Madame Olga Novikoff

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Madame Olga Novikoff

W. T. Stead (The Review of Reviews, vol. III, February, 1891) pp. 123-136

When conversation flags at dinner-table,” said a vivacious hostess in the stirring days of the Jingo fever, now more than a dozen years gone by, “I have an infallible prescription for its renewal. You have only to mention the name of Madame Novikoff to make the whole company bubble over with animated interest.” The prescription is not a bad one for other places than dinner-tables, and it is with perceptible relief that we can turn from the hideous wrangle in Ireland to the consideration of one of the most remarkable personalities of European politics. The study is naturally suggested by the publication of the third and concluding volume of Princess Lieven’s “Correspondence with Lord Grey,” which is one of the most notable of the books of the month. After sixty years the personality of that Russian ambassadress and her relations with an English Prime Minister still excite sufficient interest to justify the production of these three portly volumes of correspondence, largely about dead issues -and half-forgotten men. In Madame Novikoff, however, we have no mere shadowy historical character, already receding ghostlike into oblivion, but a living and breathing entity still in our midst, as full of restless energy as ever, and with boxes full of correspondence with half the notable people of Europe—literary, ecclesiastical, and political. Upon her has fallen, within the last few months, the unpleasant role of standing in the breach as a Russian volunteer to defend the policy of her country about the Jews against the outcry of the Semitic agitators. One day she writes in the Times, the next in the Pall Mall Gazette; to-morrow she will be correcting the proofs of a pamphlet: the day after that again she will be holding a symposium with rabbis and others in Claridge’s while incidentally, and as an interlude, she receives an interviewer, and enlightens him as to the views of a Russian lady on the subject of breach of promise of marriage. No one is more en evidence, and few people have a more interesting and varied correspondence which is never en evidence at all. If a living dog is better than a dead one, much more is the living lady diplomat of to-day a more interesting study than poor Princess Lieven, who will soon become almost as mythological as Boadicea.


In the atmosphere of mystery and history in which these great ladies are enveloped, there seems to be something favourable to the growth of the legend. A complete nimbus of legendary marvel surrounds the head of Madame Novikoff. Long before I had ever met her I had heard her darkly alluded to as a kind of Russian Loreley who lured English statesmen to destruction by the fascination of her song. Her salon at Symonds’s, which she has now forsaken for Claridge’s, was supposed to be a kind of witches’ cave where were brewed the Circean spells which converted British patriots into the sworn agents of Russian despotism. At one time she figured as the Muscovite Egeria, to whom the leaders of the atrocity agitation went to school; at another—for to such grotesque lengths party credulity can carry its votaries—she was gravely described by a Conservative weekly as having arranged with Lord Hartington the leading principles of the Liberal programme on which the General Election of 1880 was won! The fact that at that time Madame Novikoff had never met Lord Hartington was immaterial to the legend-maker. In those days the Conservatives relied greatly upon two myths which they evoked from their inner-consciousness in obedience to their party necessities. One was the astonishing delusion that the Caucus was a terrible ogre created by and obedient to Mr. Chamberlain. The other was that the foreign policy of the Liberals was due to the fatal machinations of the fair emissary of the Tzar who had taken up her quarters in the very heart of the British citadel. So real was the scare which they created that I could name at least one eminent Liberal leader who persistently refused to meet her even at the dinner-table. “They shall never be able to say,” he muttered,”that that woman has got over me.” “What a clever man,” said Madame Novikoff once when the twentieth attempt made by her friends to bring her into contact with the statesman in question had been foiled by the sudden indisposition of his wife. “I never knew any one so clever, first in finding out where I happen to be going to dine, and then in promptly making his wife ill in order to have an excuse for not keeping his appointment.” That, however, was in the past. The need for the improvised indisposition of the wife no longer taxes the resources of statesmanship. Possibly if the relations between Russia and England became strained once more, the old claim on wifely devotion might be revived. In these piping times of peace any one can visit the Muscovite Enchantress without becoming suspect even in the headquarters of Russophobia.


Curiously enough, Madame Novikoff’s personal friends are by no means exclusively confined to Englishmen with Russian sympathies. Her set, when she first came to England, were rather in the other camp. Her oldest and for many years her greatest friend was Mr. Kinglake, the historian of the Crimean War, whose death last month left a gap in English literature which no one is able to fill. Their acquaintance began many years ago by a chance meeting in the great Museum-palace of the Hermitage. Madame Novikoff, then in the first bloom of her youthful matronhood, finding an English stranger at some loss how to attain his object, gave him her assistance, and the friendship thus begun lasted without a moment’s break down to the time of his death. There was something very touching in the affection between the white-headed deaf old gentleman whom I first met in her salon in Symonds’s fourteen years ago, and the Russian lady over whom he watched with a father’s tenderness. There was nothing that he hesitated to do for her, from writing nonsense verses to “the fair lady at Claridge’s,” to writing a letter to me on the founding of the Review

Mr. Kinglake was the centre of her circle. He was a daily visitor. With him came his friends, Bernal Osborne, Hayward, Sir Henry Bulwer. Then Hayward brought Delane, and so the circle grew and widened. At first it was purely non-political, literary and ecclesiastical rather than political; for Madame Novikoff, although a woman who has written her name in legible characters across the history of two countries, is not even now an ardent advocate for woman’s rights. But, as was natural enough in a circle thus formed, Madame Novikoff had as many Conservatives among her friends as Liberals, and not even the stress and strain of the great anti-Turkish agitation deprived her of her connections in the enemy’s camp.


The way in which it came about that Madame Novikoff, from a more or less enthusiastic dilettante, concerned chiefly with social and ecclesiastical interests, became suddenly transformed into an ardent apostle of the-Slavonic cause, has been told by Mr. Kinglake in the preface to the cabinet edition of his “Invasion of the Crimea”…

When Mr. Kinglake wrote that preface and read it to her, it was stuffed with ungracious remarks about Russian policy in 1876. When he had read his manuscript he said, “Well, what is the matter?” For instead of being pleased and gracious, Madame Novikoff was chill and indignant. She replied, “I would rather that all the kind things you have said about my brother should be burnt than that they should be printed on paper which contained such horrors about my country. Give it me, and let me throw it into the fire.” “Into the fire!” said Kinglake, aghast at the proposed summary destruction of a literary cameo on which he had laboured for days and weeks with loving care—for no man wrote more laboriously and corrected with greater pains—”You would not burn what I have written?” “Yes,” said she, “rather than that you should insult Russia. Indeed I would.” “Well,” said the old historian, “take a pencil, and let us see what must come out.” Nothing loath. Madame Novikoff erased one passage after another with Kinglake’s reluctant consent, until at last it was reduced to the condition in which it now stands. “You must thank me,” she said, “that I did not take out much more, but I had to show some compassion to your weaknesses,” said she, smiling, in conclusion.

Now the young Kiréeff, whose phantom thus roused Russia to war, was the younger brother of Madame Novikoff, and upon his sister the news of his death fell with a crushing blow that almost deprived her of consciousness and reason.

