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Russia by Donald Mackenzie Wallace

Part 9 out of 15

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says, "Christos voskres!" ("Christ hath risen!"); and the other
replies, "Vo istine voskres!" ("In truth he hath risen!"). They
then kiss each other three times on the right and left cheek
alternately. The custom is more or less observed in all classes of
society, and the Emperor himself conforms to it.

This reminds me of an anecdote which is related of the Emperor
Nicholas I., tending to show that he was not so devoid of kindly
human feelings as his imperial and imperious exterior suggested.
On coming out of his cabinet one Easter morning he addressed to the
soldier who was mounting guard at the door the ordinary words of
salutation, "Christ hath risen!" and received instead of the
ordinary reply, a flat contradiction--"Not at all, your Imperial
Majesty!" Astounded by such an unexpected answer--for no one
ventured to dissent from Nicholas even in the most guarded and
respectful terms--he instantly demanded an explanation. The
soldier, trembling at his own audacity, explained that he was a
Jew, and could not conscientiously admit the fact of the
Resurrection. This boldness for conscience' sake so pleased the
Tsar that he gave the man a handsome Easter present.

A quarter of a century after the Easter Eve above mentioned--or, to
be quite accurate, on the 26th of May, 1896--I again find myself in
the Kremlin on the occasion of a great religious ceremony--a
ceremony which shows that "the White-stone City" on the Moskva is
still in some respects the capital of Holy Russia. This time my
post of observation is inside the cathedral, which is artistically
draped with purple hangings and crowded with the most distinguished
personages of the Empire, all arrayed in gorgeous apparel--Grand
Dukes and Grand Duchesses, Imperial Highnesses and High
Excellencies, Metropolitans and Archbishops, Senators and
Councillors of State, Generals and Court dignitaries. In the
centre of the building, on a high, richly decorated platform, sits
the Emperor with his Imperial Consort, and his mother, the widowed
Consort of Alexander III. Though Nicholas II. has not the colossal
stature which has distinguished so many of the Romanofs, he is well
built, holds himself erect, and shows a quiet dignity in his
movements; while his face, which resembles that of his cousin, the
Prince of Wales, wears a kindly, sympathetic expression. The
Empress looks even more than usually beautiful, in a low dress cut
in the ancient fashion, her thick brown hair, dressed most simply
without jewellery or other ornaments, falling in two long ringlets
over her white shoulders. For the moment, her attire is much
simpler than that of the Empress Dowager, who wears a diamond crown
and a great mantle of gold brocade, lined and edged with ermine,
the long train displaying in bright-coloured embroidery the
heraldic double-headed eagle of the Imperial arms.

Each of these august personages sits on a throne of curious
workmanship, consecrated by ancient historic associations. That of
the Emperor, the gift of the Shah of Persia to Ivan the Terrible,
and commonly called the Throne of Tsar Michael, the founder of the
Romanof dynasty, is covered with gold plaques, and studded with
hundreds of big, roughly cut precious stones, mostly rubies,
emeralds, and turquoises. Of still older date is the throne of the
young Empress, for it was given by Pope Paul II. to Tsar Ivan III.,
grandfather of the Terrible, on the occasion of his marriage with a
niece of the last Byzantine Emperor. More recent but not less
curious is that of the Empress Dowager. It is the throne of Tsar
Alexis, the father of Peter the Great, covered with countless and
priceless diamonds, rubies, and pearls, and surmounted by an
Imperial eagle of solid gold, together with golden statuettes of
St. Peter and St. Nicholas, the miracle-worker. Over each throne
is a canopy of purple velvet fringed with gold, out of which rise
stately plumes representing the national colours.

Their Majesties have come hither, in accordance with time-honoured
custom, to be crowned in this old Cathedral of the Assumption, the
central point of the Kremlin, within a stone-throw of the Cathedral
of the Archangel Michael, in which lie the remains of the old Grand
Dukes and Tsars of Muscovy. Already the Emperor has read aloud, in
a clear, unfaltering voice, from a richly bound parchment folio,
held by the Metropolitan of St. Petersburg, the Orthodox creed; and
his Eminence, after invoking on his Majesty the blessing of the
Holy Spirit, has performed the mystic rite of placing his hands in
the form of a cross on the Imperial forehead. Thus all is ready
for the most important part of the solemn ceremony. Standing
erect, the Emperor doffs his small diadem and puts on with his own
hands the great diamond crown, offered respectfully by the
Metropolitan; then he reseats himself on his throne, holding in his
right hand the Sceptre and in his left the Orb of Dominion. After
sitting thus in state for a few minutes, he stands up and proceeds
to crown his august spouse, kneeling before him. First he touches
her forehead with his own crown, and then he places on her head a
smaller one, which is immediately attached to her hair by four
ladies-in-waiting, dressed in the old Muscovite Court-costume. At
the same time her Majesty is invested with a mantle of heavy gold
brocade, similar to those of the Emperor and Empress Dowager, lined
and bordered with ermine.

Thus crowned and robed their Majesties sit in state, while a proto-
deacon reads, in a loud stentorian voice, the long list of sonorous
hereditary titles belonging of right to the Imperator and Autocrat
of all the Russias, and the choir chants a prayer invoking long
life and happiness--"Many years! Many years! Many years!"--on the
high and mighty possessor of the titles aforesaid. And now begins
the Mass, celebrated with a pomp and magnificence that can be
witnessed only once or twice in a generation. Sixty gorgeously
robed ecclesiastical dignitaries of the highest orders fulfil their
various functions with due solemnity and unction; but the
magnificence of the vestments and the pomp of the ceremonial are
soon forgotten in the exquisite solemnising music, as the deep
double-bass tones of the adult singers in the background--carefully
selected for the occasion in all parts of the Empire--peal forth as
from a great organ, and blend marvellously with the clear, soft,
gentle notes of the red-robed chorister boys in front of the
Iconostase. Listening with intense emotion, I involuntarily recall
to mind Fra Angelico's pictures of angelic choirs, and cannot help
thinking that the pious old Florentine, whose soul was attuned to
all that was sacred and beautiful, must have heard in imagination
such music as this. So strong is the impression that the
subsequent details of the long ceremony, including the anointing
with the holy chrism, fail to engrave themselves on my memory. One
incident, however, remains; and if it had happened in an earlier
and more superstitious age it would doubtless have been chronicled
as an omen full of significance. As the Emperor is on the point of
descending from the dais, duly crowned and anointed, a staggering
ray of sunshine steals through one of the narrow upper windows and,
traversing the dimly lit edifice, falls full on the Imperial crown,
lighting up for a moment the great mass of diamonds with a
hundredfold brilliance.

In a detailed account of the Coronation which I wrote on leaving
the Kremlin, I find the following: "The magnificent ceremony is at
an end, and now Nicholas II. is the crowned Emperor and anointed
Autocrat of all the Russias. May the cares of Empire rest lightly
on him! That must be the earnest prayer of every loyal subject and
every sincere well-wisher, for of all living mortals he is perhaps
the one who has been entrusted by Providence with the greatest
power and the greatest responsibilities." In writing those words I
did not foresee how heavy his responsibilities would one day weigh
upon him, when his Empire would be sorely tried, by foreign war and
internal discontent.

One more of these old Moscow reminiscences, and I have done. A day
or two after the Coronation I saw the Khodinskoye Polye, a great
plain in the outskirts of Moscow, strewn with hundreds of corpses!
During the previous night enormous crowds from the city and the
surrounding districts had collected here in order to receive at
sunrise, by the Tsar's command, a little memento of the coronation
ceremony, in the form of a packet containing a metal cup and a few
eatables; and as day dawned, in their anxiety to get near the row
of booths from which the distribution was to be made, about two
thousand had been crushed to death. It was a sight more horrible
than a battlefield, because among the dead were a large proportion
of women and children, terribly mutilated in the struggle.
Altogether, "a sight to shudder at, not to see!"

