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Chapter 44:

Grant and Catacazy.

in the first year of Grant's Presidency, Mr. Constantine de Catacazy was appointed Minister from Russia to the United States. I was a Secretary of Legation at London at the time, and Andrew J. Curtin, of Pennsylvania, had just been made Minister of the United States to St. Petersburg. The new American plenipotentiary passed through London, and when I called on him he said he was not ready to proceed direct to his post, and asked me to signify to Baron Brunnow, the Russian Ambassador in London, whom I knew, that the delay was not occasioned by any disrespect or discourtesy.

Accordingly, I called on the Ambassador, who was a personage of distinction in European diplomacy. He was then full seventy years of age, had participated in the negotiations and discussions that preceded the Crimean War, and been prominent in all the international affairs of the Continent afterward; a courtly, stately, wily, clever old diplomatist. He received me cordially, and, when I made known my errand, promised at once to advise his Government of what Curtin had desired. He knew that I had been the private secretary of Grant, for it is the business of diplomatists to know everything that relates to governments or their members, or even subordinates; and he seemed to think at once, ‘I may make use of this young man; I can say things to him I could not say to his Minister.’ Perhaps, also, he thought he could extract things from the young man which [374] he could not extract from the Minister; but this design was not so conspicuous as the apparent desire to be confidential.

He evidently wanted to convey certain information to the American Government. He first told me that Russia was about sending a new envoy to the United States, and then the crafty old fox of an Ambassador, full of his diplomatic and aristocratic pride, took the arm of the democratic secretary, and walked up and down the long rooms of Chesham House, giving what he hoped I would report,—his opinions of Catacazy. He did not like his colleague, that was clear. He said Catacazy was not high-born, was even of obscure origin, but clever, after a fashion, had led a somewhat scandalous life, though that didn't hurt him in Brunnow's estimation, and that he was a favorite and protege of Gortchakoff, at that time the Russian Prime Minister; all of which information I carefully garnered up and forwarded to Washington in advance of the arrival of the plenipotentiary. This was in the summer of 1869.

In the autumn I returned to Washington and found Catacazy already established. He was a man of effusive manners, professing great friendship and admiration for most of those he met, saying the most agreeable things, but without the art to make his hearers believe that his utterances were sincere. His flatteries were too fulsome, his falsehoods too plain. He was easy, but not elegant in behavior, smirked too much to be dignified, and there were few who admired, though many perceived, his phase of cleverness. He tried to make himself acceptable to everybody, entertained liberally, paid all his visits and social duties punctiliously, yet was unmistakably vulgar.

His wife, though long past the freshness of youth, was still beautiful,—a tall, golden-haired, graceful German woman; while he was short, ugly, and scrubby. Madame Catacazy had been sold-married they call it in Europe-when she was the merest girl, to an Italian prince, who was in diplomacy, [375] a man of fortune as well as rank, and old enough to be her grandfather. She was very averse to the bargain, but that mattered little to those who made it, and she became a princess and an Ambassadress. After a while the diplomatic pair appeared in Brazil, where the young Catacazy was then a Secretary in the Russian Legation. He pleased the eye or the fancy of the unwilling wife, and one day there was a great scandal in Rio Janeiro. The Italian Ambassadress was missing, and no one could account for her disappearance. Search was made in every direction, for it was feared she had been kidnapped or had committed suicide. In the confusion which so great a social event created the simultaneous absence of the Russian Secretary was not at first observed, they had concealed their liaison so cleverly. But, in a week or two, the couple were discovered living in a cottage in the outskirts of the Brazilian capital. Catacazy was recalled from the court of Dom Pedro, and his princess went with him. In due time there was a divorce or a death, I forget which, and madame was free, and married the Russian Secretary.

