But the immense superiority of the armies of the allies could not be doubted. His troops, vanquished at every point, were hopelessly beleagured in Sebastopol. The majesty of his empire was on every side insulted, his ports in every sea blockaded. Never before had he tasted the bitterness of defeat and humiliation. Europe had bowed down before him as the Agamemnon among Kings. He had saved Austria; had protected Prussia; he had made France feel the weight of his august displeasure. Wherever autocracy had been insulted, there he had been its champion and striven to be its restorer. But ever since 1848 there had been something in the air unsuited to his methods. He was the incarnation of an old principle in a new world. It was time for him to depart. His day had been a long and splendid one, but it was passing amid clouds and darkness.
A successful autocrat is quite a different person from an unsuccessful one. Nicholas had been seen in the shining light of invincibility. But a sudden and terrible awakening had come. The nation, stung by repeated defeats, was angry. A flood of anonymous literature was scattered broadcast, arraigning the Emperor—the administration—the ministers—the diplomats—the generals. “Slaves, arise!” said one, “and stand erect before the despot. We have been kept long enough in serfage to the successors of Tatar Khans.”
The Tsar grew gloomy and silent. “My successor,” he said, “may do what he likes. I cannot change.” When he saw Austria at last actually in alliance with his enemies he was sorely shaken. But it was the voice of bitter reproach and hatred from his hitherto silent people which shook his iron will and broke his heart. He no longer desired to live. While suffering from an influenza he insisted upon going out in the intense cold without his greatcoat and reviewing his guards. Five days later he dictated the dispatch which was sent to every city in Russia: “The Emperor is dying.”
LIBERALISM—EMANCIPATION OF SERFS
When his life and the hard-earned conquests of centuries were together slipping away, the dying Emperor said to his son: “All my care has been to leave Russia safe without and prosperous within. But you see how it is. I am dying, and I leave you a burden which will be hard to bear.” Alexander II., the young man upon whom fell these responsibilities, was thirty-seven years old. His mother was Princess Charlotte of Prussia, sister of the late Emperor William, who succeeded to the throne of Prussia, left vacant by his brother in 1861.