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Russia by Donald Mackenzie Wallace

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had formerly kept for occasional visitors was now occupied by his
eldest daughter, who had returned from a "school for the daughters
of the clergy," where she had been for the last two years. Under
these circumstances, I was constrained to accept the kind proposal
made to me by the representative of my absent friend, that I should
take up my quarters in one of the numerous unoccupied rooms in the
manor-house. This arrangement, I was reminded, would not at all
interfere with my proposed studies, for the priest lived close at
hand, and I might spend with him as much time as I liked.

And now let me introduce the reader to my reverend teacher and one
or two other personages whose acquaintance I made during my
voluntary exile.



Ivanofka--History of the Place--The Steward of the Estate--Slav and
Teutonic Natures--A German's View of the Emancipation--Justices of
the Peace--New School of Morals--The Russian Language--Linguistic
Talent of the Russians--My Teacher--A Big Dose of Current History.

This village, Ivanofka by name, in which I proposed to spend some
months, was rather more picturesque than villages in these northern
forests commonly are. The peasants' huts, built on both sides of a
straight road, were colourless enough, and the big church, with its
five pear-shaped cupolas rising out of the bright green roof and
its ugly belfry in the Renaissance style, was not by any means
beautiful in itself; but when seen from a little distance,
especially in the soft evening twilight, the whole might have been
made the subject of a very pleasing picture. From the point that a
landscape-painter would naturally have chosen, the foreground was
formed by a meadow, through which flowed sluggishly a meandering
stream. On a bit of rising ground to the right, and half concealed
by an intervening cluster of old rich-coloured pines, stood the
manor-house--a big, box-shaped, whitewashed building, with a
verandah in front, overlooking a small plot that might some day
become a flower-garden. To the left of this stood the village, the
houses grouping prettily with the big church, and a little farther
in this direction was an avenue of graceful birches. On the
extreme left were fields, bounded by a dark border of fir-trees.
Could the spectator have raised himself a few hundred feet from the
ground, he would have seen that there were fields beyond the
village, and that the whole of this agricultural oasis was imbedded
in a forest stretching in all directions as far as the eye could

The history of the place may be told in a few words. In former
times the estate, including the village and all its inhabitants,
had belonged to a monastery, but when, in 1764, the Church lands
were secularised by Catherine, it became the property of the State.
Some years afterwards the Empress granted it, with the serfs and
everything else which it contained, to an old general who had
distinguished himself in the Turkish wars. From that time it had
remained in the K---- family. Some time between the years 1820 and
1840 the big church and the mansion-house had been built by the
actual possessor's father, who loved country life, and devoted a
large part of his time and energies to the management of his
estate. His son, on the contrary, preferred St. Petersburg to the
country, served in one of the public offices, loved passionately
French plays and other products of urban civilisation, and left the
entire management of the property to a German steward, popularly
known as Karl Karl'itch, whom I shall introduce to the reader

The village annals contained no important events, except bad
harvests, cattle-plagues, and destructive fires, with which the
inhabitants seem to have been periodically visited from time
immemorial. If good harvests were ever experienced, they must have
faded from the popular recollection. Then there were certain
ancient traditions which might have been lessened in bulk and
improved in quality by being subjected to searching historical
criticism. More than once, for instance, a leshie, or wood-sprite,
had been seen in the neighbourhood; and in several households the
domovoi, or brownie, had been known to play strange pranks until he
was properly propitiated. And as a set-off against these
manifestations of evil powers, there were well-authenticated
stories about a miracle-working image that had mysteriously
appeared on the branch of a tree, and about numerous miraculous
cures that had been effected by means of pilgrimages to holy

But it is time to introduce the principal personages of this little
community. Of these, by far the most important was Karl Karl'itch,
the steward.

First of all I ought, perhaps, to explain how Karl Schmidt, the son
of a well-to-do Bauer in the Prussian village of Schonhausen,
became Karl Karl'itch, the principal personage in the Russian
village of Ivanofka.

About the time of the Crimean War many of the Russian landed
proprietors had become alive to the necessity of improving the
primitive, traditional methods of agriculture, and sought for this
purpose German stewards for their estates. Among these proprietors
was the owner of Ivanofka. Through the medium of a friend in
Berlin he succeeded in engaging for a moderate salary a young man
who had just finished his studies in one of the German schools of
agriculture--the institution at Hohenheim, if my memory does not
deceive me. This young man had arrived in Russia as plain Karl
Schmidt, but his name was soon transformed into Karl Karl'itch, not
from any desire of his own, but in accordance with a curious
Russian custom. In Russia one usually calls a man not by his
family name, but by his Christian name and patronymic--the latter
being formed from the name of his father. Thus, if a man's name is
Nicholas, and his father's Christian name is--or was--Ivan, you
address him as Nikolai Ivanovitch (pronounced Ivan'itch); and if
this man should happen to have a sister called Mary, you will
address her--even though she should be married--as Marya Ivanovna
(pronounced Ivanna).

Immediately on his arrival young Schmidt had set himself vigorously
to reorganise the estate and improve the method of agriculture.
Some ploughs, harrows, and other implements which had been imported
at a former period were dragged out of the obscurity in which they
had lain for several years, and an attempt was made to farm on
scientific principles. The attempt was far from being completely
successful, for the serfs--this was before the Emancipation--could
not be made to work like regularly trained German labourers. In
spite of all admonitions, threats, and punishments, they persisted
in working slowly, listlessly, inaccurately, and occasionally they
broke the new instruments from carelessness or some more culpable
motive. Karl Karl'itch was not naturally a hard-hearted man, but
he was very rigid in his notions of duty, and could be cruelly
severe when his orders were not executed with an accuracy and
punctuality that seemed to the Russian rustic mind mere useless
pedantry. The serfs did not offer him any open opposition, and
were always obsequiously respectful in their demeanour towards him,
but they invariably frustrated his plans by their carelessness and
stolid, passive resistance.

Thus arose that silent conflict and that smouldering mutual enmity
which almost always result from the contact of the Teuton with the
Slav. The serfs instinctively regretted the good old times, when
they lived under the rough-and-ready patriarchal rule of their
masters, assisted by a native "burmister," or overseer, who was one
of themselves. The burmister had not always been honest in his
dealings with them, and the master had often, when in anger,
ordered severe punishments to be inflicted; but the burmister had
not attempted to make them change their old habits, and had shut
his eves to many little sins of emission and commission, whilst the
master was always ready to assist them in difficulties, and
commonly treated them in a kindly, familiar way. As the old
Russian proverb has it, "Where danger is, there too is kindly
forgiveness." Karl Karl'itch, on the contrary, was the
personification of uncompassionate, inflexible law. Blind rage and
compassionate kindliness were alike foreign to his system of
government. If he had any feeling towards the serfs, it was one of
chronic contempt. The word durak (blockhead) was constantly on his
lips, and when any bit of work was well done, he took it as a
matter of course, and never thought of giving a word of approval or

When it became evident, in 1859, that the emancipation of the serfs
was at hand, Karl Karl'itch confidently predicted that the country
would inevitably go to ruin. He knew by experience that the
peasants were lazy and improvident, even when they lived under the
tutelage of a master, and with the fear of the rod before their
eyes. What would they become when this guidance and salutary
restraint should be removed? The prospect raised terrible
forebodings in the mind of the worthy steward, who had his
employer's interests really at heart; and these forebodings were
considerably increased and intensified when he learned that the
peasants were to receive by law the land which they occupied on
sufferance, and which comprised about a half of the whole arable
land of the estate. This arrangement he declared to be a dangerous
and unjustifiable infraction of the sacred rights of property,
which savoured strongly of communism, and could have but one
practical result: the emancipated peasants would live by the
cultivation of their own land, and would not consent on any terms
to work for their former master.

In the few months which immediately followed the publication of the
Emancipation Edict in 1861, Karl Karl'itch found much to confirm
his most gloomy apprehensions. The peasants showed themselves
dissatisfied with the privileges conferred upon them, and sought to
evade the corresponding duties imposed on them by the new law. In
vain he endeavoured, by exhortations, promises, and threats, to get
the most necessary part of the field-work done, and showed the
peasants the provision of the law enjoining them to obey and work
as of old until some new arrangement should be made. To all his
appeals they replied that, having been freed by the Tsar, they were
no longer obliged to work for their former master; and he was at
last forced to appeal to the authorities. This step had a certain
effect, but the field-work was executed that year even worse than
usual, and the harvest suffered in consequence.

Since that time things had gradually improved. The peasants had
discovered that they could not support themselves and pay their
taxes from the land ceded to them, and had accordingly consented to
till the proprietor's fields for a moderate recompense. "These
last two years," said Karl Karl'itch to me, with an air of honest
self-satisfaction, "I have been able, after paying all expenses, to
transmit little sums to the young master in St. Petersburg. It was
certainly not much, but it shows that things are better than they
were. Still, it is hard, uphill work. The peasants have not been
improved by liberty. They now work less and drink more than they
did in the times of serfage, and if you say a word to them they'll
go away, and not work for you at all." Here Karl Karl'itch
indemnified himself for his recent self-control in the presence of
his workers by using a series of the strongest epithets which the
combined languages of his native and of his adopted country could
supply. "But laziness and drunkenness are not their only faults.
They let their cattle wander into our fields, and never lose an
opportunity of stealing firewood from the forest."

"But you have now for such matters the rural justices of the
peace," I ventured to suggest.

"The justices of the peace!" . . . Here Karl Karl'itch used an
inelegant expression, which showed plainly that he was no
unqualified admirer of the new judicial institutions. "What is the
use of applying to the justices? The nearest one lives six miles
off, and when I go to him he evidently tries to make me lose as
much time as possible. I am sure to lose nearly a whole day, and
at the end of it I may find that I have got nothing for my pains.
These justices always try to find some excuse for the peasant, and
when they do condemn, by way of exception, the affair does not end
there. There is pretty sure to be a pettifogging practitioner
prowling about--some rascally scribe who has been dismissed from
the public offices for pilfering and extorting too openly--and he
is always ready to whisper to the peasant that he should appeal.
The peasant knows that the decision is just, but he is easily
persuaded that by appealing to the Monthly Sessions he gets another
chance in the lottery, and may perhaps draw a prize. He lets the
rascally scribe, therefore, prepare an appeal for him, and I
receive an invitation to attend the Session of Justices in the
district town on a certain day.

"It is a good five-and-thirty miles to the district town, as you
know, but I get up early, and arrive at eleven o'clock, the hour
stated in the official notice. A crowd of peasants are hanging
about the door of the court, but the only official present is the
porter. I enquire of him when my case is likely to come on, and
receive the laconic answer, 'How should I know?' After half an
hour the secretary arrives. I repeat my question, and receive the
same answer. Another half hour passes, and one of the justices
drives up in his tarantass. Perhaps he is a glib-tongued
gentleman, and assures me that the proceedings will commence at
once: 'Sei tchas! sei tchas!' Don't believe what the priest or the
dictionary tells you about the meaning of that expression. The
dictionary will tell you that it means 'immediately,' but that's
all nonsense. In the mouth of a Russian it means 'in an hour,'
'next week,' 'in a year or two,' 'never'--most commonly 'never.'
Like many other words in Russian, 'sei tchas' can be understood
only after long experience. A second justice drives up, and then a
third. No more are required by law, but these gentlemen must first
smoke several cigarettes and discuss all the local news before they
begin work.

