Topic: Alexander I
December 23, 2015 marks the 238th birthday anniversary of the Russian Emperor Alexander I. Celebrating this date, the Presidential Library makes available rare documents and materials that reveal the personality of the emperor.
Young Alexander ascended to the throne March 12, 1801. Dmitry Merezhkovsky regarded the emperor Paul as "Hamlet on the throne." But even before that A. Herzen regarded as Hamlet the son of Paul, who was involved in the tragic death of his father. In his book of 1906 "The Emperor Alexander I and V. N. Karazin" Herzen wrote, “The crown prince, overwhelmed with horror, stood at the foot of the wild throne; powerless to help, and deprived of the opportunity to leave, Alexander, like Hamlet, wandered through these halls, unable to decide anything; others have decided for him."
Someone’s tragedies are rarely understood by others. That is why in the historiography of Alexander one can easily find polar opinions about him. Decembrist I. D. Yakushkin in his "Notes", 1908, available on the website of the Presidential Library, wrote that "the Emperor Alexander, a patron and almost a luminary of liberals in Europe, in Russia was not just a cruel despot, but worse than that – a meaningless one." These words are opposed by the Baroness Germaine de Stael, who sees "a rare insight" and "a noble simplicity" of the Emperor, who regretted not being the commander and supported "public spirit of its people giving them a lead."
Studying the childhood of the sovereign will enable if not resolve the contradictions of his personality but at least shed light on them. Alexander was a subject of controversy and jealousy of his grandmother and his father. From his birth he was brought to the palace of Catherine to be taken care of, and earned the love and admiration of the Empress. But being brought up by his grandmother, Alexander was unable to free himself from parental influence, realizing what a gulf separated the empress's court and the closed circle of his father in Gatchina.
Catherine decided to remove her son from the throne, taking advantage of the 1722law "of succession to the throne” in order for Alexander to ascend the throne by-passing Paul. Having learned from his grandmother about her idea, Alexander replied with affectionate gratitude for the favor; at the same time, in a letter to his father he called him "Your Majesty" in spite the fact that the title did not belong to him yet, and behind their backs he said that he would be able to avoid the transfer of power to him.
In a letter of 10 May 1796 to his friend Count Kochubey, 18-year old Grand Prince touched upon the subject: "...my position does not satisfy me at all. <...> The court life is not for me. I suffer every time when I should at court. <...> I feel unhappy in a society of people whom I would not want to have around even as footmen. <...> In a word, my dear friend, I am aware that I was not born for the high rank that I have now and even less for the one intended for me in the future, which I have vowed to give up one or the other way," writes Alexander Herzen in his book "The Emperor Alexander I and V. N. Karazin."
After the death of Catherine II and the murder of Paul I, Alexander remained face to face with the aristocratic milieu and gradually dismissed the murderers of his father. In his notes about the emperor Stroganov said that in addition to a "republican" spirit, the ideological education of civic virtue, Frederick La Harpe (tutor of the emperor), instilled in Alexander a great distrust of himself. Against this background, dramatic contradictions in the reign of Alexander I become clear: transfer from the "home" Voltairianism of his grandmother to the home mysticism and further to the Bible society; turn from the rejection of power, from almost political indifference to perceiving himself as an anointed sovereign; longing desire for constitution inspirited by projects of M. Speransky replaced by a grim figure of Arakcheev.
The final change in the views of Alexander takes place during the Napoleonic Wars. Historian S. Platonov in his "Lectures on Russian History," says: "The Emperor was convinced that for the people and for the kings, the glory and salvation were only in God; he regarded himself just as an instrument of Providence, avenging the anger of Napoleon." Having gained a foothold in the new views, Alexander became a man "sure of his infallibility, with whom it was futile and risky to contend. More than once he had lost his usual composure and became really rough. Thus, once he promised Prince Volkonsky, whom he was close to, in presence of all to "send him away to the place which the prince would not find on any of his maps.'"
Later, Alexander became apparently tired of life; he wished to escape from its everyday trifles to a contemplative solitude. He bent for depression and mysterious sorrow. In popular consciousness the image of the "Blessed Tsar" Alexander was associated with Grand Russian Princes of the past, whom took monastic vows at the end of their reign: in the second half of the 19th century in Siberia it was rumored that supposedly Alexander I had not die, but lived there under the name of the elder Fyodor Kuzmich. According to Alexander Herzen ("The Emperor Alexander I and V. N. Karazin"), Alexander I was "the only one of all the Romanovs, who was punished, punished humanly, with an internal strife, punished before he was guilty, but having become guilty later."
In the clash of internal contradictions of the sovereign, a new Russian culture was born. It was at that time when Alexander Pushkin cut his teeth in the Tsar's Lyceum; the emperor allocated funds for publishing of the "History of the Russian State" by Karamzin; translations of the Greek classics were published; Pedagogical Institute in St. Petersburg was founded; Imperial Public Library opened. These and similar steps had given a strong impetus to the science and art in Russia. But at the same serfdom still was not abolished; rumors of the impending Decembrist revolt reached Alexander even in 1821; Arakcheyev regime was in full force.
Those events, both positive and negative, set a vector of Russia's development for decades to come. On the one hand, the reign of Alexander gave rise to the Russian culture in general and literature in particular; social and political journalism experienced an unprecedented rise; on the other - the question of serfdom, "resolved" in 1861, then resulted in the October Revolution and the Decembrist revolt sowed the fear of treason and rebellion in Nicholas I, which could not but affect the nature of his government.
© Presidential Library. 16 December, 2015