Before her brother’s death she had led a pleasant life of lettered leisure, cultivating the literary acquaintances which she had formed in the salon of the Grand Duchess Helena, and mingled freely, as her rank entitled her, in the best society of the capitals of Europe. But although she met politicians she was not political, and, oddly enough, her society included many who were among the most vehement Turcophils of the day. No sooner, however, did the thought dawn, bright as the day-star of the East, upon her bereavement, that she could devote the rest of her life to the furtherance of the same cause in which her brother, “foremost fighting, fell,” than she flung her whole soul into the work of the emancipation of the East. With the keen intuition of womanly instinct she went straight to the root and kernel of the difficulty. “If England and Russia had not been at variance my brother would not have died.” She conceived the idea —not less heroic than that which sent young Kiréeff to die at Zaifcschar—of dedicating her life to the good understanding between the two countries, whose concert was the key to the peaceable solution of the Eastern Question. It seemed like the inspiration of despair. England was then apparently united in the support of a Minister who had torn up the Berlin Memorandum and sent the fleet to Besika Bay. The faint ripple of popular sympathy with the oppressed Slavs that was discernible here in that fatal July was totally invisible on the Continent. England appeared then, as much as any time since the Crimean War, the sworn ally of the oppressor— the resolute opponent of all proposals for the amelioration of the condition of the oppressed. Hope of success she had none, or next to none. But the standard which her brother had borne aloft through danger to death had not fallen into less daring hands. She might not succeed, but she might at least follow where he had led. Where “victory is impossible,” as Mazzini finely says, “we must count martyrdom as a benediction of God.”

“Life may be given in many ways,
And loyalty to truth be sealed
As bravely in the closet as in the field.

Heeding not the imminence of danger and the still more paralysing certainty of being misrepresented and calumniated, she devoted all her energies to the establishment of a cordial understanding between England and Russia, based upon the emancipation of the oppressed Christians of the East.


Her first step was a somewhat daring one, but she was too distraught by the thought of her brother’s death to calculate chances. She had on one of her previous visits to England made the acquaintance of Mr. Gladstone, who was interested in the Greek Orthodox advocate of the reunion of Christendom. For I ought to have mentioned before this that the first debut—if it may so be called—of Madame Novikoff in the public sphere was when she accompanied privately her brother, General Alexander Kiréeff, to Bonn to the Conference held between the Old Catholics and the Anglicans, and representatives from other creeds, to discuss that amiable phantasy, the reunion of the Churches into which Christendom had been split. It was amusing to see the Russian soldier discussing the theological subtleties which divide the Eastern from the Western Churches, but the spectacle was significant and suggestive. Russia is still in the epoch of the Crusades; and the knight-theologian is thoroughly in keeping with, the rest of his environment. Madame Novikoff made Dr. Döllinger’s acquaintance at that Conference, and few visits were more enjoyed than those which she continued to pay for many years to Munich, to keep in touch with the leaders of the Old Catholics. Some time before this, also, she had taken part in a curious inquiry, which led her to correspond with the most eminent professors of theology on the Continent, as to the precise meaning of the Hebrew word “Sheol,” in order to ascertain what Christian theologians believed was the faith of the Jews of the Old Testament times on the immortality of the soul. It was an odd subject to enlist the attention of a young Russian lady, but it is easy to see what points of contact such a bent of mind would give her with Mr. Gladstone.


Hence, the moment Madame Novikoff rallied from her stupor, her first thought was to write to Mr. Gladstone—as she also wrote to Sir Wm. Harcourt and many other people— telling him of her brother’s death, and saying what was, no doubt, absolutely true—that if Mr. Gladstone had been in power no such sacrifice would have been demanded. But the sacrifice would not be in vain. Russia had put her hand to the plough, and would not draw back. What would England do? So she wrote, and argued, and pleaded, as one distracted with the smart of wound that seems nigh unto death. Then having written it, as it were, with her heart’s blood, she posted it to Hawarden, and waited the response. Now, it happened that just at the time that the Novikoff family was bereaved by the death of Kiréeff on the field of Zaitschar, the mind of England was being seriously exercised by the reports of wholesale massacre and outrage that reached us from Bulgaria. About the events in Servia the English public cared comparatively little. About the atrocities in Bulgaria they were beginning to care very much.

Mr. Gladstone, then no longer the leader of his party had retired to Hawarden. The country, left without definite guidance, might have remained horrified, silent, had it not been for the gibes of Lord Beaconsfield. His sneer at coffee-house babble and his apparent jocular reference to the more expeditious methods by which the Turks disposed of their enemies, operated on English public opinion exactly as the Leinster Hall meeting after the O’Shea Divorce Case operated on the ”Non-conformist conscience.” Whatever might be the consequences, we could not stand that. So the work of protest began, and when once the public meetings assembled it became as evident to all men that the Turk must go as last December it was known that Mr. Parnell had become as impossible as Chefket Pasha and Achmet Aga. But when the first atrocity meetings were being held Mr. Gladstone made no sign. In that crisis—as in the case of Mr. Parnell—he held his hand for a time, although had clearly and unmistakably expressed his views on the general question in the last debate on Eastern affairs in the House of Commons. Remonstrances, entreaties, adjurations, rained down upon Hawarden. Among others was the sister’s wail of passionate despair over the dead brother. Mrs. Gladstone replied to this in words of cheer and consolation, saying darkly at the close, “Mr. Gladstone will send an answer next week.”


Madame Novikoff waited the next week as a shipwrecked sailor on a craft waits the arrival of the relieving vessel. Day followed day, and sleepless night followed sleepless night, but before the week expired there arrived a missive with English stamp. She was then in Italy with her mother. Eagerly, wonderingly, she tore open the wrapper and found her answer. It was his famous pamphlet, “The Bulgarian Horrors!”

It is not difficult to imagine the transport of gratitude which overwhelmed Madame Novikoff when she found that from causes quite apart from, although of course closely related to, her own sorrows, Mr. Gladstone had decided to sound such a trumpet peal in the hearing of all Europe. It was to her as life from the dead. From that moment she determined to devote all her energies to second the efforts then being made in England to bring about that good understanding between the two empires on which the peace of Asia depends absolutely, and without which the peace of Europe cannot be regarded as secure. Nobler enterprise never appealed to the enthusiasm of Britomart or any other of the lady knights in Spenser’s “Faerie Queen,” and seldom has any undertaking more faithfully been performed. Few have been crowned with so much success. Many others, no doubt, took more important parts in the great work of conciliation and of explanation, but none did their duty more gallantly, or held their post with such unfaltering resolution and such high courage.