To return to the remark of my friend in the Kremlin on Easter Eve,
the Russians in general, and the Muscovites in particular, as the
quintessence of all that is Russian, are certainly a religious
people, but their piety sometimes finds modes of expression which
rather shock the Protestant mind. As an instance of these, I may
mention the domiciliary visits of the Iberian Madonna. This
celebrated Icon, for reasons which I have never heard
satisfactorily explained, is held in peculiar veneration by the
Muscovites, and occupies in popular estimation a position analogous
to the tutelary deities of ancient pagan cities. Thus when
Napoleon was about to enter the city in 1812, the populace
clamorously called upon the Metropolitan to take the Madonna, and
lead them out armed with hatchets against the hosts of the infidel;
and when the Tsar visits Moscow he generally drives straight from
the railway-station to the little chapel where the Icon resides--
near one of the entrances to the Kremlin--and there offers up a
short prayer. Every Orthodox Russian, as he passes this chapel,
uncovers and crosses himself, and whenever a religious service is
performed in it there is always a considerable group of
worshippers. Some of the richer inhabitants, however, are not
content with thus performing their devotions in public before the
Icon. They like to have it from time to time in their houses, and
the ecclesiastical authorities think fit to humour this strange
fancy. Accordingly every morning the Iberian Madonna may be seen
driving about the city from one house to another in a carriage and
four! The carriage may be at once recognised, not from any
peculiarity in its structure, for it is an ordinary close carriage
such as may be obtained at livery stables, but by the fact that the
coachman sits bare-headed, and all the people in the street uncover
and cross themselves as it passes. Arrived at the house to which
it has been invited, the Icon is carried through all the rooms, and
in the principal apartment a short religious service is performed
before it. As it is being brought in or taken away, female
servants may sometimes be seen to kneel on the floor so that it may
be carried over them. During its absence from its chapel it is
replaced by a copy not easily distinguishable from the original,
and thus the devotions of the faithful and the flow of pecuniary
contributions do not suffer interruption. These contributions,
together with the sums paid for the domiciliary visits, amount to a
considerable yearly sum, and go--if I am rightly informed--to swell
the revenues of the Metropolitan.

A single drive or stroll through Moscow will suffice to convince
the traveller, even if he knows nothing of Russian history, that
the city is not, like its modern rival on the Neva, the artificial
creation of a far-seeing, self-willed autocrat, but rather a
natural product which has grown up slowly and been modified
according to the constantly changing wants of the population. A
few of the streets have been Europeanised--in all except the
paving, which is everywhere execrably Asiatic--to suit the tastes
of those who have adopted European culture, but the great majority
of them still retain much of their ancient character and primitive
irregularity. As soon as we diverge from the principal
thoroughfares, we find one-storied houses--some of them still of
wood--which appear to have been transported bodily from the
country, with courtyard, garden, stables, and other appurtenances.
The whole is no doubt a little compressed, for land has here a
certain value, but the character is in no way changed, and we have
some difficulty in believing that we are not in the suburbs but
near the centre of a great town. There is nothing that can by any
possibility be called street architecture. Though there is
unmistakable evidence of the streets having been laid out according
to a preconceived plan, many of them show clearly that in their
infancy they had a wayward will of their own, and bent to the right
or left without any topographical justification. The houses, too,
display considerable individuality of character, having evidently
during the course of their construction paid no attention to their
neighbours. Hence we find no regularly built terraces, crescents,
or squares. There is, it is true, a double circle of boulevards,
but the houses which flank them have none of that regularity which
we commonly associate with the term. Dilapidated buildings which
in West-European cities would hide themselves in some narrow lane
or back slum here stand composedly in the face of day by the side
of a palatial residence, without having the least consciousness of
the incongruity of their position, just as the unsophisticated
muzhik, in his unsavoury sheepskin, can stand in the midst of a
crowd of well-dressed people without feeling at all awkward or

All this incongruity, however, is speedily disappearing. Moscow
has become the centre of a great network of railways, and the
commercial and industrial capital of the Empire. Already her
rapidly increasing population has nearly reached a million.* The
value of land and property is being doubled and trebled, and
building speculations, with the aid of credit institutions of
various kinds, are being carried on with feverish rapidity. Well
may the men of the old school complain that the world is turned
upside down, and regret the old times of traditional somnolence and
comfortable routine! Those good old times are gone now, never to
return. The ancient capital, which long gloried in its past
historical associations, now glories in its present commercial
prosperity, and looks forward with confidence to the future. Even
the Slavophils, the obstinate champions of the ultra-Muscovite
spirit, have changed with the times, and descended to the level of
ordinary prosaic life. These men, who formerly spent years in
seeking to determine the place of Moscow in the past and future
history of humanity, have--to their honour be it said--become in
these latter days town-counsellors, and have devoted much of their
time to devising ways and means of improving the drainage and the
street-paving! But I am anticipating in a most unjustifiable way.
I ought first to tell the reader who these Slavophils were, and why
they sought to correct the commonly received conceptions of
universal history.

* According to the census of 1897 it was 988,610.

The reader may have heard of the Slavophils as a set of fanatics
who, about half a century ago, were wont to go about in what they
considered the ancient Russian costume, who wore beards in defiance
of Peter the Great's celebrated ukaz and Nicholas's clearly-
expressed wish anent shaving, who gloried in Muscovite barbarism,
and had solemnly "sworn a feud" against European civilisation and
enlightenment. By the tourists of the time who visited Moscow they
were regarded as among the most noteworthy lions of the place, and
were commonly depicted in not very flattering colours. At the
beginning of the Crimean War they were among the extreme
Chauvinists who urged the necessity of planting the Greek cross on
the desecrated dome of St. Sophia in Constantinople, and hoped to
see the Emperor proclaimed "Panslavonic Tsar"; and after the
termination of the war they were frequently accused of inventing
Turkish atrocities, stirring up discontent among the Slavonic
subjects of the Sultan, and secretly plotting for the overthrow of
the Ottoman Empire. All this was known to me before I went to
Russia, and I had consequently invested the Slavophils with a halo
of romance. Shortly after my arrival in St. Petersburg I heard
something more which tended to increase my interest in them--they
had caused, I was told, great trepidation among the highest
official circles by petitioning the Emperor to resuscitate a
certain ancient institution, called Zemskiye Sobory, which might be
made to serve the purposes of a parliament! This threw a new light
upon them--under the disguise of archaeological conservatives they
were evidently aiming at important liberal reforms.

As a foreigner and a heretic, I expected a very cold and distant
reception from these uncompromising champions of Russian
nationality and the Orthodox faith; but in this I was agreeably
disappointed. By all of them I was received in the most amiable
and friendly way, and I soon discovered that my preconceived ideas
of them were very far from the truth. Instead of wild fanatics I
found quiet, extremely intelligent, highly educated gentlemen,
speaking foreign languages with ease and elegance, and deeply
imbued with that Western culture which they were commonly supposed
to despise. And this first impression was amply confirmed by
subsequent experience during several years of friendly intercourse.
They always showed themselves men of earnest character and strong
convictions, but they never said or did anything that could justify
the appellation of fanatics. Like all philosophical theorists,
they often allowed their logic to blind them to facts, but their
reasonings were very plausible--so plausible, indeed, that, had I
been a Russian they would have almost persuaded me to be a
Slavophil, at least during the time they were talking to me.

To understand their doctrine we must know something of its origin
and development.

The origin of the Slavophil sentiment, which must not be confounded
with the Slavophil doctrine, is to be sought in the latter half of
the seventeenth century, when the Tsars of Muscovy were introducing
innovations in Church and State. These innovations were profoundly
displeasing to the people. A large portion of the lower classes,
as I have related in a previous chapter, sought refuge in Old
Ritualism or sectarianism, and imagined that Tsar Peter, who called
himself by the heretical title of "Imperator," was an emanation of
the Evil Principle. The nobles did not go quite so far. They
remained members of the official Church, and restricted themselves
to hinting that Peter was the son, not of Satan, but of a German
surgeon--a lineage which, according to the conceptions of the time,
was a little less objectionable; but most of them were very hostile
to the changes, and complained bitterly of the new burdens which
these changes entailed. Under Peter's immediate successors, when
not only the principles of administration but also many of the
administrators were German, this hostility greatly increased.