"At last they take their seats on the bench--a slightly elevated
platform at one end of the room, behind a table covered with green
baize--and the proceedings commence. My case is sure to be pretty
far down on the list--the secretary takes, I believe, a malicious
pleasure in watching my impatience--and before it is called the
justices have to retire at least once for refreshments and
cigarettes. I have to amuse myself by listening to the other
cases, and some of them, I can assure you, are amusing enough. The
walls of that room must be by this time pretty well saturated with
perjury, and many of the witnesses catch at once the infection.
Perhaps I may tell you some other time a few of the amusing
incidents that I have seen there. At last my case is called. It
is as clear as daylight, but the rascally pettifogger is there with
a long-prepared speech, he holds in his hand a small volume of the
codified law, and quotes paragraphs which no amount of human
ingenuity can make to bear upon the subject. Perhaps the previous
decision is confirmed; perhaps it is reversed; in either case, I
have lost a second day and exhausted more patience than I can
conveniently spare. And something even worse may happen, as I know
by experience. Once during a case of mine there was some little
informality--someone inadvertently opened the door of the
consulting-room when the decision was being written, or some other
little incident of the sort occurred, and the rascally pettifogger
complained to the Supreme Court of Revision, which is a part of the
Senate. The case was all about a few roubles, but it was discussed
in St. Petersburg, and afterwards tried over again by another court
of justices. Now I have paid my Lehrgeld, and go no more to law."

"Then you must expose yourself to all kinds of extortion?"

"Not so much as you might imagine. I have my own way of dispensing
justice. When I catch a peasant's horse or cow in our fields, I
lock it up and make the owner pay a ransom."

"Is it not rather dangerous," I inquired, "to take the law thus
into your own hands? I have heard that the Russian justices are
extremely severe against any one who has recourse to what our
German jurists call Selbsthulfe."

"That they are! So long as you are in Russia, you had much better
let yourself be quietly robbed than use any violence against the
robber. It is less trouble, and it is cheaper in the long run. If
you do not, you may unexpectedly find yourself some fine morning in
prison! You must know that many of the young justices belong to
the new school of morals."

"What is that? I have not heard of any new discoveries lately in
the sphere of speculative ethics."

"Well, to tell you the truth, I am not one of the initiated, and I
can only tell you what I hear. So far as I have noticed, the
representatives of the new doctrine talk chiefly about Gumannost'
and Tchelovetcheskoe dostoinstvo. You know what these words mean?"

"Humanity, or rather humanitarianism and human dignity," I replied,
not sorry to give a proof that I was advancing in my studies.

"There, again, you allow your dictionary and your priest to mislead
you. These terms, when used by a Russian, cover much more than we
understand by them, and those who use them most frequently have
generally a special tenderness for all kinds of malefactors. In
the old times, malefactors were popularly believed to be bad,
dangerous people; but it has been lately discovered that this is a
delusion. A young proprietor who lives not far off assures me that
they are the true Protestants, and the most powerful social
reformers! They protest practically against those imperfections of
social organisation of which they are the involuntary victims. The
feeble, characterless man quietly submits to his chains; the bold,
generous, strong man breaks his fetters, and helps others to do the
same. A very ingenious defence of all kinds of rascality, isn't

"Well, it is a theory that might certainly be carried too far, and
might easily lead to very inconvenient conclusions; but I am not
sure that, theoretically speaking, it does not contain a certain
element of truth. It ought at least to foster that charity which
we are enjoined to practise towards all men. But perhaps 'all men'
does not include publicans and sinners?"

On hearing these words Karl Karl'itch turned to me, and every
feature of his honest German face expressed the most undisguised
astonishment. "Are you, too, a Nihilist?" he inquired, as soon as
he had partially recovered his breath.

"I really don't know what a Nihilist is, but I may assure you that
I am not an 'ist' of any kind. What is a Nihilist?"

"If you live long in Russia you'll learn that without my telling
you. As I was saying, I am not at all afraid of the peasants
citing me before the justice. They know better now. If they gave
me too much trouble I could starve their cattle."

"Yes, when you catch them in your fields," I remarked, taking no
notice of the abrupt turn which he had given to the conversation.

"I can do it without that. You must know that, by the Emancipation
Law, the peasants received arable land, but they received little or
no pasturage. I have the whip hand of them there!"

The remarks of Karl Karl'itch on men and things were to me always
interesting, for he was a shrewd observer, and displayed
occasionally a pleasant, dry humour. But I very soon discovered
that his opinions were not to be accepted without reserve. His
strong, inflexible Teutonic nature often prevented him from judging
impartially. He had no sympathy with the men and the institutions
around him, and consequently he was unable to see things from the
inside. The specks and blemishes on the surface he perceived
clearly enough, but he had no knowledge of the secret, deep-rooted
causes by which these specks and blemishes were produced. The
simple fact that a man was a Russian satisfactorily accounted, in
his opinion, for any kind of moral deformity; and his knowledge
turned out to be by no means so extensive as I had at first
supposed. Though he had been many years in the country, he knew
very little about the life of the peasants beyond that small part
of it which concerned directly his own interests and those of his
employer. Of the communal organisation, domestic life, religious
beliefs, ceremonial practices, and nomadic habits of his humble
neighbours, he knew little, and the little he happened to know was
far from accurate. In order to gain a knowledge of these matters
it would be better, I perceived, to consult the priest, or, better
still, the peasants themselves. But to do this it would be
necessary to understand easily and speak fluently the colloquial
language, and I was still very far from having, acquired the
requisite proficiency.

Even for one who possesses a natural facility for acquiring foreign
tongues, the learning of Russian is by no means an easy task.
Though it is essentially an Aryan language like our own, and
contains only a slight intermixture of Tartar words,--such as
bashlyk (a hood), kalpak (a night-cap), arbuz (a water-melon),
etc.--it has certain sounds unknown to West-European ears, and
difficult for West-European tongues, and its roots, though in great
part derived from the same original stock as those of the Graeco-
Latin and Teutonic languages, are generally not at all easily
recognised. As an illustration of this, take the Russian word
otets. Strange as it may at first sight appear, this word is
merely another form of our word father, of the German vater, and of
the French pere. The syllable ets is the ordinary Russian
termination denoting the agent, corresponding to the English and
German ending er, as we see in such words as--kup-ets (a buyer),
plov-ets (a swimmer), and many others. The root ot is a mutilated
form of vot, as we see in the word otchina (a paternal
inheritance), which is frequently written votchina. Now vot is
evidently the same root as the German vat in Vater, and the English
fath in father. Quod erat demonstrandum.

All this is simple enough, and goes to prove the fundamental
identity, or rather the community of origin, of the Slav and
Teutonic languages; but it will be readily understood that
etymological analogies so carefully disguised are of little
practical use in helping us to acquire a foreign tongue. Besides
this, the grammatical forms and constructions in Russian are very
peculiar, and present a great many strange irregularities. As an
illustration of this we may take the future tense. The Russian
verb has commonly a simple and a frequentative future. The latter
is always regularly formed by means of an auxiliary with the
infinitive, as in English, but the former is constructed in a
variety of ways, for which no rule can be given, so that the simple
future of each individual verb must be learned by a pure effort of
memory. In many verbs it is formed by prefixing a preposition, but
it is impossible to determine by rule which preposition should be
used. Thus idu (I go) becomes poidu; pishu (I write) becomes
napishu; pyu (I drink) becomes vuipyu, and so on.

Closely akin to the difficulties of pronunciation is the difficulty
of accentuating the proper syllable. In this respect Russian is
like Greek; you can rarely tell a priori on what syllable the
accent falls. But it is more puzzling than Greek, for two reasons:
firstly, it is not customary to print Russian with accents; and
secondly, no one has yet been able to lay down precise rules for
the transposition of the accent in the various inflections of the
same word, Of this latter peculiarity, let one illustration
suffice. The word ruka (hand) has the accent on the last syllable,
but in the accusative (ruku) the accent goes back to the first
syllable. It must not, however, be assumed that in all words of
this type a similar transposition takes place. The word beda
(misfortune), for instance, as well as very many others, always
retains the accent on the last syllable.

These and many similar difficulties, which need not be here
enumerated, can be mastered only by long practice. Serious as they
are, they need not frighten any one who is in the habit of learning
foreign tongues. The ear and the tongue gradually become familiar
with the peculiarities of inflection and accentuation, and practice
fulfils the same function as abstract rules.

It is commonly supposed that Russians have been endowed by Nature
with a peculiar linguistic talent. Their own language, it is said,
is so difficult that they have no difficulty in acquiring others.
This common belief requires, as it seems to me, some explanation.
That highly educated Russians are better linguists than the
educated classes of Western Europe there can be no possible doubt,
for they almost always speak French, and often English and German
also. The question, however, is whether this is the result of a
psychological peculiarity, or of other causes. Now, without
venturing to deny the existence of a natural faculty, I should say
that the other causes have at least exercised a powerful influence.
Any Russian who wishes to be regarded as civilise must possess at
least one foreign language; and, as a consequence of this, the
children of the upper classes are always taught at least French in
their infancy. Many households comprise a German nurse, a French
tutor, and an English governess; and the children thus become
accustomed from their earliest years to the use of these three
languages. Besides this, Russian is phonetically very rich and
contains nearly all the sounds which are to be found in West-
European tongues. Perhaps on the whole it would be well to apply
here the Darwinian theory, and suppose that the Russian Noblesse,
having been obliged for several generations to acquire foreign
languages, have gradually developed a hereditary polyglot talent.

Several circumstances concurred to assist me in my efforts, during
my voluntary exile, to acquire at least such a knowledge of the
language as would enable me to converse freely with the peasantry.
In the first place, my reverend teacher was an agreeable, kindly,
talkative man, who took a great delight in telling interminable
stories, quite independently of any satisfaction which he might
derive from the consciousness of their being understood and
appreciated. Even when walking alone he was always muttering
something to an imaginary listener. A stranger meeting him on such
occasions might have supposed that he was holding converse with
unseen spirits, though his broad muscular form and rubicund face
militated strongly against such a supposition; but no man, woman,
or child living within a radius of ten miles would ever have fallen
into this mistake. Every one in the neighbourhood knew that
"Batushka" (papa), as he was familiarly called, was too prosaical,
practical a man to see things ethereal, that he was an
irrepressible talker, and that when he could not conveniently find
an audience he created one by his own imagination. This
peculiarity of his rendered me good service. Though for some time
I understood very little of what he said, and very often misplaced
the positive and negative monosyllables which I hazarded
occasionally by way of encouragement, he talked vigorously all the
same. Like all garrulous people, he was constantly repeating
himself; but to this I did not object, for the custom--however
disagreeable in ordinary society--was for me highly beneficial, and
when I had already heard a story once or twice before, it was much
easier for me to assume at the proper moment the requisite
expression of countenance.

