If he be Suvaroff or Skobeleff or Gourko he may win great battles; if he be Mendeleieff he may reach some epoch-making discovery in science; if he be Derjavine he may write a poem like the "Ode to God"; if he be Antokolsky he may carve statues like "Ivan the Terrible"; if he be Nesselrode he may hold all Europe enchained to the ideas of the autocrat; if he be Miloutine or Samarine or Tcherkassky he may devise vast plans like those which enabled Alexander II to free twenty millions of serfs and to secure means of subsistence for each of them; if he be Prince Khilkoff he may push railway systems over Europe to the extremes of Asia; if he be De Witte he may reform a vast financial system.
He had seen Mr. de Witte and Prince Khilkoff turn artificial energy to the value of three thousand million dollars, more or less, upon Russian inertia, in the last twenty years, and he needed to get some idea of the effects.
One might doubt whether Mr. de Witte himself, or Prince Khilkoff, or any Grand Duke, or the Emperor, knew much more about it than their neighbors; and Adams was quite sure that, even in America, he should listen with uncertain confidence to the views of any Secretary of the Treasury, or railway president, or President of the United States whom he had ever known, that should concern the America of the next generation.
On the other hand, he could rely upon a constant stream of re-enforcements from Europe, as the efficiency of the railway service had been enormously increased by the genius and energy of Prince Khilkoff, Russian minister of Ways and Communications.
Petersburg to ask questions of Mr. de Witte and Prince Khilkoff. Their conversation added new doubts; for their efforts had been immense, their expenditure enormous, and their results on the people seemed to be uncertain as yet, even to themselves. Ten or fifteen years of violent stimulus seemed resulting in nothing, for, since 1898, Russia lagged.
No doubt Prince Khilkoff, who has come in as minister of internal communications since my departure from Russia, is also a strong man; but no functionary can take the place of a great body of individuals who invest their own money in public works throughout an entire nation.