So long as the innovations appeared only in the official activity
of the Government, the patriotic, conservative spirit was obliged
to keep silence; but when the foreign influence spread to the
social life of the Court aristocracy, the opposition began to find
a literary expression. In the time of Catherine II., when
Gallomania was at its height in Court circles, comedies and
satirical journals ridiculed those who, "blinded by some externally
brilliant gifts of foreigners, not only prefer foreign countries to
their native land, but even despise their fellow-countrymen, and
think that a Russian ought to borrow all--even personal character.
As if nature arranging all things with such wisdom, and bestowing
on all regions the gifts and customs which are appropriate to the
climate, had been so unjust as to refuse to the Russians a
character of their own! As if she condemned them to wander over
all regions, and to adopt by bits the various customs of various
nations, in order to compose out of the mixture a new character
appropriate to no nation whatever!" Numerous passages of this kind
might be quoted, attacking the "monkeyism" and "parrotism" of those
who indiscriminately adopted foreign manners and customs--those who

"Sauntered Europe round,
And gathered ev'ry vice in ev'ry ground."

Sometimes the terms and metaphors employed were more forcible than
refined. One satirical journal, for instance, relates an amusing
story about certain little Russian pigs that went to foreign lands
to enlighten their understanding, and came back to their country
full-grown swine. The national pride was wounded by the thought
that Russians could be called "clever apes who feed on foreign
intelligence," and many writers, stung by such reproaches, fell
into the opposite extreme, discovering unheard-of excellences in
the Russian mind and character, and vociferously decrying
everything foreign in order to place these imagined excellences in
a stronger light by contrast. Even when they recognised that their
country was not quite so advanced in civilisation as certain other
nations, they congratulated themselves on the fact, and invented by
way of justification an ingenious theory, which was afterwards
developed by the Slavophils. "The nations of the West," they said,
"began to live before us, and are consequently more advanced than
we are; but we have on that account no reason to envy them, for we
can profit by their errors, and avoid those deep-rooted evils from
which they are suffering. He who has just been born is happier
than he who is dying."

Thus, we see, a patriotic reaction against the introduction of
foreign institutions and the inordinate admiration of foreign
culture already existed in Russia more than a century ago. It did
not, however, take the form of a philosophical theory till a much
later period, when a similar movement was going on in various
countries of Western Europe.

After the overthrow of the great Napoleonic Empire a reaction
against cosmopolitanism took place and a romantic enthusiasm for
nationality spread over Europe like an epidemic. Blind,
enthusiastic patriotism became the fashionable sentiment of the
time. Each nation took to admiring itself complacently, to
praising its own character and achievements, and to idealising its
historical and mythical past. National peculiarities, "local
colour," ancient customs, traditional superstitions--in short,
everything that a nation believed to be specially and exclusively
its own, now raised an enthusiasm similar to that which had been
formerly excited by cosmopolitan conceptions founded on the law of
nature. The movement produced good and evil results. In serious
minds it led to a deep and conscientious study of history, national
literature, popular mythology, and the like; whilst in frivolous,
inflammable spirits it gave birth merely to a torrent of patriotic
fervour and rhetorical exaggeration. The Slavophils were the
Russian representatives of this nationalistic reaction, and
displayed both its serious and its frivolous elements.

Among the most important products of this movement in Germany was
the Hegelian theory of universal history. According to Hegel's
views, which were generally accepted by those who occupied
themselves with philosophical questions, universal history was
described as "Progress in the consciousness of freedom"
(Fortschritt im Bewusstsein der Freiheit). In each period of the
world's history, it was explained, some one nation or race had been
intrusted with the high mission of enabling the Absolute Reason, or
Weltgeist, to express itself in objective existence, while the
other nations and races had for the time no metaphysical
justification for their existence, and no higher duty than to
imitate slavishly the favoured rival in which the Weltgeist had for
the moment chosen to incorporate itself. The incarnation had taken
place first in the Eastern Monarchies, then in Greece, next in
Rome, and lastly in the Germanic race; and it was generally
assumed, if not openly asserted, that this mystical Metempsychosis
of the Absolute was now at an end. The cycle of existence was
complete. In the Germanic peoples the Weltgeist had found its
highest and final expression.

Russians in general knew nothing about German philosophy, and were
consequently not in any way affected by these ideas, but there was
in Moscow a small group of young men who ardently studied German
literature and metaphysics, and they were much shocked by Hegel's
views. Ever since the brilliant reign of Catherine II., who had
defeated the Turks and had dreamed of resuscitating the Byzantine
Empire, and especially since the memorable events of 1812-15, when
Alexander I. appeared as the liberator of enthralled Europe and the
arbiter of her destinies, Russians were firmly convinced that their
country was destined to play a most important part in human
history. Already the great Russian historian Karamzin had declared
that henceforth Clio must be silent or accord to Russia a prominent
place in the history of the nations. Now, by the Hegelian theory,
the whole of the Slav race was left out in the cold, with no high
mission, with no new truths to divulge, with nothing better to do,
in fact, than to imitate the Germans.

The patriotic philosophers of Moscow could not, of course, adopt
this view. Whilst accepting the fundamental principles, they
declared the theory to be incomplete. The incompleteness lay in
the assumption that humanity had already entered on the final
stages of its development. The Teutonic nations were perhaps for
the moment the leaders in the march of civilisation, but there was
no reason to suppose that they would always retain that privileged
position. On the contrary, there were already symptoms that their
ascendency was drawing to a close. "Western Europe," it was said,
"presents a strange, saddening spectacle. Opinion struggles
against opinion, power against power, throne against throne.
Science, Art, and Religion, the three chief motors of social life,
have lost their force. We venture to make an assertion which to
many at present may seem strange, but which will be in a few years
only too evident: Western Europe is on the highroad to ruin! We
Russians, on the contrary, are young and fresh, and have taken no
part in the crimes of Europe. We have a great mission to fulfil.
Our name is already inscribed on the tablets of victory, and now we
have to inscribe our spirit in the history of the human mind. A
higher kind of victory--the victory of Science, Art and Faith--
awaits us on the ruins of tottering Europe!"*

* These words were written by Prince Odoefski.

This conclusion was supported by arguments drawn from history--or,
at least, what was believed to be history. The European world was
represented as being composed of two hemispheres--the Eastern or
Graeco-Slavonic on the one hand, and the Western, or Roman Catholic
and Protestant, on the other. These two hemispheres, it was said,
are distinguished from each other by many fundamental
characteristics. In both of them Christianity formed originally
the basis of civilisation, but in the West it became distorted and
gave a false direction to the intellectual development. By placing
the logical reason of the learned above the conscience of the whole
Church, Roman Catholicism produced Protestantism, which proclaimed
the right of private judgment and consequently became split up into
innumerable sects. The dry, logical spirit which was thus fostered
created a purely intellectual, one-sided philosophy, which must end
in pure scepticism, by blinding men to those great truths which lie
above the sphere of reasoning and logic. The Graeco-Slavonic
world, on the contrary, having accepted Christianity not from Rome,
but from Byzantium, received pure orthodoxy and true enlightenment,
and was thus saved alike from Papal tyranny and from Protestant
free-thinking. Hence the Eastern Christians have preserved
faithfully not only the ancient dogmas, but also the ancient spirit
of Christianity--that spirit of pious humility, resignation, and
brotherly love which Christ taught by precept and example. If they
have not yet a philosophy, they will create one, and it will far
surpass all previous systems; for in the writings of the Greek
Fathers are to be found the germs of a broader, a deeper, and a
truer philosophy than the dry, meagre rationalism of the West--a
philosophy founded not on the logical faculty alone, but on the
broader basis of human nature as a whole.

