some ten years he was the real master of the 160,000,000 inhabitants of the Empire. Truth com pels me to say that the greater part of the elements composing the system created by him were better organised, performed their functions more perfectly, and were imbued with a broader and more modern spirit than the corresponding Government services. . . .' (p. 118).
Looking at this anomalous but nowise unreasonable experiment in the light shed by its consequences, one can see that it ought either never to have been begun or else to have been steadfastly worked out to the most satisfactory issue attainable by a statesman of Witte's great powers operating with the imperfect materials then available. For, at bottom, it was a grandiose effort to readjust the political, social, and economic conditions of the Tsardom to the requirements of an epoch in which the autocratic form of government, as practised in Russia, had become an anachronism and a national and international danger. For the successful fulfilment of such a task, unity of direction and co-ordination of means were indispensable conditions. And Witte was the one man fitted to supply them. One may safely say that, if Alexander III had survived into the present century, there would have been no seizure of Kiao-Chow nor of Liaotung, no war with Japan, no Russian Jacqueries in the years 1905–1907; and there might possibly have developed a form of government which would have permitted the transition from a predatory absolute monarchy to a parliamentary system without the abomination of desolation which has been since witnessed.