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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Reign of Terror
By Emilia Pardo Bazán (1852–1921)
From ‘Russia: Its People and Its Literature’: Translated from the Spanish by Fanny Hale Gardiner

THE REIGN of terror was short but tragic. We have seen that the active Nihilists were a few hundred inexperienced youths without position or social influence, armed only with leaflets and tracts. This handful of boys furiously threw down the gauntlet of defiance at the government, when they saw themselves pursued. Resolved to risk their heads (and with such sincerity that almost all the associates who bound themselves to execute what they called “the people’s will” have died in prison or on the scaffold), they adopted as their watchword “man for man.” When the sanguinary reprisals fell upon Russia from one end to the other, the frightened people imagined an immense army of terrorists—rich, strong, and in command of untold resources—covering the empire. In reality, the twenty offenses committed from 1878 to 1882, the mines discovered under the two capitals, the explosions in the station at Moscow and in the palace at St. Petersburg, the many assassinations, and the marvelous organization which could get them performed with circumstances so dramatic, and create a mysterious terror against which the power of the government was broken in pieces,—all this was the work of a few dozens of men and women seemingly endowed with ubiquitousness, so rapid and unceasing their journeys, and so varied the disguises, names, and stratagems they made use of to bewilder and confound the police. It was whispered that millions of money were sent in from abroad; that there were members of the Czar’s family implicated in the conspiracy; that there was an unknown chief, living in a distant country, who managed the threads of a terrible executive committee, which passed judgment in the dark, and whose decrees were carried out instantly. Yet there were only a few enthusiastic students,—a few young girls ready to perform any service, like the heroine of Turgenev’s ‘Shadows’; a few thousand rubles, each contributing his share; and after all, a handful of determined people, who, to use the words of Leroy-Beaulieu, had made a covenant with death. For a strong will, like intelligence or inspiration, is the patrimony of a few; and so, just as ten or twelve artist heads can modify the æsthetic tendency of an age, six or eight intrepid conspirators are enough to stir up an immense empire.  1
  After Karakozov’s attempt upon the life of the Czar (the first spark of discontent), the government augmented the police and endowed Muraviev, who was nicknamed “the Hangman,” with dictatorial powers. In 1871 the first notable political trial was held upon persons affiliated with a secret society. Persecutions for political offenses are a great mistake. Maltreatment only inspires sympathy. After a few such trials the doors had to be closed; the public had become deeply interested in the accused, who declared their doctrines in a style only comparable to the acts of the early Christian martyrs. Who could fail to be moved at the sight of a young woman like Sophia Bardina, rising modestly and explaining, before an audience tremulous with compassion, her revolutionary ideas concerning society, the family, anarchy, property, and law? Power is almost always blind and stupid in the first moments of revolutionary disturbances. In Russia, men risked life and security as often by acts of charity toward conspirators as by conspiracy itself. In Odessa, which was commanded by General Todleben, the little blond heads of two children appeared between the prison bars; they were the children of a poor wretch who had dropped five rubles into a collection for political exiles, and these two little ones were sentenced to the deserts of Siberia with their father. And the poet Mikailov chides the revolutionaries with the words: “Why not let your indignation speak, my brothers? Why is love silent? Is our horrible misfortune worthy of nothing more than a vain tribute of tears? Has your hatred no power to threaten and to wound?”  2
  The party then armed itself, ready to vindicate its political rights by means of terror. The executive committee of the revolutionary Socialists—if in truth such a committee existed or was anything more than a triumvirate—favored this idea. Spies and fugitives were quickly executed. The era of sanguinary Nihilism was opened by a woman, the Charlotte Corday of Nihilism,—Vera Zasulich. She read in a newspaper that a political prisoner had been whipped, contrary to law,—for corporal punishment had been already abolished,—and for no worse cause than a refusal to salute General Trepov; she immediately went and fired a revolver at his accuser. The jury acquitted her, and her friends seized her as she was coming out of court, and spirited her away lest she should fall into the hands of the police; the Emperor thereupon decreed that henceforth political prisoners should not be tried by jury. Shortly after this the substitute of the imperial deputy at Kiev was fired upon in the street; suspicion fell upon a student; all the others mutinied; sixteen of them were sent into exile. As they were passing through Moscow, their fellow-students there broke from the lecture halls and came to blows with the police. Some days later the rector of the University of Kiev, who had endeavored to keep clear of the affair, was found dead upon the stairs; and again later, Heyking, an officer of the gendarmerie, was mortally stabbed in a crowded street. The clandestine press declared this to have been done by order of the executive committee; and it was not long before the chief of secret police of St. Petersburg received a very polite notice of his death sentence, which was accomplished by another dagger; and the clandestine paper, Land and Liberty, said by way of comment, “The measure is filled, and we gave warning of it.”  3
