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Russia by Donald Mackenzie Wallace

Part 4 out of 15

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scenes, which are always very long and sometimes violent. All
present are deeply interested, for the allotment of the land is by
far the most important event in Russian peasant life, and the
arrangement cannot be made without endless talking and discussion.
After the number of shares for each family has been decided, the
distribution of the lots gives rise to new difficulties. The
families who have plentifully manured their land strive to get back
their old lots, and the Commune respects their claims so far as
these are consistent with the new arrangement; but often it happens
that it is impossible to conciliate private rights and Communal
interests, and in such cases the former are sacrificed in a way
that would not be tolerated by men of Anglo-Saxon race. This
leads, however, to no serious consequences. The peasants are
accustomed to work together in this way, to make concessions for
the Communal welfare, and to bow unreservedly to the will of the
Mir. I know of many instances where the peasants have set at
defiance the authority of the police, of the provincial governor,
and of the central Government itself, but I have never heard of any
instance where the will of the Mir was openly opposed by one of its

In the preceding pages I have repeatedly spoken about "shares of
the Communal land." To prevent misconception I must explain
carefully what this expression means. A share does not mean simply
a plot or parcel of land; on the contrary, it always contains at
least four, and may contain a large number of distinct plots. We
have here a new point of difference between the Russian village and
the villages of Western Europe.

Communal land in Russia is of three kinds: the land on which the
village is built, the arable land, and the meadow or hay-field, if
the village is fortunate enough to possess one. On the first of
these each family possesses a house and garden, which are the
hereditary property of the family, and are never affected by the
periodical redistributions. The other two kinds are both subject
to redistribution, but on somewhat different principles.

The whole of the Communal arable land is first of all divided into
three fields, to suit the triennial rotation of crops already
described, and each field is divided into a number of long narrow
strips--corresponding to the number of male members in the Commune--
as nearly as possible equal to each other in area and quality.
Sometimes it is necessary to divide the field into several
portions, according to the quality of the soil, and then to
subdivide each of these portions into the requisite number of
strips. Thus in all cases every household possesses at least one
strip in each field; and in those cases where subdivision is
necessary, every household possesses a strip in each of the
portions into which the field is subdivided. It often happens,
therefore, that the strips are very narrow, and the portions
belonging to each family very numerous. Strips six feet wide are
by no means rare. In 124 villages of the province of Moscow,
regarding which I have special information, they varied in width
from 3 to 45 yards, with an average of 11 yards. Of these narrow
strips a household may possess as many as thirty in a single field!
The complicated process of division and subdivision is accomplished
by the peasants themselves, with the aid of simple measuring-rods,
and the accuracy of the result is truly marvellous.

The meadow, which is reserved for the production of hay, is divided
into the same number of shares as the arable land. There, however,
the division and distribution take place, not at irregular
intervals, but annually. Every year, on a day fixed by the
Assembly, the villagers proceed in a body to this part of their
property, and divide it into the requisite number of portions.
Lots are then cast, and each family at once mows the portion
allotted to it. In some Communes the meadow is mown by all the
peasants in common, and the hay afterwards distributed by lot among
the families; but this system is by no means so frequently used.

As the whole of the Communal land thus resembles to some extent a
big farm, it is necessary to make certain rules concerning
cultivation. A family may sow what it likes in the land allotted
to it, but all families must at least conform to the accepted
system of rotation. In like manner, a family cannot begin the
autumn ploughing before the appointed time, because it would
thereby interfere with the rights of the other families, who use
the fallow field as pasturage.

It is not a little strange that this primitive system of land
tenure should have succeeded in living into the twentieth century,
and still more remarkable that the institution of which it forms an
essential part should be regarded by many intelligent people as one
of the great institutions of the future, and almost as a panacea
for social and political evils. The explanation of these facts
will form the subject of the next chapter.



Sweeping Reforms after the Crimean War--Protest Against the Laissez
Faire Principle--Fear of the Proletariat--English and Russian
Methods of Legislation Contrasted--Sanguine Expectations--Evil
Consequences of the Communal System--The Commune of the Future--
Proletariat of the Towns--The Present State of Things Merely

The reader is probably aware that immediately after the Crimean War
Russia was subjected to a series of sweeping reforms, including the
emancipation of the serfs and the creation of a new system of local
self-government, and he may naturally wonder how it came to pass
that a curious, primitive institution like the rural Commune
succeeded in weathering the bureaucratic hurricane. This strange
phenomena I now proceed to explain, partly because the subject is
in itself interesting, and partly because I hope thereby to throw
some light on the peculiar intellectual condition of the Russian
educated classes.

When it became evident, in 1857, that the serfs were about to be
emancipated, it was at first pretty generally supposed that the
rural Commune would be entirely abolished, or at least radically
modified. At that time many Russians were enthusiastic,
indiscriminate admirers of English institutions, and believed, in
common with the orthodox school of political economists, that
England had acquired her commercial and industrial superiority by
adopting the principle of individual liberty and unrestricted
competition, or, as French writers term it, the "laissez faire"
principle. This principle is plainly inconsistent with the rural
Commune, which compels the peasantry to possess land, prevents an
enterprising peasant from acquiring the land of his less
enterprising neighbours, and places very considerable restrictions
on the freedom of action of the individual members. Accordingly it
was assumed that the rural Commune, being inconsistent with the
modern spirit of progress, would find no place in the new regime of
liberty which was about to be inaugurated.

No sooner had these ideas been announced in the Press than they
called forth strenuous protests. In the crowd of protesters were
two well-defined groups. On the one hand there were the so-called
Slavophils, a small band of patriotic, highly educated Moscovites,
who were strongly disposed to admire everything specifically
Russian, and who habitually refused to bow the knee to the wisdom
of Western Europe. These gentlemen, in a special organ which they
had recently founded, pointed out to their countrymen that the
Commune was a venerable and peculiarly Russian institution, which
had mitigated in the past the baneful influence of serfage, and
would certainly in the future confer inestimable benefits on the
emancipated peasantry. The other group was animated by a very
different spirit. They had no sympathy with national
peculiarities, and no reverence for hoary antiquity. That the
Commune was specifically Russian or Slavonic, and a remnant of
primitive times, was in their eyes anything but a recommendation in
its favour. Cosmopolitan in their tendencies, and absolutely free
from all archaeological sentimentality, they regarded the
institution from the purely utilitarian point of view. They
agreed, however, with the Slavophils in thinking that its
preservation would have a beneficial influence on the material and
moral welfare of the peasantry.

For the sake of convenience it is necessary to designate this
latter group by some definite name, but I confess I have some
difficulty in making a choice. I do not wish to call these
gentlemen Socialists, because many people habitually and
involuntarily attach a stigma to the word, and believe that all to
whom the term is applied must be first-cousins to the petroleuses.
To avoid misconceptions of this kind, it will be well to designate
them simply by the organ which most ably represented their views,
and to call them the adherents of The Contemporary.

The Slavophils and the adherents of The Contemporary, though
differing widely from each other in many respects, had the same
immediate object in view, and accordingly worked together. With
great ingenuity they contended that the Communal system of land
tenure had much greater advantages, and was attended with much
fewer inconveniences, than people generally supposed. But they did
not confine themselves to these immediate practical advantages,
which had very little interest for the general reader. The writers
in The Contemporary explained that the importance of the rural
Commune lies, not in its actual condition, but in its capabilities
of development, and they drew, with prophetic eye, most attractive
pictures of the happy rural Commune of the future. Let me give
here, as an illustration, one of these prophetic descriptions:

"Thanks to the spread of primary and technical education the
peasants have become well acquainted with the science of
agriculture, and are always ready to undertake in common the
necessary improvements. They no longer exhaust the soil by
exporting the grain, but sell merely certain technical products
containing no mineral ingredients. For this purpose the Communes
possess distilleries, starch-works, and the like, and the soil
thereby retains its original fertility. The scarcity induced by
the natural increase of the population is counteracted by improved
methods of cultivation. If the Chinese, who know nothing of
natural science, have succeeded by purely empirical methods in
perfecting agriculture to such an extent that a whole family can
support itself on a few square yards of land, what may not the
European do with the help of chemistry, botanical physiology, and
the other natural sciences?"

Coming back from the possibilities of the future to the actualities
of the present, these ingenious and eloquent writers pointed out
that in the rural Commune, Russia possessed a sure preventive
against the greatest evil of West-European social organisation, the
Proletariat. Here the Slavophils could strike in with their
favourite refrain about the rotten social condition of Western
Europe; and their temporary allies, though they habitually scoffed
at the Slavophil jeremiads, had no reason for the moment to
contradict them. Very soon the Proletariat became, for the
educated classes, a species of bugbear, and the reading public were
converted to the doctrine that the Communal institutions should be
preserved as a means of excluding the monster from Russia.

This fear of what is vaguely termed the Proletariat is still
frequently to be met with in Russia, and I have often taken pains
to discover precisely what is meant by the term. I cannot,
however, say that my efforts have been completely successful. The
monster seems to be as vague and shadowy as the awful forms which
Milton placed at the gate of the infernal regions. At one moment
he seems to be simply our old enemy Pauperism, but when we approach
a little nearer we find that he expands to colossal dimensions, so
as to include all who do not possess inalienable landed property.
In short, he turns out to be, on examination, as vague and
undefinable as a good bugbear ought to be; and this vagueness
contributed probably not a little to his success.

The influence which the idea of the Proletariat exercised on the
public mind and on the legislation at the time of the Emancipation
is a very notable fact, and well worthy of attention, because it
helps to illustrate a point of difference between Russians and

Englishmen are, as a rule, too much occupied with the multifarious
concerns of the present to look much ahead into the distant future.
We profess, indeed, to regard with horror the maxim, Apres nous le
deluge! and we should probably annihilate with our virtuous
indignation any one who should boldly profess the principle. And
yet we often act almost as if we were really partisans of that
heartless creed. When called upon to consider the interests of the
future generations, we declared that "sufficient unto the day is
the evil thereof," and stigmatise as visionaries and dreamers all
who seek to withdraw our attention from the present. A modern
Cassandra who confidently predicts the near exhaustion of our coal-
fields, or graphically describes a crushing national disaster that
must some day overtake us, may attract some public attention; but
when we learn that the misfortune is not to take place in our time,
we placidly remark that future generations must take care of
themselves, and that we cannot reasonably be expected to bear their
burdens. When we are obliged to legislate, we proceed in a
cautious, tentative way, and are quite satisfied with any homely,
simple remedies that common sense and experience may suggest,
without taking the trouble to inquire whether the remedy adopted is
in accordance with scientific theories. In short, there is a
certain truth in those "famous prophetick pictures" spoken of by
Stillingfleet, which "represent the fate of England by a mole, a
creature blind and busy, continually working under ground."

In Russia we find the opposite extreme. There reformers have been
trained, not in the arena of practical politics, but in the school
of political speculation. As soon, therefore, as they begin to
examine any simple matter with a view to legislation, it at once
becomes a "question," and flies up into the region of political and
social science. Whilst we have been groping along an unexplored
path, the Russians have--at least in recent times--been constantly
mapping out, with the help of foreign experience, the country that
lay before them, and advancing with gigantic strides according to
the newest political theories. Men trained in this way cannot rest
satisfied with homely remedies which merely alleviate the evils of
the moment. They wish to "tear up evil by the roots," and to
legislate for future generations as well as for themselves.