The fundamental characteristics of the Graeco-Slavonic world--so
runs the Slavophil theory--have been displayed in the history of
Russia. Throughout Western Christendom the principal of individual
judgment and reckless individual egotism have exhausted the social
forces and brought society to the verge of incurable anarchy and
inevitable dissolution, whereas the social and political history of
Russia has been harmonious and peaceful. It presents no struggles
between the different social classes, and no conflicts between
Church and State. All the factors have worked in unison, and the
development has been guided by the spirit of pure orthodoxy. But
in this harmonious picture there is one big, ugly black spot--
Peter, falsely styled "the Great," and his so-called reforms.
Instead of following the wise policy of his ancestors, Peter
rejected the national traditions and principles, and applied to his
country, which belonged to the Eastern world, the principles of
Western civilisation. His reforms, conceived in a foreign spirit,
and elaborated by men who did not possess the national instincts,
were forced upon the nation against its will, and the result was
precisely what might have been expected. The "broad Slavonic
nature" could not be controlled by institutions which had been
invented by narrow-minded, pedantic German bureaucrats, and, like
another Samson, it pulled down the building in which foreign
legislators sought to confine it. The attempt to introduce foreign
culture had a still worse effect. The upper classes, charmed and
dazzled by the glare and glitter of Western science, threw
themselves impulsively on the newly found treasures, and thereby
condemned themselves to moral slavery and intellectual sterility.
Fortunately--and herein lay one of the fundamental principles of
the Slavophil doctrine--the imported civilisation had not at all
infected the common people. Through all the changes which the
administration and the Noblesse underwent the peasantry preserved
religiously in their hearts "the living legacy of antiquity," the
essence of Russian nationality, "a clear spring welling up living
waters, hidden and unknown, but powerful."* To recover this lost
legacy by studying the character, customs, and institutions of the
peasantry, to lead the educated classes back to the path from which
they had strayed, and to re-establish that intellectual and moral
unity which had been disturbed by the foreign importations--such
was the task which the Slavophils proposed to themselves.

* This was one of the favourite themes of Khomiakof, the Slavophil
poet and theologian.

Deeply imbued with that romantic spirit which distorted all the
intellectual activity of the time, the Slavophils often indulged in
the wildest exaggerations, condemning everything foreign and
praising everything Russian. When in this mood they saw in the
history of the West nothing but violence, slavery, and egotism, and
in that of their own country free-will, liberty, and peace. The
fact that Russia did not possess free political institutions was
adduced as a precious fruit of that spirit of Christian resignation
and self-sacrifice which places the Russian at such an immeasurable
height above the proud, selfish European; and because Russia
possessed few of the comforts and conveniences of common life, the
West was accused of having made comfort its God! We need not,
however, dwell on these puerilities, which only gained for their
authors the reputation of being ignorant, narrow-minded men, imbued
with a hatred of enlightenment and desirous of leading their
country back to its primitive barbarism. What the Slavophils
really condemned, at least in their calmer moments, was not
European culture, but the uncritical, indiscriminate adoption of it
by their countrymen. Their tirades against foreign culture must
appear excusable when we remember that many Russians of the upper
ranks could speak and write French more correctly than their native
language, and that even the great national poet Pushkin was not
ashamed to confess--what was not true, and a mere piece of
affectation--that "the language of Europe" was more familiar to him
than his mother-tongue!

The Slavophil doctrine, though it made a great noise in the world,
never found many adherents. The society of St. Petersburg regarded
it as one of those harmless provincial eccentricities which are
always to be found in Moscow. In the modern capital, with its
foreign name, its streets and squares on the European model, its
palaces and churches in the Renaissance style, and its passionate
love of everything French, any attempt to resuscitate the old
Boyaric times would have been eminently ridiculous. Indeed,
hostility to St. Petersburg and to "the Petersburg period of
Russian history" is one of the characteristic traits of genuine
Slavophilism. In Moscow the doctrine found a more appropriate
home. There the ancient churches, with the tombs of Grand Princes
and holy martyrs, the palace in which the Tsars of Muscovy had
lived, the Kremlin which had resisted--not always successfully--the
attacks of savage Tartars and heretical Poles, the venerable Icons
that had many a time protected the people from danger, the block of
masonry from which, on solemn occasions, the Tsar and the Patriarch
had addressed the assembled multitude--these, and a hundred other
monuments sanctified by tradition, have kept alive in the popular
memory some vague remembrance of the olden time, and are still
capable of awakening antiquarian patriotism.

The inhabitants, too, have preserved something of the old Muscovite
character. Whilst successive sovereigns have been striving to make
the country a progressive European empire, Moscow has remained the
home of passive conservatism and an asylum for the discontented,
especially for the disappointed aspirants to Imperial favour.
Abandoned by the modern Emperors, she can glory in her ancient
Tsars. But even the Muscovites were not prepared to accept the
Slavophil doctrine in the extreme form which it assumed, and were
not a little perplexed by the eccentricities of those who professed
it. Plain, sensible people, though they might be proud of being
citizens of the ancient capital, and might thoroughly enjoy a joke
at the expense of St. Petersburg, could not understand a little
coterie of enthusiasts who sought neither official rank nor
decorations, who slighted many of the conventionalities of the
higher classes to which by birth and education they belonged, who
loved to fraternise with the common people, and who occasionally
dressed in the national costume which had been discarded by the
nobles since the time of Peter the Great.

The Slavophils thus remained merely a small literary party, which
probably did not count more than a dozen members, but their
influence was out of all proportion to their numbers. They
preached successfully the doctrine that the historical development
of Russia has been peculiar, that her present social and political
organisation is radically different from that of the countries of
Western Europe, and that consequently the social and political
evils from which she suffers are not to be cured by the remedies
which have proved efficacious in France and Germany. These truths,
which now appear commonplace, were formerly by no means generally
recognised, and the Slavophils deserve credit for directing
attention to them. Besides this, they helped to awaken in the
upper classes a lively sympathy with the poor, oppressed, and
despised peasantry. So long as the Emperor Nicholas lived they had
to confine themselves to a purely literary activity; but during the
great reforms initiated by his successor, Alexander II., they
descended into the arena of practical politics, and played a most
useful and honourable part in the emancipation of the serfs. In
the new local self-government, too--the Zemstvo and the new
municipal institutions--they laboured energetically and to good
purpose. Of all this I shall have occasion to speak more fully in
future chapters.

But what of their Panslavist aspirations? By their theory they
were constrained to pay attention to the Slav race as a whole, but
they were more Russian than Slav, and more Muscovite than Russian.
The Panslavist element consequently occupied a secondary place in
Slavophil doctrine. Though they did much to stimulate popular
sympathy with the Southern Slavs, and always cherished the hope
that the Serbs, Bulgarians, and cognate Slav nationalities would
one day throw off the bondage of the German and the Turk, they
never proposed any elaborate project for the solution of the
Eastern Question. So far as I was able to gather from their
conversation, they seemed to favour the idea of a grand Slavonic
Confederation, in which the hegemony would, of course, belong to
Russia. In ordinary times the only steps which they took for the
realisation of this idea consisted in contributing money for
schools and churches among the Slav population of Austria and
Turkey, and in educating young Bulgarians in Russia. During the
Cretan insurrection they sympathised warmly with the insurgents as
co-religionists, but afterwards--especially during the crisis of
the Eastern Question which culminated in the Treaty of San Stefano
and the Congress of Berlin (1878)--their Hellenic sympathies
cooled, because the Greeks showed that they had political
aspirations inconsistent with the designs of Russia, and that they
were likely to be the rivals rather than the allies of the Slavs in
the struggle for the Sick Man's inheritance.