It is usual to compare Madame Novikoff to Princess Lieven, but those who do so are apt to forget the immense advantages which Lord Grey’s correspondent possessed. It is well that both were of equal rank, for in Russia it is nothing to be a princess. Count Bobrinsky told me that he had a whole village of ex-serfs, every one of whom was legally of princely rank. But Princess Lieven had a recognised diplomatic position which compelled her to reside in London most of the year. Her husband was Russian Ambassador. She entertained at the Russian Embassy. All that wealth and status could procure was at her command. Madame Novikoff had none of these things. Her brother-in-law, it is true, was Russian Ambassador at Vienna, but he was so hostile to the Slavonic cause that when her brother passed through the Austrian capital on his way to the field of Zaitschar he only spoke of his Red Cross mission. Her husband was at Moscow. She was alone in a London hotel, surrounded by a society fiercely anti-Russian. The English Prime Minister-was Lord Beaconsfield, and the Russian Ambassador was Count Schouvaloff. Now, the Count was a Petersburger, and an official. He did not relish the advent of a young and unofficial lady diplomat, uncredited and uncommissioned, in his own preserves. He loathed the Slavonic cause, and once when he heard of the volunteers who flocked to the Servian ranks, he is said to have asked angrily, “Are there then no police left in Russia?” Yet, in spite of the antagonism of her own ambassador, and the lack of any credentials from her own Government, and the intense hostility of our Government and London society, Madame Novikoff succeeded in establishing a position which, both for prestige and for influence, throws Princess Lieven’s entirely into the shade.

The achievement is one of which Madame Novikoff has good reason to feel proud, all the more so because, although her position has been singularly exposed, she has maintained it without incurring any of the scandals which were associated with the name of Princess Lieven. Madame Novikoff was not wealthy enough to give large dinner parties. She lived as plainly and simply as any one could desire. She began her work when the relations between the two countries were more strained than they had ever been since the Crimean War. Yet in face of all obstacles she has so far triumphed, that she has established her position and secured her right to be heard with respect, if not with deference, on every question that arises between the two Empires. This is not only the case in society, as it was with Princess Lieven and with a few influential friends. Madame Novikoff has all that and others besides. She not only receives, but she publishes. She is an authoress, a pamphleteer, and in her own way a journalist. In the press she was the most brilliant apologist Russia has ever had in any discussion, arising between Russia and England. She has come to be regarded as being as much the national channel by which Russian views reach English ears, as the Russian Ambassador is the official medium for communicating the despatches of the Russian Foreign Office to the Court of St. James.


Remarkable as is the achievement, still more remarkable is the method by which it was accomplished. There has been no diabolical finesse, no Machiavelian subtlety, nothing but straightforward audacity and uncompromising devotion to principle. Take, for instance, the condition of things when she began her campaign in 1870. At that time Panslavism was the bugbear of the nations. All the Russian diplomatists spent their days in assuring the West that the Russian Government had no sympathy —none whatever, not the least little wee bit—with that portentous menace to the peace of the world. It was accepted in official and diplomatic circles that the correct line to pursue was to minimise the significance of these hot heads of volunteers, to prophesy peace, and above all things to disclaim any determination on the part of Russia to draw the sword. Madame Novikoff reversed all that. She took exactly the opposite tack. She glorified Panslavism, almost deified the volunteers, and declared in season and out of season that no matter what these miserable Petersburgers might say, Russia was determined at any cost, and without even counting the cost, to turn the Turks out of Bulgaria. To the old-time diplomatist this was the very acme of madness, the one certain method to provoke instant war. Madame Novikoff knew better. With a woman’s quick intuition, she dived to the very heart of the situation, and saw that the popular instinct in England was identical with that of her Russian countrymen. Both were blazing heaven high against the Turk, but while the Englishman found relief in swearing hard in resolutions seven lines long, the Russian, in good old crusader fashion, girt a sword about him, and strode off to the Balkans to teach the infidel to abstain from oppressing his Christian kinsfolk. So Madame Novikoff, brushing aside all the subterfuge of diplomacy, set to work to introduce the two peoples to each other.

Her friends in England—and they were many and influential—suddenly found her transfigured by the regenerating influence of an enthusiastic faith. Her intense fervour, her ardent sympathy, suffused by the unuttered and unutterable sorrow of a great bereavement, enabled some Englishmen, whose influence in England was not the least potent, to realise—as but for her they might not have realised—the sincerity and intensity of the emotions aroused in Russia by the revolt of the Southern Slavs. In her they beheld personified that unselfish enthusiasm of humanity which throbbed ungovernably in the heart of the Russian people; and even if they did not share they reverenced the lofty devotion which resulted in self-sacrifice to complete. Unofficial Moscow—the Russia of the volunteers as distinguished from official Russia, the Russia of the diplomats—was realised in our midst, not of course by the million by whom she was and is unknown, but by many of those by whom the million was swayed.

The first thing to do was to enable the British public to understand what was really in the heart of the Russian people. It so happened that at that time the usually dumb and inarticulate multitudes of Muscovy had found a voice. Ivan Aksakoff, the central fiery nucleus of the Slavonic Societies, was, in many respects, one if the most remarkable men of his time. Almost alone among modern Russians he possessed, in a high degree, the genius of the orator, and his speeches, glowing with patriotic and religious passion, sounded in the ears of the silent millions as the peal of the tocsin at the dead hour of the night. In his speeches we have almost the only intelligible interpretation of Russian sentiment that was not premarily intended for the foreign market. He spoke to the hearts of his countrymen, and they, albeit unused to the stirring appeals of the popular orator, responded as steel-clad Europe answered the appeal of Peter the Hermit, not by phrases, but by facts. When in Russia I paid a pilgrimage to the great granite boulder which marks Aksakoff,s grave in Troitsa Monastery, and felt, as I stood uncovered beside the patriot’s tomb, that it was more sacred than all the thaumaturgic images in the adjacent sanctuary. For, in a great crisis in a great nation’s history, this man was the tongue of Russia, the tongue that spoke from a heart surcharged with emotions of a passionate enthusiasm of self-sacrifice such as is almost unknown in our Western lands. But when Madame Novikoff came to England in 1876, Ivan Aksakoff was not dead in Troitsa graveyard. That volcanic heart was in full eruption. He was busy in Moscow raising patriotic funds, organising volunteers for Servia, and every now and then, when the occasion demanded, letting the peal of his sonorous eloquence sweep like a flood over the excited millions of Russia. Madame Novikoff, with a true instinct, decided to introduce M. Aksakoff to the English people, and for this purpose she translated and published as a small tractate M. Aksakoff’s address to the Slavonic Committee on the war in Servia. She was guided partly by her passionate devotion to her dead brother’s memory. In his address M. Aksakoff had eulogised the volunteers, and referred with sympathetic homage to the death of young Kireeff. Madame Novikoff probably thought more of paying a tribute to her brother’s memory than allaying British suspicion. But she worked more wisely than she knew. The little pamphlet had a great success. It supplied just that confirmation—unmistakable and unpremeditated—which was needed in order to convince John Bull that the Slavonic movement was as real and genuine and popular an agitation as that which had shattered the traditional policy of England in a week. “Unofficial Russia” was at least genuine. There was no mistaking the earnestness and sincerity of the volunteers who rushed in thousands to die in defence of the Servian. So it came to pass that among the anti-Turks, M. Aksakoff became a popular hero only second to Mr. Gladstone, and we all swore by the sterling sincerity of the great Panslavonic agitation.