This tendency was peculiarly strong at the time of the
Emancipation. The educated classes were profoundly convinced that
the system of Nicholas I. had been a mistake, and that a new and
brighter era was about to dawn upon the country. Everything had to
be reformed. The whole social and political edifice had to be
reconstructed on entirely new principles.

Let us imagine the position of a man who, having no practical
acquaintance with building, suddenly finds himself called upon to
construct a large house, containing all the newest appliances for
convenience and comfort. What will his first step be? Probably he
will proceed at once to study the latest authorities on
architecture and construction, and when he has mastered the general
principles he will come down gradually to the details. This is
precisely what the Russians did when they found themselves called
upon to reconstruct the political and social edifice. They eagerly
consulted the most recent English, French, and German writers on
social and political science, and here it was that they made the
acquaintance of the Proletariat.

People who read books of travel without ever leaving their own
country are very apt to acquire exaggerated notions regarding the
hardships and dangers of uncivilised life. They read about savage
tribes, daring robbers, ferocious wild beasts, poisonous snakes,
deadly fevers, and the like; and they cannot but wonder how a human
being can exist for a week among such dangers. But if they happen
thereafter to visit the countries described, they discover to their
surprise that, though the descriptions may not have been
exaggerated, life under such conditions is much easier than they
supposed. Now the Russians who read about the Proletariat were
very much like the people who remain at home and devour books of
travel. They gained exaggerated notions, and learned to fear the
Proletariat much more than we do, who habitually live in the midst
of it. Of course it is quite possible that their view of the
subject is truer than ours, and that we may some day, like the
people who live tranquilly on the slopes of a volcano, be rudely
awakened from our fancied security. But this is an entirely
different question. I am at present not endeavouring to justify
our habitual callousness with regard to social dangers, but simply
seeking to explain why the Russians, who have little or no
practical acquaintance with pauperism, should have taken such
elaborate precautions against it.

But how can the preservation of the Communal institutions lead to
this "consummation devoutly to be wished," and how far are the
precautions likely to be successful?

Those who have studied the mysteries of social science have
generally come to the conclusion that the Proletariat has been
formed chiefly by the expropriation of the peasantry or small land-
holders, and that its formation might be prevented, or at least
retarded, by any system of legislation which would secure the
possession of land for the peasants and prevent them from being
uprooted from the soil. Now it must be admitted that the Russian
Communal system is admirably adapted for this purpose. About one-
half of the arable land has been reserved for the peasantry, and
cannot be encroached on by the great landowners or the capitalists,
and every adult peasant, roughly speaking, has a right to a share
of this land. When I have said that the peasantry compose about
five-sixths of the population, and that it is extremely difficult
for a peasant to sever his connection with the rural Commune, it
will be at once evident that, if the theories of social
philosophers are correct, and if the sanguine expectations
entertained in many quarters regarding the permanence of the
present Communal institutions are destined to be realised, there is
little or no danger of a numerous Proletariat being formed, and the
Russians are justified in maintaining, as they often do, that they
have successfully solved one of the most important and most
difficult of social problems.

But is there any reasonable chance of these sanguine expectations
being realised?

This is, doubtless, a most complicated and difficult question, but
it cannot be shirked. However sceptical we may be with regard to
social panaceas of all sorts, we cannot dismiss with a few
hackneyed phrases a gigantic experiment in social science involving
the material and moral welfare of many millions of human beings.
On the other hand, I do not wish to exhaust the reader's patience
by a long series of multifarious details and conflicting arguments.
What I propose to do, therefore, is to state in a few words the
conclusions at which I have arrived, after a careful study of the
question in all its bearings, and to indicate in a general way how
I have arrived at these conclusions.

If Russia were content to remain a purely agricultural country of
the Sleepy Hollow type, and if her Government were to devote all
its energies to maintaining economic and social stagnation, the
rural Commune might perhaps prevent the formation of a large
Proletariat in the future, as it has tended to prevent it for
centuries in the past. The periodical redistributions of the
Communal land would secure to every family a portion of the soil,
and when the population became too dense, the evils arising from
inordinate subdivision of the land might be obviated by a carefully
regulated system of emigration to the outlying, thinly populated
provinces. All this sounds very well in theory, but experience is
proving that it cannot be carried out in practice. In Russia, as
in Western Europe, the struggle for life, even among the
conservative agricultural classes, is becoming yearly more and more
intense, and is producing both the desire and the necessity for
greater freedom of individual character and effort, so that each
man may make his way in the world according to the amount of his
intelligence, energy, spirit of enterprise, and tenacity of
purpose. Whatever institutions tend to fetter the individual and
maintain a dead level of mediocrity have little chance of
subsisting for any great length of time, and it must be admitted
that among such institutions the rural Commune in its present form
occupies a prominent place. All its members must possess, in
principle if not always in practice, an equal share of the soil and
must practice the same methods of agriculture, and when a certain
inequality has been created by individual effort it is in great
measure wiped out by a redistribution of the Communal land.

Now, I am well aware that in practice the injustice and
inconveniences of the system, being always tempered and corrected
by ingenious compromises suggested by long experience, are not
nearly so great as the mere theorist might naturally suppose; but
they are, I believe, quite great enough to prevent the permanent
maintenance of the institution, and already there are ominous
indications of the coming change, as I shall explain more fully
when I come to deal with the consequences of serf-emancipation. On
the other hand there is no danger of a sudden, general abolition of
the old system. Though the law now permits the transition from
Communal to personal hereditary tenure, even the progressive
enterprising peasants are slow to avail themselves of the
permission; and the reason I once heard given for this conservative
tendency is worth recording. A well-to-do peasant who had been in
the habit of manuring his land better than his neighbours, and who
was, consequently, a loser by the existing system, said to me: "Of
course I want to keep the allotment I have got. But if the land is
never again to be divided my grandchildren may be beggars. We must
not sin against those who are to come after us." This unexpected
reply gave me food for reflection. Surely those muzhiks who are so
often accused of being brutally indifferent to moral obligations
must have peculiar deep-rooted moral conceptions of their own which
exercise a great influence on their daily life. A man who
hesitates to sin against his grandchildren still unborn, though his
conceptions of the meum and the tuum in the present may be
occasionally a little confused, must possess somewhere deep down in
his nature a secret fund of moral feeling of a very respectable
kind. Even among the educated classes in Russia the way of looking
at these matters is very different from ours. We should naturally
feel inclined to applaud, encourage, and assist the peasants who
show energy and initiative, and who try to rise above their
fellows. To the Russian this seems at once inexpedient and
immoral. The success of the few, he explains, is always obtained
at the expense of the many, and generally by means which the severe
moralist cannot approve of. The rich peasants, for example, have
gained their fortune and influence by demoralising and exploiting
their weaker brethren, by committing all manner of illegalities,
and by bribing the local authorities. Hence they are styled
Miroyedy (Commune-devourers) or Kulaki (fists), or something
equally uncomplimentary. Once this view is adopted, it follows
logically that the Communal institutions, in so far as they form a
barrier to the activity of such persons, ought to be carefully
preserved. This idea underlies nearly all the arguments in favour
of the Commune, and explains why they are so popular. Russians of
all classes have, in fact, a leaning towards socialistic notions,
and very little sympathy with our belief in individual initiative
and unrestricted competition.

Even if it be admitted that the Commune may effectually prevent the
formation of an agricultural Proletariat, the question is thereby
only half answered. Russia aspires to become a great industrial
and commercial country, and accordingly her town population is
rapidly augmenting. We have still to consider, then, how the
Commune affects the Proletariat of the towns. In Western Europe
the great centres of industry have uprooted from the soil and
collected in the towns a great part of the rural population. Those
who yielded to this attractive influence severed all connection
with their native villages, became unfit for field labour, and were
transformed into artisans or factory-workers. In Russia this
transformation could not easily take place. The peasant might work
during the greater part of his life in the towns, but he did not
thereby sever his connection with his native village. He remained,
whether he desired it or not, a member of the Commune, possessing a
share of the Communal land, and liable for a share of the Communal
burdens. During his residence in the town his wife and family
remained at home, and thither he himself sooner or later returned.
In this way a class of hybrids--half-peasants, half-artisans--has
been created, and the formation of a town Proletariat has been
greatly retarded.

The existence of this hybrid class is commonly cited as a
beneficent result of the Communal institutions. The artisans and
factory labourers, it is said, have thus always a home to which
they can retire when thrown out of work or overtaken by old age,
and their children are brought up in the country, instead of being
reared among the debilitating influences of overcrowded cities.
Every common labourer has, in short, by this ingenious contrivance,
some small capital and a country residence.

In the present transitional state of Russian society this peculiar
arrangement is at once natural and convenient, but amidst its
advantages it has many serious defects. The unnatural separation
of the artisan from his wife and family leads to very undesirable
results, well known to all who are familiar with the details of
peasant life in the northern provinces. And whatever its
advantages and defects may be, it cannot be permanently retained.
At the present time native industry is still in its infancy.
Protected by the tariff from foreign competition, and too few in
number to produce a strong competition among themselves, the
existing factories can give to their owners a large revenue without
any strenuous exertion. Manufacturers can therefore allow
themselves many little liberties, which would be quite inadmissible
if the price of manufactured goods were lowered by brisk
competition. Ask a Lancashire manufacturer if he could allow a
large portion of his workers to go yearly to Cornwall or Caithness
to mow a field of hay or reap a few acres of wheat or oats! And if
Russia is to make great industrial progress, the manufacturers of
Moscow, Lodz, Ivanovo, and Shui will some day be as hard pressed as
are those of Bradford and Manchester. The invariable tendency of
modern industry, and the secret of its progress, is the ever-
increasing division of labour; and how can this principle be
applied if the artisans insist on remaining agriculturists?

The interests of agriculture, too, are opposed to the old system.
Agriculture cannot be expected to make progress, or even to be
tolerably productive, if it is left in great measure to women and
children. At present it is not desirable that the link which binds
the factory-worker or artisan with the village should be at once
severed, for in the neighbourhood of the large factories there is
often no proper accommodation for the families of the workers, and
agriculture, as at present practised, can be carried on
successfully though the Head of the Household happens to be absent.
But the system must be regarded as simply temporary, and the
disruption of large families--a phenomenon of which I have already
spoken--renders its application more and more difficult.



A Finnish Tribe--Finnish Villages--Various Stages of Russification--
Finnish Women--Finnish Religions--Method of "Laying" Ghosts--
Curious Mixture of Christianity and Paganism--Conversion of the
Finns--A Tartar Village--A Russian Peasant's Conception of
Mahometanism--A Mahometan's View of Christianity--Propaganda--The
Russian Colonist--Migrations of Peoples During the Dark Ages.

When talking one day with a landed proprietor who lived near
Ivanofka, I accidentally discovered that in a district at some
distance to the northeast there were certain villages the
inhabitants of which did not understand Russian, and habitually
used a peculiar language of their own. With an illogical hastiness
worthy of a genuine ethnologist, I at once assumed that these must
be the remnants of some aboriginal race.

