The world’s biggest country, in a magazine. Since 1956.
January 1. Sunday.
It’s been a grey day, warm and quiet. At 10:30 the girls and I went to mass. After breakfast I took a walk along the park’s edge. Alexei got up and also spent some time in the fresh air. Around 3 o’clock Misha arrived, and we went to the Grand Palace to receive ministers, retinues, unit commanders, and diplomats. By 5:10, we were done. After tea I did some work and answered telegrams. In the evening I read out loud.
It is hard to believe that this diary entry was made by the ruler of a country at war that within two months would be convulsed by revolution, or that everyone mentioned – Nicholas himself, his daughters, his son Alexei, and his younger brother Misha (Grand Duke Michael) – would perish in a year and a half, caught up in a whirlwind beyond their control. Nicholas was, of course, already receiving reports of restlessness among the troops, of their reluctance to fight. He knew perfectly well that strikes, which had largely subsided when the war first started, were once again breaking out all across Russia. Furthermore, he was surely still grieving over the murder of his close confidant, Grigory Rasputin, just a few weeks earlier. But in his diary, written almost as if he were a schoolboy instructed to compose a simple record of each day’s events (without a lot of opinionating or soul searching), life appears calm and orderly. Even in February, by which time store windows were being smashed in Petrograd, he wrote:
February 23. Thursday.
I awoke at 9:30 here in Smolensk. It was cold, clear, and windy. I spent whatever free time I had reading a French book about Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul. Arrived in Mogilyov at 3. Was met by General Alexeyev and his staff. Spent an hour with him. The house feels empty without Alexei. I had dinner with all the foreigners and some Russians. The evening was spent writing and drinking tea with the others.
Somehow, this utterly prosaic entry fills me with sadness and pity. The tsar, who is visiting General Headquarters at the front, has not even been told of the strikes and demonstrations that roiled Petrograd that day, evidently because these events were not considered important. I can just see the calm, punctilious, and polite Nicholas reading a book about the great Julius Caesar and missing his son as he drinks tea with his entourage. The only news worth recording is that the weather is “cold, clear, and windy.” There’s a lull at the front, all is calm.
In a matter of days, the monarchy will fall and he will abdicate.
Meanwhile, another participant in the fateful events of 1917, Vladimir Lenin, was also failing to hear the roar of time or sense the forces that were about to topple the Russian monarchy. Since the outbreak of the war in 1914, he had been living in neutral Switzerland, plagued by melancholy and frustrated by the Swiss’s stubborn resistance to revolutionary change.
To read more, follow the "Purchase Back Issue" link from the full story listing for this issue.
Free Weekly Russia File newsletter. Exclusive discounts.