Gilbert Gabriel (essay date 1928)
SOURCE: An introduction to The Patriot: A Play in Three Acts, by Alfred Neumann, Boni & Liveright, 1928, pp. v-xiv.
[In the following essay, Gabriel provides an overview of Neumann's drama The Patriot.]
Neumann's drama [The Patriot] is of intrigue and assassination at the Russian Court, St. Petersburg, in the turbulent year of 1801. It is the tragedy of poor Tsar Paul I. and of his Judas, his minister and military governor, Count Pahlen.
These two are the chief tilting posts of The Patriot. Against them—especially against the enigmatic, ironclad, character of Peter Pahlen—the whole of Neumann's drama jousts. A very fiend this Pahlen is depicted, a spider of most intricate cunning, weaving coldly and expertly his plot of betrayal, sedition and regicide, dragging into its strands all admirals and officers, courtiers and whole garrisons, baiting for the emperor with the body of his own mistress, binding the agonized young Tsarievitch into the unyielding center of the web. A very fiend … and yet—the Neumann touch—a hero of heroes.
For, in the end, his bitter task done, the foolish, ineffectual Tsar a strangled corpse, young Alexander ascended safely to the throne, Count Pahlen waits only for the tolling of the dawn before he, too, grimly contrives his own death, uncovers his chest to the bullet of an impassive soldier. A terrible, heart-breaking finale, cold with the desolation of the sallow morning, smeared with the dregs of intrigue, when the blackened, stoic minister, whom you know at last for a savior of his country, a patriot who has flung away honor itself for the sake of the Russia of his Napoleonic day, orders his body servant to shoot, to repeat the suicides of Philippae:
“Look, Stepan, look at these hands of mine … they have been kissed by an emperor. And look at these lips of mine … they have kissed another emperor's hands. And both of them my emperors … my emperors … I am … But let us speak no more of that, Brother Stepan, no more of anything. Sing me a little song, Brother Stepan …”
The stolid soldier, pistols in hand, begins to croon a Russian peasant song. The church bells, the song ceases. The Tsar avenged, the nation rescued. Behind the slowly fallen curtain two shots ring out.
So colossal does this figure of Peter Pahlen loom, you begin to wonder why his name has managed to sift through the chinks of your knowledge of history hitherto. If you know of him at all, you know him as an icy old diplomat who has been given the benefit of no more than two or three lines in the usual encyclopaedias. Even in the Russian encyclopaedias. At any rate in those which were compiled in Russia's Tsarist days, and which are the only ones the New York public libraries can yet boast. The present Russian Government, of course, is publishing a set of its own which guarantees to be franker on the subject of crazy Tsars and successful assassinations.
Until then you must be content, for instance, with the reticence of such an official account as says merely that “On the 12th of March, 1801, Paul I. was found dead” in what is tactfully designated as his “dressing room.” And that “immediately thereafter Count...
(The entire section is 1398 words.)