It was about this time that the famous conference was held at St. James’s Hall which gave such emphatic expression to the will of the nation that no war should be undertaken in defence of the Turk, and that Lord Salisbury should at the coming Conference, insist on the liberation of Bulgaria. It was at the St. James’s Hall conference that the public learned that Mr. Gladstone and Madame Novikoff were friends. The incident which gave rise at the time to no end of newspaper gossip, some of it innocent and some of it malicious, is such an excellent illustration of Mr. Gladstone’s supreme disregard of appearances when the risk of misrepresentation of himself is weighed against the opportunity of doing a kindly action to another, that it is worth while mentioning it here. Mr. Gladstone had been the hero of the conference; he had just held the crowded assembly spell-bound for nearly two hours by one of his greatest speeches. It was one of the most exciting demonstrations I ever attended, and Mr. Gladstone never put more force and passion into his oratory. When the enthusiastic crowd was dispersing Madame Novikoff got caught in the human swirl that was crushing downstairs. The pressure and the excitement were beginning to occasion her a little uneasiness when suddenly she heard Mr. Gladstone’s voice. He had recognised her in the press, and, making his way to her side, offered her his arm and conducted her safely downstairs. Not content with this act of somewhat perilous courtesy, considering the accusations that were being hurled in reckless profusion against Mr. Gladstone on account of his alleged sympathy for Russia, the ex-Prime Minister insisted upon seeing Madame Novikoff safely home to her hotel. When, half-an-hour late, he appeared at the dinner party, to which a great admirer of his had invited half the diplomatic corps to do him honour, he apologised for his delay. “I came as soon as I could,” he said; “I have hastened here after seeing Madame Novikoff to her hotel.” I would have given something to have seen Count Schouvaloff’s face as he heard Mr. Gladstone’s announcement. Surely since Auguste Comte enunciated his famous precept, “Live openly,” few men have ever led a more al fresco life than Mr. Gladstone. I remember hearing him once say to Madame Novikoff that he had never written a letter during all the crisis which he was not quite willing to see in the Times next morning. This transparent simplicity of character, however, is so utterly incomprehensible to a certain class of minds, that it is not surprising that the Tory papers of the baser sort began to hint darkly that possibly the secret source of Mr. Gladstone’s enthusiasm for the Bulgarians was to be found in the fascination of the syren who was supposed to be the secret emissary of “the Divine Figure from the North”!

All that, of course, was drivelling nonsense. Mr. Gladstone’s views upon the Eastern Question were public property when Miss Olga Alexevna Kiréeff wore long clothes in her mother’s nursery. Neither was Madame Novikoff in any sense an emissary from the Tzar. That she would now or at any time since her brother’s death gladly do her country a good turn is only saying that she is a good patriot. But that she is in any sense an agent or an emissary or the tool of the Russian Government is about as rational as it would have been to have accused me when I visited St. Petersburg of being the confidential envoy of Lord Salisbury.

As she had devoted herself in London to interpreting the Russia of Moscow to the English, so in Moscow she set herself to the interpretation of the Russia of St. James’s Hall to Russians. It was quite as uphill a task in Russia as in England. When she began to write, it was regarded by almost every Russian as a foregone conclusion that, if a Russian soldier crossed the Danube, Lord Beaconsfield would proclaim war. In those dark days she used to declare that she was the only Russian who believed that it was possible to avert war with England if the liberation of Bulgaria were undertaken in grim earnest. Nothing daunted, however, she set to work, trying to make an impression on the minds of her countrymen that Mr. Gladstone might be able to restrain Lord Beaconsfield from going to war with Russia, but in Russia that seemed too good news to be true.

Immediately after the close of the Eastern agitation, I projected the publication of a brief history of that remarkable outburst of popular feeling which shattered the Anglo-Turkish Alliance and paved the way for the emancipation of Bulgaria. Mr. Gladstone was good enough to place at my disposal, without restriction, a large part of his correspondence during that stirring time, and from that source I am able to quote some letters that passed between him and Madame Novikoff, which are not without some little historic interest.


The negotiations which followed the failure of the Conference at Constantinople, during which General Ignatieff came to London to renew his acquaintance with Lord Salisbury and to exchange notes with Mr. Gladstone, were very trying to the ardent patriot at Moscow. Mr. Gladstone’s attitude throughout the whole of this trying time was most scrupulously correct. While never concealing his own opinion, he was most careful to remind his Russian friends that he was not in a position to give effect to his views. Here, for instance, is the substance of his conversation with Count Ignatieff, when that able and experienced diplomatist visited London immediately before the outbreak of war:—

I have my own opinions and my own ideas. But they are opinions without weight, and ideas without means of putting them into effect. The English people have decided the Eastern Question in a Christian sense. I do not say the Government, or the Parliament, or the wealthy classes, or the army, or the greater part of the Metropolitan press, but the people themselves have, heart and soul, revolted against the crimes and barbarities of the Porte. It is only in a very tardy fashion that the nation can influence the opinion and the action of Parliament on a question of this nature. It is only by by-elections that the people can act, and it is certain that for the last six months the by-elections have shown that they are influenced by the above conviction. The Tory majority will, I doubt not, vote for the Government, be its policy black or white or any other colour. The enormous majority of the Liberal party—with the exception of the very rich—desires the adoption of a firm and free policy in favour of the Christians, or rather, I may say, of the subject races. The Government permitted free and true speech to Lord Salisbury, but reserved to itself the authority to act, and at the present moment I believe very little in Ministerial action. Diplomacy has been discredited by the Conference at Constantinople. The Porte is elated, and the provinces crushed under foot. Truly a melancholy outcome!


His correspondence with Madame Novikoff displays the same anxiety not to mislead, the same scrupulous care to understate rather than to overstate the possibilities of effective action in the cause of the peace of Europe and the liberation of Bulgaria. Here, for instance, is a letter which he addressed to Madame Novikoff on February 6, 1877:—

Do not wonder if I say I should not like even to repeat a letter to you, or allow it by so slight an act to be supposed that I wrote to you something peculiar in its nature. This absurd construction would be put upon either my writing often, or only with even the slightest indication of secrecy. It is true that in this matter I have no secrets, but I am compelled to be cautious… I consider that we, the agitators, have gained two points: (a) the re-establishment of the European concert, (b) extrication from a disgraceful policy on virtual complicity with Turkey. Incidental local elections, of which there have been remarkably few, are, in truth, the best guide, though short of a perfect one, as to national feeling. But I can now repeat strongly that in my opinion the nation is sound…Another word, a daring one, for I am going to advise. I should tell you first that about Khiva I do not cave two straws. Further, I believe it just possible that there may be a bond fide pressure for its annexation to Russia. Nevertheless, I shall most deeply lament the annexation if it takes place at the present time, for it will give to our Turkish party exactly the handle which they want, and, taking the declaration of the Emperor through Count Schouvaloff, I feel convinced that it will do great and serious harm. Forgive me —I am, very sincerely yours, W. E. GLADSTONE.
I learn with pleasure the fall of Midhat Pasha.


