Biographical Study of A.W. Kinglake HTML version

Madame Novikoff
The Cabinet Edition of "The Invasion of the Crimea" appeared in 1877, shortly after the
Servian struggle for independence, which aroused in England universal interest and
sympathy. Kinglake had heard from the lips of a valued lady friend the tragic death-tale
of her brother Nicholas Kireeff, who fell fighting as a volunteer on the side of the gallant
Servian against the Turk: and, much moved by the recital, offered to honour the memory
of the dead hero in the Preface to his forthcoming edition. He kept his word; made
sympathetic reference to M. Kireeff in the opening of his Preface; but passed in
pursuance of his original design to a hostile impeachment of Russia, its people, its
church, its ruler. This was an error of judgment and of feeling; and the lady, reading the
manuscript, indignantly desired him to burn the whole rather than commit the outrage of
associating her brother's name with an attack on causes and personages dear to him as to
herself. Kinglake listened in silence, then tendered to her a crayon rouge, begging her to
efface all that pained her. She did so; and, diminished by three-fourths of its matter, the
Preface appears in Vol. I. of the Cabinet Edition. The erasure was no slight sacrifice to an
author of Kinglake's literary sensitiveness, mutilating as it did the integrity of a carefully
schemed composition, and leaving visible the scar. He sets forth the strongly sentimental
and romantic side of Russian temperament. Love of the Holy Shrines begat the war of
1853, racial ardour the war of 1876. The first was directed by a single will, the second by
national enthusiasm; yet the mind of Nicholas was no less tossed by a breathless strife of
opposing desires and moods than was Russia at large by the struggle between Panslavism
and statesmanship. Kinglake paints vividly the imposing figure of the young Kireeff, his
stature, beauty, bravery, the white robe he wore incarnadined by death-wounds, his body
captured by the hateful foes. He goes on to tell how myth rose like an exhalation round
his memory: how legends of "a giant piling up hecatombs by a mighty slaughter"
reverberated through mansion and cottage, town and village, cathedral and church; until
thousands of volunteers rushed to arms that they might go where young Kireeff had gone.
Alexander's hand was forced, and the war began, which but for England's intervention
would have cleared Europe of the Turk. We have the text, but not the sermon; the Preface
ends abruptly with an almost clumsy peroration.
The lady who inspired both the eulogy and the curtailment was Madame Novikoff, more
widely known perhaps as O. K., with whom Kinglake maintained during the last twenty
years of life an intimate and mutual friendship. Madame Olga Novikoff, nee Kireeff, is a
Russian lady of aristocratic rank both by parentage and marriage. In a lengthened sojourn
at Vienna with her brother-in- law, the Russian ambassador, she learned the current
business of diplomacy. An eager religious propagandist, she formed alliance with the
"Old Catholics" on the Continent, and with many among the High Church English clergy;
becoming, together with her brother Alexander, a member of the Reunion Nationale, a
society for the union of Christendom. Her interest in education has led her to devote
extensive help to school and church building and endowment on her son's estate. God-
daughter to the Czar Nicholas, she is a devoted Imperialist, nor less in sympathy, as were
all her family, with Russian patriotism: after the death of her brother in Servia on July
6/18, 1876, she became a still more ardent Slavophile. The three articles of her creed are,