THE ADVENT OF NICHOLAS II
DURING the latter years of the tranquil reign of Alexander III. the drift of the Tsardom was manifestly in the direction of political change, but the course taken was mainly economic. Witte succeeded in introducing the gold standard which so many of his colleagues had declared impossible. Railways were rapidly being constructed, trade enlivened, and industries created and protected. The problems of wages, housing, and hygiene were openly mooted if not practically dealt with, and the standard of living for that section of the peasants which eked out their incomes from the land with the wages paid at the factory was rising fast, and the resentment of the many who had no resources but those which they drew from the soil sought passionate utterance in vain. Literature and journalism continued to radiate subdued heat as well as light, and the conduct of the international affairs of the nation was the stock text for the discreet strictures aimed at the State fabric. Publicists--I myself was at that time one of the fraternity--laid hold on every pretext and used all the skill they had acquired in the difficult art of writing forcibly between the lines to scatter the seeds of rebellion. And the seeds sank into the receptive minds of their readers to germinate with all the wildness and colour of Bakunin's ideas. In all this there was no attempt at limitation, at self-discipline, at what might be termed conservative reform. Even the oneness of the political organism with itself came in for no consideration-- the centrifugal forces were fostered and strengthened, whenever and wherever possible, irrespective of the consequences.
Alexander III. was a physically sane, ethically upright, mentally shallow-brained man who behaved well according to his lights, which unhappily were dim and flickering.