Madame Novikoff, on her part, as her manner is, was much more frankly and even fiercely outspoken. The following letters addressed by her to Mr. Gladstone give us interesting and vivid glimpses of the state of things in the fiery heart of Old Muscovy during the time when diplomatists in all the Chancellories of Europe were wearing out their quills in the production of spider-web protocols with which to bind fast and lay to rest the God of War:—

March 12. — Thank you very much for your most interesting and important letter. The terrible report is spread here widely, that if Russia should declare war, as we all earnestly desire, England is going simply to occupy Constantinople, and keep it for good as her own property. Now, Turkey is rapidly going to her own suicide, and certainly can never be a dangerous neighbour to Russia; but England is superior in every sense, and it makes one hesitate to undertake such a serious war under such circumstances. Of course, were the Opposition now in power, Christian provinces would be allowed to breathe, but as it is now evident that, in spite of the generous elements brought forth chiefly by you and partly by the Duke of Argyll — whose name is also pronounced here with great respect and admiration — the Government of England does not pay much attention to lofty feelings and has other objects in view. Still, happen what may, I think — and not I alone, but thousands of Russians think as I — it is our duty to defend the Christians if nobody else has pity upon them. We are bewildered to see that Mr. Hardy’s cynical remark about the “first principles of religion,” should pass unnoticed by his listeners in the press. How difficult it is for countries to understand each other! My best love to Mrs Gladstone.— Ever yours sincerely, OLGA N.

April 18.— I have not heard from you for a long time, and regret it very much; of course I have no claim upon your kind remembrances. You already know that Russia is not checked by Lord B’s determination to defend his beloved Turks, and she is not afraid to make new, terrible sacrifice. In six days (24/12 April) war will be declared. The Emperor goes to Kishineff to-morrow; the declaration war will be sent from there. You cannot conceive the agony through which we lived during all this useless diplomatic twaddle, which only lost time and tried one’s patience. But our Emperor has resumed his noble position, all our hearts are with his generous determination, England prevents Greece from joining the insurrection, but that we of course expected. No help for Lord Derby. What will the Opposition do now since peace is no more to be thought of? Can you explain why the Liberal party showed so little resistance in both Houses? I am sure there must have been some reason for it which we foreigners fail to understand. It is true that Lady Strangford admits Servian children to her home, or Russians, only on condition of their abandoning their Greek creed? Our papers speak much of that, but I only believe what I hear from you. Do write me a few lines. If in free England people cannot correspond without being calumniated in the most vulgar way, England evidently is degenerating. Pardon my speaking so rudely. Best remembrances to Mrs. G.—Yours most truly, OLGA N.

April 22.—All our newspapers of to-day ascribe to England the three following plans:—(1) To occupy Athens and Crete, preventing Greece by all means to rise and help us; (2) Prohibition to Russian vessels passing Gibraltar; (3) and occupy Constantinople if Turkey gets too great a smashing. I confess I am at a loss. All this is tantamount to a declaration of war against Russia. I thought, and I assured my friends, that England was on the whole favourable to the Christians. I beseech you to get us a key to solve these mysteries; but who can explain things better than you? Best remembrances to Mrs. G.


April 24/12.—The declaration of war was received here today at 2 p.m. At 5 p.m. the Town Council assembled. Very great enthusiasm. The Town Council at once offered a million of roubles and one thousand beds for the wounded. Cries were heard from different directions, “It is too little, far too little.” Then it was decided to consider the sum as a simple beginning. The merchants came also together, and the same thing was repeated, also a voluntary donation of a million. One hundred and sixty ladies offered their services as sisters of charity, one hundred of them having already passed their examinations. Russia seems quite revived. What will England do? I know what she would do if you were at the head of the Government. But as it is now— Well, we’ll do our duty, and happen what may.—Yours sincerely, OLGA N.

…It was not only in removing misconception and promoting good feeling in England towards Russia that she found abundant scope for all her energies. Distrust and suspicion of England in Russia was almost, though not quite, as great an impediment in the way of a good understanding. Although, like most ladies moving in the highest circles round the Court—her brothers had both been pages to the Empress, and the only surviving brother is Lieut. General, attached to the Grand Duke Constantine—she had never dreamed of contributing to newspapers, she no sooner found herself back in Moscow at the close of 1876 than she saw the necessity of availing herself of the press as the means of assuring her countrymen that there was a nobler England than that of Lord Beaconsfield, and that there were Englishmen, and those of the best, who sympathised as cordially and as intensely with the oppressed Slavs as the Russians themselves. She began by contributing a graphic and sympathetic account of the St. James’s Hall Conference to the Moscow Gazette, which was edited by her friend M. Katkoff. To the Moscow Gazette and the Contemporary News, the Slavophil organ of Moscow, edited by another friend (M. Guiloroff-Platooroff), she contributed a series of articles all directed to the same end—to the establishment of a good feeling between England and Russia and the removal of that senseless spirit of mutual suspicion, to which, alas! half a million of gallant men have been sacrificed within three short years.

Thus, at last, the fateful word had been spoken. Russia drew the sword, cast away the scabbard, and strove resolutely southward to achieve single-handed the task from which allied Europe had shrunk aghast.


It is not pleasant for an Englishman to look back upon that terrible year, 1877. For all the bloodshed in these prolonged campaigns we were responsible. But for the criminal and short-sighted selfishness of our anti-Russians there would have been no war. Bulgaria might have been Lebanonised if the British fleet had been despatched to Constantinople with the mandate of Europe, as the Emperor of Russia had proposed in the midst of the atrocity agitation. A crowded public meeting at Darlington, the very headquarters of the Peace Society, had passed, with unanimous enthusiasm, a resolution demanding the acceptance of the Tzar’s proposition, but Downing Street would none of it. It was the distinct policy of Prince Bismarck to bring on a war in the East of Europe. Russia would break her teeth on the Balkans; she would be less formidable a neighbour to Germany. So Lord Beaconsfield was not discouraged from Berlin when he refused to combine to coerce the Turk, and a Russo-Turkish war was the inevitable result. That war cost Russia 100,000 men and £100,000,000. That is the price which Russia had to pay for England’s patronage of the Turk. How many hundreds of thousands the Turk lost in men and in money no one can calculate, for the curse of our friendship was to him a bitterer malison than the curse of our enmity was to Russia. Its net-result, however, was that the backbone of the Ottoman Empire was cut out with the Russian sword, the Austrians amputated Bosnia, and then Herzegovina, Servia, Montenegro, and Greece appropriated fragments of the dismembered empire, and England, to fill up the measure of the cup of her shame, filched Cyprus.