Another fortunate circumstance was that at Ivanofka there were no
distractions, so that the whole of the day and a great part of the
night could be devoted to study. My chief amusement was an
occasional walk in the fields with Karl Karl'itch; and even this
mild form of dissipation could not always be obtained, for as soon
as rain had fallen it was difficult to go beyond the verandah--the
mud precluding the possibility of a constitutional. The nearest
approach to excitement was mushroom-gathering; and in this
occupation my inability to distinguish the edible from the
poisonous species made my efforts unacceptable. We lived so "far
from the madding crowd" that its din scarcely reached our ears. A
week or ten days might pass without our receiving any intelligence
from the outer world. The nearest post-office was in the district
town, and with that distant point we had no regular system of
communication. Letters and newspapers remained there till called
for, and were brought to us intermittently when some one of our
neighbours happened to pass that way. Current history was thus
administered to us in big doses.

One very big dose I remember well. For a much longer time than
usual no volunteer letter-carrier had appeared, and the delay was
more than usually tantalising, because it was known that war had
broken out between France and Germany. At last a big bundle of a
daily paper called the Golos was brought to me. Impatient to learn
whether any great battle had been fought, I began by examining the
latest number, and stumbled at once on an article headed, "Latest
Intelligence: the Emperor at Wilhelmshohe!!!" The large type in
which the heading was printed and the three marks of exclamation
showed plainly that the article was very important. I began to
read with avidity, but was utterly mystified. What emperor was
this? Probably the Tsar or the Emperor of Austria, for there was
no German Emperor in those days. But no! It was evidently the
Emperor of the French. And how did Napoleon get to Wilhelmshohe?
The French must have broken through the Rhine defences, and pushed
far into Germany. But no! As I read further, I found this theory
equally untenable. It turned out that the Emperor was surrounded
by Germans, and--a prisoner! In order to solve the mystery, I had
to go back to the preceding numbers of the paper, and learned, at a
sitting, all about the successive German victories, the defeat and
capitulation of Macmahon's army at Sedan, and the other great
events of that momentous time. The impression produced can
scarcely be realised by those who have always imbibed current
history in the homeopathic doses administered by the morning and
evening daily papers.

By the useful loquacity of my teacher and the possibility of
devoting all my time to my linguistic studies, I made such rapid
progress in the acquisition of the language that I was able after a
few weeks to understand much of what was said to me, and to express
myself in a vague, roundabout way. In the latter operation I was
much assisted by a peculiar faculty of divination which the
Russians possess in a high degree. If a foreigner succeeds in
expressing about one-fourth of an idea, the Russian peasant can
generally fill up the remaining three-fourths from his own

As my powers of comprehension increased, my long conversations with
the priest became more and more instructive. At first his remarks
and stories had for me simply a philological interest, but
gradually I perceived that his talk contained a great deal of
solid, curious information regarding himself and the class to which
he belonged--information of a kind not commonly found in
grammatical exercises. Some of this I now propose to communicate
to the reader.



Priests' Names--Clerical Marriages--The White and the Black Clergy--
Why the People do not Respect the Parish Priests--History of the
White Clergy--The Parish Priest and the Protestant Pastor--In What
Sense the Russian People are Religious--Icons--The Clergy and
Popular Education--Ecclesiastical Reform--Premonitory Symptoms of
Change--Two Typical Specimens of the Parochial Clergy of the
Present Day.

In formal introductions it is customary to pronounce in a more or
less inaudible voice the names of the two persons introduced.
Circumstances compel me in the present case to depart from received
custom. The truth is, I do not know the names of the two people
whom I wish to bring together! The reader who knows his own name
will readily pardon one-half of my ignorance, but he may naturally
expect that I should know the name of a man with whom I profess to
be acquainted, and with whom I daily held long conversations during
a period of several months. Strange as it may seem, I do not.
During all the time of my sojourn in Ivanofka I never heard him
addressed or spoken of otherwise than as "Batushka." Now
"Batushka" is not a name at all. It is simply the diminutive form
of an obsolete word meaning "father," and is usually applied to all
village priests. The ushka is a common diminutive termination, and
the root Bat is evidently the same as that which appears in the
Latin pater.

Though I do not happen to know what Batushka's family name was, I
can communicate two curious facts concerning it: he had not
possessed it in his childhood, and it was not the same as his

The reader whose intuitive powers have been preternaturally
sharpened by a long course of sensation novels will probably leap
to the conclusion that Batushka was a mysterious individual, very
different from what he seemed--either the illegitimate son of some
great personage, or a man of high birth who had committed some
great sin, and who now sought oblivion and expiation in the humble
duties of a parish priest. Let me dispel at once all delusions of
this kind. Batushka was actually as well as legally the legitimate
son of an ordinary parish priest, who was still living, about
twenty miles off, and for many generations all his paternal and
maternal ancestors, male and female, had belonged to the priestly
caste. He was thus a Levite of the purest water, and thoroughly
Levitical in his character. Though he knew by experience something
about the weakness of the flesh, he had never committed any sins of
the heroic kind, and had no reason to conceal his origin. The
curious facts above stated were simply the result of a peculiar
custom which exists among the Russian clergy. According to this
custom, when a boy enters the seminary he receives from the Bishop
a new family name. The name may be Bogoslafski, from a word
signifying "Theology," or Bogolubof, "the love of God," or some
similar term; or it may be derived from the name of the boy's
native village, or from any other word which the Bishop thinks fit
to choose. I know of one instance where a Bishop chose two French
words for the purpose. He had intended to call the boy
Velikoselski, after his native place, Velikoe Selo, which means
"big village"; but finding that there was already a Velikoselski in
the seminary, and being in a facetious frame of mind, he called the
new comer Grandvillageski--a word that may perhaps sorely puzzle
some philologist of the future.

My reverend teacher was a tall, muscular man of about forty years
of age, with a full dark-brown beard, and long lank hair falling
over his shoulders. The visible parts of his dress consisted of
three articles--a dingy-brown robe of coarse material buttoned
closely at the neck and descending to the ground, a wideawake hat,
and a pair of large, heavy boots. As to the esoteric parts of his
attire, I refrained from making investigations. His life had been
an uneventful one. At an early age he had been sent to the
seminary in the chief town of the province, and had made for
himself the reputation of a good average scholar. "The seminary of
that time," he used to say to me, referring to that part of his
life, "was not what it is now. Nowadays the teachers talk about
humanitarianism, and the boys would think that a crime had been
committed against human dignity if one of them happened to be
flogged. But they don't consider that human dignity is at all
affected by their getting drunk, and going to--to--to places that I
never went to. I was flogged often enough, and I don't think that
I am a worse man on that account; and though I never heard then
anything about pedagogical science that they talk so much about
now, I'll read a bit of Latin yet with the best of them.

"When my studies were finished," said Batushka, continuing the
simple story of his life, "the Bishop found a wife for me, and I
succeeded her father, who was then an old man. In that way I
became a priest of Ivanofka, and have remained here ever since. It
is a hard life, for the parish is big, and my bit of land is not
very fertile; but, praise be to God! I am healthy and strong, and
get on well enough."

"You said that the Bishop found a wife for you," I remarked. "I
suppose, therefore, that he was a great friend of yours."

"Not at all. The Bishop does the same for all the seminarists who
wish to be ordained: it is an important part of his pastoral

"Indeed!" I exclaimed in astonishment. "Surely that is carrying
the system of paternal government a little too far. Why should his
Reverence meddle with things that don't concern him?"

"But these matters do concern him. He is the natural protector of
widows and orphans, especially among the clergy of his own diocese.
When a parish priest dies, what is to become of his wife and

Not perceiving clearly the exact bearing of these last remarks, I
ventured to suggest that priests ought to economise in view of
future contingencies.

"It is easy to speak," replied Batushka: "'A story is soon told,'
as the old proverb has it, 'but a thing is not soon done.' How are
we to economise? Even without saving we have the greatest
difficulty to make the two ends meet."

"Then the widow and daughters might work and gain a livelihood."

"What, pray, could they work at?" asked Batushka, and paused for a
reply. Seeing that I had none to offer him, he continued, "Even
the house and land belong not to them, but to the new priest."

"If that position occurred in a novel," I said, "I could foretell
what would happen. The author would make the new priest fall in
love with and marry one of the daughters, and then the whole
family, including the mother-in-law, would live happily ever

"That is exactly how the Bishop arranges the matter. What the
novelist does with the puppets of his imagination, the Bishop does
with real beings of flesh and blood. As a rational being he cannot
leave things to chance. Besides this, he must arrange the matter
before the young man takes orders, because, by the rules of the
Church, the marriage cannot take place after the ceremony of
ordination. When the affair is arranged before the charge becomes
vacant, the old priest can die with the pleasant consciousness that
his family is provided for."

"Well, Batushka, you certainly put the matter in a very plausible
way, but there seem to be two flaws in the analogy. The novelist
can make two people fall in love with each other, and make them
live happily together with the mother-in-law, but that--with all
due respect to his Reverence, be it said--is beyond the power of a

"I am not sure," said Batushka, avoiding the point of the
objection, "that love-marriages are always the happiest ones; and
as to the mother-in-law, there are--or at least there were until
the emancipation of the serfs--a mother-in-law and several
daughters-in-law in almost every peasant household."

"And does harmony generally reign in peasant households?"

"That depends upon the head of the house. If he is a man of the
right sort, he can keep the women-folks in order." This remark was
made in an energetic tone, with the evident intention of assuring
me that the speaker was himself "a man of the right sort"; but I
did not attribute much importance to it, for I have occasionally
heard henpecked husbands talk in this grandiloquent way when their
wives were out of hearing. Altogether I was by no means convinced
that the system of providing for the widows and orphans of the
clergy by means of mariages de convenance was a good one, but I
determined to suspend my judgment until I should obtain fuller

An additional bit of evidence came to me a week or two later. One
morning, on going into the priest's house, I found that he had a
friend with him--the priest of a village some fifteen miles off.
Before we had got through the ordinary conventional remarks about
the weather and the crops, a peasant drove up to the door in his
cart with a message that an old peasant was dying in a neighbouring
village, and desired the last consolations of religion. Batushka
was thus obliged to leave us, and his friend and I agreed to stroll
leisurely in the direction of the village to which he was going, so
as to meet him on his way home. The harvest was already finished,
so that our road, after emerging from the village, lay through
stubble-fields. Beyond this we entered the pine forest, and by the
time we had reached this point I had succeeded in leading the
conversation to the subject of clerical marriages.

"I have been thinking a good deal on this subject," I said, "and I
should very much like to know your opinion about the system."

My new acquaintance was a tall, lean, black-haired man, with a
sallow complexion and vinegar aspect--evidently one of those
unhappy mortals who are intended by Nature to take a pessimistic
view of all things, and to point out to their fellows the deep
shadows of human life. I was not at all surprised, therefore, when
be replied in a deep, decided tone, "Bad, very bad--utterly bad!"

The way in which these words were pronounced left no doubt as to
the opinion of the speaker, but I was desirous of knowing on what
that opinion was founded--more especially as I seemed to detect in
the tone a note of personal grievance. My answer was shaped

"I suspected that; but in the discussions which I have had I have
always been placed at a disadvantage, not being able to adduce any
definite facts in support of my opinion."