Since the time when I was living in Moscow in constant intercourse
with the leading Slavophils more than a quarter of a century has
passed, and of those with whom I spent so many pleasant evenings
discussing the past history and future destinies of the Slav races,
not one remains alive. All the great prophets of the old Slavophil
doctrine--Jun Samarin, Prince Tcherkaski, Ivan Aksakof, Kosheleff--
have departed without leaving behind them any genuine disciples.
The present generation of Muscovite frondeurs, who continue to rail
against Western Europe and the pedantic officialism of St.
Petersburg, are of a more modern and less academic type. Their
philippics are directed not against Peter the Great and his
reforms, but rather against recent Ministers of Foreign Affairs who
are thought to have shown themselves too subservient to foreign
Powers, and against M. Witte, the late Minister of Finance, who is
accused of favouring the introduction of foreign capital and
enterprise, and of sacrificing to unhealthy industrial development
the interests of the agricultural classes. These laments and
diatribes are allowed free expression in private conversation and
in the Press, but they do not influence very deeply the policy of
the Government or the natural course of events; for the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs continues to cultivate friendly relations with the
Cabinets of the West, and Moscow is rapidly becoming, by the force
of economic conditions, the great industrial and commercial centre
of the Empire.

The administrative and bureaucratic centre--if anything on the
frontier of a country can be called its centre--has long been, and
is likely to remain, Peter's stately city at the mouth of the Neva,
to which I now invite the reader to accompany me.



St. Petersburg and Berlin--Big Houses--The "Lions"--Peter the
Great--His Aims and Policy--The German Regime--Nationalist
Reaction--French Influence--Consequent Intellectual Sterility--
Influence of the Sentimental School--Hostility to Foreign
Influences--A New Period of Literary Importation--Secret Societies--
The Catastrophe--The Age of Nicholas--A Terrible War on Parnassus--
Decline of Romanticism and Transcendentalism--Gogol--The
Revolutionary Agitation of 1848--New Reaction--Conclusion.

From whatever side the traveller approaches St. Petersburg, unless
he goes thither by sea, he must traverse several hundred miles of
forest and morass, presenting few traces of human habitation or
agriculture. This fact adds powerfully to the first impression
which the city makes on his mind. In the midst of a waste howling
wilderness, he suddenly comes on a magnificent artificial oasis.

Of all the great European cities, the one that most resembles the
capital of the Tsars is Berlin. Both are built on perfectly level
ground; both have wide, regularly arranged streets; in both there
is a general look of stiffness and symmetry which suggests military
discipline and German bureaucracy. But there is at least one
profound difference. Though Berlin is said by geographers to be
built on the Spree, we might live a long time in the city without
noticing the sluggish little stream on which the name of a river
has been undeservedly conferred. St. Petersburg, on the contrary,
is built on a magnificent river, which forms the main feature of
the place. By its breadth, and by the enormous volume of its
clear, blue, cold water, the Neva is certainly one of the noblest
rivers of Europe. A few miles before reaching the Gulf of Finland
it breaks up into several streams and forms a delta. It is here
that St. Petersburg stands.

Like the river, everything in St. Petersburg is on a colossal
scale. The streets, the squares, the palaces, the public
buildings, the churches, whatever may be their defects, have at
least the attribute of greatness, and seem to have been designed
for the countless generations to come, rather than for the
practical wants of the present inhabitants. In this respect the
city well represents the Empire of which it is the capital. Even
the private houses are built in enormous blocks and divided into
many separate apartments. Those built for the working classes
sometimes contain, I am assured, more than a thousand inhabitants.
How many cubic feet of air is allowed to each person, I do not
know; not so many, I fear, as is recommended by the most advanced
sanitary authorities.

For a detailed description of the city I must refer the reader to
the guide books. Among its numerous monuments, of which the
Russians are justly proud, I confess that the one which interested
me most was neither St. Isaac's Cathedral, with its majestic gilded
dome, its colossal monolithic columns of red granite, and its gaudy
interior; nor the Hermitage, with its magnificent collection of
Dutch pictures; nor the gloomy, frowning fortress of St. Peter and
St. Paul, containing the tombs of the Emperors. These and other
"sights" may deserve all the praise which enthusiastic tourists
have lavished upon them, but what made a far deeper impression on
me was the little wooden house in which Peter the Great lived
whilst his future capital was being built. In its style and
arrangement it looks more like the hut of a navvy than the
residence of a Tsar, but it was quite in keeping with the character
of the illustrious man who occupied it. Peter could and did
occasionally work like a navvy without feeling that his Imperial
dignity was thereby impaired. When he determined to build a new
capital on a Finnish marsh, inhabited chiefly by wildfowl, he did
not content himself with exercising his autocratic power in a
comfortable arm chair. Like the Greek gods, he went down from his
Olympus and took his place in the ranks of ordinary mortals,
superintending the work with his own eyes, and taking part in it
with his own hands. If he was as arbitrary and oppressive as any
of the pyramid-building Pharaohs, he could at least say in self-
justification that he did not spare himself any more than his
people, but exposed himself freely to the discomforts and dangers
under which thousands of his fellow-labourers succumbed.

In reading the account of Peter's life, written in part by his own
pen, we can easily understand how the piously Conservative section
of his subjects failed to recognise in him the legitimate successor
of the orthodox Tsars. The old Tsars had been men of grave,
pompous demeanour, deeply imbued with the consciousness of their
semi-religious dignity. Living habitually in Moscow or its
immediate neighbourhood, they spent their time in attending long
religious services, in consulting with their Boyars, in being
present at ceremonious hunting-parties, in visiting the
monasteries, and in holding edifying conversations with
ecclesiastical dignitaries or revered ascetics. If they undertook
a journey, it was probably to make a pilgrimage to some holy
shrine; and, whether in Moscow or elsewhere, they were always
protected from contact with ordinary humanity by a formidable
barricade of court ceremonial. In short, they combined the
characters of a Christian monk and of an Oriental potentate.

Peter was a man of an entirely different type, and played in the
calm, dignified, orthodox, ceremonious world of Moscow the part of
the bull in the china shop, outraging ruthlessly and wantonly all
the time-honored traditional conceptions of propriety and
etiquette. Utterly regardless of public opinion and popular
prejudices, he swept away the old formalities, avoided ceremonies
of all kinds, scoffed at ancient usage, preferred foreign secular
books to edifying conversations, chose profane heretics as his boon
companions, travelled in foreign countries, dressed in heretical
costume, defaced the image of God and put his soul in jeopardy by
shaving off his beard, compelled his nobles to dress and shave like
himself, rushed about the Empire as if goaded on by the demon of
unrest, employed his sacred hands in carpentering and other menial
occupations, took part openly in the uproarious orgies of his
foreign soldiery, and, in short, did everything that "the Lord's
anointed" might reasonably be expected not to do. No wonder the
Muscovites were scandalised by his conduct, and that some of them
suspected he was not the Tsar at all, but Antichrist in disguise.
And no wonder he felt the atmosphere of Moscow oppressive, and
preferred living in the new capital which he had himself created.

His avowed object in building St. Petersburg was to have "a window
by which the Russians might look into civilised Europe"; and well
has the city fulfilled its purpose. From its foundation may be
dated the European period of Russian history. Before Peter's time
Russia belonged to Asia rather than to Europe, and was doubtless
regarded by Englishmen and Frenchmen pretty much as we nowadays
regard Bokhara or Kashgar; since that time she has formed an
integral part of the European political system, and her
intellectual history has been but a reflection of the intellectual
history of Western Europe, modified and coloured by national
character and by peculiar local conditions.

When we speak of the intellectual history of a nation we generally
mean in reality the intellectual history of the upper classes.
With regard to Russia, more perhaps than with regard to any other
country, this distinction must always carefully be borne in mind.
Peter succeeded in forcing European civilisation on the nobles, but
the people remained unaffected. The nation was, as it were, cleft
in two, and with each succeeding generation the cleft has widened.
Whilst the masses clung obstinately to their time-honoured customs
and beliefs, the nobles came to look on the objects of popular
veneration as the relics of a barbarous past, of which a civilised
nation ought to be ashamed.

