Although the question of the balance of power was of importance to all, it was England and Russia to whom the interests involved in the Eastern Question were most vital. Every year which made England’s Indian Empire a more important possession also increased the necessity for her having free access to it; while Russian policy more and more revolved about an actual and a potential empire in the East. So just because they were natural enemies they became allies, each desiring to tie the other’s hands by the principle of Ottoman integrity.
But daily and noiselessly the Russian outposts crept toward the East; first into Persia, then stretching out the left hand toward Khiva, pressing on through Bokhara into Chinese territory; and then, with a prescience of coming events which should make Western Europe tremble before such a subtle instinct for power, Russia obtained from the Chinese Emperor the privilege of establishing at Canton a school of instruction where Russian youths—prohibited from attending European universities—might learn the Chinese language and become familiarized with Chinese methods! But this was the sort of instinct that impels a glacier to creep surely toward a lower level. Not content with owning half of Europe and all of Northern Asia, the Russian glacier was moving noiselessly,—as all things must,—on the line of least resistance, toward the East.
The Emperor Nicholas, who comprehended so well the secret of imperial expansion, and so little understood the expanding qualities within his empire, was an impressive object to look upon. With his colossal stature and his imposing presence, always tightly buttoned in his uniform, he carried with him an air of majesty never to be forgotten if once it was seen. But while he supposed he was extinguishing the living forces and arresting the advancing power of mind in his empire, a new world was maturing beneath the smooth hard surface he had created. The Russian intellect, in spite of all, was blossoming from seed scattered long before his time. There were historians, and poets, and romanticists, and classicists, just as in the rest of Europe. There were the conservative writers who felt contempt for the West, and for the new, and who believed Russia was as much better before Ivan III. than after, as Ivan the Great was superior to Peter the Great; and there were Pushkin and Gogol, and Koltsof and Turguenief, whom they hated, because their voice was the voice of the New Russia. Turguenief, who with smothered sense of Russia’s oppression was then girding himself for his battle with serfdom, says: “My proof used to come back to me from the censor half erased, and stained with red ink like blood. Ah! they were painful times!” But in spite of all, Russian genius was spreading its wings, and perhaps from this very repression was to come that passionate intensity which makes it so great.