BLTC Press Titles


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The Secret Doctrine, Volume I Cosmogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky


Darby O'Gill and the Little People

Hermenie Templeton Kavanagh


Knowledge of Higher Worlds and its Attainment

Rudolf Steiner


Letters on the Aesthetical Education of Man

Friedrich Schiller


A history of Russia

by Vasiliĭ Osipovich Kli︠u︡chevskiĭ

Excerpt:

Boris acceded to the throne through the legal method of election by the Zemski Sobor. By his personal qualities, as well as by his political services, he was entitled to become the founder of a new dynasty; yet no sooner had a Tsar been elected of their own company than the boyars —who had suffered many things under Ivan IV.—found themselves unable to rest satisfied with the simple customs on which their political status under the old dynasty had been based, and looked to Boris to grant them more secure warranty of that status, and to allow his power to undergo limitation by a formal undertaking that he would "kiss the cross unto the State according unto a charter forewritten" (to quote a passage which has come down to us among the writings of the eighteenth-century historian, Tatistchev). Boris acted in his usual ambiguous manner. Though well aware what the boyars really wanted of him, he made up his mind neither to yield nor to return them a direct refusal. All his calculated comedy of directly declining the proffered power was a mere trick to evade the conditions on which that power was proffered. On the one hand, the boyars remained silent, in the hope that Godunov would of himself come to terms with them on the question of conditions—on the question of the "kissing of the cross"; while, for his part, Boris silently . refused the throne, in the hope that the Zemski Sobor would elect him without attaching thereto any conditions. In this lay Godunov's greatest mistake—a mistake for which, in the end, he and his house paid dearly. This was because from the start his action gave his authority a false basis. Whereas he ought to have held strictly to his mere status as the candidate of the Sobor, he attempted to tack himself on to the old dynasty by means of a number of invented testamentary dispositions. The Council's resolution stated, without beating about the bush, that, at the moment when Ivan IV. entrusted the young Theodor to Boris' care, the former addressed to the latter the words, "On his death I do assign unto thee this realm." This was as though Ivan could have foreseen the murder of the young Dmitri and Theodor's childless death! Moreover, the resolution represented Theodor as also having "entrusted his realm," at his decease, to Boris. As a matter of fact, these inventions were due to the friendly zeal of the Patriarch Yov, who composed the resolution just quoted. Boris was not the hereditary otchinnik of the Muscovite Empire, but only the chosen candidate of the people. Consequently he began a new line of Tsars which was possessed of a new State significance. Had he wished to avoid becoming an object of scorn or hate, he should have adopted a different line altogether, and not have parodied the extinct dynasty, with its appanage prejudices and traditions. The "great" or leading boyars, headed by the Princes Shuiski, were opposed to Boris' election, on the ground that they feared (so says an ancient manuscript) "that for them (the boyars) and for all men there would come of him oppression." This apprehension Boris ought to have dissipated; indeed, for a time, apparently, the leading boyars expected that he would do so. Consequently we find an adherent of Prince Vassilii Shuiski writing, at the instigation of the latter, that those of the "great" boyars who came of the stock of Rurik, and thus were kinsfolk and accredited descendants of the old Muscovite Tsars according to the Rodoslovetz? had no wish to elect a Tsar from among their own circle, but were willing to leave the matter in the hands of the people; since, even without such adventitious aid, they had always been great and glorious, not only in the land of the oldtime Tsars, but also in distant countries. Yet that condition of greatness and glory ought to have sought its warranty in a dispensation which took