The intellectual movement inaugurated by Peter had a purely
practical character. He was himself a thorough utilitarian, and
perceived clearly that what his people needed was not theological
or philosophical enlightment, but plain, practical knowledge
suitable for the requirements of everyday life. He wanted neither
theologians nor philosophers, but military and naval officers,
administrators, artisans, miners, manufacturers, and merchants, and
for this purpose he introduced secular technical education. For
the young generation primary schools were founded, and for more
advanced pupils the best foreign works on fortification,
architecture, navigation, metallurgy, engineering and cognate
subjects were translated into the native tongue. Scientific men
and cunning artificers were brought into the country, and young
Russians were sent abroad to learn foreign languages and the useful
arts. In a word, everything was done that seemed likely to raise
the Russians to the level of material well-being already attained
by the more advanced nations.

We have here an important peculiarity in the intellectual
development of Russia. In Western Europe the modern scientific
spirit, being the natural offspring of numerous concomitant
historical causes, was born in the natural way, and Society had,
consequently, before giving birth to it, to endure the pains of
pregnancy and the throes of prolonged labour. In Russia, on the
contrary, this spirit appeared suddenly as an adult foreigner,
adopted by a despotic paterfamilias. Thus Russia made the
transition from mediaeval to modern times without any violent
struggle between the old and the new conceptions such as had taken
place in the West. The Church, effectually restrained from all
active opposition by the Imperial power, preserved unmodified her
ancient beliefs; whilst the nobles, casting their traditional
conceptions and beliefs to the winds, marched forward unfettered on
that path which their fathers and grandfathers had regarded as the
direct road to perdition.

During the first part of Peter's reign Russia was not subjected to
the exclusive influence of any one particular country. Thoroughly
cosmopolitan in his sympathies, the great reformer, like the
Japanese of the present day, was ready to borrow from any foreign
nation--German, Dutch, Danish, or French--whatever seemed to him to
suit his purpose. But soon the geographical proximity to Germany,
the annexation of the Baltic Provinces in which the civilisation
was German, and intermarriages between the Imperial family and
various German dynasties, gave to German influence a decided
preponderance. When the Empress Anne, Peter's niece, who had been
Duchess of Courland, entrusted the whole administration of the
country to her favourite Biron, the German influence became almost
exclusive, and the Court, the official world, and the schools were

The harsh, cruel, tyrannical rule of Biron produced a strong
reaction, ending in a revolution, which raised to the throne the
Princess Elizabeth, Peter's unmarried daughter, who had lived in
retirement and neglect during the German regime. She was expected
to rid the country of foreigners, and she did what she could to
fulfil the expectations that were entertained of her. With loud
protestations of patriotic feelings, she removed the Germans from
all important posts, demanded that in future the members of the
Academy should be chosen from among born Russians, and gave orders
that the Russian youth should be carefully prepared for all kinds
of official activity.

This attempt to throw off the German bondage did not lead to
intellectual independence. During Peter's violent reforms Russia
had ruthlessly thrown away her own historic past with whatever
germs it contained, and now she possessed none of the elements of a
genuine national culture. She was in the position of a fugitive
who has escaped from slavery, and, finding himself in danger of
starvation, looks about for a new master. The upper classes, who
had acquired a taste for foreign civilisation, no sooner threw off
everything German than they sought some other civilisation to put
in its place. And they could not long hesitate in making a choice,
for at that time all who thought of culture and refinement turned
their eyes to Paris and Versailles. All that was most brilliant
and refined was to be found at the Court of the French kings, under
whose patronage the art and literature of the Renaissance had
attained their highest development. Even Germany, which had
resisted the ambitious designs of Louis XIV., imitated the manners
of his Court. Every petty German potentate strove to ape the pomp
and dignity of the Grand Monarque; and the courtiers, affecting to
look on everything German as rude and barbarous, adopted French
fashions, and spoke a hybrid jargon which they considered much more
elegant than the plain mother tongue. In a word, Gallomania had
become the prevailing social epidemic of the time, and it could not
fail to attack and metamorphose such a class as the Russian
Noblesse, which possessed few stubborn deep-rooted national

At first the French influence was manifested chiefly in external
forms--that is to say, in dress, manners, language, and upholstery--
but gradually, and very rapidly after the accession of Catherine
II., the friend of Voltaire and the Encyclopaedists, it sank
deeper. Every noble who had pretensions to being "civilised"
learned to speak French fluently, and gained some superficial
acquaintance with French literature. The tragedies of Corneille
and Racine and the comedies of Moliere were played regularly at the
Court theatre in presence of the Empress, and awakened a real or
affected enthusiasm among the audience. For those who preferred
reading in their native language, numerous translations were
published, a simple list of which would fill several pages. Among
them we find not only Voltaire, Rousseau, Lesage, Marmontel, and
other favourite French authors, but also all the masterpieces of
European literature, ancient and modern, which at that time enjoyed
a high reputation in the French literary world--Homer and
Demosthenes, Cicero and Virgil, Ariosto and Camoens, Milton and
Locke, Sterne and Fielding.

It is related of Byron that he never wrote a description whilst the
scene was actually before him; and this fact points to an important
psychological principle. The human mind, so long as it is
compelled to strain the receptive faculties, cannot engage in that
"poetic" activity--to use the term in its Greek sense--which is
commonly called "original creation." And as with individuals, so
with nations. By accepting in a lump a foreign culture a nation
inevitably condemns itself for a time to intellectual sterility.
So long as it is occupied in receiving and assimilating a flood of
new ideas, unfamiliar conceptions, and foreign modes of thought, it
will produce nothing original, and the result of its highest
efforts will be merely successful imitation. We need not be
surprised therefore to find that the Russians, in becoming
acquainted with foreign literature, became imitators and
plagiarists. In this kind of work their natural pliancy of mind
and powerful histrionic talent made them wonderfully successful.
Odes, pseudo-classical tragedies, satirical comedies, epic poems,
elegies, and all the other recognised forms of poetical
composition, appeared in great profusion, and many of the writers
acquired a remarkable command over their native language, which had
hitherto been regarded as uncouth and barbarous. But in all this
mass of imitative literature, which has since fallen into well-
merited oblivion, there are very few traces of genuine originality.
To obtain the title of the Russian Racine, the Russian Lafontaine,
the Russian Pindar, or the Russian Homer, was at that time the
highest aim of Russian literary ambition.

Together with the fashionable literature the Russian educated
classes adopted something of the fashionable philosophy. They were
peculiarly unfitted to resist that hurricane of "enlightenment"
which swept over Europe during the latter half of the eighteenth
century, first breaking or uprooting the received philosophical
systems, theological conceptions, and scientific theories, and then
shaking to their foundations the existing political and social
institutions. The Russian Noblesse had neither the traditional
conservative spirit, nor the firm, well-reasoned, logical beliefs
which in England and Germany formed a powerful barrier against the
spread of French influence. They had been too recently
metamorphosed, and were too eager to acquire a foreign
civilisation, to have even the germs of a conservative spirit. The
rapidity and violence with which Peter's reforms had been effected,
together with the peculiar spirit of Greek Orthodoxy and the low
intellectual level of the clergy, had prevented theology from
associating itself with the new order of things. The upper classes
had become estranged from the beliefs of their forefathers without
acquiring other beliefs to supply the place of those which had been
lost. The old religious conceptions were inseparably interwoven
with what was recognised as antiquated and barbarous, whilst the
new philosophical ideas were associated with all that was modern
and civilised. Besides this, the sovereign, Catherine II., who
enjoyed the unbounded admiration of the upper classes, openly
professed allegiance to the new philosophy, and sought the advice
and friendship of its high priests. If we bear in mind these facts
we shall not be surprised to find among the Russian nobles of that
time a considerable number of so-called "Voltaireans" and numerous
unquestioning believers in the infallibility of the Encyclopedie.
What is a little more surprising is, that the new philosophy
sometimes found its way into the ecclesiastical seminaries. The
famous Speranski relates that in the seminary of St. Petersburg one
of his professors, when not in a state of intoxication, was in the
habit of preaching the doctrines of Voltaire and Diderot!