Such little episodes do not affect the diplomatic career of a rising Russian, especially if he has a Prime Minister for a patron, and Catacazy was pushed in his profession. He went about to various courts and countries, and was at one time Secretary of Legation at Washington. But his chief forbade him to bring his partner to the capital, and the lady was not at that time introduced into American society. After twenty years, however, Catacazy was made Minister to the United States. It was, perhaps, supposed that his history had been forgotten. But the ladies remembered it, and those who were in power held a consultation as to whether the envoy's wife should be received. Of course, none of the austere would have dreamed of visiting her had they and she been in private station; but in public life things are different, and it was decided to ignore her past, lest to notice it [376] might complicate international relations. So Madame was visited. It was not the only time in the history of the Republic when diplomatic women have obtained a position or an absolution, which as private persons they might have failed to secure. There have been cabinet councils of the ladies under other Administrations on similar points, and with the same result, and doubtless there will be again, so long as women are frail and men betray.

The newcomer was declared fascinating by the men. She dressed with gorgeous taste, and her superb neck and arms, long, golden hair, and melting eyes made many think that Catacazy's sin had not been without its provocation. Their house was attractive, after a fashion; gay, but not elegant. There was high play, and the tone was, as might have been expected from the rank and antecedents of its mistress, courtly, but not gene. Catacazy's colleagues complained that the Minister and his wife played against each other. She staked high, and he low, and Madame's partners always lost. They do such things in Paris, too, but not, as a rule, in diplomatic circles.

Catacazy once thought it worth his while to attempt to win my good will, and asked for a copy of my History of Grant, which he wanted to have translated into Russian. I am ashamed to confess that I was elated at this proof of the popularity of my book, and told it to General Grant.

‘Why, Badeau,’ said the President, ‘do you believe him?’ From which it may be judged that Grant had begun to fathom the character of the plenipotentiary. I never heard any more about the translation; but Catacazy was not the only foreign minister who wanted to translate Grant's history when he was President, and afterwards forgot to carry out the plan.

The next summer I returned to Europe, and remained abroad for several years, so that I can only tell this part of my story at second-hand. Catacazy being a born intriguer, [377] soon got into complications of a personal character with the State Department. It is an intricate story; there was a claim of Americans against the Russian Government, on account of arms furnished during the Crimean war. The claim was not pressed very earnestly by the State Department, yet Catacazy seemed very much concerned; it was the only important business intrusted to him by his Government. At any rate, he resorted to the newspapers, and published attacks on the State Department, and even on the President and his family, which were traced directly to his pen. Sworn affidavits proved the authorship. When he was called to account, his denials were so lame, and his excuses so transparent that they could not be received. Still he persisted in annoying and even maligning the Government to which he was accredited, and finally the American Minister at St. Petersburg was directed to procure his recall. In the meantime, both the President and the Secretary of State refused to receive him at their houses.

But Gortchakoff was his patron, and Catacazy was unwilling to be removed in disgrace. Just at this time the Grand Duke Alexis, son of the Czar, was about visiting America, and it would have been inconvenient to insist on a change of ministers at such a juncture. The Russian Ministry was fully aware how disagreeable Catacazy's presence was to the American Government, and nothing is better established than the right of a Government to refuse to receive an unacceptable Minister; in private life gentlemen may decline communications borne by unwelcome messengers, and for Gortchakoff to persist in retaining an envoy displeasing to another Government, was in itself a discourtesy. At any other time the objectionable representative would have been peremptorily dismissed. But the Administration was unwilling to take this step on the arrival of the son of the Czar. The conduct of Russia during our civil war had not been forgotten, and the Government shared the grateful feeling [378] which the entire country entertained. It was a personal feeling, too, for the Autocrat directs the policy of his empire absolutely; and the obligation was to the Emperor himself. So Catacazy was allowed to remain.

The Grand Duke arrived, and Catacazy presented him to the President. But the Secretary of State first informed the Minister explicitly that his words and actions must be limited to the most formal ceremony. He was not to offer his hand to the President, for it would be refused; he must merely say: ‘Mr. President, I have the honor to present, etc., etc.’ If he attempted any further conversation, Mr. Fish assured the Russian he would himself interrupt and expose the situation to the company. Thus warned, the envoy submitted; he did not deviate from his instructions, but performed his ignoble role to the letter.

It was also signified to the suite of the Grand Duke that although rather than offend the majesty of friendly Russia, the President had tolerated the presence of Catacazy on this occasion, it would be impossible to invite the envoy to dinner. The President would be very glad to entertain the Prince in this way, and to offer him every courtesy, but he could not include the offensive Minister. The invitation was declined, doubtless through the influence of Catacazy. In this way the son of the greatest Imperial friend that America ever had was precluded from receiving the hospitalities which the Government was most anxious to extend; and while the whole country was preparing him banquets Alexis quitted Washington without dining with either the President or the Secretary of State.

