A NEW historical work by E. M. Almedingen on Russia has of late years become a literary event, and her most recent volume on The Romanovs is well up to the standard of its predecessors: it can certainly be thoroughly recommended (Bodley Head, 35s.).
Once more the basic unity of Russian history makes itself felt, and the author is fully justified in saying of Peter the Great that he "would certainly have been at home in his country today". Incidentally, while paying tribute to Peter's achievements as a statesman she paints a picture of him as a man little, if at aft, superior to his homicidal predecessor, Ivan the Terrible: furthermore, the two men had this in common that both of them hastened their death by venereal disease contracted by their own excesses.
Amid so much that is excellent it is difficult to make a choice, but perhaps Miss Almedingen is at her best when dealing with the early members of the Romanov family, and she picks her way with unerring skill through the intricacies of the "Troublous Times." To many readers it may never have previously been clear why Michael Romanov should have succeeded where Boris Godunov failed, but it is all set down here in black and white.
A most attractive portrait, too, is minted of Tsarevna Sophia, the half-sister of Peter the Great, to whom not nearly enough attention has been paid by the historians of the West.
It might even be argued that the Romanovs were luckier in their women than in their men —certainly the former were less ferocious.
It goes without saying that Miss Almedingen is sympathetic in her treatment of the last Tsar, Nicholas H, but she has no illusions about him. Since the days of the Golden Horde power in Russia has always tended to be remote, and Nicholas made no attempt to counteract this tendency. "Had he gone among his own people", we are told, "in the simple fashion of his predecessors and allowed them to look at him, no forbidding police cordon in between", the course of Russian history might have been very different.
The author finds him the victim of "weakness, timidity and frequent spurts of vaccillation". In effect, Nicholas appears in these pages possessed, like Louis XVI, of every private virtue, a perfect gentleman, a loyal husband, and an affectionate father, but quite incapable either of a firm comprehension of affairs or of a resolute course of action.
Through this volume there is that very marked feeling of insecurity and ever-mounting suspicion which has always been one of the outstanding characteristics of Russian history under either the Tsars or the Soviets, and which has caused government in Russia to be defined as despotism tempered by assassination.
An admirable book in every way, and a real contribution to modern history.
Sir Charles Petrie