The existence of Nihilism may be explained, though not extenuated. Can anyone estimate the effect upon a single human being to have known that a father, brother, son, sister, or wife has perished under the knout? Could such a person ever again be capable of reasoning calmly or sanely upon “political reforms”? If there were any slumbering tiger-instincts in this half-Asiatic people, was not this enough to awaken them? There were many who had suffered this, and there were thousands more who at that very time had friends, lovers, relatives, those dearer to them than life, who were enduring day by day the tortures of exile, subject to the brutal punishments of irresponsible officials. It was this which had converted hundreds of the nobility into conspirators—this which had made Sophia Perovskaya, the daughter of one of the highest officials in the land, give the signal for the murder of the Emperor, and then, scorning mercy, insist that she should have the privilege of dying upon the gallows with the rest.
But tiger-instincts, whatever their cause, must be extinguished. They cannot coexist with civilization. Human society as constituted to-day can recognize no excuse for them. It forbids them—and the Nihilist is the Ishmael of the nineteenth century.
The world was not surprised, and perhaps not even displeased, when Alexander III. showed a dogged determination not to be coerced into reforms by the assassination of his father nor threats of his own. His coronation, long deferred by the tragedy which threatened to attend it, finally took place with great splendor at Moscow in 1883. He then withdrew to his palace at Gatschina, where he remained practically a prisoner. Embittered by the recollection of the fate of his father, who had died in his arms, and haunted by conspiracies for the destruction of himself and his family, he was probably the least happy man in his empire. His every act was a protest against the spirit of reform. The privileges so graciously bestowed upon the Grand Duchy of Finland by Alexander I. were for the first time invaded. Literature and the press were placed under rigorous censorship. The Zemstvo, his father’s gift of local self-government to the liberated serfs, was practically withdrawn by placing that body under the control of the nobility.
[Illustration: The Coronation of the Czar Alexander III., 1883. The Emperor crowning the Empress at the Church of the Assumption. From a drawing by Edwin B. Child.]
It was a stern, joyless reign, without one act intended to make glad the hearts of the people. The depressing conditions in which he lived gradually undermined the health of the Emperor. He was carried in dying condition to Livadia, and there, surrounded by his wife and his children, he expired November 1, 1894.
FINLAND—HAGUE TRIBUNAL—POLITICAL CONDITIONS