Plot of a Beautiful Nihilist (Sophie Gunsberg, 1891)



To Make Her Lovers Kill the Czar—Her Failure and Trial—The Official’s Side of a Story Hitherto Told Differently.

No authentic account has yet been given of the late political trial—or rather condemnation—of Russian Nihilists for high treason; for trial, in the English sense of the word, there was none. I have just had a long conversation with one of the dignitaries who played the part of judge, jury, and counsel for the crown during the brief ceremony which began by accusation, was continued by voluntary confession, and ended in condemnation to death.

The ringleader of the conspirators, and now the chief of the prisoners, is—as is frequently the casse in Russian politics—a woman; in this instance a woman of excellent education, of iron will, of ravishing beauty and of undaunted courage; a woman in many respects superior to the celebrated Sophia Perovskaya. This person, Sophia Gunsburg by name, narrated the eventful story of her checkered life to her unsympathetic judges; and narrated it in a most calm, unimpassioned, objective way, which the most impartial of historians might well envy. She was a Jewess by birth, she said and had been brought up in the pale of settlement, outside or which Jews are not allowed to wander at large. Her parents had given her the best education that was to be had under the unfavorable public and private conditions in which their lot was cast. Natural aptitude, and the oppression that stimulates which it does not crush, effected the rest, and in time Sophia Gunsburg became a sort of Jewish Hypatia of the pale. After having graduated in the ordinary establishments of intermediate education, Sophia left her birthplace, to which she refuses the name of Fatherland, and went abroad to breath the bracing air of freedom. In Geneva her vague inclinations and tendencies were gradually molded into a perfect system of cruel, cold blooded revenge, which has scarcely its parallel in history. It was in that historic town that she meditated and brooded over the wrongs inflicted by Russia until at last she hatched a plot.

The means she intended to employ in order to attain it were to the full as abominable as the end in view. She resolved to gather together a select band of your men, and, dazzling them by the almost irresistible charms of her beauty, to administer to each, unknown to the other, a solemn oath binding him to do her behests, and to assassinate the emperor on a day and in the manner fixed by her. She was determined that, if one failed, another should take his place, and still another after him, until at last the foul deed should be done. The emperor’s successor, too, unless struck out a new line of policy, was to be stamped out of existence in the same ruthless way. Sophia Gunsburg had no difficulty in attracting a sufficient number of love sick young Russians who were smitten by her beauty and grace, and made enthusiastic by her eloquence. She sacrificed without hesitation or regret all that a pure woman holds dearest in life in order to maintain her hold over these young Catilines. She was not, however, wholly a monster, nor was she exempt from all human weaknesses. She herself fell in love, eperdument in love, with an educated young Russian, whose paramour she became, but whom she never initiated into her political plots, so that he continued down to the moment of his arrest in complete ignorance of the part she was playing as regicide. One of the unsuccessful attempts on the Czar’s life, chronicled in the Daily Telegraph in the early part of last year, was the work of one of Sophia Gunsburg’s body guards, and had she not been arrested when she was the present year of grace would probably have been the last of the of Alexander III.

When the prisoner had finished the impressive discourse containing the history of her life and crime, which had been occasionally interrupted by the questions and rebukes of the presiding dignitaries, the president asked her whether she felt no compunction for the abominable deed she had resolved and attempted to execute, no remorse for the cynical way in which she had divested herself of all feminine modesty. Her reply was an emphatic negative, which rang through the hall like the peal of a musical bell tolling for the death of a youthful bride, and was quickly followed by the solemn sing-song of the Judge pronouncing the sentence of ignominious death. Her companions were condemned to various terms of hard labor in the mines—a sentence surpassing in severity the most painful kind of death—all except one, her lover, who because perfectly ignorant of her criminal plans was finally released after having languished in solitary confinement for a length of time sufficient to make him wish for a release into the life of this sublunary world, or into the next. The emperor, when informed of the death sentence, commuted it to for life. The emperor refused to allow Sophia Gunsburg to go to the mines of Siberia, her heinous crime deserving a punishment far more terrible; she is therefore to be kept in close solitary confinement for the remainder of her life in the dreary fortress of gloomy Schlusselburg, on a bleak island near Lake Ladoga, where many another Nihilist has been lashed into madness or crushed out of existence in a comparatively short space of time.—[London Telegraph.

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) no. (March 14, 1891): 3.