The rise of the sentimental school in Western Europe produced an
important change in Russian literature, by undermining the
inordinate admiration for the French pseudo-classical school.
Florian, Richardson, Sterne, Rousseau, and Bernardin de St. Pierre
found first translators, and then imitators, and soon the loud-
sounding declamation and wordy ecstatic despair of the stage heroes
were drowned in the deep-drawn sighs and plaintive wailings of
amorous swains and peasant-maids forsaken. The mania seems to have
been in Russia even more severe than in the countries where it
originated. Full-grown, bearded men wept because they had not been
born in peaceful primitive times, "when all men were shepherds and
brothers." Hundreds of sighing youths and maidens visited the
scenes described by the sentimental writers, and wandered by the
rivers and ponds in which despairing heroines had drowned
themselves. People talked, wrote, and meditated about "the
sympathy of hearts created for each other," "the soft communion of
sympathetic souls," and much more of the same kind. Sentimental
journeys became a favourite amusement, and formed the subject of
very popular books, containing maudlin absurdities likely to
produce nowadays mirth rather than tears. One traveller, for
instance, throws himself on his knees before an old oak and makes a
speech to it; another weeps daily on the grave of a favourite dog,
and constantly longs to marry a peasant girl; a third talks love to
the moon, sends kisses to the stars, and wishes to press the
heavenly orbs to his bosom! For a time the public would read
nothing but absurd productions of this sort, and Karamzin, the
great literary authority of the time, expressly declared that the
true function of Art was "to disseminate agreeable impressions in
the region of the sentimental."

The love of French philosophy vanished as suddenly as the
inordinate admiration of the French pseudo-classical literature.
When the great Revolution broke out in Paris the fashionable
philosophic literature in St. Petersburg disappeared. Men who
talked about political freedom and the rights of man, without
thinking for a moment of limiting the autocratic power or of
emancipating their serfs, were naturally surprised and frightened
on discovering what the liberal principles could effect when
applied to real life. Horrified by the awful scenes of the Terror,
they hastened to divest themselves of the principles which led to
such results, and sank into a kind of optimistic conservatism that
harmonised well with the virtuous sentimentalism in vogue. In this
the Empress herself gave the example. The Imperial disciple and
friend of the Encyclopaedists became in the last years of her reign
a decided reactionnaire.

During the Napoleonic wars, when the patriotic feelings were
excited, there was a violent hostility to foreign intellectual
influence; and feeble intermittent attempts were made to throw off
the intellectual bondage. The invasion of the country in 1812 by
the Grande Armee, and the burning of Moscow, added abundant fuel to
this patriotic fire. For some time any one who ventured to express
even a moderate admiration for French culture incurred the risk of
being stigmatised as a traitor to his country and a renegade to the
national faith. But this patriotic fanaticism soon evaporated, and
exaggerations of the ultra-national party became the object of
satire and parody. When the political danger was past, and people
resumed their ordinary occupations, those who loved foreign
literature returned to their old favourites--or, as the ultra-
patriots called it, to their "wallowing in the mire"--simply
because the native literature did not supply them with what they
desired. "We are quite ready," they said to their upbraiders, "to
admire your great works as soon as they appear, but in the meantime
please allow us to enjoy what we possess." Thus in the last years
of the reign of Alexander I. the patriotic opposition to West
European literature gradually ceased, and a new period of
unrestricted intellectual importation began.

The intellectual merchandise now brought into the country was very
different from that which had been imported in the time of
Catherine. The French Revolution, the Napoleonic domination, the
patriotic wars, the restoration of the Bourbons, and the other
great events of that memorable epoch, had in the interval produced
profound changes in the intellectual as well as the political
condition of Western Europe. During the Napoleonic wars Russia had
become closely associated with Germany; and now the peculiar
intellectual fermentation which was going on among the German
educated classes was reflected in the society of St. Petersburg.
It did not appear, indeed, in the printed literature, for the
Press-censure had been recently organised on the principles laid
down by Metternich, but it was none the less violent on that
account. Whilst the periodicals were filled with commonplace
meditations on youth, spring, the love of Art, and similar innocent
topics, the young generation was discussing in the salons all the
burning questions which Metternich and his adherents were
endeavouring to extinguish.

These discussions, if discussions they might be called, were not of
a very serious kind. In true dilettante style the fashionable
young philosophers culled from the newest books the newest thoughts
and theories, and retailed them in the salon or the ballroom. And
they were always sure to find attentive listeners. The more
astounding the idea or dogma, the more likely was it to be
favourably received. No matter whether it came from the
Rationalists, the Mystics, the Freemasons, or the Methodists, it
was certain to find favour, provided it was novel and presented in
an elegant form. The eclectic minds of that curious time could
derive equal satisfaction from the brilliant discourses of the
reactionary jesuitical De Maistre, the revolutionary odes of
Pushkin, and the mysticism of Frau von Krudener. For the majority
the vague theosophic doctrines and the projects for a spiritual
union of governments and peoples had perhaps the greatest charm,
being specially commended by the fact that they enjoyed the
protection and sympathy of the Emperor. Pious souls discovered in
the mystical lucubrations of Jung-Stilling and Baader the final
solution of all existing difficulties--political, social, and
philosophical. Men of less dreamy temperament put their faith in
political economy and constitutional theories, and sought a
foundation for their favourite schemes in the past history of the
country and in the supposed fundamental peculiarities of the
national character. Like the young German democrats, who were then
talking enthusiastically about Teutons, Cheruskers, Skalds, the
shade of Arminius, and the heroes of the Niebelungen, these young
Russian savants recognised in early Russian history--when
reconstructed according to their own fancy--lofty political ideals,
and dreamed of resuscitating the ancient institutions in all their
pristine imaginary splendour.

Each age has its peculiar social and political panaceas. One
generation puts its trust in religion, another in philanthropy, a
third in written constitutions, a fourth in universal suffrage, a
fifth in popular education. In the Epoch of the Restoration, as it
is called, the favourite panacea all over the Continent was secret
political association. Very soon after the overthrow of Napoleon
the peoples who had risen in arms to obtain political independence
discovered that they had merely changed masters. The Princes
reconstructed Europe according to their own convenience, without
paying much attention to patriotic aspirations, and forgot their
promises of liberal institutions as soon as they were again firmly
seated on their thrones. This was naturally for many a bitter
deception. The young generation, excluded from all share in
political life and gagged by the stringent police supervision,
sought to realise its political aspirations by means of secret
societies, resembling more or less the Masonic brotherhoods. There
were the Burschenschaften in Germany; the Union, and the "Aide toi
et le ciel t'aidera," in France; the Order of the Hammer in Spain;
the Carbonari in Italy; and the Hetairai in Greece. In Russia the
young nobles followed the prevailing fashion. Secret societies
were formed, and in December, 1825, an attempt was made to raise a
military insurrection in St. Petersburg, for the purpose of
deposing the Imperial family and proclaiming a republic; but the
attempt failed, and the vague Utopian dreams of the romantic would-
be reformers were swept away by grape-shot.

This "December catastrophe," still vividly remembered, was for the
society of St. Petersburg like the giving way of the floor in a
crowded ball-room. But a moment before, all had been animated,
careless, and happy; now consternation was depicted on every face.
The salons, that but yesterday had been ringing with lively
discussions on morals, aesthetics, politics, and theology, were now
silent and deserted. Many of those who had been wont to lead the
causeries had been removed to the cells of the fortress, and those
who had not been arrested trembled for themselves or their friends;
for nearly all had of late dabbled more or less in the theory and
practice of revolution. The announcement that five of the
conspirators had been condemned to the gallows and the others
sentenced to transportation did not tend to calm the consternation.
Society was like a discomfited child, who, amidst the delight and
excitement of letting off fireworks, has had its fingers severely

The sentimental, wavering Alexander I. had been succeeded by his
stern, energetic brother Nicholas, and the command went forth that
there should be no more fireworks, no more dilettante
philosophising or political aspirations. There was, however,
little need for such an order. Society had been, for the moment at
least, effectually cured of all tendencies to political dreaming.
It had discovered, to its astonishment and dismay, that these new
ideas, which were to bring temporal salvation to humanity, and to
make all men happy, virtuous, refined, and poetical, led in reality
to exile and the scaffold! The pleasant dream was at an end, and
the fashionable world, giving up its former habits, took to
harmless occupations--card-playing, dissipation, and the reading of
French light literature. "The French quadrille," as a writer of
the time tersely expresses it, "has taken the place of Adam Smith."