"You may congratulate yourself on being unable to find any in your
own experience. A mother-in-law living in the house does not
conduce to domestic harmony. I don't know how it is in your
country, but so it is with us."

I hastened to assure him that this was not a peculiarity of Russia.

"I know it only too well," he continued. "My mother-in-law lived
with me for some years, and I was obliged at last to insist on her
going to another son-in-law."

"Rather selfish conduct towards your brother-in-law," I said to
myself, and then added audibly, "I hope you have thus solved the
difficulty satisfactorily."

"Not at all. Things are worse now than they were. I agreed to pay
her three roubles a month, and have regularly fulfilled my promise,
but lately she has thought it not enough, and she made a complaint
to the Bishop. Last week I went to him to defend myself, but as I
had not money enough for all the officials in the Consistorium, I
could not obtain justice. My mother-in-law had made all sorts of
absurd accusations against me, and consequently I was laid under an
inhibition for six weeks!"

"And what is the effect of an inhibition?"

"The effect is that I cannot perform the ordinary rites of our
religion. It is really very unjust," he added, assuming an
indignant tone, "and very annoying. Think of all the hardship and
inconvenience to which it gives rise."

As I thought of the hardship and inconvenience to which the
parishioners must be exposed through the inconsiderate conduct of
the old mother-in-law, I could not but sympathise with my new
acquaintance's indignation. My sympathy was, however, somewhat
cooled when I perceived that I was on a wrong tack, and that the
priest was looking at the matter from an entirely different point
of view.

"You see," he said, "it is a most unfortunate time of year. The
peasants have gathered in their harvest, and can give of their
abundance. There are merry-makings and marriages, besides the
ordinary deaths and baptisms. Altogether I shall lose by the thing
more than a hundred roubles!"

I confess I was a little shocked on hearing the priest thus speak
of his sacred functions as if they were an ordinary marketable
commodity, and talk of the inhibition as a pushing undertaker might
talk of sanitary improvements. My surprise was caused not by the
fact that he regarded the matter from a pecuniary point of view--
for I was old enough to know that clerical human nature is not
altogether insensible to pecuniary considerations--but by the fact
that he should thus undisguisedly express his opinions to a
stranger without in the least suspecting that there was anything
unseemly in his way of speaking. The incident appeared to me very
characteristic, but I refrained from all audible comments, lest I
should inadvertently check his communicativeness. With the view of
encouraging it, I professed to be very much interested, as I really
was, in what he said, and I asked him how in his opinion the
present unsatisfactory state of things might be remedied.

"There is but one cure," he said, with a readiness that showed he
had often spoken on the theme already, "and that is freedom and
publicity. We full-grown men are treated like children, and
watched like conspirators. If I wish to preach a sermon--not that
I often wish to do such a thing, but there are occasions when it is
advisable--I am expected to show it first to the Blagotchinny, and--"

"I beg your pardon, who is the Blagotchinny?"

"The Blagotchinny is a parish priest who is in direct relations
with the Consistory of the Province, and who is supposed to
exercise a strict supervision over all the other parish priests of
his district. He acts as the spy of the Consistory, which is
filled with greedy, shameless officials, deaf to any one who does
not come provided with a handful of roubles. The Bishop may be a
good, well-intentioned man, but he always sees and acts through
these worthless subordinates. Besides this, the Bishops and heads
of monasteries, who monopolise the higher places in the
ecclesiastical Administration, all belong to the Black Clergy--that
is to say, they are all monks--and consequently cannot understand
our wants. How can they, on whom celibacy is imposed by the rules
of the Church, understand the position of a parish priest who has
to bring up a family and to struggle with domestic cares of every
kind? What they do is to take all the comfortable places for
themselves, and leave us all the hard work. The monasteries are
rich enough, and you see how poor we are. Perhaps you have heard
that the parish priests extort money from the peasants--refusing to
perform the rites of baptism or burial until a considerable sum has
been paid. It is only too true, but who is to blame? The priest
must live and bring up his family, and you cannot imagine the
humiliations to which he has to submit in order to gain a scanty
pittance. I know it by experience. When I make the periodical
visitation I can see that the peasants grudge every handful of rye
and every egg that they give me. I can overbear their sneers as I
go away, and I know they have many sayings such as--'The priest
takes from the living and from the dead.' Many of them fasten
their doors, pretending to be away from home, and do not even take
the precaution of keeping silent till I am out of hearing."

"You surprise me," I said, in reply to the last part of this long
tirade; "I have always heard that the Russians are a very religious
people--at least the lower classes."

"So they are; but the peasantry are poor and heavily taxed. They
set great importance on the sacraments, and observe rigorously the
fasts, which comprise nearly a half of the year; but they show very
little respect for their priests, who are almost as poor as

"But I do not see clearly how you propose to remedy this state of

"By freedom and publicity, as I said before." The worthy man
seemed to have learned this formula by rote. "First of all, our
wants must be made known. In some provinces there have been
attempts to do this by means of provincial assemblies of the
clergy, but these efforts have always been strenuously opposed by
the Consistories, whose members fear publicity above all things.
But in order to have publicity we must have more freedom."

Here followed a long discourse on freedom and publicity, which
seemed to me very confused. So far as I could understand the
argument, there was a good deal of reasoning in a circle. Freedom
was necessary in order to get publicity, and publicity was
necessary in order to get freedom; and the practical result would
be that the clergy would enjoy bigger salaries and more popular
respect. We had only got thus far in the investigation of the
subject when our conversation was interrupted by the rumbling of a
peasant's cart. In a few seconds our friend Batushka appeared, and
the conversation took a different turn.

Since that time I have frequently spoken on this subject with
competent authorities, and nearly all have admitted that the
present condition of the clergy is highly unsatisfactory, and that
the parish priest rarely enjoys the respect of his parishioners.
In a semi-official report, which I once accidentally stumbled upon
when searching for material of a different kind, the facts are
stated in the following plain language: "The people"--I seek to
translate as literally as possible--"do not respect the clergy, but
persecute them with derision and reproaches, and feel them to be a
burden. In nearly all the popular comic stories the priest, his
wife, or his labourer is held up to ridicule, and in all the
proverbs and popular sayings where the clergy are mentioned it is
always with derision. The people shun the clergy, and have
recourse to them not from the inner impulse of conscience, but from
necessity. . . . And why do the people not respect the clergy?
Because it forms a class apart; because, having received a false
kind of education, it does not introduce into the life of the
people the teaching of the Spirit, but remains in the mere dead
forms of outward ceremonial, at the same time despising these forms
even to blasphemy; because the clergy itself continually presents
examples of want of respect to religion, and transforms the service
of God into a profitable trade. Can the people respect the clergy
when they hear how one priest stole money from below the pillow of
a dying man at the moment of confession, how another was publicly
dragged out of a house of ill-fame, how a third christened a dog,
how a fourth whilst officiating at the Easter service was dragged
by the hair from the altar by the deacon? Is it possible for the
people to respect priests who spend their time in the gin-shop,
write fraudulent petitions, fight with the cross in their hands,
and abuse each other in bad language at the altar?

"One might fill several pages with examples of this kind--in each
instance naming the time and place--without overstepping the
boundaries of the province of Nizhni-Novgorod. Is it possible for
the people to respect the clergy when they see everywhere amongst
them simony, carelessness in performing the religious rites, and
disorder in administering the sacraments? Is it possible for the
people to respect the clergy when they see that truth has
disappeared from it, and that the Consistories, guided in their
decisions not by rules, but by personal friendship and bribery,
destroy in it the last remains of truthfulness? If we add to all
this the false certificates which the clergy give to those who do
not wish to partake of the Eucharist, the dues illegally extracted
from the Old Ritualists, the conversion of the altar into a source
of revenue, the giving of churches to priests' daughters as a
dowry, and similar phenomena, the question as to whether the people
can respect the clergy requires no answer."

As these words were written by an orthodox Russian,* celebrated for
his extensive and intimate knowledge of Russian provincial life,
and were addressed in all seriousness to a member of the Imperial
family, we may safely assume that they contain a considerable
amount of truth. The reader must not, however, imagine that all
Russian priests are of the kind above referred to. Many of them
are honest, respectable, well-intentioned men, who conscientiously
fulfil their humble duties, and strive hard to procure a good
education for their children. If they have less learning, culture,
and refinement than the Roman Catholic priesthood, they have at the
same time infinitely less fanaticism, less spiritual pride, and
less intolerance towards the adherents of other faiths.

* Mr. Melnikof, in a "secret" Report to the Grand Duke Constantine

Both the good and the bad qualities of the Russian priesthood at
the present time can be easily explained by its past history, and
by certain peculiarities of the national character.

The Russian White Clergy--that is to say, the parish priests, as
distinguished from the monks, who are called the Black Clergy--have
had a curious history. In primitive times they were drawn from all
classes of the population, and freely elected by the parishioners.
When a man was elected by the popular vote, he was presented to the
Bishop, and if he was found to be a fit and proper person for the
office, he was at once ordained. But this custom early fell into
disuse. The Bishops, finding that many of the candidates presented
were illiterate peasants, gradually assumed the right of appointing
the priests, with or without the consent of the parishioners; and
their choice generally fell on the sons of the clergy as the men
best fitted to take orders. The creation of Bishops' schools,
afterwards called seminaries, in which the sons of the clergy were
educated, naturally led, in the course of time, to the total
exclusion of the other classes. The policy of the civil Government
led to the same end. Peter the Great laid down the principle that
every subject should in some way serve the State--the nobles as
officers in the army or navy, or as officials in the civil service;
the clergy as ministers of religion; and the lower classes as
soldiers, sailors, or tax-payers. Of these three classes the
clergy had by far the lightest burdens, and consequently many
nobles and peasants would willingly have entered its ranks. But
this species of desertion the Government could not tolerate, and
accordingly the priesthood was surrounded by a legal barrier which
prevented all outsiders from entering it. Thus by the combined
efforts of the ecclesiastical and the civil Administration the
clergy became a separate class or caste, legally and actually
incapable of mingling with the other classes of the population.

The simple fact that the clergy became an exclusive caste, with a
peculiar character, peculiar habits, and peculiar ideals, would in
itself have had a prejudicial influence on the priesthood; but this
was not all. The caste increased in numbers by the process of
natural reproduction much more rapidly than the offices to be
filled, so that the supply of priests and deacons soon far exceeded
the demand; and the disproportion between supply and demand became
every year greater and greater. In this way was formed an ever-
increasing clerical Proletariat, which--as is always the case with
a Proletariat of any kind--gravitated towards the towns. In vain
the Government issued ukazes prohibiting the priests from quitting
their places of domicile, and treated as vagrants and runaways
those who disregarded the prohibition; in vain successive
sovereigns endeavoured to diminish the number of these
supernumeraries by drafting them wholesale into the army. In
Moscow, St. Petersburg, and all the larger towns the cry was,
"Still they come!" Every morning, in the Kremlin of Moscow, a
large crowd of them assembled for the purpose of being hired to
officiate in the private chapels of the rich nobles, and a great
deal of hard bargaining took place between the priests and the
lackeys sent to hire them--conducted in the same spirit, and in
nearly the same forms, as that which simultaneously took place in
the bazaar close by between extortionate traders and thrifty
housewives. "Listen to me," a priest would say, as an ultimatum,
to a lackey who was trying to beat down the price: "if you don't
give me seventy-five kopeks without further ado, I'll take a bite
of this roll, and that will be an end to it!" And that would have
been an end to the bargaining, for, according to the rules of the
Church, a priest cannot officiate after breaking his fast. The
ultimatum, however, could be used with effect only to country
servants who had recently come to town. A sharp lackey,
experienced in this kind of diplomacy, would have laughed at the
threat, and replied coolly, "Bite away, Batushka; I can find plenty
more of your sort!" Amusing scenes of this kind I have heard
described by old people who professed to have been eye-witnesses.