"Des aborigenes!" I exclaimed, unable to recall the Russian
equivalent for the term, and knowing that my friend understood
French. "Doubtless the remains of some ancient race who formerly
held the country, and are now rapidly disappearing. Have you any
Aborigines Protection Society in this part of the world?"

My friend had evidently great difficulty in imagining what an
Aborigines Protection Society could be, and promptly assured me
that there was nothing of the kind in Russia. On being told that
such a society might render valuable services by protecting the
weaker against the stronger race, and collecting important
materials for the new science of Social Embryology, he looked
thoroughly mystified. As to the new science, he had never heard of
it, and as to protection, he thought that the inhabitants of the
villages in question were quite capable of protecting themselves.
"I could invent," he added, with a malicious smile, "a society for
the protection of ALL peasants, but I am quite sure that the
authorities would not allow me to carry out my idea."

My ethnological curiosity was thoroughly aroused, and I endeavoured
to awaken a similar feeling in my friend by hinting that we had at
hand a promising field for discoveries which might immortalise the
fortunate explorers; but my efforts were in vain. The old
gentleman was a portly, indolent man, of phlegmatic temperament,
who thought more of comfort than of immortality in the terrestrial
sense of the term. To my proposal that we should start at once on
an exploring expedition, he replied calmly that the distance was
considerable, that the roads were muddy, and that there was nothing
to be learned. The villages in question were very like other
villages, and their inhabitants lived, to all intents and purposes,
in the same way as their Russian neighbours. If they had any
secret peculiarities they would certainly not divulge them to a
stranger, for they were notoriously silent, gloomy, morose, and
uncommunicative. Everything that was known about them, my friend
assured me, might be communicated in a few words. They belonged to
a Finnish tribe called Korelli, and had been transported to their
present settlements in comparatively recent times. In answer to my
questions as to how, when, and by whom they had been transported
thither my informant replied that it had been the work of Ivan the

Though I knew at that time little of Russian history, I suspected
that the last assertion was invented on the spur of the moment, in
order to satisfy my troublesome curiosity, and accordingly I
determined not to accept it without verification. The result
showed how careful the traveller should be in accepting the
testimony of "intelligent, well-informed natives." On further
investigation I discovered, not only that the story about Ivan the
Terrible was a pure invention--whether of my friend or of the
popular imagination, which always uses heroic names as pegs on
which to hang traditions, I know not--but also that my first theory
was correct. These Finnish peasants turned out to be a remnant of
the aborigines, or at least of the oldest known inhabitants of the
district. Men of the same race, but bearing different tribal
names, such as Finns, Korelli, Tcheremiss, Tchuvash, Mordva,
Votyaks, Permyaks, Zyryanye, Voguls, are to be found in
considerable numbers all over the northern provinces, from the Gulf
of Bothnia to Western Siberia, as well as in the provinces
bordering the Middle Volga as far south as Penza, Simbirsk, and
Tamboff.* The Russian peasants, who now compose the great mass of
the population, are the intruders.

* The semi-official "Statesman's Handbook for Russia," published in
1896, enumerates fourteen different tribes, with an aggregate of
about 4,650,000 souls, but these numbers must not be regarded as
having any pretensions to accuracy. The best authorities differ
widely in their estimates.

I had long taken a deep interest in what learned Germans call the
Volkerwanderung--that is to say, the migrations of peoples during
the gradual dissolution of the Roman Empire, and it had often
occurred to me that the most approved authorities, who had expended
an infinite amount of learning on the subject, had not always taken
the trouble to investigate the nature of the process. It is not
enough to know that a race or tribe extended its dominions or
changed its geographical position. We ought at the same time to
inquire whether it expelled, exterminated, or absorbed the former
inhabitants, and how the expulsion, extermination, or absorption
was effected. Now of these three processes, absorption may have
been more frequent than is commonly supposed, and it seemed to me
that in Northern Russia this process might be conveniently studied.
A thousand years ago the whole of Northern Russia was peopled by
Finnish pagan tribes, and at the present day the greater part of it
is occupied by peasants who speak the language of Moscow, profess
the Orthodox faith, present in their physiognomy no striking
peculiarities, and appear to the superficial observer pure
Russians. And we have no reason to suppose that the former
inhabitants were expelled or exterminated, or that they gradually
died out from contact with the civilisation and vices of a higher
race. History records no wholesale Finnish migrations like that of
the Kalmyks, and no war of extermination; and statistics prove that
among the remnants of those primitive races the population
increases as rapidly as among the Russian peasantry.* From these
facts I concluded that the Finnish aborigines had been simply
absorbed, or rather, were being absorbed, by the Slavonic

* This latter statement is made on the authority of Popoff
("Zyryanye i zyryanski krai," Moscow, 1874) and Tcheremshanski
("Opisanie Orenburgskoi Gubernii," Ufa, 1859).

This conclusion has since been confirmed by observation. During my
wanderings in these northern provinces I have found villages in
every stage of Russification. In one, everything seemed thoroughly
Finnish: the inhabitants had a reddish-olive skin, very high cheek-
bones, obliquely set eyes, and a peculiar costume; none of the
women, and very few of the men, could understand Russian, and any
Russian who visited the place was regarded as a foreigner. In a
second, there were already some Russian inhabitants; the others had
lost something of their pure Finnish type, many of the men had
discarded the old costume and spoke Russian fluently, and a Russian
visitor was no longer shunned. In a third, the Finnish type was
still further weakened: all the men spoke Russian, and nearly all
the women understood it; the old male costume had entirely
disappeared, and the old female costume was rapidly following it;
while intermarriage with the Russian population was no longer rare.
In a fourth, intermarriage had almost completely done its work, and
the old Finnish element could be detected merely in certain
peculiarities of physiognomy and pronunciation.*

* One of the most common peculiarities of pronunciation is the
substitution of the sound of ts for that of tch, which I found
almost universal over a large area.

The process of Russification may be likewise observed in the manner
of building the houses and in the methods of farming, which show
plainly that the Finnish races did not obtain rudimentary
civilisation from the Slavs. Whence, then, was it derived? Was it
obtained from some other race, or is it indigenous? These are
questions which I have no means of answering.

A Positivist poet--or if that be a contradiction in terms, let us
say a Positivist who wrote verses--once composed an appeal to the
fair sex, beginning with the words:

"Pourquoi, O femmes, restez-vous en arriere?"

The question might have been addressed to the women in these
Finnish villages. Like their sisters in France, they are much more
conservative than the men, and oppose much more stubbornly the
Russian influence. On the other hand, like women in general, when
they do begin to change, they change more rapidly. This is seen
especially in the matter of costume. The men adopt the Russian
costume very gradually; the women adopt it at once. As soon as a
single woman gets a gaudy Russian dress, every other woman in the
village feels envious and impatient till she has done likewise. I
remember once visiting a Mordva village when this critical point
had been reached, and a very characteristic incident occurred. In
the preceding villages through which I had passed I had tried in
vain to buy a female costume, and I again made the attempt. This
time the result was very different. A few minutes after I had
expressed my wish to purchase a costume, the house in which I was
sitting was besieged by a great crowd of women, holding in their
hands articles of wearing apparel. In order to make a selection I
went out into the crowd, but the desire to find a purchaser was so
general and so ardent that I was regularly mobbed. The women,
shouting "Kupi! kupi!" ("Buy! buy!"), and struggling with each
other to get near me, were so importunate that I had at last to
take refuge in the house, to prevent my own costume from being torn
to shreds. But even there I was not safe, for the women followed
at my heels, and a considerable amount of good-natured violence had
to be employed to expel the intruders.

It is especially interesting to observe the transformation of
nationality in the sphere of religious conceptions. The Finns
remained pagans long after the Russians had become Christians, but
at the present time the whole population, from the eastern boundary
of Finland proper to the Ural Mountains, are officially described
as members of the Greek Orthodox Church. The manner in which this
change of religion was effected is well worthy of attention.

The old religion of the Finnish tribes, if we may judge from the
fragments which still remain, had, like the people themselves, a
thoroughly practical, prosaic character. Their theology consisted
not of abstract dogmas, but merely of simple prescriptions for the
ensuring of material welfare. Even at the present day, in the
districts not completely Russified, their prayers are plain,
unadorned requests for a good harvest, plenty of cattle, and the
like, and are expressed in a tone of childlike familiarity that
sounds strange in our ears. They make no attempt to veil their
desires with mystic solemnity, but ask, in simple, straightforward
fashion, that God should make the barley ripen and the cow calve
successfully, that He should prevent their horses from being
stolen, and that he should help them to gain money to pay their

Their religious ceremonies have, so far as I have been able to
discover, no hidden mystical signification, and are for the most
part rather magical rites for averting the influence of malicious
spirits, or freeing themselves from the unwelcome visits of their
departed relatives. For this latter purpose many even of those who
are officially Christians proceed at stated seasons to the
graveyards and place an abundant supply of cooked food on the
graves of their relations who have recently died, requesting the
departed to accept this meal, and not to return to their old homes,
where their presence is no longer desired. Though more of the food
is eaten at night by the village dogs than by the famished spirits,
the custom is believed to have a powerful influence in preventing
the dead from wandering about at night and frightening the living.
If it be true, as I am inclined to believe, that tombstones were
originally used for keeping the dead in their graves, then it must
be admitted that in the matter of "laying" ghosts the Finns have
shown themselves much more humane than other races. It may,
however, be suggested that in the original home of the Finns--"le
berceau de la race," as French ethnologists say--stones could not
easily be procured, and that the custom of feeding the dead was
adopted as a pis aller. The decision of the question must be left
to those who know where the original home of the Finns was.

As the Russian peasantry, knowing little or nothing of theology,
and placing implicit confidence in rites and ceremonies, did not
differ very widely from the pagan Finns in the matter of religious
conceptions, the friendly contact of the two races naturally led to
a curious blending of the two religions. The Russians adopted many
customs from the Finns, and the Finns adopted still more from the
Russians. When Yumala and the other Finnish deities did not do as
they were desired, their worshippers naturally applied for
protection or assistance to the Madonna and the "Russian God." If
their own traditional magic rites did not suffice to ward off evil
influences, they naturally tried the effect of crossing themselves,
as the Russians do in moments of danger. All this may seem strange
to us who have been taught from our earliest years that religion is
something quite different from spells, charms, and incantations,
and that of all the various religions in the world one alone is
true, all the others being false. But we must remember that the
Finns have had a very different education. They do not distinguish
religion from magic rites, and they have never been taught that
other religions are less true than their own. For them the best
religion is the one which contains the most potent spells, and they
see no reason why less powerful religions should not be blended
therewith. Their deities are not jealous gods, and do not insist
on having a monopoly of devotion; and in any case they cannot do
much injury to those who have placed themselves under the
protection of a more powerful divinity.