It was during the war, while Plevna was still standing, that I first made Madame Novikoff’s acquaintance. She returned to London, and was holding her little court at Symonds’s Hotel, Brook Street. For twelve months I had been holding the most advanced position against the anti-Russians in England, as she had been holding the most advanced position against the anti-English party in Moscow. I had been urging my countrymen daily for a year past to do, in concert with Russia, what her countrymen, at infinite sacrifice of blood and treasure, were now doing alone. During my campaign in the North I had frequently referred to the heroism of the Russian volunteers in Servia as affording the most conclusive proof of the disinterested devotion and genuine popular sympathy of the Russian people for their oppressed kinsfolk in the Balkans. One of these tides in the Northern Echo Mr. Freeman had given Madame Novikoff whilst she was staying at Somerlease. It led to correspondence, and when Madame Novikoff revisited London she asked me to call upon her. Then began a friendship which, although subjected to many violent strains, chiefly arising from differences of opinion on the subject of religious freedom, has never been interrupted for a single week. Madame Novikoff began to write for the Northern Echo in the Autumn of 1877, and I subsequently asked her to write for the Pall Mall Gazette. We, the outposts in our respective countries, formed a firm and, for me at least, a very useful alliance. We had one object—the liberation of the Slavs, and one formula by which it was to be obtained—the establishment of good relations between Russia and England. In the face of a public already in the full fierce flush of the Jingo delirium we raised together the banner of the Anglo-Russian alliance, and under that flag we have fought together as comrades wherever and whenever a blow could be struck in the good cause.

The series of letters which she published in the Northern Echo in the winter of 1877 were subsequently republished, with a preface by Mr. Froude, under the title, “Is Russia Wrong? By a Russian Lady.” Coming out as they did just as the Russian armies were converging on Constantinople, they attracted, and deservedly attracted, a large measure of attention. They formed the basis of article which M. de Laveleye wrote for a leading English review; but so great was the prejudice existing even in Liberal quarters against the mysterious “Russian agent,” that M. de Laveleye was not allowed to refer by name to the book on which he based his article. The introductory reference to Madame Novikoff was struck out—a curious inverted homage to the irrational dread entertained even by robust Radicals of Princess Lieven Secunda.

It was during these trying months that I was first introduced to Madame Novikoff’s salon. It was there I first met Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Kinglake, Mr. Froude, Mr. Stansfeld, Mr. Courtney, Count Beust, Mr. Matthew Arnold, and a host of other notables. I never forget the feeling of awe that came over me when in the most matter of fact way Madame Novikoff proposed one day to take me to see Mr. Carlyle. Had she proposed to dine with the Apostle Paul I could hardly have been more startled. Carlyle, from my earliest boyhood, had been as one of the greater gods in a shadowy Olympus. To call upon him as if he were an actual mortal seemed like a chapter out of fairyland. But it was delightfully real when, half an hour afterwards, we were seated in the familiar parlour in Cheyne Row, listening to the Chelsea Sage’s fierce denunciations of Lord Beaconsfield and enthusiastic eulogies of the Russians, “the only European race which had not forgotten how to obey.”

I was much impressed with the stately courtliness of Mr. Carlyle’s manner, the heartiness of his laugh, and the marked regard which he showed to “the Russian leddy,” as he called her. When he was with her there was not a trace of the grim sardonic spirit which has left such a dark shadow over his memory. His bright blue eyes, the russet-red on his cheek, contrasted strangely with my previous conception of the man with features scarred with wrinkles and gloomy with undying grief.


Mr. Carlyle afterwards talked to me a good deal about Madame Novikoff, “a very patriotic leddy,” as he observed. They used to drive together on week days in Lady Ashburton’s carriage, and on Sundays in the Chelsea omnibus, where they must have seemed a curious pair to the inquisitive and hero-worshipping conductor. Froude was generally with them during these drives. At Mr. Carlyle’s also I met Mr. Lecky, and subsequently she took me to Mr. Froude. It was a great new world to me to see the men whom I had been reading and writing about all my life for the first time face to face. Still. more important was it to meet Mr. Gladstone, with whom I had for some time past been in correspondence, and to come for the first time behind the scenes of English and foreign political life.


When, after the fall of Plevna and the advance of the Russian armies across the Balkans, Madame Novikoff returned to Russia, her literary activity was again transferred from London to Moscow. The anxieties of that time are depicted in the letters which passed between the two capitals. When she left London, there was reason to hope that England and Austria, the two Powers which on the right hand and the left had held up the hands of the Unspeakable Turk, would acquiesce in the legitimate consequences of the Russian triumphs. I remember as late as Christmas, 1877, being assured by Mr. Cowen, who had then not yet resumed his mantle of Russophobist seer, that all fear of English intervention, even to save Constantinople, was entirely out of the question. It was unjust to the Government to imagine that they wished such a thing, and if they wished it they could do nothing. As for the danger of a popular agitation in favour of war, that was preposterous. The people were far more interested in the French elections than in the fate of Turkey. Not even the summons to Parliament to assemble in January disturbed his equanimity. There was no danger, and I was a fool for my pains in fretting about imaginary perils. Alas, less than two months after that conversation that very man was foremost in the ranks of those who by voice and pen were hounding their countrymen into one of the maddest and most criminal enterprises ever contemplated by a political gamester. Lord Carnarvon’s resignation gave us the first warning that there was gunpowder in the air, and when, some weeks later, Lord Derby resigned as a protest against the burlesque Chinoiserie of bringing the Sepoys to Malta, all but the most persistent optimists despaired of peace.

On April 1, 1878, Lord Salisbury took office, and launched his famous April Fools’-day Memorandum, which he was shortly afterwards to cap, word by word and clause by clause, in the famous secret agreement with Count Schouvaloff. On the same day Mr. Gladstone sent to Madame Novikoff the following interesting letter on behalf of Roumania:—

April 1, 1878. The state of affairs is most painful. What I had to say upon the Peace and the European settlement was published to the world in the Nineteenth Century in January and in March. It is a bitter disappointment to find the conclusion of one war for which there was weighty cause followed by another for which there is no adequate cause at all, and which will be an act of utter wickedness if it come to pass, which God forbid, on our side or on both! That unhappy subject on the bit of Bessarabia, on which I have given you my mind with great freedom (for, otherwise, what is the use of writing at all?), threatens to be in part the pretext and in part the cause of enormous mischief, and, in my opinion, to mar and taint at a particular point the immense glory which Russia has acquired—already complete in a military sense, and waiting to be consummated in a moral sense too. In my opinion, the British Government will use the unfortunate intention of Russia about the bit of Bessarabia to darken and confuse the immediate question on which they have broken with her about the Congress. This is clear to me, because they have learned and have printed the statement that Prince G—– has told Roumania he means to adhere to his demand. If this is not true, it should be contradicted. If it is true, then, however untenable the demand of Lord Derby about the rule of procedure, there will be a political shifting of the issue to another ground, on which every Liberal Englishman will be against Russia, so far as the merits are concerned, although some may say —I am not one of these—”It is no affair of mine.”—Believe me, in much concern, very faithfully yours, W. E. GLADSTONE.

