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Project 1917 is a series of events that took place a hundred years ago as described by those involved. It is composed only of diaries, letters, memoirs, newspapers and other documents

Yesterday the United States of America declared war on Germany.

Miliukov and I congratulated each other on this event which deprives the Teutonic powers of their last chance of salvation. I impressed upon him that the Provisional Government should spread far and wide the splendid message which President Wilson has just addressed to Congress and which ends thus

It is not possible to remain neutral when the peace of the world and the liberty of the nations are at stake. We are thus compelled to join battle with the natural enemy of peace and liberty. To that we will sacrifice our lives, our fortunes, all that we possess, with the pride of knowing that the day has come in which America can give her blood for the nobler principles from which she has sprung.


While the American democracy is speaking in this lofty strain, the Russian revolution is about to complete the destruction of the instinct of patriotic duty and national honour.


This afternoon, the Volhynian regiment, formerly a regiment of the Guard, which was the first to revolt on the 12th March and carried the rest of the garrison with it by its example, organized a concert at the Marie Theatre for the benefit of the victims of the revolution. An extremely polite invitation was sent to the ambassadors of France, England and Italy. We decided to turn up, to avoid the appearance of slighting the new regime; the Provisional Government was also present at the ceremony.

What an extraordinary change at the Marie Theatre! Would its clever stage-hands have succeeded in producing such an amazing transformation? All the imperial coats of arms and all the golden eagles have been removed. The box attendants had exchanged their sumptuous court liveries for miserable, dirty grey jackets.

The theatre was filled with an audience of bourgeois, students and soldiers. A military orchestra occupied the stage; the men of the Volhynian regiment stood in groups behind.

We were ushered into the box on the left which was formerly the box of the imperial family, and in which I have so often seen the Grand Duke Boris, the Grand Duke Dimitri and the Grand Duke Andrew applauding Kchechinskaïa, Karsavina, Spesivtsiava or Smirnova. Opposite us, in the Minister of the Court's box, all the ministers were gathered, wearing nothing more impressive than frock-coats. I could not help thinking of old Count Fredericks, with his blaze of orders and his exquisite courtesy, who is now kept a prisoner in a hospital, sorely stricken with a disease of the bladder and obliged to submit to the most humiliating attentions in the presence of two gaolers. My thoughts went also to his wife, the worthy Countess Hedwig-Aloïsovna, who sought refuge in my embassy and is on her deathbed in an isolation hospital; to General Voyeïkov, Commandant of the Imperial Palaces, who is a prisoner in the Fortress, and to all the brilliant aides-de-camp, gardes-à-cheval and knight-guards, who are now for in captivity or flight.

But the real interest of the audience was concentrated on the great imperial box in the centre, the gala box. It was occupied by some thirty persons, old gentlemen and several old ladies, with grave, worn, curiously expressive and unforgettable faces, who turned wondering eyes on the assembly. These were the heroes and heroines of terrorism who, scarcely three weeks ago, were living in exile in Siberia, or in the cells of Schlusselburg and the Fortress of SS. Peter and Paul. Morozov, Lopatin, Vera Figner, Catherine Ismaïlovitch, etc., were there. I shivered to think of all that the little party stood for in the way of physical suffering and moral torment, borne in silence and buried in oblivion. What an epilogue for Krapotkin's Memoirs, or Dostoïevsky's Memories of the House of the Dead!

The concert began with the Marseillaise, which is now the Russian national anthem. The theatre almost collapsed under the cheers and shouts of "Long live the Revolution!" and "Long live France!" was occasionally sent in my direction.

Then we had a long speech from the Minister of Justice, Kerensky; it was a clever speech in which the subject of the war was wrapped up in socialist phraseology. The orator's style was incisive and jerky; his gestures were few, impatient and imperious. He had a succès fou which made his pale, drawn features seem to light up with satisfaction.

In the interval which followed, Buchanan said to me:

"Let's pay our respects to the Government box! It will look well."

At the end of the interval we returned to our box. A murmur of sympathy and something like concentration passed through the theatre; it was a sort of silent ovation.

Vera Figner had appeared on the stage, in the conductor's place.

She was utterly unaffected, her grey hair coiled round her head, dressed in a black woollen gown, with a white fichu, and looking like a very distinguished old lady.

Nothing about her betrayed the fearsome nihilist she used to be in the days of her youth. She was of course of good family, connected with the nobility.

In calm, level tones, unaccompanied by any kind of gesture, and without a single outburst or the slightest trace of violence or emphasis, the acid note of vengeance or the pealing cry of victory, she reminded us of the countless army of obscure victims who have bought the present triumph of the revolution with their lives, all those nameless ones who have succumbed in state prisons or the penal settlements of Siberia. The list of martyrs came forth like a litany or a piece of recitative. The concluding phrases, uttered more slowly, struck an indescribable note of sadness, resignation and pity. Perhaps the Slav soul alone is capable of that intensity. A funeral march which the orchestra at once began seemed a continuation of the speech, the pathetic effect of which thus culminated in religious emotion. Most of those present were reduced to tears.

We took advantage of this general emotion to withdraw, as we were told that Cheïdze, the orator of the "Labour" group, was about to speak against the war and that heated disputes, etc. might be anticipated. It was time to go. Besides, the ceremony had made a peculiarly poignant impression upon us: we did not want to spoil it.

In the empty passages through which I hastened I seemed to see the ghosts of my smart women friends who had so often been here to lull their restless minds with the novelties of the ballet, and who were the last charm of a social system which has vanished for ever.

✍    Also today

I think the King is placed in an awkward position.

If the Czar is to come here we are bound publicly to state that we (the Government) have invited him – and to add (for our own protection) that we did so on the initiative of the Russian Government (who will not like it).

I still think that we may have to suggest Spain or the South of France as a more suitable residence than England for the Czar.

New Russia can be asked the same question that Vladimir Solovyov asked of old Russia: “What kind of East do you want to be, the East of Xerxes or of Christ?” “East of Xerxes” can be not only savage autocracy, but also savage democracy.

Final departure on Monday. 40 people.

Strictly speaking, it's not a revolution. Everyone's so tired that they have happily embraced everything new, everything that promised not going back to the past. Everyone immediately agreed to everything. If not for this unanimity of the people, army, society, would Russia have acknowledged the Provisional Government in three days?

My heart leaped and pounded in my breast and I clung desperately to my crutches lest I should fall into that unfathomed darkness. A few minutes of wild terror and then as my eyes grew ac- customed to the dark I saw ahead of me a narrow iron cot towards which I moved with infinite caution. In my progress towards the bed my feet sank into pools of stagnant water which covered the floor, and soon I perceived that the walls of the cell were also dripping with moisture. See more

I find in my diary that the Prime Minister, Mr. Lloyd George, invited me to breakfast in April 1917. Some third person was, I understand, to have been present, but he did not arrive, so that I found myself alone in the classic dining-room of No. 10, Downing Street, while my host was finishing his toilet. Presently he appeared, clad in a grey suit, smart and smiling, with no sign at all that he bore the weight of the great European War upon his shoulders. See more

Madam Virubova, the lady-in-waiting to the former Empress who introduced Gregory Rasputin, the mystic monk, to the Russian Court, has been brought from Tsarskoe Selo to the Taurida Palace and hence taken to the prison of St. Peter and St. Paul, says a Reuter dispatch from Petrograd. Madam Virubova is a fellow-prisoner of a wife of the former Minister of War.