1 Register of boyar genealogies.

GODUNOV'S POLITICAL ERRORS 27

no account of either: and that warranty was to be found only in a limitation of the power of an elected Tsar whom the boyars themselves desiderated. It was a matter in which Boris ought to have taken the initiative, by converting the Zemski Sobor from a gathering of service officials into a permanent, popular, and representative parliament of the kind which we have seen glimmering as an idea, in Muscovite minds as early as the reign of Ivan IV. To give him his due, Boris demanded the convocation of such a parliament, for the purpose of ensuring that a Tsar should be elected of all the people; and, had this been done, it might have reconciled the disaffected boyars, and even averted the misfortunes which overtook Boris' family and the country. In other words, it might have caused him to become the founder of a new dynasty. 'However, the "cunning dissembler" lacked sufficient political acumen to avoid overreaching himself. As soon as the boyars perceived that their hopes were vain, and that the new Tsar intended to rule in the same autocratic manner as Ivan the Terrible had done, they secretly decided to act accordingly. More than one Russian writer of the day explains Boris' misfortunes by the dissatisfaction felt by all the leading men in the country. At the same time, realising this profound resentment of the boyars, Boris took steps to guard himself against their machinations. In the first place, he wove an intricate net of police supervision, wherein the chief part was played by the boyars' own slaves, who had instructions to inform against their masters. Also, a number of released felons were commissioned to haunt the streets of Moscow, in order that they might hear what was being said of the Tsar, and arrest anyone who uttered an unguarded word. Thus denunciation and calumny came to be terrible sources of social division. Men of all classes, including even the clergy, gave information against one another; members of one and the same family feared to hold communication with their fellows; and even to pronounce the Tsar's name became a misdemeanour for which a detective could seize the delinquent and hale him to prison. With this system of denunciation there went court disgrace, torture, capital punishment, and the destruction of homes. "Never before in any State whatsoever have there been such calamities," said men of the day. In particular, great animus marked Boris' operations against the eminent boyar clique which was headed by the Romanovs—a clique wherein he discerned, as he had done in the case of Theodor's cousins, his ill-wishers and rivals. « The five Nikitisches, with their kinsmen, friends, and the wives, children, sisters, and nephews of those kinsmen and friends, he banished to different quarters of the Empire; while the head of the family himself—the future Patriarch Philaret—he immured, together with his wife, in a monastery. In short, he was foolish enough to attempt to know the secrets of every hearth, to read the thoughts of every heart, and to lord it over every conscience^*HHe ordained a special prayer which was to be recited at table whenever the health of the Tsar and his family was drunk: and as one reads this hypocritical, fulsome petition, one realises with a pang to what depths a man—even though he be a Tsar—may sink. By such measures Boris created for himself an unenviable position. Although he succeeded in interning the boyar order, with its agelong traditions, in town mansion, country house, and sequestered gaol, it was .not long before there stepped into its place, from hole and crevice, the obscure family of the Godunovs, who surrounded the throne, and thronged the palace, of their kinsman with a jealous retinue. Thus the old dynasty became replaced by a family at whose head stood the chosen nominee of the Zemski Sobor—a parvenu converted into a poltroon with all the petty instincts of a constable. Lying perdu in his palace, he seldom appeared before the public eye, and even declined to accord personal interviews to petitioners, although such receptions had been the unvarying custom of the oldtime Tsars. In short, suspicious of every man, and tortured with feare and fancies, he could not have dreaded his fellows more if he had been a thief standing in momentary dread of arrest (to quote the apt phrase of a foreigner then resident in Moscow).

In all probability it was in the cdtcrie of boyars most persecuted by Boris—i.e. the cdtcrie headed by the Romanovs—that the idea of a pretender was first hatched. True, the blame for its incubation was laid upon the Poles, but, though it was baked upon a Polish stove, it was mixed in Moscow. It was not for nothing that, as soon as Boris heard of the false Dmitri, he told the boyars that it was their work—that it was they who had put forward the Pretender. Of the unknown individual who succeeded Boris on the throne many interesting anecdotes exist. In the first place, his identity has never been aught but conjectural, despite the best efforts of savants to unravel it. For a long while there prevailed an idea which emanated from Boris himself—namely, that the Pretender was a certain Yuri Otrepiev, monastically known as Gregory Otrepiev, whose father had been a small burgher of Galitch. Of this Gregory's adventures I need not speak, since they are well known. I need only recall that, at first a slave in the service of certain of the Romanov family and a Prince Tcherkasski, he subsequently entered the priesthood; that, later, THE FIRST PRETENDER


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