Neither Mr. Gladstone nor Lord Salisbury, thus forming their forces on behalf of the Bessarabian strip, could save it from Russia. It was only a trifle, but it was necessary to Russia in order to obliterate the last vestiga of the Crimean War—always excepting the monument in Waterloo Place, concerning which Mr. Bright once made a notable remark. He was talking to Madame Novikoff about that monument. “The a,” he said, “is misplaced, it should have been at the beginning, not at the end of the word ‘Crimea.'” When the Berlin Congress performed in public the comedy rehearsed in private with Count Schouvaloff, the Russians, who were very imperfectly informed as to the significance of that surrender, waited the result with fretful impatience. On June 13/25, 1878, Madame Novikoff wrote to Mr. Gladstone:—

Allow me to send you an extract from the Journal de St. Petersburg, which perhaps may interest you. I confess the presence of your Beaconsfield renders the meeting at Berlin anything but hopeful. He seems determined to spoil all our work. Have you had time to glance at my last 0. K.? (June 15, Northern Echo.) We all are in a state of agony. It’ll be a shame to be Russian if the Slavs are abandoned after all our terrible sacrifices. I do not know of any single case of anybody having made the campaign who is not ailing now. Our troops suffer immensely from the Turkish climate; but we knew it was no joke to undertake this war. Still, we were guided by our moral sense and did it. If all our losses bring to us no result … it will be a mortal blow. Let us wait…God bless you for all your noble energy.


When at last the great melodrama was complete, and Russia consented to the dismemberment of liberated Bulgaria, and the reinslavement of emancipated Macedonia, Moscow patriotism could not contain itself for fury. Russia, it was true, had obtained the trivial annexations for which alone she had asked. Lord Beaconsfield surrendered whatever annexation was demanded. But when it was a question of increasing the area of freedom he was inexorable. Seldom in all the discreditable annals of England’s policy on the Levant is to be found a more disgraceful chapter than that which records how Lord Beaconsfield threatened to plunge the world into wide-wasting war, in order to secure on paper, for the devastators of Bulgaria, the right to reoccupy the Balkan fortresses, from which they had been driven by the Russian sword, and in which, from that day to this, they have never dared to place a single soldier. In place of the solid and secured right of freedom and self-government which has transformed Bulgaria, Macedonia thrust back under the uncovenanted mercies of the Turk while hypocrisy was once more incarnated in the lying clauses under which the Powers exacted from the Turk a promise to introduce local reforms and autonomous institutions. Thirteen years have passed since that clause was consummated, and from that day to this not a single step has been taken to secure the fulfilment the Turk’s promises which England substituted for the Russian guarantees. Madame Novikoff was indignant, and this time she did well to be angry:—

Moscow, July 23, 1878. My dear Mr. Gladstone,—What England has done towards Greece, Russia has towards all the Slavs! We have abandoned, betrayed their hopes, their confidence. I am so distressed, so ashamed, so wretched, that I could not at once thank you for your few lines of July 2nd, though it really was the only pleasant moment that I had during all this terrible month; the perusal of your manly, generous, noble thoughts was a godsend. I have lately translated Aksakoff’s last speech. Mr. Stead will, I hope, insert and send it you. Please read it if you care to know why the whole of Moscow feels as wretched as I do. God bless you for all you are doing still.—Yours ever heartily, 0. K.


It is said that when Prince Gortschakoff wrote at the end of his report on the Berlin Treaty, “This is the saddest page in my whole career,” “And in mine too,” added the Tzar Alexander II. with his own hand. Prince Gortschakoff, however, became the mark for vehement denunciation in Moscow. As the fates would have it, Prince Gortschakoff and Madame Novikoff met on their way to Berlin, and found themselves in the same train journeying southward, shortly after the Berlin Treaty was signed. Madame Novikoff vehemently denounced the policy of the Russian Government in an interview, of which some day I may publish the notes. “Are you not afraid of Siberia?” asked the old Chancellor jestingly. “If I should go to Siberia you should send all Russia with me. We all think alike, it was treason to the Slavs to consent to the partition of Bulgaria.” Prince Gortschakoff assumed a graver tone. “We have no choice,” he said bitterly. [“]Had we assented it would have meant war.” [“]War! I suppose with England,” said she. “So the old Jew frightened us out of our duty and made us sacrifice our sacrifices!” “Nonsense,” said he gravely, ”Lord Beaconsfield’s threats were idle enough. It was not England alone, it was Austria who endangered the position.” “Oh, Austria would never fight,” said Madame Novikoff. “I beg your pardon, Madame,” he said, “the Russian Embassy at Vienna gave us the most categorical assurances that if we persisted the Austrian armies would have occupied Roumania. It was a bitter necessity, but still it was a necessity.”

When next Madame Novikoff visited England the Afghan war had begun, and she had plenty to do in vindicating the ways of Russia in Central Asia to the angry and incredulous people, who, in that excess of madness, were flinging away scores of thousands of lives and millions of gold in making our relations with the Afghans more inimical to India than the worst which the Russians could have done. This second series of “0. K.” letters she published in a pamphlet, under the title of “Friends or Foes?” Returning to England again in the autumn of 1879, she brought out a complete series of her letters in the well-known volume “Russia and England,” which Mr. Gladstone reviewed in the Nineteenth Century on the eve of the General Election of 1880.


The following extracts from Mr. Gladstone’s article explain the nature and the scope of the book, and furnish the estimate of a no mean judge of political controversy as to the merits of the Russian conversialist:—

This volume is the work of a lady, manifestly possessed of a great talent either for politics or, at any rate, for the effective handling of political controversy. The name of O.K. is well known; but the transparent veil, with which she has thought fit not to hide but to shade her features, is not to be removed by the rash hands of a reviewer. For a considerable time she has been wont, amidst our hottest controversies on the Eastern Question, to state boldly the case of her country in the columns of a provincial journal which is called the Northern Echo, is published at Darlington, and has fought the battle of the subject races in the Ottoman Empire for the last four years with the keen intelligence of their neighbours in Yorkshire and the unhesitating courage of Britons. She has at least a lover’s quarrel with us, and in conducting it she exercises the privilege of plain speaking. Were she reserved, diplomatic, and (to use a homely phrase) mealy-mouthed on this point her work would be a pointless dart. The stringency and severity of her critical remarks give the book its principal interest and value. It must be read by Englishmen, at a multitude of points, with needful and salutary pain. Nor is the work, when viewed apart from its political and moral aims, by any means without literary value. It is eminently readable: clear and fresh in style, full of point and ease.

After making copious extracts from her letters, Mr. Gladstone says:—

These citations will have been sufficient to convey a fair idea of the style, the talents, and the aim of our authoress; and with these some useful lessons to ourselves. Few will fail to recognise, amidst their stringency and pungency, a basis of good sense, and even of goodwill, together with much persuasive power. Those who, on a broader ground, may consult this book for indications of probable Russian and Slavonian policy as to the future of Eastern Europe, will be at no loss to find what they seek. Irrespectively of concurrence with each of its particular opinions, its publication should be hailed with thankfulness, as a contribution to the cause of peace, and to the consolidation, now sorely needed, of public order and confidence in Europe.