This simple-minded eclecticism often produces a singular mixture of
Christianity and paganism. Thus, for instance, at the harvest
festivals, Tchuvash peasants have been known to pray first to their
own deities, and then to St. Nicholas, the miracle-worker, who is
the favourite saint of the Russian peasantry. Such dual worship is
sometimes even recommended by the Yomzi--a class of men who
correspond to the medicine-men among the Red Indians--and the
prayers are on these occasions couched in the most familiar terms.
Here is a specimen given by a Russian who has specially studied the
language and customs of this interesting people:* "Look here, O
Nicholas-god! Perhaps my neighbour, little Michael, has been
slandering me to you, or perhaps he will do so. If he does, don't
believe him. I have done him no ill, and wish him none. He is a
worthless boaster and a babbler. He does not really honour you,
and merely plays the hypocrite. But I honour you from my heart;
and, behold, I place a taper before you!" Sometimes incidents
occur which display a still more curious blending of the two
religions. Thus a Tcheremiss, on one occasion, in consequence of a
serious illness, sacrificed a young foal to our Lady of Kazan!

* Mr. Zolotnitski, "Tchuvasko-russki slovar," p. 167.

Though the Finnish beliefs affected to some extent the Russian
peasantry, the Russian faith ultimately prevailed. This can be
explained without taking into consideration the inherent
superiority of Christianity over all forms of paganism. The Finns
had no organised priesthood, and consequently never offered a
systematic opposition to the new faith; the Russians, on the
contrary, had a regular hierarchy in close alliance with the civil
administration. In the principal villages Christian churches were
built, and some of the police-officers vied with the ecclesiastical
officials in the work of making converts. At the same time there
were other influences tending in the same direction. If a Russian
practised Finnish superstitions he exposed himself to disagreeable
consequences of a temporal kind; if, on the contrary, a Finn
adopted the Christian religion, the temporal consequences that
could result were all advantageous to him.

Many of the Finns gradually became Christians almost unconsciously.
The ecclesiastical authorities were extremely moderate in their
demands. They insisted on no religious knowledge, and merely
demanded that the converts should be baptised. The converts,
failing to understand the spiritual significance of the ceremony,
commonly offered no resistance, so long as the immersion was
performed in summer. So little repugnance, indeed, did they feel,
that on some occasions, when a small reward was given to those who
consented, some of the new converts wished the ceremony to be
repeated several times. The chief objection to receiving the
Christian faith lay in the long and severe fasts imposed by the
Greek Orthodox Church; but this difficulty was overcome by assuming
that they need not be strictly observed. At first, in some
districts, it was popularly believed that the Icons informed the
Russian priests against those who did not fast as the Church
prescribed; but experience gradually exploded this theory. Some of
the more prudent converts, however, to prevent all possible tale-
telling, took the precaution of turning the face of the Icon to the
wall when prohibited meats were about to be eaten!

This gradual conversion of the Finnish tribes, effected without any
intellectual revolution in the minds of the converts, had very
important temporal consequences. Community of faith led to
intermarriage, and intermarriage led rapidly to the blending of the
two races.

If we compare a Finnish village in any stage of Russification with
a Tartar village, of which the inhabitants are Mahometans, we
cannot fail to be struck by the contrast. In the latter, though
there may be many Russians, there is no blending of the two races.
Between them religion has raised an impassable barrier. There are
many villages in the eastern and north-eastern provinces of
European Russia which have been for generations half Tartar and
half Russian, and the amalgamation of the two nationalities has not
yet begun. Near the one end stands the Christian church, and near
the other stands the little metchet, or Mahometan house of prayer.
The whole village forms one Commune, with one Village Assembly and
one Village Elder; but, socially, it is composed of two distinct
communities, each possessing its peculiar customs and peculiar mode
of life. The Tartar may learn Russian, but he does not on that
account become Russianised.

It must not, however, be supposed that the two races are imbued
with fanatical hatred towards each other. On the contrary, they
live in perfect good-fellowship, elect as Village Elder sometimes a
Russian and sometimes a Tartar, and discuss the Communal affairs in
the Village Assembly without reference to religious matters. I
know one village where the good-fellowship went even a step
farther: the Christians determined to repair their church, and the
Mahometans helped them to transport wood for the purpose! All this
tends to show that under a tolerably good Government, which does
not favour one race at the expense of the other, Mahometan Tartars
and Christian Slavs can live peaceably together.

The absence of fanaticism and of that proselytising zeal which is
one of the most prolific sources of religious hatred, is to be
explained by the peculiar religious conceptions of these peasants.
In their minds religion and nationality are so closely allied as to
be almost identical. The Russian is, as it were, by nature a
Christian, and the Tartar a Mahometan; and it never occurs to any
one in these villages to disturb the appointed order of nature. On
this subject I had once an interesting conversation with a Russian
peasant who had been for some time living among Tartars. In reply
to my question as to what kind of people the Tartars were, he
replied laconically, "Nitchevo"--that is to say, "nothing in
particular"; and on being pressed for a more definite expression of
opinion, he admitted that they were very good people indeed.

"And what kind of faith have they?" I continued.

"A good enough faith," was the prompt reply.

"Is it better than the faith of the Molokanye?" The Molokanye are
Russian sectarians--closely resembling Scotch Presbyterians--of
whom I shall have more to say in the sequel.

"Of course it is better than the Molokan faith."

"Indeed!" I exclaimed, endeavouring to conceal my astonishment at
this strange judgment. "Are the Molokanye, then, very bad people?"

"Not at all. The Molokanye are good and honest."

"Why, then, do you think their faith is so much worse than that of
the Mahometans?"

"How shall I tell you?" The peasant here paused as if to collect
his thoughts, and then proceeded slowly, "The Tartars, you see,
received their faith from God as they received the colour of their
skins, but the Molokanye are Russians who have invented a faith out
of their own heads!"

This singular answer scarcely requires a commentary. As it would
be absurd to try to make Tartars change the colour of their skins,
so it would be absurd to try to make them change their religion.
Besides this, such an attempt would be an unjustifiable
interference with the designs of Providence, for, in the peasant's
opinion, God gave Mahometanism to the Tartars just as he gave the
Orthodox faith to the Russians.

The ecclesiastical authorities do not formally adopt this strange
theory, but they generally act in accordance with it. There is
little official propaganda among the Mahometan subjects of the
Tsar, and it is well that it is so, for an energetic propaganda
would lead merely to the stirring up of any latent hostility which
may exist deep down in the nature of the two races, and it would
not make any real converts. The Tartars cannot unconsciously
imbibe Christianity as the Finns have done. Their religion is not
a rude, simple paganism without theology in the scholastic sense of
the term, but a monotheism as exclusive as Christianity itself.
Enter into conversation with an intelligent man who has no higher
religious belief than a rude sort of paganism, and you may, if you
know him well and make a judicious use of your knowledge, easily
interest him in the touching story of Christ's life and teaching.
And in these unsophisticated natures there is but one step from
interest and sympathy to conversion.

Try the same method with a Mussulman, and you will soon find that
all your efforts are fruitless. He has already a theology and a
prophet of his own, and sees no reason why he should exchange them
for those which you have to offer. Perhaps he will show you more
or less openly that he pities your ignorance and wonders that you
have not been able to ADVANCE from Christianity to Mahometanism.
In his opinion--I am supposing that he is a man of education--Moses
and Christ were great prophets in their day, and consequently he is
accustomed to respect their memory; but he is profoundly convinced
that however appropriate they were for their own times, they have
been entirely superseded by Mahomet, precisely as we believe that
Judaism was superseded by Christianity. Proud of his superior
knowledge, he regards you as a benighted polytheist, and may
perhaps tell you that the Orthodox Christians with whom he comes in
contact have three Gods and a host of lesser deities called saints,
that they pray to idols called Icons, and that they keep their holy
days by getting drunk. In vain you endeavour to explain to him
that saints and Icons are not essential parts of Christianity, and
that habits of intoxication have no religious significance. On
these points he may make concessions to you, but the doctrine of
the Trinity remains for him a fatal stumbling-block. "You
Christians," he will say, "once had a great prophet called Jisous,
who is mentioned with respect in the Koran, but you falsified your
sacred writings and took to worshipping him, and now you declare
that he is the equal of Allah. Far from us be such blasphemy!
There is but one God, and Mahomet is His prophet."

A worthy Christian missionary, who had laboured long and zealously
among a Mussulman population, once called me sharply to account for
having expressed the opinion that Mahometans are very rarely
converted to Christianity. When I brought him down from the region
of vague general statements and insisted on knowing how many cases
he had met with in his own personal experience during sixteen years
of missionary work, he was constrained to admit that he had know
only one: and when I pressed him farther as to the disinterested
sincerity of the convert in question his reply was not altogether

The policy of religious non-intervention has not always been
practised by the Government. Soon after the conquest of the
Khanate of Kazan in the sixteenth century, the Tsars of Muscovy
attempted to convert their new subjects from Mahometanism to
Christianity. The means employed were partly spiritual and partly
administrative, but the police-officers seem to have played a more
important part than the clergy. In this way a certain number of
Tartars were baptised; but the authorities were obliged to admit
that the new converts "shamelessly retain many horrid Tartar
customs, and neither hold nor know the Christian faith." When
spiritual exhortations failed, the Government ordered its officials
to "pacify, imprison, put in irons, and thereby UNTEACH and
frighten from the Tartar faith those who, though baptised, do not
obey the admonitions of the Metropolitan." These energetic
measures proved as ineffectual as the spiritual exhortations; and
Catherine II. adopted a new method, highly characteristic of her
system of administration. The new converts--who, be it remembered,
were unable to read and write--were ordered by Imperial ukaz to
sign a written promise to the effect that "they would completely
forsake their infidel errors, and, avoiding all intercourse with
unbelievers, would hold firmly and unwaveringly the Christian faith
and its dogmas"*--of which latter, we may add, they had not the
slightest knowledge. The childlike faith in the magical efficacy
of stamped paper here displayed was not justified. The so-called
"baptised Tartars" are at the present time as far from being
Christians as they were in the sixteenth century. They cannot
openly profess Mahometanism, because men who have been once
formally admitted into the National Church cannot leave it without
exposing themselves to the severe pains and penalties of the
criminal code, but they strongly object to be Christianised.

* "Ukaz Kazanskoi dukhovnoi Konsistorii." Anno 1778.

On this subject I have found a remarkable admission in a
semiofficial article, published as recently as 1872.* "It is a
fact worthy of attention," says the writer, "that a long series of
evident apostasies coincides with the beginning of measures to
confirm the converts in the Christian faith. There must be,
therefore, some collateral cause producing those cases of apostasy
precisely at the moment when the contrary might be expected."
There is a delightful naivete in this way of stating the fact. The
mysterious cause vaguely indicated is not difficult to find. So
long as the Government demanded merely that the supposed converts
should be inscribed as Christians in the official registers, there
was no official apostasy; but as soon as active measures began to
be taken "to confirm the converts," a spirit of hostility and
fanaticism appeared among the Mussulman population, and made those
who were inscribed as Christians resist the propaganda.

* "Zhurnal Ministerstva Narodnago Prosveshtcheniya." June, 1872.