Immediately after the Grand Duke's departure Catacazy was recalled. He had produced a diplomatic embarrassment and was therefore in disgrace with his own Government. The Emperor exiled him for a time; he was ordered to remain in Paris, and not to write to the newspapers; but he disobeyed and published an open letter in this country on the subject of his difficulties with the State [379] Department; for this his pension was stopped by his Government.

The sons of Czars, however, are not used to any circumstances but those that are agreeable, and the memory of the Grand Duke's visit rankled. A year and a half afterward, Marshall Jewell was appointed Minister of the United States at St. Petersburg. He himself described to me his reception. Upon his arrival at the capital, it was much longer than usual before any arrangements were made for his presentation to the Czar. The delay was so marked, and the bearing of the courtiers so constrained, that neither could have been accidental. Finally, the Minister was informed that the Czar would receive him. He was kept waiting half an hour in the ante-chamber, before His Majesty appeared, with his gloves on, and ready for a drive or a ride. The Minister was taken up to him, and Alexander, without extending his hand, simply halted for a moment, as he was passing, and exclaimed ‘Your Government did not treat my son Alexis well;’ and then moved on; and this was the greeting from the majesty of Russia to the representative of the United States.

Years after this when General Grant went to Europe, it was thought that the feeling of the Imperial family had still not been dispelled; and the American Minister of that day, Mr. Boker, was anxious that the ex-President should not visit Russia, lest unpleasant circumstances might occur.1 [380] General Grant often talked the matter over with me, and always said that he was not going to Russia for the purpose of visiting the Emperor. If his Majesty chose to welcome him, he should be happy to receive his courtesies, but if otherwise, he would not be uncomfortable. He wanted to see the country, and study the people and their institutions. Accordingly he determined to go.

Upon his arrival the successor of Mr. Boker waited upon Prince Gortchakoff, and was informed that the Czar would be happy to receive General Grant. An interview was arranged; the General went to the palace accompanied by the Minister, and was met by Prince Gortchakoff, who ushered him into a room where the Czar awaited him. Alexander at once came forward, gave General Grant his hand and led him to a sofa, where they sat for half an hour discussing the politics and characteristics of the two countries. The Czar spoke tolerable English, and when he was at a loss for a word, Gortchakoff, who stood behind the sofa, came to his master's aid. Alexander seemed very curious, General Grant told me, to know how an American President made his Cabinet, and how he dealt with troublesome subordinates, and the two exchanged experiences. The [381] Czar evidently desired to show the greatest respect to the ex-President of the United States. He treated him with a freedom from forms which showed that he thought Grant's position almost, if not quite, on a level with his own; but there was no subsequent invitation. The palaces and galleries were thrown open to the General, but he was not invited to dinner.

1 On the 4th of May, 1887, Mr. Boker wrote to me:

I did advise General Grant against going to Russia, because on my presentation to the Emperor, he used this language; “I am grateful to the American people for their treatment of my son Alexis; but not to your Government, not to your Government, Sir.” These words Alexander uttered in a towering passion. I asked Prince Gortchakoff, as was my simple duty, for an explanation of these words; but from him I obtained more words than satisfaction.

You may remember that I saw General Grant in London while you were there. He informed me that he intended to visit Russia, and I then advised him against doing so, fearing that he might be coldly received, or not received at all by the Emperor. From London I returned to St. Petersburg; and on mentioning to Prince Gortchakoff General Grant's proposed visit, Gortchakoff advised against it in a manner that was almost menacing. Before General Grant reached St. Petersburg, I was on my way home, and I was glad to read in the newspapers that his visit passed off without any serious result.

On public occasions it was the custom of the Emperor to ask the Ambassadors and the Ministers after the health, etc., of the Heads of their respective Governments. These questions the Emperor never asked me, although I as regularly said, before the Emperor could get away from me: “I am happy to inform your Majesty that the President is in excellent health.”

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