The General Election shortly after placed Mr. Gladstone in power, vindicating Madame Novikoff in the eyes of M. Katkoff and others who had always doubted the possibility of the defeat of an anti-Russian Ministry by the English constituencies, and terminating the long struggle against the forces of evil in the most satisfactory fashion. The editor of the Moscow Gazette dedicated her long and enthusiastic leader, saying proudly, “Our distinguished correspondent, O. K., turns out to have been extremely clear-sighted in her foresight, and we must admit that she was right and we were wrong in our estimate of the English Liberal sympathies and forces.” Only once since then has there been any real danger of war with Russia. That occurred in the spring of 1885, when the Penjdeh episode brought the two Empires into dangerous antagonism. Madame Novikoff at that time was not in England.

No longer being required to stand on guard against the sudden access of delirium on the part of the British Jingo, Madame Novikoff has devoted herself of late years to the lighter task of explaining Russian institutions, combatting English prejudices, and of contributing as best she could to the rapprochement between the two nations, which is the be all and end all of her policy. Her most serious literary work was the somewhat cumbrous “Skobeleff and the Slavonic Cause,” published by Longmans some seven or eight years ago. To Madame Novikoff, as to most of the Moscow Slavophils, Skobeleff was a great military hero. He was also a personal friend and political admirer, and Madame Novikoff has an autograph portrait of the Slavonic Mars, inscribed to Olga Alexevna, “From an enthusiastic admirer of her political work.” The second part of the book is an exposition of what Slavophils mean by the Slavonic Cause. It is useful and ponderous, but far out of the range of the appetite of the average Briton.

Madame Novikoff first introduced to the British public Count Tolstoi’s exquisite little parable, “What makes people to live,” the translation of which from her pen appeared in Fraser’s Magazine long before Tolstoi became a fashion. Madame Novikoff does not like Count Tolstoi; there is an old feud between them, owing to the sneer which he flung out against the volunteers for Servia at the end of “Anna Karenina,” sneers with which M. Katkoff refused to sully the patriotic columns of the journal in which “Anna” first saw the light. Madame Novikoff has also written for the Nineteenth Century and the Contemporary Review, explaining and defending the policy of Russia. Among her other articles are “The New Departure in Russia,” “Temperance Legislation in Russia,” “The Crisis in Servia,” “The Tercentenary of Siberia,” and various letters and articles in defence of the Russian Government in its dealings with the Jews.


It is an old quarrel that between Madame Novikoff and the Jews. During the great crisis, when she stood almost alone, labouring to maintain peace and avert the horrible and desolating calamity of a war between two Empires that encircle the world, the Jews were the bitterest and deadliest enemies of peace. From the Daily Telegraph to the Jewish World the Semitic race was all for war. The Jews were perfectly ready to set the world on fire in order to roast their Russian bear. When the Tzar declared war in Moscow, in 1877, the Jewish World shrieked for war against Russia. It declared that Russia was the arch-foe of civilisation, and advocated a universal league against Russia. It proclaimed “no quarter to the grand modern representative of brute force, and insisted that on no pretext should he be permitted to cross the prescribed territorial cordon.” “The time for immediate and vigorous resistance has arrived, and we trust the English Government will lead the way.” It is true that in the course of such a war immeasurably greater horrors would have been inflicted upon humanity than are complained of by all the Jews in Christendom; it was quite impossible to regard the Jewish element in international policy as other than a powerful and dangerous enemy to peace. If Madame Novikoff is now publishing a pamphlet on the subject of the Philo-Jewish Meeting at the Mansion House, we owe it perhaps a little to the fact that when peace hung in the balance the Jews did their best and worst to bring about war.

Madame Novikoff is zealous for the Greek Orthodox religion, but no one could ever mistake her for a devotee. Still her “religion” is so much an affair of ritual on one side and of patriotism on the other, that it is simply impossible to make her see the ideal side of any more spiritual faith. Last year she developed an active zeal for temperance reform, and in their country place, in the government of Tamboff, she has been conducting quite a temperance mission; her son, supporting her, induced all the peasants, save one, to vote for the closing of the public-house, the one solitary dissentient being the publican, whose business was suppressed with characteristic ruthlessness and without a penny compensation by the local voting majority. She is also a directress of Russian prisons, and if she could only be sent to Siberia to investigate personally the questions at issue between De Windt and George Kennan, it would probably be good for both Siberia and Madame Novikoff.

No woman in all Europe could be selected for such an investigation who has a kinder heart or a more ready sympathy. But Mrs, Browning’s lines about the limitation of the female imagination apply literally to Madame Novikoff. For a single red-haired child ill of a fever there is nothing that she would not do. There is no sacrifice of time, labour, and money which she would not make. She is constantly doing the maddest acts of private charity. In all her controversies about Russian prisons it is painfully evident that she has never been herself a prisoner. Otherwise she would not so constantly ignore the fact that “overcrowding” means death by torture, and that it is idle to boast of the abolition of the knout as a triumph of humanity when the substitution of imprisonment for the lash means exposure to the horrors of overcrowding. The Black Hole of Calcutta, it should never be forgotten, was only a case of overcrowding. This deficiency of the realising imagination is a defect which causes more suffering in the administration of an empire than any deliberate desire to be cruel or offensive.

Though as a controversialist Madame Novikoff is essentially feminine, she has nevertheless made her mark, and made it deeper and broader than any other lady diplomatist of our day. There is a better defence from the controversial point of view of Russian policy in “Russia and England” than in all the despatches of the Russian Foreign Office, unquestionably able as many of those have been. Then, again if sometimes flippant, and even imprudent, she is always good-natured. The claw may be there, and it can scratch, but it is well concealed in the velvetty cushion.

Madame Novikoff sings well, and has a wonderful, resonant voice, with which she once delighted the poor inmates of Bedlam Asylum. In the great hall it is heard to advantage. It is a voice full of fire and fervour, for it is only at her music that Madame Novikoff reveals the depth of emotion that lies hidden beneath that gay abandon of manner which is such a charm to her friends. Madame Novikoff is a good friend, and not a bad enemy. She is the devoted mother of an only son, and her affection for her only surviving brother is like the love of David and Jonathan. M. de Novikoff, her husband who died last year, was considerably her senior. He was a distinguished lieutenant-general, of serious classical culture, the brother of the M. de Novikoff who was ambassador at Vienna. In the closing years of life held an important post at the University of St. Petersburg, directly under the, Ministry of M. Delianoff.

Madame Novikoff has always taken the keenest interest in everything calculated to bring Russia and England together, whether it be in facilitating the reception of Anglicans into the Russian fold, or of opening up Siberia to the oversea trade projected by Captain Wiggins. Whatever she undertakes engrosses her completely. She can never think of two things at the same time, and as she is preoccupied at this moment about her Jewish pamphlet, she does not care about anything in the world, not even about herself.

Some day—may it be long hence—when M Novikoff’s correspondence is published, it will be seen how wide was the range of her acquaintance, how devoted the allegiance of her friends. Mr. Ashmead-Barlett once said that she had strengthened Russia more in her dispute with England than if she had equipped an army corps of one hundred thousand men. It is satisfactory to know that by strengthening Russia she at the same time conferred an even greater benefit upon England by helping to save us from a war in which more than one hundred thousand men would have found a bloody grave.