It may safely be said that Christians are impervious to Islam, and
genuine Mussulmans impervious to Christianity; but between the two
there are certain tribes, or fractions of tribes, which present a
promising field for missionary enterprise. In this field the
Tartars show much more zeal than the Russians, and possess certain
advantages over their rivals. The tribes of Northeastern Russia
learn Tartar much more easily than Russian, and their geographical
position and modes of life bring them in contact with Russians much
less than with Tartars. The consequence is that whole villages of
Tcheremiss and Votiaks, officially inscribed as belonging to the
Greek Orthodox Church, have openly declared themselves Mahometans;
and some of the more remarkable conversions have been commemorated
by popular songs, which are sung by young and old. Against this
propaganda the Orthodox ecclesiastical authorities do little or
nothing. Though the criminal code contains severe enactments
against those who fall away from the Orthodox Church, and still
more against those who produce apostasy,* the enactments are rarely
put in force. Both clergy and laity in the Russian Church are, as
a rule, very tolerant where no political questions are involved.
The parish priest pays attention to apostasy only when it
diminishes his annual revenues, and this can be easily avoided by
the apostate's paying a small yearly sum. If this precaution be
taken, whole villages may be converted to Islam without the higher
ecclesiastical authorities knowing anything of the matter.

* A person convicted of converting a Christian to Islamism is
sentenced, according to the criminal code (184), to the loss of
all civil rights, and to imprisonment with hard labour for a term
varying from eight to ten years.

Whether the barrier that separates Christians and Mussulmans in
Russia, as elsewhere, will ever be broken down by education, I do
not know; but I may remark that hitherto the spread of education
among the Tartars has tended rather to imbue them with fanaticism.
If we remember that theological education always produces
intolerance, and that Tartar education is almost exclusively
theological, we shall not be surprised to find that a Tartar's
religious fanaticism is generally in direct proportion to the
amount of his intellectual culture. The unlettered Tartar,
unspoiled by learning falsely so called, and knowing merely enough
of his religion to perform the customary ordinances prescribed by
the Prophet, is peaceable, kindly, and hospitable towards all men;
but the learned Tartar, who has been taught that the Christian is a
kiafir (infidel) and a mushrik (polytheist), odious in the sight of
Allah, and already condemned to eternal punishment, is as
intolerant and fanatical as the most bigoted Roman Catholic or
Calvinist. Such fanatics are occasionally to be met with in the
eastern provinces, but they are few in number, and have little
influence on the masses. From my own experience I can testify that
during the whole course of my wanderings I have nowhere received
more kindness and hospitality than among the uneducated Mussulman
Bashkirs. Even here, however, Islam opposes a strong barrier to

Though no such barrier existed among the pagan Finnish tribes, the
work of Russification among them is still, as I have already
indicated, far from complete. Not only whole villages, but even
many entire districts, are still very little affected by Russian
influence. This is to be explained partly by geographical
conditions. In regions which have a poor soil, and are intersected
by no navigable river, there are few or no Russian settlers, and
consequently the Finns have there preserved intact their language
and customs; whilst in those districts which present more
inducements to colonisation, the Russian population is more
numerous, and the Finns less conservative. It must, however, be
admitted that geographical conditions do not completely explain the
facts. The various tribes, even when placed in the same
conditions, are not equally susceptible to foreign influence. The
Mordva, for instance, are infinitely less conservative than the
Tchuvash. This I have often noticed, and my impression has been
confirmed by men who have had more opportunities of observation.
For the present we must attribute this to some occult ethnological
peculiarity, but future investigations may some day supply a more
satisfactory explanation. Already I have obtained some facts which
appear to throw light on the subject. The Tchuvash have certain
customs which seem to indicate that they were formerly, if not
avowed Mahometans, at least under the influence of Islam, whilst we
have no reason to suppose that the Mordva ever passed through that

The absence of religious fanaticism greatly facilitated Russian
colonisation in these northern regions, and the essentially
peaceful disposition of the Russian peasantry tended in the same
direction. The Russian peasant is admirably fitted for the work of
peaceful agricultural colonisation. Among uncivilised tribes he is
good-natured, long-suffering, conciliatory, capable of bearing
extreme hardships, and endowed with a marvellous power of adapting
himself to circumstances. The haughty consciousness of personal
and national superiority habitually displayed by Englishmen of all
ranks when they are brought in contact with races which they look
upon as lower in the scale of humanity than themselves, is entirely
foreign to his character. He has no desire to rule, and no wish to
make the natives hewers of wood and drawers of water. All he
desires is a few acres of land which he and his family can
cultivate; and so long as he is allowed to enjoy these he is not
likely to molest his neighbours. Had the colonists of the Finnish
country been men of Anglo-Saxon race, they would in all probability
have taken possession of the land and reduced the natives to the
condition of agricultural labourers. The Russian colonists have
contented themselves with a humbler and less aggressive mode of
action; they have settled peaceably among the native population,
and are rapidly becoming blended with it. In many districts the
so-called Russians have perhaps more Finnish than Slavonic blood in
their veins.

But what has all this to do, it may be asked, with the
aforementioned Volkerwanderung, or migration of peoples, during the
Dark Ages? More than may at first sight appear. Some of the so-
called migrations were, I suspect, not at all migrations in the
ordinary sense of the term, but rather gradual changes, such as
those which have taken place, and are still taking place, in
Northern Russia. A thousand years ago what is now known as the
province of Yaroslavl was inhabited by Finns, and now it is
occupied by men who are commonly regarded as pure Slays. But it
would be an utter mistake to suppose that the Finns of this
district migrated to those more distant regions where they are now
to be found. In reality they formerly occupied, as I have said,
the whole of Northern Russia, and in the province of Yaroslavl they
have been transformed by Slav infiltration. In Central Europe the
Slavs may be said in a certain sense to have retreated, for in
former times they occupied the whole of Northern Germany as far as
the Elbe. But what does the word "retreat" mean in this case? It
means probably that the Slays were gradually Teutonised, and then
absorbed by the Teutonic race. Some tribes, it is true, swept over
a part of Europe in genuine nomadic fashion, and endeavoured
perhaps to expel or exterminate the actual possessors of the soil.
This kind of migration may likewise be studied in Russia. But I
must leave the subject till I come to speak of the southern



Departure from Ivanofka and Arrival at Novgorod--The Eastern Half
of the Town--The Kremlin--An Old Legend--The Armed Men of Rus--The
Northmen--Popular Liberty in Novgorod--The Prince and the Popular
Assembly--Civil Dissensions and Faction-fights-- The Commercial
Republic Conquered by the Muscovite Tsars--Ivan the Terrible--
Present Condition of the Town--Provincial Society--Card-playing--
Periodicals--"Eternal Stillness."

Country life in Russia is pleasant enough in summer or in winter,
but between summer and winter there is an intermediate period of
several weeks when the rain and mud transform a country-house into
something very like a prison. To escape this durance vile I
determined in the month of October to leave Ivanofka, and chose as
my headquarters for the next few months the town of Novgorod--the
old town of that name, not to be confounded with Nizhni Novgorod--
i.e., Lower Novgorod, on the Volga--where the great annual fair is

For this choice there were several reasons. I did not wish to go
to St. Petersburg or Moscow, because I foresaw that in either of
those cities my studies would certainly be interrupted. In a
quiet, sleepy provincial town I should have much more chance of
coming in contact with people who could not speak fluently any
West-European languages, and much better opportunities for studying
native life and local administration. Of the provincial capitals,
Novgorod was the nearest, and more interesting than most of its
rivals; for it has had a curious history, much older than that of
St. Petersburg or even of Moscow, and some traces of its former
greatness are still visible. Though now a town of third-rate
importance--a mere shadow of its former self--it still contains
about 21,000 inhabitants, and is the administrative centre of the
large province in which it is situated.

About eighty miles before reaching St. Petersburg the Moscow
railway crosses the Volkhof, a rapid, muddy river which connects
Lake Ilmen with Lake Ladoga. At the point of intersection I got on
board a small steamer and sailed up stream towards Lake Ilmen for
about fifty miles.* The journey was tedious, for the country was
flat and monotonous, and the steamer, though it puffed and snorted
inordinately, did not make more than nine knots. Towards sunset
Novgorod appeared on the horizon. Seen thus at a distance in the
soft twilight, it seemed decidedly picturesque. On the east bank
lay the greater part of the town, the sky line of which was
agreeably broken by the green roofs and pear-shaped cupolas of many
churches. On the opposite bank rose the Kremlin. Spanning the
river was a long, venerable stone bridge, half hidden by a
temporary wooden one, which was doing duty for the older structure
while the latter was being repaired. A cynical fellow-passenger
assured me that the temporary structure was destined to become
permanent, because it yielded a comfortable revenue to certain
officials, but this sinister prediction has not been verified.

* The journey would now be made by rail, but the branch line which
runs near the bank of the river had not been constructed at that

That part of Novgorod which lies on the eastern bank of the river,
and in which I took up my abode for several months, contains
nothing that is worthy of special mention. As is the case in most
Russian towns, the streets are straight, wide, and ill-paved, and
all run parallel or at right angles to each other. At the end of
the bridge is a spacious market-place, flanked on one side by the
Town-house. Near the other side stand the houses of the Governor
and of the chief military authority of the district. The only
other buildings of note are the numerous churches, which are mostly
small, and offer nothing that is likely to interest the student of
architecture. Altogether this part of the town is unquestionably
commonplace. The learned archaeologist may detect in it some
traces of the distant past, but the ordinary traveller will find
little to arrest his attention.

If now we cross over to the other side of the river, we are at once
confronted by something which very few Russian towns possess--a
kremlin, or citadel. This is a large and slightly-elevated
enclosure, surrounded by high brick walls, and in part by the
remains of a moat. Before the days of heavy artillery these walls
must have presented a formidable barrier to any besieging force,
but they have long ceased to have any military significance, and
are now nothing more than an historical monument. Passing through
the gateway which faces the bridge, we find ourselves in a large
open space. To the right stands the cathedral--a small, much-
venerated church, which can make no pretensions to architectural
beauty--and an irregular group of buildings containing the
consistory and the residence of the Archbishop. To the left is a
long symmetrical range of buildings containing the Government
offices and the law courts. Midway between this and the cathedral,
in the centre of the great open space, stands a colossal monument,
composed of a massive circular stone pedestal and an enormous
globe, on and around which cluster a number of emblematic and
historical figures. This curious monument, which has at least the
merit of being original in design, was erected in 1862, in
commemoration of Russia's thousandth birthday, and is supposed to
represent the history of Russia in general and of Novgorod in
particular during the last thousand years. It was placed here
because Novgorod is the oldest of Russian towns, and because
somewhere in the surrounding country occurred the incident which is
commonly recognised as the foundation of the Russian Empire. The
incident in question is thus described in the oldest chronicle:

"At that time, as the southern Slavonians paid tribute to the
Kozars, so the Novgorodian Slavonians suffered from the attacks of
the Variags. For some time the Variags exacted tribute from the
Novgorodian Slavonians and the neighbouring Finns; then the
conquered tribes, by uniting their forces, drove out the
foreigners. But among the Slavonians arose strong internal
dissensions; the clans rose against each other. Then, for the
creation of order and safety, they resolved to call in princes from
a foreign land. In the year 862 Slavonic legates went away beyond
the sea to the Variag tribe called Rus, and said, 'Our land is
great and fruitful, but there is no order in it; come and reign and
rule over us.' Three brothers accepted the invitation, and
appeared with their armed followers. The eldest of these, Rurik,
settled in Novgorod; the second, Sineus, at Byelo-ozero; and the
third, Truvor, in Isborsk. From them our land is called Rus.
After two years the brothers of Rurik died. He alone began to rule
over the Novgorod district, and confided to his men the
administration of the principal towns."