The condition of the priests who remained in the villages was not
much better. Those of them who were fortunate enough to find
places were raised at least above the fear of absolute destitution,
but their position was by no means enviable. They received little
consideration or respect from the peasantry, and still less from
the nobles. When the church was situated not on the State Domains,
but on a private estate, they were practically under the power of
the proprietor--almost as completely as his serfs; and sometimes
that power was exercised in a most humiliating and shameful way. I
have heard, for instance, of one priest who was ducked in a pond on
a cold winter day for the amusement of the proprietor and his
guests--choice spirits, of rough, jovial temperament; and of
another who, having neglected to take off his hat as he passed the
proprietor's house, was put into a barrel and rolled down a hill
into the river at the bottom!

In citing these incidents, I do not at all mean to imply that they
represent the relations which usually existed between proprietors
and village priests, for I am quite aware that wanton cruelty was
not among the ordinary vices of Russian serf-owners. My object in
mentioning the incidents is to show how a brutal proprietor--and it
must be admitted that they were not a few brutal individuals in the
class--could maltreat a priest without much danger of being called
to account for his conduct. Of course such conduct was an offence
in the eyes of the criminal law; but the criminal law of that time
was very shortsighted, and strongly disposed to close its eyes
completely when the offender was an influential proprietor. Had
the incidents reached the ears of the Emperor Nicholas he would
probably have ordered the culprit to be summarily and severely
punished but, as the Russian proverb has it, "Heaven is high, and
the Tsar is far off." A village priest treated in this barbarous
way could have little hope of redress, and, if he were a prudent
man, he would make no attempt to obtain it; for any annoyance which
he might give the proprietor by complaining to the ecclesiastical
authorities would be sure to be paid back to him with interest in
some indirect way.

The sons of the clergy who did not succeed in finding regular
sacerdotal employment were in a still worse position. Many of them
served as scribes or subordinate officials in the public offices,
where they commonly eked out their scanty salaries by unblushing
extortion and pilfering. Those who did not succeed in gaining even
modest employment of this kind had to keep off starvation by less
lawful means, and not unfrequently found their way into the prisons
or to Siberia.

In judging of the Russian priesthood of the present time, we must
call to mind this severe school through which it has passed, and we
must also take into consideration the spirit which has been for
centuries predominant in the Eastern Church--I mean the strong
tendency both in the clergy and in the laity to attribute an
inordinate importance to the ceremonial element of religion.
Primitive mankind is everywhere and always disposed to regard
religion as simply a mass of mysterious rites which have a secret
magical power of averting evil in this world and securing felicity
in the next. To this general rule the Russian peasantry are no
exception, and the Russian Church has not done all it might have
done to eradicate this conception and to bring religion into closer
association with ordinary morality. Hence such incidents as the
following are still possible: A robber kills and rifles a
traveller, but he refrains from eating a piece of cooked meat which
he finds in the cart, because it happens to be a fast-day; a
peasant prepares to rob a young attache of the Austrian Embassy in
St. Petersburg, and ultimately kills his victim, but before going
to the house he enters a church and commends his undertaking to the
protection of the saints; a housebreaker, when in the act of
robbing a church, finds it difficult to extract the jewels from an
Icon, and makes a vow that if a certain saint assists him he will
place a rouble's-worth of tapers before the saint's image! These
facts are within the memory of the present generation. I knew the
young attache, and saw him a few days before his death.

All these are of course extreme cases, but they illustrate a
tendency which in its milder forms is only too general amongst the
Russian people--the tendency to regard religion as a mass of
ceremonies which have a magical rather than a spiritual
significance. The poor woman who kneels at a religious procession
in order that the Icon may he carried over her head, and the rich
merchant who invites the priests to bring some famous Icon to his
house, illustrates this tendency in a more harmless form.

According to a popular saying, "As is the priest, so is the
parish," and the converse proposition is equally true--as is the
parish, so is the priest. The great majority of priests, like the
great majority of men in general, content themselves with simply
striving to perform what is expected of them, and their character
is consequently determined to a certain extent by the ideas and
conceptions of their parishioners. This will become more apparent
if we contrast the Russian priest with the Protestant pastor.

According to Protestant conceptions, the village pastor is a man of
grave demeanour and exemplary conduct, and possesses a certain
amount of education and refinement. He ought to expound weekly to
his flock, in simple, impressive words, the great truths of
Christianity, and exhort his hearers to walk in the paths of
righteousness. Besides this, he is expected to comfort the
afflicted, to assist the needy, to counsel those who are harassed
with doubts, and to admonish those who openly stray from the narrow
path. Such is the ideal in the popular mind, and pastors generally
seek to realise it, if not in very deed, at least in appearance.
The Russian priest, on the contrary, has no such ideal set before
him by his parishioners. He is expected merely to conform to
certain observances, and to perform punctiliously the rites and
ceremonies prescribed by the Church. If he does this without
practising extortion his parishioners are quite satisfied. He
rarely preaches or exhorts, and neither has nor seeks to have a
moral influence over his flock. I have occasionally heard of
Russian priests who approach to what I have termed the Protestant
ideal, and I have even seen one or two of them, but I fear they are
not numerous.

In the above contrast I have accidentally omitted one important
feature. The Protestant clergy have in all countries rendered
valuable service to the cause of popular education. The reason of
this is not difficult to find. In order to be a good Protestant it
is necessary to "search the Scriptures," and to do this, one must
be able at least to read. To be a good member of the Greek
Orthodox Church, on the contrary, according to popular conceptions,
the reading of the Scriptures is not necessary, and therefore
primary education has not in the eyes of the Greek Orthodox priest
the same importance which it has in the eyes of the Protestant

It must be admitted that the Russian people are in a certain sense
religions. They go regularly to church on Sundays and holy-days,
cross themselves repeatedly when they pass a church or Icon, take
the Holy Communion at stated seasons, rigorously abstain from
animal food--not only on Wednesdays and Fridays, but also during
Lent and the other long fasts--make occasional pilgrimages to holy
shrines, and, in a word, fulfil punctiliously the ceremonial
observances which they suppose necessary for salvation. But here
their religiousness ends. They are generally profoundly ignorant
of religious doctrine, and know little or nothing of Holy Writ. A
peasant, it is said, was once asked by a priest if he could name
the three Persons of the Trinity, and replied without a moment's
hesitation, "How can one not know that, Batushka? Of course it is
the Saviour, the Mother of God, and Saint Nicholas the miracle-

That answer represents fairly enough the theological attainments of
a very large section of the peasantry. The anecdote is so often
repeated that it is probably an invention, but it is not a calumny
of theology and of what Protestants term the "inner religious life"
the orthodox Russian peasant--of Dissenters, to whom these remarks
do not apply, if shall speak later--has no conception. For him the
ceremonial part of religion suffices, and he has the most
unbounded, childlike confidence in the saving efficacy of the rites
which he practises. If he has been baptised in infancy, has
regularly observed the fasts, has annually partaken of the Holy
Communion, and has just confessed and received extreme unction, he
feels death approach with the most perfect tranquillity. He is
tormented with no doubts as to the efficacy of faith or works, and
has no fears that his past life may possibly have rendered him
unfit for eternal felicity. Like a man in a sinking ship who has
buckled on his life-preserver, he feels perfectly secure. With no
fear for the future and little regret for the present or the past,
he awaits calmly the dread summons, and dies with a resignation
which a Stoic philosopher might envy.

In the above paragraph I have used the word Icon, and perhaps the
reader may not clearly understand the word. Let me explain then,
briefly, what an Icon is--a very necessary explanation, for the
Icons play an important part in the religious observances of the
Russian people.

Icons are pictorial, usually half-length, representations of the
Saviour, of the Madonna, or of a saint, executed in archaic
Byzantine style, on a yellow or gold ground, and varying in size
from a square inch to several square feet. Very often the whole
picture, with the exception of the face and hands of the figure, is
covered with a metal plaque, embossed so as to represent the form
of the figure and the drapery. When this plaque is not used, the
crown and costume are often adorned with pearls and other precious
stones--sometimes of great price.

In respect of religions significance, Icons are of two kinds:
simple, and miraculous or miracle-working (tchudotvorny). The
former are manufactured in enormous quantities--chiefly in the
province of Vladimir, where whole villages are employed in this
kind of work--and are to be found in every Russian house, from the
hut of the peasant to the palace of the Emperor. They are
generally placed high up in a corner facing the door, and good
orthodox Christians on entering bow in that direction, making at
the same time the sign of the cross. Before and after meals the
same short ceremony is always performed. On the eve of fete-days a
small lamp is kept burning before at least one of the Icons in the

The wonder-working Icons are comparatively few in number, and are
always carefully preserved in a church or chapel. They are
commonly believed to have been "not made with hands," and to have
appeared in a miraculous way. A monk, or it may be a common
mortal, has a vision, in which he is informed that he may find a
miraculous Icon in such a place, and on going to the spot indicated
he finds it, sometimes buried, sometimes hanging on a tree. The
sacred treasure is then removed to a church, and the news spreads
like wildfire through the district. Thousands flock to prostrate
themselves before the heaven-sent picture, and some are healed of
their diseases--a fact that plainly indicates its miracle-working
power. The whole affair is then officially reported to the Most
Holy Synod, the highest ecclesiastical authority in Russia, in
order that the existence of the miracle-working power may be fully
and regularly proved. The official recognition of the fact is by
no means a mere matter of form, for the Synod is well aware that
wonder-working Icons are always a rich source of revenue to the
monasteries where they are kept, and that zealous Superiors are
consequently apt in such cases to lean to the side of credulity,
rather than that of over-severe criticism. A regular investigation
is therefore made, and the formal recognition is not granted till
the testimony of the finder is thoroughly examined and the alleged
miracles duly authenticated. If the recognition is granted, the
Icon is treated with the greatest veneration, and is sure to be
visited by pilgrims from far and near.

Some of the most revered Icons--as, for instance, the Kazan
Madonna--have annual fete-days instituted in their honour; or, more
correctly speaking, the anniversary of their miraculous appearance
is observed as a religions holiday. A few of them have an
additional title to popular respect and veneration: that of being
intimately associated with great events in the national history.
The Vladimir Madonna, for example, once saved Moscow from the
Tartars; the Smolensk Madonna accompanied the army in the glorious
campaign against Napoleon in 1812; and when in that year it was
known in Moscow that the French were advancing on the city, the
people wished the Metropolitan to take the Iberian Madonna, which
may still be seen near one of the gates of the Kremlin, and to lead
them out armed with hatchets against the enemy.

