THE RULE OF NICHOLAS II.
THERE never was a trustworthy intermediary between the isolated sovereign and his restive people. Many individuals there were whom he received and questioned from time to time, some of whom spoke with a directness, sincerity, and knowledge worthy of an ancient Hebrew prophet, but the message they delivered was not only resented and disregarded by the Tsar, but was also contradicted and neutralised by equally impressive statements volunteered by interested politicians or misinformed patriots. And Nicholas II., even if he had felt the desire, lacked the means of sifting the true from the false. The upshot was a gulf between the autocracy and the people nearly as broad and deep as that which sundered the Dalai Lama from his pious worshippers. An anecdote which, devoid of foundation in fact, is superlatively true as a presentment of the paralysis of volition from which he suffered, was current long before I ventured upon sketching his portrait in the Quarterly and National Reviews.
One day, the story ran, a nobleman of great experience and progressive tendencies was received in audience by the Tsar. He made the most of his opportunity, and laid before his sovereign the wretched state of the peasantry, the general unrest it was occasioning, and the urgent necessity of removing its proximate causes by modifying the political machinery of government. During this unwelcome exposé the Emperor, whose urbanity and polish left nothing to be desired, nodded from time to time approvingly and repeated often, "I know. Yes, yes. You are right. Quite right." The nobleman when retiring felt morally certain that the monarch was at one with him on the subject. Immediately afterwards a great landowner, also a member of the nobility, was ushered in, who unfolded a very different tale. According to this authority things on the whole were progressing satisfactorily, the only drawback being the weakness and indul