Young Folks' History of Russia - Nathan Dole

How the Russian Hamlet


Russia was exhausted by forty years of ceaseless war. The new Emperor, a man of generous impulses, announced that he could not refuse his subjects the peace for which they longed; he recalled his army from Persia, and refused to take part in the contest with France, though he promised to oppose by all possible means the progress of the mad French Republic which threatened Europe with total ruin by the destruction of laws, privileges, property, religion, and manners." He established the exiled Louis XVIII. in the ducal palace of Mitava and gave him a pension.

But peace was of short duration; Napoleon's ambition forced Europe into a general war. Paul made an alliance with England, Austria, and Naples; even Turkey joined the league. A Turko-Russian fleet cruised among the Ionian Islands; a Russia army was sent to Holland; and Suvorof was recalled from exile to command the united armies of upper Italy. He entered Milan and abolished the Cis-Alpine republic. He fought the bloody battle of the Trebbia and captured Mantua. This was his creed: "A quick glance, speed, dash! The van of the army must not wait for the rear; musket balls are fools; bayonets are the fine fellows." Leaving Italy, the intrepid old man found himself entangled in the Alps. His allies were defeated in the battle of Zurich; he was surrounded by the French. He crossed the St. Gothard, that "kingdom of terrors," as he called it, drove the enemy before him, and made his famous retreat across the snows of Mont Bragil and Glarus.

[Illustration] from History of Russia by Nathan Dole


Paul was angry with the "treachery" of Austria and England, and hastened to make an alliance with the First Consul, with whom he arranged the famous plan for the expedition to overthrow English rule in India. Eleven regiments of Kazaks had even started on the hazardous march through Asia when they were recalled by a sudden change in the government.

The Emperor's mind was narrow; his character capricious. He delighted in showing his authority. "Know," said he, "that the only person of consideration in Russia is the person whom I address and only during the time that I am addressing him." It is said that he ordered a whole regiment of the guard to Siberia because they misunderstood an order. He obliged his subjects to fall on their knees when hp passed; even women had to go down into the mud oz snow. This "Russian Hamlet" went in all things contrary to his Empress mother; he prohibited the use of her favorite words "citizen" and "society," he kept the theatre and the press under the strictest censorship, forbade European books to be imported,, and recalled Russian students and travellers from abroad. As time went on his violence increased, he often broke out into threats against his wife, the beautiful Empress Maria, and his eldest son Alexander. No one felt safe. The peace with Napoleon and the rupture with England brought the crisis; a conspiracy was put on foot to force Paul to abdicate. Alexander consented to the scheme. The guard of the palace was won over. The conspirators went to Paul's chamber and presented the act of abdication. A struggle ensued; the lamp went out, and in the darkness the Emperor was strangled with an officer's scarf.