If the Russian priests have done little to advance popular
education, they have at least never intentionally opposed it.
Unlike their Roman Catholic brethren, they do not hold that "a
little learning is a dangerous thing," and do not fear that faith
may be endangered by knowledge. Indeed, it is a remarkable fact
that the Russian Church regards with profound apathy those various
intellectual movements which cause serious alarm to many thoughtful
Christians in Western Europe. It considers religion as something
so entirely apart that its votaries do not feel the necessity of
bringing their theological beliefs into logical harmony with their
scientific conceptions. A man may remain a good orthodox Christian
long after he has adopted scientific opinions irreconcilable with
Eastern Orthodoxy, or, indeed, with dogmatic Christianity of any
kind. In the confessional the priest never seeks to ferret out
heretical opinions; and I can recall no instance in Russian history
of a man being burnt at the stake on the demand of the
ecclesiastical authorities, as so often happened in the Roman
Catholic world, for his scientific views. This tolerance proceeds
partly, no doubt, from the fact that the Eastern Church in general,
and the Russian Church in particular, have remained for centuries
in a kind of intellectual torpor. Even such a fervent orthodox
Christian as the late Ivan Aksakof perceived this absence of
healthy vitality, and he did not hesitate to declare his conviction
that neither the Russian nor the Slavonic world will be
resuscitated . . . so long as the Church remains in such
lifelessness (mertvennost'), which is not a matter of chance, but
the legitimate fruit of some organic defect." *

* Solovyoff, "Otcherki ig istorii Russkoi Literaturi XIX. veka."
St. Petersburg, 1903, p. 269.

Though the unsatisfactory condition of the parochial clergy is
generally recognised by the educated classes, very few people take
the trouble to consider seriously how it might be improved. During
the Reform enthusiasm which raged for some years after the Crimean
War ecclesiastical affairs were entirely overlooked. Many of the
reformers of those days were so very "advanced" that religion in
all its forms seemed to them an old-world superstition which tended
to retard rather than accelerate social progress, and which
consequently should be allowed to die as tranquilly as possible;
whilst the men of more moderate views found they had enough to do
in emancipating the serfs and reforming the corrupt civil and
judicial Administration. During the subsequent reactionary period,
which culminated in the reign of the late Emperor, Alexander III.,
much more attention was devoted to Church matters, and it came to
be recognised in official circles that something ought to be done
for the parish clergy in the way of improving their material
condition so as to increase their moral influence. With this
object in view, M. Pobedonostsef, the Procurator of the Holy Synod,
induced the Government in 1893 to make a State-grant of about
6,500,000 roubles, which should be increased every year, but the
sum was very inadequate, and a large portion of it was devoted to
purposes of political propaganda in the form of maintaining Greek
Orthodox priests in districts where the population was Protestant
or Roman Catholic. Consequently, of the 35,865 parishes which
Russia contains, only 18,936, or a little more than one-half, were
enabled to benefit by the grant. In an optimistic, semi-official
statement published as late as 1896 it is admitted that "the means
for the support of the parish clergy must even now be considered
insufficient and wanting in stability, making the priests dependent
on the parishioners, and thereby preventing the establishment of
the necessary moral authority of the spiritual father over his

In some places the needs of the Church are attended to by voluntary
parish-curatorships which annually raise a certain sum of money,
and the way in which they distribute it is very characteristic of
the Russian people, who have a profound veneration for the Church
and its rites, but very little consideration for the human beings
who serve at the altar. In 14,564 parishes possessing such
curatorships no less than 2,500,000 roubles were collected, but of
this sum 2,000,000 were expended on the maintenance and
embellishment of churches, and only 174,000 were devoted to the
personal wants of the clergy. According to the semi-official
document from which these figures are taken the whole body of the
Russian White Clergy in 1893 numbered 99,391, of whom 42,513 were
priests, 12,953 deacons, and 43,925 clerks.

In more recent observations among the parochial clergy I have
noticed premonitory symptoms of important changes. This may be
illustrated by an entry in my note-book, written in a village of
one of the Southern provinces, under date of 30th September, 1903:

"I have made here the acquaintance of two good specimens of the
parish clergy, both excellent men in their way, but very different
from each other. The elder one, Father Dmitri, is of the old
school, a plain, practical man, who fulfils his duties
conscientiously according to his lights, but without enthusiasm.
His intellectual wants are very limited, and he devotes his
attention chiefly to the practical affairs of everyday life, which
he manages very successfully. He does not squeeze his parishioners
unduly, but he considers that the labourer is worthy of his hire,
and insists on his flock providing for his wants according to their
means. At the same time he farms on his own account and attends
personally to all the details of his farming operations. With the
condition and doings of every member of his flock he is intimately
acquainted, and, on the whole, as he never idealised anything or
anybody, he has not a very high opinion of them.

"The younger priest, Father Alexander, is of a different type, and
the difference may be remarked even in his external appearance.
There is a look of delicacy and refinement about him, though his
dress and domestic surroundings are of the plainest, and there is
not a tinge of affectation in his manner. His language is less
archaic and picturesque. He uses fewer Biblical and semi-Slavonic
expressions--I mean expressions which belong to the antiquated
language of the Church Service rather than to modern parlance--and
his armoury of terse popular proverbs which constitute such a
characteristic trait of the peasantry, is less frequently drawn on.
When I ask him about the present condition of the peasantry, his
account does not differ substantially from that of his elder
colleague, but he does not condemn their sins in the same forcible
terms. He laments their shortcomings in an evangelical spirit and
has apparently aspirations for their future improvement. Admitting
frankly that there is a great deal of lukewarmness among them, he
hopes to revive their interest in ecclesiastical affairs and he has
an idea of constituting a sort of church committee for attending to
the temporal affairs of the village church and for works of
charity, but he looks to influencing the younger rather than the
older generation.

"His interest in his parishioners is not confined to their
spiritual welfare, but extends to their material well-being. Of
late an association for mutual credit has been founded in the
village, and he uses his influence to induce the peasants to take
advantage of the benefits it offers, both to those who are in need
of a little ready money and to those who might invest their
savings, instead of keeping them hidden away in an old stocking or
buried in an earthen pot. The proposal to create a local
agricultural society meets also with his sympathy."

If the number of parish priests of this type increase, the clergy
may come to exercise great moral influence on the common people.



Unexpected Illness--A Village Doctor--Siberian Plague--My Studies--
Russian Historians--A Russian Imitator of Dickens--A ci-devant
Domestic Serf--Medicine and Witchcraft--A Remnant of Paganism--
Credulity of the Peasantry--Absurd Rumours--A Mysterious Visit from
St. Barbara--Cholera on Board a Steamer--Hospitals--Lunatic
Asylums--Amongst Maniacs.

In enumerating the requisites for travelling in the less frequented
parts of Russia, I omitted to mention one important condition: the
traveller should be always in good health, and in case of illness
be ready to dispense with regular medical attendance. This I
learned by experience during my stay at Ivanofka.

A man who is accustomed to be always well, and has consequently
cause to believe himself exempt from the ordinary ills that flesh
is heir to, naturally feels aggrieved--as if some one had inflicted
upon him an undeserved injury--when he suddenly finds himself ill.
At first he refuses to believe the fact, and, as far as possible,
takes no notice of the disagreeable symptoms.

Such was my state of mind on being awakened early one morning by
peculiar symptoms which I had never before experienced. Unwilling
to admit to myself the possibility of being ill, I got up, and
endeavoured to dress as usual, but very soon discovered that I was
unable to stand. There was no denying the fact; not only was I
ill, but the malady, whatever it was, surpassed my powers of
diagnosis; and when the symptoms increased steadily all that day
and the following night, I was constrained to take the humiliating
decision of asking for medical advice. To my inquiries whether
there was a doctor in the neighbourhood, the old servant replied,
"There is not exactly a doctor, but there is a Feldsher in the

"And what is a Feldsher?"

"A Feldsher is . . . . is a Feldsher."

"I am quite aware of that, but I would like to know what you mean
by the word. What is this Feldsher?"

"He's an old soldier who dresses wounds and gives physic."

The definition did not predispose me in favour of the mysterious
personage, but as there was nothing better to be had I ordered him
to be sent for, notwithstanding the strenuous opposition of the old
servant, who evidently did not believe in feldshers.

In about half an hour a tall, broad-shouldered man entered, and
stood bolt upright in the middle of the room in the attitude which
is designated in military language by the word "Attention." His
clean-shaven chin, long moustache, and closely-cropped hair
confirmed one part of the old servant's definition; he was
unmistakably an old soldier.

"You are a Feldsher," I said, making use of the word which I had
recently added to my vocabulary.

"Exactly so, your Nobility!" These words, the ordinary form of
affirmation used by soldiers to their officers, were pronounced in
a loud, metallic, monotonous tone, as if the speaker had been an
automaton conversing with a brother automaton at a distance of
twenty yards. As soon as the words were pronounced the mouth of
the machine closed spasmodically, and the head, which had been
momentarily turned towards me, reverted to its former position with
a jerk as if it had received the order "Eyes front!"

"Then please to sit down here, and I'll tell you about my ailment."
Upon this the figure took three paces to the front, wheeled to the
right-about, and sat down on the edge of the chair, retaining the
position of "Attention" as nearly as the sitting posture would
allow. When the symptoms had been carefully described, he knitted
his brows, and after some reflection remarked, "I can give you a
dose of . . . ." Here followed a long word which I did not

"I don't wish you to give me a dose of anything till I know what is
the matter with me. Though a bit of a doctor myself, I have no
idea what it is, and, pardon me, I think you are in the same
position." Noticing a look of ruffled professional dignity on his
face, I added, as a sedative, "It is evidently something very
peculiar, so that if the first medical practitioner in the country
were present he would probably be as much puzzled as ourselves."

The sedative had the desired effect. "Well, sir, to tell you the
truth," he said, in a more human tone of voice, "I do not clearly
understand what it is."

"Exactly; and therefore I think we had better leave the cure to
Nature, and not interfere with her mode of treatment."

"Perhaps it would be better."

"No doubt. And now, since I have to lie here on my back, and feel
rather lonely, I should like to have a talk with you. You are not
in a hurry, I hope?"

"Not at all. My assistant knows where I am, and will send for me
if I am required."

"So you have an assistant, have you?"

"Oh, yes; a very sharp young fellow, who has been two years in the
Feldsher school, and has now come here to help me and learn more by
practice. That is a new way. I never was at a school of the kind
myself, and had to pick up what I could when a servant in the
hospital. There were, I believe, no such schools in my time. The
one where my assistant learned was opened by the Zemstvo."

"The Zemstvo is the new local administration, is it not?"