This simple legend has given rise to a vast amount of learned
controversy, and historical investigators have fought valiantly
with each other over the important question, Who were those armed
men of Rus? For a long time the commonly received opinion was that
they were Normans from Scandinavia. The Slavophils accepted the
legend literally in this sense, and constructed upon it an
ingenious theory of Russian history. The nations of the West, they
said, were conquered by invaders, who seized the country and
created the feudal system for their own benefit; hence the history
of Western Europe is a long tale of bloody struggles between
conquerors and conquered, and at the present day the old enmity
still lives in the political rivalry of the different social
classes. The Russo-Slavonians, on the contrary, were not
conquered, but voluntarily invited a foreign prince to come and
rule over them! Hence the whole social and political development
of Russia has been essentially peaceful, and the Russian people
know nothing of social castes or feudalism. Though this theory
afforded some nourishment for patriotic self-satisfaction, it
displeased extreme patriots, who did not like the idea that order
was first established in their country by men of Teutonic race.
These preferred to adopt the theory that Rurik and his companions
were Slavonians from the shores of the Baltic.

Though I devoted to the study of this question more time and labour
than perhaps the subject deserved, I have no intention of inviting
the reader to follow me through the tedious controversy. Suffice
it to say that, after careful consideration, and with all due
deference to recent historians, I am inclined to adopt the old
theory, and to regard the Normans of Scandinavia as in a certain
sense the founders of the Russian Empire. We know from other
sources that during the ninth century there was a great exodus from
Scandinavia. Greedy of booty, and fired with the spirit of
adventure, the Northmen, in their light, open boats, swept along
the coasts of Germany, France, Spain, Greece, and Asia Minor,
pillaging the towns and villages near the sea, and entering into
the heart of the country by means of the rivers. At first they
were mere marauders, and showed everywhere such ferocity and
cruelty that they came to be regarded as something akin to plagues
and famines, and the faithful added a new petition to the Litany,
"From the wrath and malice of the Normans, O Lord, deliver us!"
But towards the middle of the century the movement changed its
character. The raids became military invasions, and the invaders
sought to conquer the lands which they had formerly plundered, "ut
acquirant sibi spoliando regna quibus possent vivere pace
perpetua." The chiefs embraced Christianity, married the daughters
or sisters of the reigning princes, and obtained the conquered
territories as feudal grants. Thus arose Norman principalities in
the Low Countries, in France, in Italy, and in Sicily; and the
Northmen, rapidly blending with the native population, soon showed
as much political talent as they had formerly shown reckless and
destructive valour.

It would have been strange indeed if these adventurers, who
succeeded in reaching Asia Minor and the coasts of North America,
should have overlooked Russia, which lay, as it were, at their very
doors. The Volkhof, flowing through Novgorod, formed part of a
great waterway which afforded almost uninterrupted water-
communication between the Baltic and the Black Sea; and we know
that some time afterwards the Scandinavians used this route in
their journeys to Constantinople. The change which the
Scandinavian movement underwent elsewhere is clearly indicated by
the Russian chronicles: first, the Variags came as collectors of
tribute, and raised so much popular opposition that they were
expelled, and then they came as rulers, and settled in the country.
Whether they really came on invitation may be doubted, but that
they adopted the language, religion, and customs of the native
population does not militate against the assertion that they were
Normans. On the contrary, we have here rather an additional
confirmation, for elsewhere the Normans did likewise. In the North
of France they adopted almost at once the French language and
religion, and the son and successor of the famous Rollo was
sometimes reproached with being more French than Norman.*

*Strinnholm, "Die Vikingerzuge" (Hamburg, 1839), I., p. 135.

Though it is difficult to decide how far the legend is literally
true, there can be no possible doubt that the event which it more
or less accurately describes had an important influence on Russian
history. From that time dates the rapid expansion of the Russo-
Slavonians--a movement that is still going on at the present day.
To the north, the east, and the south new principalities were
formed and governed by men who all claimed to be descendants of
Rurik, and down to the end of the sixteenth century no Russian
outside of this great family ever attempted to establish
independent sovereignty.

For six centuries after the so-called invitation of Rurik the city
on the Volkhof had a strange, checkered history. Rapidly it
conquered the neighbouring Finnish tribes, and grew into a powerful
independent state, with a territory extending to the Gulf of
Finland, and northwards to the White Sea. At the same time its
commercial importance increased, and it became an outpost of the
Hanseatic League. In this work the descendants of Rurik played an
important part, but they were always kept in strict subordination
to the popular will. Political freedom kept pace with commercial
prosperity. What means Rurik employed for establishing and
preserving order we know not, but the chronicles show that his
successors in Novgorod possessed merely such authority as was
freely granted them by the people. The supreme power resided, not
in the prince, but in the assembly of the citizens called together
in the market-place by the sound of the great bell. This assembly
made laws for the prince as well as for the people, entered into
alliances with foreign powers, declared war, and concluded peace,
imposed taxes, raised troops, and not only elected the magistrates,
but also judged and deposed them when it thought fit. The prince
was little more than the hired commander of the troops and the
president of the judicial administration. When entering on his
functions he had to take a solemn oath that he would faithfully
observe the ancient laws and usages, and if he failed to fulfil his
promise he was sure to be summarily deposed and expelled. The
people had an old rhymed proverb, "Koli khud knyaz, tak v gryaz!"
"If the prince is bad, into the mud with him!"), and they
habitually acted according to it. So unpleasant, indeed, was the
task of ruling those sturdy, stiff-necked burghers, that some
princes refused to undertake it, and others, having tried it for a
time, voluntarily laid down their authority and departed. But
these frequent depositions and abdications--as many as thirty took
place in the course of a single century--did not permanently
disturb the existing order of things. The descendants of Rurik
were numerous, and there were always plenty of candidates for the
vacant post. The municipal republic continued to grow in strength
and in riches, and during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries
it proudly styled itself "Lord Novgorod the Great" (Gospodin
Velilki Novgorod).

"Then came a change, as all things human change." To the east
arose the principality of Moscow--not an old, rich municipal
republic, but a young, vigorous State, ruled by a line of crafty,
energetic, ambitious, and unscrupulous princes of the Rurik stock,
who were freeing the country from the Tartar yoke and gradually
annexing by fair means and foul the neighbouring principalities to
their own dominions. At the same time, and in a similar manner,
the Lithuanian Princes to the westward united various small
principalities and formed a large independent State. Thus Novgorod
found itself in a critical position. Under a strong Government it
might have held its own against these rivals and successfully
maintained its independence, but its strength was already
undermined by internal dissensions. Political liberty had led to
anarchy. Again and again on that great open space where the
national monument now stands, and in the market-place on the other
side of the river, scenes of disorder and bloodshed took place, and
more than once on the bridge battles were fought by contending
factions. Sometimes it was a contest between rival families, and
sometimes a struggle between the municipal aristocracy, who sought
to monopolise the political power, and the common people, who
wished to have a large share in the administration. A State thus
divided against itself could not long resist the aggressive
tendencies of powerful neighbours. Artful diplomacy could but
postpone the evil day, and it required no great political foresight
to predict that sooner or later Novgorod must become Lithuanian or
Muscovite. The great families inclined to Lithuania, but the
popular party and the clergy, disliking Roman Catholicism, looked
to Moscow for assistance, and the Grand Princes of Muscovy
ultimately won the prize.

The barbarous way in which the Grand Princes effected the
annexation shows how thoroughly they had imbibed the spirit of
Tartar statesmanship. Thousands of families were transported to
Moscow, and Muscovite families put in their places; and when, in
spite of this, the old spirit revived, Ivan the Terrible determined
to apply the method of physical extermination which he had found so
effectual in breaking the power of his own nobles. Advancing with
a large army, which met with no resistance, he devastated the
country with fire and sword, and during a residence of five weeks
in the town he put the inhabitants to death with a ruthless
ferocity which has perhaps never been surpassed even by Oriental
despots. If those old walls could speak they would have many a
horrible tale to tell. Enough has been preserved in the chronicles
to give us some idea of this awful time. Monks and priests were
subjected to the Tartar punishment called pravezh, which consisted
in tying the victim to a stake, and flogging him daily until a
certain sum of money was paid for his release. The merchants and
officials were tortured with fire, and then thrown from the bridge
with their wives and children into the river. Lest any of them
should escape by swimming, boatfuls of soldiers despatched those
who were not killed by the fall. At the present day there is a
curious bubbling immediately below the bridge, which prevents the
water from freezing in winter, and according to popular belief this
is caused by the spirits of the terrible Tsar's victims. Of those
who were murdered in the villages there is no record, but in the
town alone no less than 60,000 human beings are said to have been
butchered--an awful hecatomb on the altar of national unity and
autocratic power!

This tragic scene, which occurred in 1570, closes the history of
Novgorod as an independent State. Its real independence had long
since ceased to exist, and now the last spark of the old spirit was
extinguished. The Tsars could not suffer even a shadow of
political independence to exist within their dominions.

In the old days, when many Hanseatic merchants annually visited the
city, and when the market-place, the bridge, and the Kremlin were
often the scene of violent political struggles, Novgorod must have
been an interesting place to live in; but now its glory has
departed, and in respect of social resources it is not even a
first-rate provincial town. Kief, Kharkof, and other towns which
are situated at a greater distance from the capital, in districts
fertile enough to induce the nobles to farm their own land, are in
their way little semi-independent centres of civilisation. They
contain a theatre, a library, two or three clubs, and large houses
belonging to rich landed proprietors, who spend the summer on their
estates and come into town for the winter months. These
proprietors, together with the resident officials, form a numerous
society, and during the winter, dinner-parties, balls, and other
social gatherings are by no means infrequent. In Novgorod the
society is much more limited. It does not, like Kief, Kharkof, and
Kazan, possess a university, and it contains no houses belonging to
wealthy nobles. The few proprietors of the province who live on
their estates, and are rich enough to spend part of the year in
town, prefer St. Petersburg for their winter residence. The
society, therefore, is composed exclusively of the officials and of
the officers who happen to be quartered in the town or the
immediate vicinity.

Of all the people whose acquaintance I made at Novgorod, I can
recall only two men who did not occupy some official position,
civil or military. One of these was a retired doctor, who was
attempting to farm on scientific principles, and who, I believe,
soon afterwards gave up the attempt and migrated elsewhere. The
other was a Polish bishop who had been compromised in the
insurrection of 1863, and was condemned to live here under police
supervision. This latter could scarcely be said to belong to the
society of the place; though he sometimes appeared at the
unceremonious weekly receptions given by the Governor, and was
invariably treated by all present with marked respect, he could not
but feel that he was in a false position, and he was rarely or
never seen in other houses.