  Months passed without any new assassinations; but in February 1879, Prince Krapotkin, governor of Kharkov, fell by the hand of a masked man, who fired two shots and fled; and no trace of him was to be found, though sentence of death against him was announced upon the walls of all the large towns of Russia. The brother of Prince Krapotkin was a furious revolutionary, and conducted a Socialist paper in Geneva at that time. In March it fell to the turn of Colonel Knoup of the gendarmerie, who was assassinated in his own house; and beside him was found a paper with these words: “By order of the Executive Committee. So will we do to all tyrants and their accomplices.” A pretty Nihilist girl killed a man at a ball: it was at first thought to be a love affair, but it was afterward found out that the murderess did the deed by order of the executive committee, or whatever the hidden power was which inspired such acts. On the 25th of this same March a plot against the life of the new chief of police, General Drenteln, was frustrated; and the walls of the town then flamed with a notice that revolutionary justice was about to fall upon one hundred and eighty persons. It rained crimes,—against the governor of Kiev; against Captain Hubbenet; against Pietrowsky, chief of police, who was riddled with wounds in his own room; and lastly, on the 14th of April, Solovieff attempted the life of the Czar, firing five shots, none of which took effect. On being caught, the would-be assassin swallowed a dose of poison; but his suicide was also unsuccessful.  4
  Solovieff, however, had reached the heights of Nihilism: he had dared to touch the sacred person of the Czar. He was the ideal Nihilist: he had renounced his profession, determined to “go with the people,” and became a locksmith, wearing the artisan’s dress; he was married “mystically,” and by “free grace” or “free will,” and it was said that he was a member of the terrible executive committee. He suffered death on the gallows with serenity and composure, and without naming his accomplices. Land and Liberty approved his acts by saying, “We should be as ready to kill as to die; the day has come when assassination must be counted as a political motor.” From that day Alexander II. was a doomed man; and his fatal moment was not far off. The revolutionaries were determined to strike the government with terror, and to prove to the people that the sacred Emperor was a man like any other, and that no supernatural charm shielded his life. At the end of 1879 and the beginning of 1880 two lugubrious warnings were forced upon the Emperor: first the mine which wrecked the imperial train, and then the explosion which threw the dining-room of the palace in ruins,—which catastrophe he saw with his own eyes. About this time the office of a surreptitious paper was attacked, the editors and printers of which defended themselves desperately: alarmed by this significant event, the Emperor intrusted to Loris Melikov, who was a Liberal, an almost omnipotent dictatorship. The conciliatory measures of Melikov somewhat calmed the public mind; but just as the Czar had convened a meeting for the consideration of reforms solicited by the general opinion, his own sentence was carried out by bombs.  5
  It is worthy of note that both parties (the conservative and the revolutionary) cast in each other’s face the accusation of having been the first to inflict the death penalty, which was contrary to Russian custom and law. If Russia does not deserve quite so appropriately as Spain to be called the country of vice versas, it is nevertheless worth while to note how she long ago solved the great juridical problem upon which we are still employing tongue and pen so busily. Not only is capital punishment unknown to the Russian penal code, but since 1872 even perpetual confinement has been abolished,—twenty years being the maximum of imprisonment; and this even to-day is only inflicted upon political criminals, who are always treated there with greater severity than other delinquents. Before the celebrated Italian criminalist lawyer, Beccaria, ever wrote on the subject, the Czarina Elizabeth Petrovna had issued an edict suppressing capital punishment. The terrible Muscovite whip probably equaled the gibbet; but aside from the fact that it had been seldom used, it was abolished by Nicholas I. If we judge of a country by its penal laws, Russia stands at the head of European civilization. The Russians were so unaccustomed to the sight of the scaffold, that when the first one for the conspirators was to be built, there were no workmen to be found who knew how to construct it.  6

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