"Exactly so. And I could not do without the assistant," continued
my new acquaintance, gradually losing his rigidity, and showing
himself, what he really was, a kindly, talkative man. "I have
often to go to other villages, and almost every day a number of
peasants come here. At first I had very little to do, for the
people thought I was an official, and would make them pay dearly
for what I should give them; but now they know that they don't
require to pay, and come in great numbers. And everything I give
them--though sometimes I don't clearly understand what the matter
is--seems to do them good. I believe that faith does as much as

"In my country," I remarked, "there is a sect of doctors who get
the benefit of that principle. They give their patients two or
three little balls no bigger than a pin's head, or a few drops of
tasteless liquid, and they sometimes work wonderful cures."

"That system would not do for us. The Russian muzhik would have no
faith if he swallowed merely things of that kind. What he believes
in is something with a very bad taste, and lots of it. That is his
idea of a medicine; and he thinks that the more he takes of a
medicine the better chance he has of getting well. When I wish to
give a peasant several doses I make him come for each separate
dose, for I know that if I did not he would probably swallow the
whole as soon as he was out of sight. But there is not much
serious disease here--not like what I used to see on the Sheksna.
You have been on the Sheksna?"

"Not yet, but I intend going there." The Sheksna is a river which
falls into the Volga, and forms part of the great system of water-
communication connecting the Volga with the Neva.

"When you go there you will see lots of diseases. If there is a
hot summer, and plenty of barges passing, something is sure to
break out--typhus, or black small-pox, or Siberian plague, or
something of the kind. That Siberian plague is a curious thing.
Whether it really comes from Siberia, God only knows. So soon as
it breaks out the horses die by dozens, and sometimes men and women
are attacked, though it is not properly a human disease. They say
that flies carry the poison from the dead horses to the people.
The sign of it is a thing like a boil, with a dark-coloured rim.
If this is cut open in time the person may recover, but if it is
not, the person dies. There is cholera, too, sometimes."

"What a delightful country," I said to myself, "for a young doctor
who wishes to make discoveries in the science of disease!"

The catalogue of diseases inhabiting this favoured region was
apparently not yet complete, but it was cut short for the moment by
the arrival of the assistant, with the announcement that his
superior was wanted.

This first interview with the feldsher was, on the whole,
satisfactory. He had not rendered me any medical assistance, but
he had helped me to pass an hour pleasantly, and had given me a
little information of the kind I desired. My later interviews with
him were equally agreeable. He was naturally an intelligent,
observant man, who had seen a great deal of the Russian world, and
could describe graphically what he had seen. Unfortunately the
horizontal position to which I was condemned prevented me from
noting down at the time the interesting things which he related to
me. His visits, together with those of Karl Karl'itch and of the
priest, who kindly spent a great part of his time with me, helped
me to while away many an hour which would otherwise have been
dreary enough.

During the intervals when I was alone I devoted myself to reading--
sometimes Russian history and sometimes works of fiction. The
history was that of Karamzin, who may fairly be called the Russian
Livy. It interested me much by the facts which it contained, but
irritated me not a little by the rhetorical style in which it is
written. Afterwards, when I had waded through some twenty volumes
of the gigantic work of Solovyoff--or Solovief, as the name is
sometimes unphonetically written--which is simply a vast collection
of valuable but undigested material, I was much less severe on the
picturesque descriptions and ornate style of his illustrious
predecessor. The first work of fiction which I read was a
collection of tales by Grigorovitch, which had been given to me by
the author on my departure from St. Petersburg. These tales,
descriptive of rural life in Russia, had been written, as the
author afterwards admitted to me, under the influence of Dickens.
Many of the little tricks and affectations which became painfully
obtrusive in Dickens's later works I had no difficulty in
recognising under their Russian garb. In spite of these I found
the book very pleasant reading, and received from it some new
notions--to be afterwards verified, of course--about Russian
peasant life.

One of these tales made a deep impression upon me, and I still
remember the chief incidents. The story opens with the description
of a village in late autumn. It has been raining for some time
heavily, and the road has become covered with a deep layer of black
mud. An old woman--a small proprietor--is sitting at home with a
friend, drinking tea and trying to read the future by means of a
pack of cards. This occupation is suddenly interrupted by the
entrance of a female servant, who announces that she has discovered
an old man, apparently very ill, lying in one of the outhouses.
The old woman goes out to see her uninvited guest, and, being of a
kindly nature, prepares to have him removed to a more comfortable
place, and properly attended to; but her servant whispers to her
that perhaps he is a vagrant, and the generous impulse is thereby
checked. When it is discovered that the suspicion is only too well
founded, and that the man has no passport, the old woman becomes
thoroughly alarmed. Her imagination pictures to her the terrible
consequences that would ensue if the police should discover that
she had harboured a vagrant. All her little fortune might be
extorted from her. And if the old man should happen to die in her
house or farmyard! The consequences in that case might be very
serious. Not only might she lose everything, but she might even be
dragged to prison. At the sight of these dangers the old woman
forgets her tender-heartedness, and becomes inexorable. The old
man, sick unto death though he be, must leave the premises
instantly. Knowing full well that he will nowhere find a refuge,
he walks forth into the cold, dark, stormy night, and next morning
a dead body is found at a short distance from the village.

Why this story, which was not strikingly remarkable for artistic
merit, impressed me so deeply I cannot say. Perhaps it was because
I was myself ill at the time, and imagined how terrible it would be
to be turned out on the muddy road on a cold, wet October night.
Besides this, the story interested me as illustrating the terror
which the police inspired during the reign of Nicholas I. The
ingenious devices which they employed for extorting money formed
the subject of another sketch, which I read shortly afterwards, and
which has likewise remained in my memory. The facts were as
follows: An officer of rural police, when driving on a country
road, finds a dead body by the wayside. Congratulating himself on
this bit of good luck, he proceeds to the nearest village, and lets
the inhabitants know that all manner of legal proceedings will be
taken against them, so that the supposed murderer may be
discovered. The peasants are of course frightened, and give him a
considerable sum of money in order that he may hush up the affair.
An ordinary officer of police would have been quite satisfied with
this ransom, but this officer is not an ordinary man, and is very
much in need of money; he conceives, therefore, the brilliant idea
of repeating the experiment. Taking up the dead body, he takes it
away in his tarantass, and a few hours later declares to the
inhabitants of a village some miles off that some of them have been
guilty of murder, and that he intends to investigate the matter
thoroughly. The peasants of course pay liberally in order to
escape the investigation, and the rascally officer, emboldened by
success, repeats the trick in different villages until he has
gathered a large sum.

Tales and sketches of this kind were very much in fashion during
the years which followed the death of the great autocrat, Nicholas
I., when the long-pent-up indignation against his severe,
repressive regime was suddenly allowed free expression, and they
were still much read during the first years of my stay in the
country. Now the public taste has changed. The reform enthusiast
has evaporated, and the existing administrative abuses, more
refined and less comical than their predecessors, receive
comparatively little attention from the satirists.

When I did not feel disposed to read, and had none of my regular
visitors with me, I sometimes spent an hour or two in talking with
the old man-servant who attended me. Anton was decidedly an old
man, but what his age precisely was I never could discover; either
he did not know himself, or he did not wish to tell me. In
appearance he seemed about sixty, but from certain remarks which he
made I concluded that he must be nearer seventy, though he had
scarcely a grey hair on his head. As to who his father was he
seemed, like the famous Topsy, to have no very clear ideas, but he
had an advantage over Topsy with regard to his maternal ancestry.
His mother had been a serf who had fulfilled for some time the
functions of a lady's maid, and after the death of her mistress had
been promoted to a not very clearly defined position of
responsibility in the household. Anton, too, had been promoted in
his time. His first function in the household had been that of
assistant-keeper of the tobacco-pipes, from which humble office he
had gradually risen to a position which may be roughly designated
as that of butler. All this time he had been, of course, a serf,
as his mother had been before him; but being naturally a man of
sluggish intellect, he had never thoroughly realised the fact, and
had certainly never conceived the possibility of being anything
different from what he was. His master was master, and he himself
was Anton, obliged to obey his master, or at least conceal
disobedience--these were long the main facts in his conception of
the universe, and, as philosophers generally do with regard to
fundamental facts or axioms, he had accepted them without
examination. By means of these simple postulates he had led a
tranquil life, untroubled by doubts, until the year 1861, when the
so-called freedom was brought to Ivanofka. He himself had not gone
to the church to hear Batushka read the Tsar's manifesto, but his
master, on returning from the ceremony, had called him and said,
"Anton, you are free now, but the Tsar says you are to serve as you
have done for two years longer."

To this startling announcement Anton had replied coolly,
"Slushayus," or, as we would say, "Yes, sir," and without further
comment had gone to fetch his master's breakfast; but what he saw
and heard during the next few weeks greatly troubled his old
conceptions of human society and the fitness of things. From that
time must be dated, I suppose, the expression of mental confusion
which his face habitually wore.

The first thing that roused his indignation was the conduct of his
fellow-servants. Nearly all the unmarried ones seemed to be
suddenly attacked by a peculiar matrimonial mania. The reason of
this was that the new law expressly gave permission to the
emancipated serfs to marry as they chose without the consent of
their masters, and nearly all the unmarried adults hastened to take
advantage of their newly-acquired privilege, though many of them
had great difficulty in raising the capital necessary to pay the
priest's fees. Then came disorders among the peasantry, the death
of the old master, and the removal of the family first to St.
Petersburg, and afterwards to Germany. Anton's mind had never been
of a very powerful order, and these great events had exercised a
deleterious influence upon it. When Karl Karl'itch, at the expiry
of the two years, informed him that he might now go where he chose,
he replied, with a look of blank, unfeigned astonishment, "Where
can I go to?" He had never conceived the possibility of being
forced to earn his bread in some new way, and begged Karl Karl'itch
to let him remain where he was. This request was readily granted,
for Anton was an honest, faithful servant, and sincerely attached
to the family, and it was accordingly arranged that he should
receive a small monthly salary, and occupy an intermediate position
between those of major-domo and head watch-dog.

Had Anton been transformed into a real watch-dog he could scarcely
have slept more than he did. His power of sleeping, and his
somnolence when he imagined he was awake, were his two most
prominent characteristics. Out of consideration for his years and
his love of repose, I troubled him as little as possible; but even
the small amount of service which I demanded he contrived to
curtail in an ingenious way. The time and exertion required for
traversing the intervening space between his own room and mine
might, he thought, be more profitably employed; and accordingly he
extemporised a bed in a small ante-chamber, close to my door, and
took up there his permanent abode. If sonorous snoring be
sufficient proof that the performer is asleep, then I must conclude
that Anton devoted about three-fourths of his time to sleeping and
a large part of the remaining fourth to yawning and elongated
guttural ejaculations. At first this little arrangement
considerably annoyed me, but I bore it patiently, and afterwards
received my reward, for during my illness I found it very
convenient to have an attendant within call. And I must do Anton
the justice to say that he served me well in his own somnolent
fashion. He seemed to have the faculty of hearing when asleep, and
generally appeared in my room before he had succeeded in getting
his eyes completely open.