The official circle of a town like Novgorod is sure to contain a
good many people of average education and agreeable manners, but it
is sure to be neither brilliant nor interesting. Though it is
constantly undergoing a gradual renovation by the received system
of frequently transferring officials from one town to another, it
preserves faithfully, in spite of the new blood which it thus
receives, its essentially languid character. When a new official
arrives he exchanges visits with all the notables, and for a few
days he produces quite a sensation in the little community. If he
appears at social gatherings he is much talked to, and if he does
not appear he is much talked about. His former history is
repeatedly narrated, and his various merits and defects assiduously

If he is married, and has brought his wife with him, the field of
comment and discussion is very much enlarged. The first time that
Madame appears in society she is the "cynosure of neighbouring
eyes." Her features, her complexion, her hair, her dress, and her
jewellery are carefully noted and criticised. Perhaps she has
brought with her, from the capital or from abroad, some dresses of
the newest fashion. As soon as this is discovered she at once
becomes an object of special curiosity to the ladies, and of
envious jealousy to those who regard as a personal grievance the
presence of a toilette finer or more fashionable than their own.
Her demeanour, too, is very carefully observed. If she is friendly
and affable in manner, she is patronised; if she is distant and
reserved, she is condemned as proud and pretentious. In either
case she is pretty sure to form a close intimacy with some one of
the older female residents, and for a few weeks the two ladies are
inseparable, till some incautious word or act disturbs the new-born
friendship, and the devoted friends become bitter enemies.
Voluntarily or involuntarily the husbands get mixed up in the
quarrel. Highly undesirable qualities are discovered in the
characters of all parties concerned, and are made the subject of
unfriendly comment. Then the feud subsides, and some new feud of a
similar kind comes to occupy the public attention. Mrs. A. wonders
how her friends Mr. and Mrs. B. can afford to lose considerable
sums every evening at cards, and suspects that they are getting
into debt or starving themselves and their children; in her humble
opinion they would do well to give fewer supper-parties, and to
refrain from poisoning their guests. The bosom friend to whom this
is related retails it directly or indirectly to Mrs. B., and Mrs.
B. naturally retaliates. Here is a new quarrel, which for some
time affords material for conversation.

When there is no quarrel, there is sure to be a bit of scandal
afloat. Though Russian provincial society is not at all prudish,
and leans rather to the side of extreme leniency, it cannot
entirely overlook les convenances. Madame C. has always a large
number of male admirers, and to this there can be no reasonable
objection so long as her husband does not complain, but she really
parades her preference for Mr. X. at balls and parties a little too
conspicuously. Then there is Madame D., with the big dreamy eyes.
How can she remain in the place after her husband was killed in a
duel by a brother officer? Ostensibly the cause of the quarrel was
a trifling incident at the card-table, but every one knows that in
reality she was the cause of the deadly encounter. And so on, and
so on. In the absence of graver interests society naturally
bestows inordinate attention on the private affairs of its members;
and quarrelling, backbiting, and scandal-mongery help indolent
people to kill the time that hangs heavily on their hands.

Potent as these instruments are, they are not sufficient to kill
all the leisure hours. In the forenoons the gentlemen are occupied
with their official duties, whilst the ladies go out shopping or
pay visits, and devote any time that remains to their household
duties and their children; but the day's work is over about four
o'clock, and the long evening remains to be filled up. The siesta
may dispose of an hour or an hour and a half, but about seven
o'clock some definite occupation has to be found. As it is
impossible to devote the whole evening to discussing the ordinary
news of the day, recourse is almost invariably had to card-playing,
which is indulged in to an extent that we had no conception of in
England until Bridge was imported. Hour after hour the Russians of
both sexes will sit in a hot room, filled with a constantly-renewed
cloud of tobacco-smoke--in the production of which most of the
ladies take part--and silently play "Preference," "Yarolash," or
Bridge. Those who for some reason are obliged to be alone can
amuse themselves with "Patience," in which no partner is required.
In the other games the stakes are commonly very small, but the
sittings are often continued so long that a player may win or lose
two or three pounds sterling. It is no unusual thing for gentlemen
to play for eight or nine hours at a time. At the weekly club
dinners, before coffee had been served, nearly all present used to
rush off impatiently to the card-room, and sit there placidly from
five o'clock in the afternoon till one or two o'clock in the
morning! When I asked my friends why they devoted so much time to
this unprofitable occupation, they always gave me pretty much the
same answer: "What are we to do? We have been reading or writing
official papers all day, and in the evening we like to have a
little relaxation. When we come together we have very little to
talk about, for we have all read the daily papers and nothing more.
The best thing we can do is to sit down at the card-table, where we
can spend our time pleasantly, without the necessity of talking."

In addition to the daily papers, some people read the monthly
periodicals--big, thick volumes, containing several serious
articles on historical and social subjects, sections of one or two
novels, satirical sketches, and a long review of home and foreign
politics on the model of those in the Revue des Deux Mondes.
Several of these periodicals are very ably conducted, and offer to
their readers a large amount of valuable information; but I have
noticed that the leaves of the more serious part often remain
uncut. The translation of a sensation novel by the latest French
or English favourite finds many more readers than an article by an
historian or a political economist. As to books, they seem to be
very little read, for during all the time I lived in Novgorod I
never discovered a bookseller's shop, and when I required books I
had to get them sent from St. Petersburg. The local
administration, it is true, conceived the idea of forming a museum
and circulating library, but in my time the project was never
realised. Of all the magnificent projects that are formed in
Russia, only a very small percentage come into existence, and these
are too often very short-lived. The Russians have learned
theoretically what are the wants of the most advanced civilisation,
and are ever ready to rush into the grand schemes which their
theoretical knowledge suggests; but very few of them really and
permanently feel these wants, and consequently the institutions
artificially formed to satisfy them very soon languish and die. In
the provincial towns the shops for the sale of gastronomic
delicacies spring up and flourish, whilst shops for the sale of
intellectual food are rarely to be met with.

About the beginning of December the ordinary monotony of Novgorod
life is a little relieved by the annual Provincial Assembly, which
sits daily for two or three weeks and discusses the economic wants
of the province.* During this time a good many lauded proprietors,
who habitually live on their estates or in St. Petersburg, collect
in the town, and enliven a little the ordinary society. But as
Christmas approaches the deputies disperse, and again the town
becomes enshrouded in that "eternal stillness" (vetchnaya tishina)
which a native poet has declared to be the essential characteristic
of Russian provincial life.

* Of these Assemblies I shall have more to say when I come to
describe the local self-government.



General Character of Russian Towns--Scarcity of Towns in Russia--
Why the Urban Element in the Population is so Small--History of
Russian Municipal Institutions--Unsuccessful Efforts to Create a
Tiers-etat--Merchants, Burghers, and Artisans--Town Council--A Rich
Merchant--His House--His Love of Ostentation--His Conception of
Aristocracy--Official Decorations--Ignorance and Dishonesty of the
Commercial Classes--Symptoms of Change.

Those who wish to enjoy the illusions produced by scene painting
and stage decorations should never go behind the scenes. In like
manner he who wishes to preserve the delusion that Russian
provincial towns are picturesque should never enter them, but
content himself with viewing them from a distance.

However imposing they may look when seen from the outside, they
will be found on closer inspection, with very few exceptions, to be
little more than villages in disguise. If they have not a
positively rustic, they have at least a suburban, appearance. The
streets are straight and wide, and are either miserably paved or
not paved at all. Trottoirs are not considered indispensable. The
houses are built of wood or brick, generally one-storied, and
separated from each other by spacious yards. Many of them do not
condescend to turn their facades to the street. The general
impression produced is that the majority of the burghers have come
from the country, and have brought their country-houses with them.
There are few or no shops with merchandise tastefully arranged in
the window to tempt the passer-by. If you wish to make purchases
you must go to the Gostinny Dvor,* or Bazaar, which consists of
long, symmetrical rows of low-roofed, dimly-lighted stores, with a
colonnade in front. This is the place where merchants most do
congregate, but it presents nothing of that bustle and activity
which we are accustomed to associate with commercial life. The
shopkeepers stand at their doors or loiter about in the immediate
vicinity waiting for customers. From the scarcity of these latter
I should say that when sales are effected the profits must be

* These words mean literally the Guests' Court or Yard. The
Ghosti--a word which is etymologically the same as our "host" and
"guest"--were originally the merchants who traded with other towns
or other countries.

In the other parts of the town the air of solitude and languor is
still more conspicuous. In the great square, or by the side of the
promenade--if the town is fortunate enough to have one--cows or
horses may be seen grazing tranquilly, without being at all
conscious of the incongruity of their position. And, indeed, it
would be strange if they had any such consciousness, for it does
not exist in the minds either of the police or of the inhabitants.
At night the streets may be lighted merely with a few oil-lamps,
which do little more than render the darkness visible, so that
cautious citizens returning home late often provide themselves with
lanterns. As late as the sixties the learned historian, Pogodin,
then a town-councillor of Moscow, opposed the lighting of the city
with gas on the ground that those who chose to go out at night
should carry their lamps with them. The objection was overruled,
and Moscow is now fairly well lit, but the provincial towns are
still far from being on the same level. Some retain their old
primitive arrangements, while others enjoy the luxury of electric

The scarcity of large towns in Russia is not less remarkable than
their rustic appearance. According to the last census (1897) the
number of towns, officially so-called, is 1,321, but about three-
fifths of them have under 5,000 inhabitants; only 104 have over
25,000, and only 19 over 100,000. These figures indicate plainly
that the urban element of the population is relatively small, and
it is declared by the official statisticians to be only 14 per
cent., as against 72 per cent. in Great Britain, but it is now
increasing rapidly. When the first edition of this work was
published, in 1877, European Russia in the narrower sense of the
term--excluding Finland, the Baltic Provinces, Lithuania, Poland,
and the Caucasus--had only 11 towns with a population of over
50,000, and now there are 34; that is to say, the number of such
towns has more than trebled. In the other portions of the country
a similar increase has taken place. The towns which have become
important industrial and commercial centres have naturally grown
most rapidly. For example, in a period of twelve years (1885-97)
the populations of Lodz, of Ekaterinoslaf, of Baku, of Yaroslavl,
and of Libau, have more than doubled. In the five largest towns of
the Empire--St. Petersburg, Moscow, Warsaw, Odessa and Lodz--the
aggregate population rose during the same twelve years from
2,423,000 to 3,590,000, or nearly 50 per cent. In ten other towns,
with populations varying from 50,000 to 282,000, the aggregate rose
from 780,000 to 1,382,000, or about 77 per cent.

That Russia should have taken so long to assimilate herself in this
respect to Western Europe is to be explained by the geographical
and political conditions. Her population was not hemmed in by
natural or artificial frontiers strong enough to restrain their
expansive tendencies. To the north, the east, and the southeast
there was a boundless expanse of fertile, uncultivated land,
offering a tempting field for emigration; and the peasantry have
ever shown themselves ready to take advantage of their
opportunities. Instead of improving their primitive system of
agriculture, which requires an enormous area and rapidly exhausts
the soil, they have always found it easier and more profitable to
emigrate and take possession of the virgin land beyond. Thus the
territory--sometimes with the aid of, and sometimes in spite of,
the Government--has constantly expanded, and has already reached
the Polar Ocean, the Pacific, and the northern offshoots of the
Himalayas. The little district around the sources of the Dnieper
has grown into a mighty empire, comprising one-seventh of the land
surface of the globe. Prolific as the Russian race is, its power
of reproduction could not keep pace with its territorial expansion,
and consequently the country is still very thinly peopled.
According to the latest census (1897) in the whole empire there are
under 130 millions of inhabitants, and the average density of
population is only about fifteen to the English square mile. Even
the most densely populated provinces, including Moscow with its
988,610 inhabitants, cannot show more than 189 to the English
square mile, whereas England has about 400. A people that has such
an abundance of land, and can support itself by agriculture, is not
naturally disposed to devote itself to industry, or to congregate
in large cities.

For many generations there were other powerful influences working
in the same direction. Of these the most important was serfage,
which was not abolished till 1861. That institution, and the
administrative system of which it formed an essential part, tended
to prevent the growth of the towns by hemming the natural movements
of the population. Peasants, for example, who learned trades, and
who ought to have drifted naturally into the burgher class, were
mostly retained by the master on his estate, where artisans of all
sorts were daily wanted, and the few who were sent to seek work in
the towns were not allowed to settle there permanently.

Thus the insignificance of the Russian towns is to be attributed
mainly to two causes. The abundance of land tended to prevent the
development of industry, and the little industry which did exist
was prevented by serfage from collecting in the towns. But this
explanation is evidently incomplete. The same causes existed
during the Middle Ages in Central Europe, and yet, in spite of
them, flourishing cities grew up and played an important part in
the social and political history of Germany. In these cities
collected traders and artisans, forming a distinct social class,
distinguished from the nobles on the one hand, and the surrounding
peasantry on the other, by peculiar occupations, peculiar aims,
peculiar intellectual physiognomy, and peculiar moral conceptions.
Why did these important towns and this burgher class not likewise
come into existence in Russia, in spite of the two preventive
causes above mentioned?

To discuss this question fully it would be necessary to enter into
certain debated points of mediaeval history. All I can do here is
to indicate what seems to me the true explanation.

In Central Europe, all through the Middle Ages, a perpetual
struggle went on between the various political factors of which
society was composed, and the important towns were in a certain
sense the products of this struggle. They were preserved and
fostered by the mutual rivalry of the Sovereign, the Feudal
Nobility, and the Church; and those who desired to live by trade or
industry settled in them in order to enjoy the protection and
immunities which they afforded. In Russia there was never any
political struggle of this kind. As soon as the Grand Princes of
Moscow, in the sixteenth century, threw off the yoke of the
Tartars, and made themselves Tsars of all Russia, their power was
irresistible and uncontested. Complete masters of the situation,
they organised the country as they thought fit. At first their
policy was favourable to the development of the towns. Perceiving
that the mercantile and industrial classes might be made a rich
source of revenue, they separated them from the peasantry, gave
them the exclusive right of trading, prevented the other classes
from competing with them, and freed them from the authority of the
landed proprietors. Had they carried out this policy in a
cautious, rational way, they might have created a rich burgher
class; but they acted with true Oriental short-sightedness, and
defeated their own purpose by imposing inordinately heavy taxes,
and treating the urban population as their serfs. The richer
merchants were forced to serve as custom-house officers--often at a
great distance from their domiciles*--and artisans were yearly
summoned to Moscow to do work for the Tsars without remuneration.

* Merchants from Yaroslavl, for instance, were sent to Astrakhan to
collect the custom-dues.

Besides this, the system of taxation was radically defective, and
the members of the local administration, who received no pay and
were practically free from control, were merciless in their
exactions. In a word, the Tsars used their power so stupidly and
so recklessly that the industrial and trading population, instead
of fleeing to the towns to secure protection, fled from them to
escape oppression. At length this emigration from the towns
assumed such dimensions that it was found necessary to prevent it
by administrative and legislative measures; and the urban
population was legally fixed in the towns as the rural population
was fixed to the soil. Those who fled were brought back as
runaways, and those who attempted flight a second time were ordered
to be flogged and transported to Siberia.*

* See the "Ulozhenie" (i.e. the laws of Alexis, father of Peter the
Great), chap. xix. 13.

With the eighteenth century began a new era in the history of the
towns and of the urban population. Peter the Great observed,
during his travels in Western Europe, that national wealth and
prosperity reposed chiefly on the enterprising, educated middle
classes, and he attributed the poverty of his own country to the
absence of this burgher element. Might not such a class be created
in Russia? Peter unhesitatingly assumed that it might, and set
himself at once to create it in a simple, straightforward way.
Foreign artisans were imported into his dominions and foreign
merchants were invited to trade with his subjects; young Russians
were sent abroad to learn the useful arts; efforts were made to
disseminate practical knowledge by the translation of foreign books
and the foundation of schools; all kinds of trade were encouraged,
and various industrial enterprises were organised. At the same
time the administration of the towns was thoroughly reorganised
after the model of the ancient free-towns of Germany. In place of
the old organisation, which was a slightly modified form of the
rural Commune, they received German municipal institutions, with
burgomasters, town councils, courts of justice, guilds for the
merchants, trade corporations (tsekhi) for the artisans, and an
endless list of instructions regarding the development of trade and
industry, the building of hospitals, sanitary precautions, the
founding of schools, the dispensation of justice, the organisation
of the police, and similar matters.

Catherine II. followed in the same track. If she did less for
trade and industry, she did more in the way of legislating and
writing grandiloquent manifestoes. In the course of her historical
studies she had learned, as she proclaims in one of her
manifestoes, that "from remotest antiquity we everywhere find the
memory of town-builders elevated to the same level as the memory of
legislators, and we see that heroes, famous for their victories,
hoped by town-building to give immortality to their names." As the
securing of immortality for her own name was her chief aim in life,
she acted in accordance with historical precedent, and created 216
towns in the short space of twenty-three years. This seems a great
work, but it did not satisfy her ambition. She was not only a
student of history, but was at the same time a warm admirer of the
fashionable political philosophy of her time. That philosophy paid
much attention to the tiers-etat, which was then acquiring in
France great political importance, and Catherine thought that as
she had created a Noblesse on the French model, she might also
create a bourgeoisie. For this purpose she modified the municipal
organisation created by her great predecessor, and granted to all
the towns an Imperial Charter. This charter remained without
essential modification until the publication of the new
Municipality Law in 1870.

The efforts of the Government to create a rich, intelligent tiers-
etat were not attended with much success. Their influence was
always more apparent in official documents than in real life. The
great mass of the population remained serfs, fixed to the soil,
whilst the nobles--that is to say, all who possessed a little
education--were required for the military and civil services.
Those who were sent abroad to learn the useful arts learned little,
and made little use of the knowledge which they acquired. On their
return to their native country they very soon fell victims to the
soporific influence of the surrounding social atmosphere. The
"town-building" had as little practical result. It was an easy
matter to create any number of towns in the official sense of the
term. To transform a village into a town, it was necessary merely
to prepare an izba, or log-house, for the district court, another
for the police-office, a third for the prison, and so on. On an
appointed day the Governor of the province arrived in the village,
collected the officials appointed to serve in the newly-constructed
or newly-arranged log-houses, ordered a simple religious ceremony
to be performed by the priest, caused a formal act to be drawn up,
and then declared the town to be "opened." All this required very
little creative effort; to create a spirit of commercial and
industrial enterprise among the population was a more difficult
matter and could not be effected by Imperial ukaz.

To animate the newly-imported municipal institutions, which had no
root in the traditions and habits of the people, was a task of
equal difficulty. In the West these institutions had been slowly
devised in the course of centuries to meet real, keenly-felt,
practical wants. In Russia they were adopted for the purpose of
creating those wants which were not yet felt. Let the reader
imagine our Board of Trade supplying the masters of fishing-smacks
with accurate charts, learned treatises on navigation, and detailed
instructions for the proper ventilation of ships' cabins, and he
will have some idea of the effect which Peter's legislation had
upon the towns. The office-bearers, elected against their will,
were hopelessly bewildered by the complicated procedure, and were
incapable of understanding the numerous ukazes which prescribed to
them their multifarious duties and threatened the most merciless
punishments for sins of omission and commission. Soon, however, it
was discovered that the threats were not nearly so dreadful as they
seemed; and accordingly those municipal authorities who were to
protect and enlighten the burghers, "forgot the fear of God and the
Tsar," and extorted so unblushingly that it was found necessary to
place them under the control of Government officials.

The chief practical result of the efforts made by Peter and
Catherine to create a bourgeoisie was that the inhabitants of the
towns were more systematically arranged in categories for the
purpose of taxation, and that the taxes were increased. All those
parts of the new administration which had no direct relation to the
fiscal interests of the Government had very little vitality in
them. The whole system had been arbitrarily imposed on the people,
and had as motive only the Imperial will. Had that motive power
been withdrawn and the burghers left to regulate their own
municipal affairs, the system would immediately have collapsed.
Rathhaus, burgomasters, guilds, aldermen, and all the other
lifeless shadows which had been called into existence by Imperial
ukaz would instantly have vanished into space. In this fact we
have one of the characteristic traits of Russian historical
development compared with that of Western Europe. In the West
monarchy had to struggle with municipal institutions to prevent
them from becoming too powerful; in Russia, it had to struggle with
them to prevent them from committing suicide or dying of inanition.

According to Catherine's legislation, which remained in force until
1870, and still exists in some of its main features, the towns were
divided into three categories: (1) Government towns (gubernskiye
goroda)--that is to say, the chief towns of provinces, or
governments (gubernii)--in which are concentrated the various
organs of provincial administration; (2) district towns (uyezdniye
goroda), in which resides the administration of the districts
(uyezdi) into which the provinces are divided; and (3)
supernumerary towns (zashtatniye goroda), which have no particular
significance in the territorial administration.

In all these the municipal organisation is the same. Leaving out
of consideration those persons who happen to reside in the towns,
but in reality belong to the Noblesse, the clergy, or the lower
ranks of officials, we may say that the town population is composed
of three groups: the merchants (kuptsi), the burghers in the
narrower sense of the term (meshtchanye), and the artisans
(tsekhoviye). These categories are not hereditary castes, like the
nobles, the clergy, and the peasantry. A noble may become a
merchant, or a man may be one year a burgher, the next year an
artisan, and the third year a merchant, if he changes his
occupation and pays the necessary dues. But the categories form,
for the time being, distinct corporations, each possessing a
peculiar organisation and peculiar privileges and obligations.

Of these three groups the first in the scale of dignity is that of
the merchants. It is chiefly recruited from the burghers and the
peasantry. Any one who wishes to engage in commerce inscribes
himself in one of the three guilds, according to the amount of his
capital and the nature of the operations in which he wishes to
embark, and as soon as he has paid the required dues he becomes
officially a merchant. As soon as he ceases to pay these dues he
ceases to be a merchant in the legal sense of the term, and returns
to the class to which he formerly belonged. There are some
families whose members have belonged to the merchant class for
several generations, and the law speaks about a certain "velvet-
book" (barkhatnaya kniga) in which their names should be inscribed,
but in reality they do not form a distinct category, and they
descend at once from their privileged position as soon as they
cease to pay the annual guild dues.

The artisans form the connecting link between the town population
and the peasantry, for peasants often enrol themselves in the

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