Anton had never found time, during his long life, to form many
opinions, but he had somehow imbibed or inhaled a few convictions,
all of a decidedly conservative kind, and one of these was that
feldshers were useless and dangerous members of society. Again and
again he had advised me to have nothing to do with the one who
visited me, and more than once he recommended to me an old woman of
the name of Masha, who lived in a village a few miles off. Masha
was what is known in Russia as a znakharka--that is to say, a woman
who is half witch, half medical practitioner--the whole permeated
with a strong leaven of knavery. According to Anton, she could
effect by means of herbs and charms every possible cure short of
raising from the dead, and even with regard to this last operation
he cautiously refrained from expressing an opinion.

The idea of being subjected to a course of herbs and charms by an
old woman who probably knew very little about the hidden properties
of either, did not seem to me inviting, and more than once I flatly
refused to have recourse to such unhallowed means. On due
consideration, however, I thought that a professional interview
with the old witch would be rather amusing, and then a brilliant
idea occurred to me! I would bring together the feldsher and the
znakharka, who no doubt hated each other with a Kilkenny-cat
hatred, and let them fight out their differences before me for the
benefit of science and my own delectation.

The more I thought of my project, the more I congratulated myself
on having conceived such a scheme; but, alas! in this very
imperfectly organised world of ours brilliant ideas are seldom
realised, and in this case I was destined to be disappointed. Did
the old woman's black art warn her of approaching danger, or was
she simply actuated by a feeling of professional jealousy and
considerations of professional etiquette? To this question I can
give no positive answer, but certain it is that she could not be
induced to pay me a visit, and I was thus balked of my expected
amusement. I succeeded, however, in learning indirectly something
about the old witch. She enjoyed among her neighbours that solid,
durable kind of respect which is founded on vague, undefinable
fear, and was believed to have effected many remarkable cures. In
the treatment of syphilitic diseases, which are fearfully common
among the Russian peasantry, she was supposed to be specially
successful, and I have no doubt, from the vague descriptions which
I received, that the charm which she employed in these cases was of
a mercurial kind. Some time afterward I saw one of her victims.
Whether she had succeeded in destroying the poison I know not, but
she had at least succeeded in destroying most completely the
patient's teeth. How women of this kind obtain mercury, and how
they have discovered its medicinal properties, I cannot explain.
Neither can I explain how they have come to know the peculiar
properties of ergot of rye, which they frequently employ for
illicit purposes familiar to all students of medical jurisprudence.

The znakharka and the feldsher represent two very different periods
in the history of medical science--the magical and the scientific.
The Russian peasantry have still many conceptions which belong to
the former. The great majority of them are already quite willing,
under ordinary circumstances, to use the scientific means of
healing; but as soon as a violent epidemic breaks out, and the
scientific means prove unequal to the occasion, the old faith
revives, and recourse is had to magical rites and incantations. Of
these rites many are very curious. Here, for instance, is one
which had been performed in a village near which I afterwards lived
for some time. Cholera had been raging in the district for several
weeks. In the village in question no case had yet occurred, but
the inhabitants feared that the dreaded visitor would soon arrive,
and the following ingenious contrivance was adopted for warding off
the danger. At midnight, when the male population was supposed to
be asleep, all the maidens met in nocturnal costume, according to a
preconcerted plan, and formed a procession. In front marched a
girl, holding an Icon. Behind her came her companions, dragging a
sokha--the primitive plough commonly used by the peasantry--by
means of a long rope. In this order the procession made the
circuit of the entire village, and it was confidently believed that
the cholera would not be able to overstep the magical circle thus
described. Many of the males probably knew, or at least suspected,
what was going on; but they prudently remained within doors,
knowing well that if they should be caught peeping indiscreetly at
the mystic ceremony, they would be unmercifully beaten by those who
were taking part in it.

This custom is doubtless a survival of old pagan superstitions.
The introduction of the Icon is a modern innovation, which
illustrates that curious blending of paganism and Christianity
which is often to be met with in Russia, and of which I shall have
more to say in another chapter.

Sometimes, when an epidemic breaks out, the panic produced takes a
more dangerous form. The people suspect that it is the work of the
doctors, or that some ill-disposed persons have poisoned the wells,
and no amount of reasoning will convince them that their own
habitual disregard of the most simple sanitary precautions has
something to do with the phenomenon. I know of one case where an
itinerant photographer was severely maltreated in consequence of
such suspicions; and once, in St. Petersburg, during the reign of
Nicholas I., a serious riot took place. The excited populace had
already thrown several doctors out of the windows of the hospital,
when the Emperor arrived, unattended, in an open carriage, and
quelled the disturbance by his simple presence, aided by his
stentorian voice.

Of the ignorant credulity of the Russian peasantry I might relate
many curious illustrations. The most absurd rumours sometimes
awaken consternation throughout a whole district. One of the most
common reports of this kind is that a female conscription is about
to take place. About the time of the Duke of Edinburgh's marriage
with the daughter of Alexander II. this report was specially
frequent. A large number of young girls were to be kidnapped and
sent to England in a red ship. Why the ship was to be red I can
easily explain, because in the peasants' language the conceptions
of red and beautiful are expressed by the same word (krasny), and
in the popular legends the epithet is indiscriminately applied to
everything connected with princes and great personages; but what
was to be done with the kidnapped maidens when they arrived at
their destination, I never succeeded in discovering.

The most amusing instance of credulity which I can recall was the
following, related to me by a peasant woman who came from the
village where the incident had occurred. One day in winter, about
the time of sunset, a peasant family was startled by the entrance
of a strange visitor, a female figure, dressed as St. Barbara is
commonly represented in the religious pictures. All present were
very much astonished by this apparition; but the figure told them,
in a low, soft voice, to be of good cheer, for she was St. Barbara,
and had come to honour the family with a visit as a reward for
their piety. The peasant thus favoured was not remarkable for his
piety, but he did not consider it necessary to correct the mistake
of his saintly visitor, and requested her to be seated. With
perfect readiness she accepted the invitation, and began at once to
discourse in an edifying way.

Meanwhile the news of this wonderful apparition spread like
wildfire, and all the inhabitants of the village, as well as those
of a neighbouring village about a mile distant, collected in and
around the house. Whether the priest was among those who came my
informant did not know. Many of those who had come could not get
within hearing, but those at the outskirts of the crowd hoped that
the saint might come out before disappearing. Their hopes were
gratified. About midnight the mysterious visitor announced that
she would go and bring St. Nicholas, the miracle-worker, and
requested all to remain perfectly still during her absence. The
crowd respectfully made way for her, and she passed out into the
darkness. With breathless expectation all awaited the arrival of
St. Nicholas, who is the favourite saint of the Russian peasantry;
but hours passed, and he did not appear. At last, toward sunrise,
some of the less zealous spectators began to return home, and those
of them who had come from the neighbouring village discovered to
their horror that during their absence their horses had been
stolen! At once they raised the hue-and-cry; and the peasants
scoured the country in all directions in search of the soi-disant
St. Barbara and her accomplices, but they never recovered the
stolen property. "And serve them right, the blockheads!" added my
informant, who had herself escaped falling into the trap by being
absent from the village at the time.

It is but fair to add that the ordinary Russian peasant, though in
some respects extremely credulous, and, like all other people,
subject to occasional panics, is by no means easily frightened by
real dangers. Those who have seen them under fire will readily
credit this statement. For my own part, I have had opportunities
of observing them merely in dangers of a non-military kind, and
have often admired the perfect coolness displayed. Even an
epidemic alarms them only when it attains a certain degree of
intensity. Once I had a good opportunity of observing this on
board a large steamer on the Volga. It was a very hot day in the
early autumn. As it was well known that there was a great deal of
Asiatic cholera all over the country, prudent people refrained from
eating much raw fruit; but Russian peasants are not generally
prudent men, and I noticed that those on board were consuming
enormous quantities of raw cucumbers and water-melons. This
imprudence was soon followed by its natural punishment. I refrain
from describing the scene that ensued, but I may say that those who
were attacked received from the others every possible assistance.
Had no unforeseen accident happened, we should have arrived at
Kazan on the following morning, and been able to send the patients
to the hospital of that town; but as there was little water in the
river, we had to cast anchor for the night, and next morning we ran
aground and stuck fast. Here we had to remain patiently till a
smaller steamer hove in sight. All this time there was not the
slightest symptom of panic, and when the small steamer came
alongside there was no frantic rush to get away from the infected
vessel, though it was quite evident that only a few of the
passengers could be taken off. Those who were nearest the gangway
went quietly on board the small steamer, and those who were less
fortunate remained patiently till another steamer happened to pass.

The old conceptions of disease, as something that may be most
successfully cured by charms and similar means, are rapidly
disappearing. The Zemstvo--that is to say, the new local self-
government--has done much towards this end by enabling the people
to procure better medical attendance. In the towns there are
public hospitals, which generally are--or at least seem to an
unprofessional eye--in a very satisfactory condition. The resident
doctors are daily besieged by a crowd of peasants, who come from
far and near to ask advice and receive medicines. Besides this, in
some provinces feldshers are placed in the principal villages, and
the doctor makes frequent tours of inspection. The doctors are
generally well-educated men, and do a large amount of work for a
very small remuneration.

Of the lunatic asylums, which are generally attached to the larger
hospitals, I cannot speak very favourably. Some of the great
central ones are all that could be desired, but others are badly
constructed and fearfully overcrowded. One or two of those I
visited appeared to me to be conducted on very patriarchal
principles, as the following incident may illustrate.

I had been visiting a large hospital, and had remained there so
long that it was already dark before I reached the adjacent lunatic
asylum. Seeing no lights in the windows, I proposed to my
companion, who was one of the inspectors, that we should delay our
visit till the following morning, but he assured me that by the
regulations the lights ought not to be extinguished till
considerably later, and consequently there was no objection to our
going in at once. If there was no legal objection, there was at
least a physical obstruction in the form of a large wooden door,
and all our efforts to attract the attention of the porter or some
other inmate were unavailing. At last, after much ringing,
knocking, and shouting, a voice from within asked us who we were
and what we wanted. A brief reply from my companion, not couched
in the most polite or amiable terms, made the bolts rattle and the
door open with surprising rapidity, and we saw before us an old man
with long dishevelled hair, who, as far as appearance went, might
have been one of the lunatics, bowing obsequiously and muttering

After groping our way along a dark corridor we entered a still
darker room, and the door was closed and locked behind us. As the
key turned in the rusty lock a wild scream rang through the
darkness! Then came a yell, then a howl, and then various sounds
which the poverty of the English language prevents me from
designating--the whole blending into a hideous discord that would
have been at home in some of the worst regions of Dante's Inferno.
As to the cause of it I could not even form a conjecture.
Gradually my eyes became accustomed to the darkness, and I could
dimly perceive white figures flitting about the room. At the same
time I felt something standing near me, and close to my shoulder I
saw a pair of eyes and long streaming hair. On my other side,
equally close, was something very like a woman's night-cap. Though
by no means of a nervous temperament, I felt uncomfortable. To be
shut up in a dark room with an indefinite number of excited maniacs
is not a comfortable position. How long the imprisonment lasted I
know not--probably not more than two or three minutes, but it
seemed a long time. At last a light was procured, and the whole
affair was explained. The guardians, not expecting the visit of an
inspector at so late an hour, had retired for the night much

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