When the storm had passed, the life of the salons began anew, but
it was very different from what it had been. There was no longer
any talk about political economy, theology, popular education,
administrative abuses, social and political reforms. Everything
that had any relation to politics in the wider sense of the term
was by tacit consent avoided. Discussions there were as of old,
but they were now confined to literary topics, theories of art, and
similar innocent subjects.

This indifference or positive repugnance to philosophy and
political science, strengthened and prolonged by the repressive
system of administration adopted by Nicholas, was of course fatal
to the many-sided intellectual activity which had flourished during
the preceding reign, but it was by no means unfavourable to the
cultivation of imaginative literature. On the contrary, by
excluding those practical interests which tend to disturb artistic
production and to engross the attention of the public, it fostered
what was called in the phraseology of that time "the pure-hearted
worship of the Muses." We need not, therefore, be surprised to
find that the reign of Nicholas, which is commonly and not unjustly
described as an epoch of social and intellectual stagnation, may be
called in a certain sense the Golden Age of Russian literature.

Already in the preceding reign the struggle between the Classical
and the Romantic school--between the adherents of traditional
aesthetic principles and the partisans of untrammelled poetic
inspiration--which was being carried on in Western Europe, was
reflected in Russia. A group of young men belonging to the
aristocratic society of St. Petersburg embraced with enthusiasm the
new doctrines, and declared war against "classicism," under which
term they understood all that was antiquated, dry, and pedantic.
Discarding the stately, lumbering, unwieldy periods which had
hitherto been in fashion, they wrote a light, elastic, vigorous
style, and formed a literary society for the express purpose of
ridiculing the most approved classical writers. The new principles
found many adherents, and the new style many admirers, but this
only intensified the hostility of the literary Conservatives. The
staid, respectable leaders of the old school, who had all their
lives kept the fear of Boileau before their eyes and considered his
precepts as the infallible utterances of aesthetic wisdom,
thundered against the impious innovations as unmistakable symptoms
of literary decline and moral degeneracy--representing the
boisterous young iconoclasts as dissipated Don Juans and dangerous

Thus for some time in Russia, as in Western Europe, "a terrible war
raged on Parnassus." At first the Government frowned at the
innovators, on account of certain revolutionary odes which one of
their number had written; but when the Romantic Muse, having turned
away from the present as essentially prosaic, went back into the
distant past and soared into the region of sublime abstractions,
the most keen-eyed Press Censors found no reason to condemn her
worship, and the authorities placed almost no restrictions on free
poetic inspiration. Romantic poetry acquired the protection of the
Government and the patronage of the Court, and the names of
Zhukofski, Pushkin, and Lermontof--the three chief representatives
of the Russian Romantic school--became household words in all ranks
of the educated classes.

These three great luminaries of the literary world were of course
attended by a host of satellites of various magnitudes, who did all
in their power to refute the romantic principles by reductiones ad
absurdum. Endowed for the most part with considerable facility of
composition, the poetasters poured forth their feelings with
torrential recklessness, demanding freedom for their inspiration,
and cursing the age that fettered them with its prosaic cares, its
cold reason, and its dry science. At the same time the dramatists
and novelists created heroes of immaculate character and angelic
purity, endowed with all the cardinal virtues in the superlative
degree; and, as a contrast to these, terrible Satanic personages
with savage passions, gleaming daggers, deadly poisons, and all
manner of aimless melodramatic villainy. These stilted
productions, interspersed with light satirical essays, historical
sketches, literary criticism, and amusing anecdotes, formed the
contents of the periodical literature, and completely satisfied the
wants of the reading public. Almost no one at that time took any
interest in public affairs or foreign politics. The acts of the
Government which were watched most attentively were the promotions
in the service and the conferring of decorations. The publication
of a new tale by Zagoskin or Marlinski--two writers now well-nigh
forgotten--seemed of much greater importance than any amount of
legislation, and such events as the French Revolution of 1830 paled
before the publication of a new poem by Pushkin.

The Transcendental philosophy, which in Germany went hand in hand
with the Romantic literature, found likewise a faint reflection in
Russia. A number of young professors and students in Moscow, who
had become ardent admirers of German literature, passed from the
works of Schiller, Goethe, and Hoffmann to the writing of Schelling
and Hegel. Trained in the Romantic school, these young
philosophers found at first a special charm in Schelling's mystical
system, teeming with hazy poetical metaphors, and presenting a
misty grandiose picture of the universe; but gradually they felt
the want of some logical basis for their speculations, and Hegel
became their favourite. Gallantly they struggled with the uncouth
terminology and epigrammatic paradoxes of the great thinker, and
strove to force their way through the intricate mazes of his
logical formulae. With the ardour of neophytes they looked at
every phenomenon--even the most trivial incident of common life--
from the philosophical point of view, talked day and night about
principles, ideas, subjectivity, Weltauffassung, and similar
abstract entities, and habitually attacked the "hydra of
unphilosophy" by analysing the phenomena presented and relegating
the ingredient elements to the recognised categories. In ordinary
life they were men of quiet, grave, contemplative demeanour, but
their faces could flush and their blood boil when they discussed
the all-important question, whether it is possible to pass
logically from Pure Being through Nonentity to the conception of
Development and Definite Existence!

We know how in Western Europe Romanticism and Transcendentalism, in
their various forms, sank into oblivion, and were replaced by a
literature which had a closer connection with ordinary prosaic
wants and plain everyday life. The educated public became weary of
the Romantic writers, who were always "sighing like a furnace,"
delighting in solitude, cold eternity, and moonshine, deluging the
world with their heart-gushings, and calling on the heavens and the
earth to stand aghast at their Promethean agonising or their
Wertherean despair. Healthy human nature revolted against the
poetical enthusiasts who had lost the faculty of seeing things in
their natural light, and who constantly indulged in that morbid
self-analysis which is fatal to genuine feeling and vigorous
action. And in this healthy reaction the philosophers fared no
better than the poets, with whom, indeed, they had much in common.
Shutting their eyes to the visible world around them, they had
busied themselves with burrowing in the mysterious depths of
Absolute Being, grappling with the ego and the non-ego,
constructing the great world, visible and invisible, out of their
own puny internal self-consciousness, endeavouring to appropriate
all departments of human thought, and imparting to every subject
they touched the dryness and rigidity of an algebraical formula.
Gradually men with real human sympathies began to perceive that
from all this philosophical turmoil little real advantage was to be
derived. It became only too evident that the philosophers were
perfectly reconciled with all the evil in the world, provided it
did not contradict their theories; that they were men of the same
type as the physician in Moliere's comedy, whose chief care was
that his patients should die selon les ordonnances de la medicine.

In Russia the reaction first appeared in the aesthetic literature.
Its first influential representative was Gogol (b. 1808, d. 1852),
who may be called, in a certain sense, the Russian Dickens. A
minute comparison of those two great humourists would perhaps show
as many points of contrast as of similarity, but there is a strong
superficial resemblance between them. They both possessed an
inexhaustible supply of broad humour and an imagination of singular
vividness. Both had the power of seeing the ridiculous side of
common things, and the talent of producing caricatures that had a
wonderful semblance of reality. A little calm reflection would
suffice to show that the characters presented are for the most part
psychological impossibilities; but on first making their
acquaintance we are so struck with one or two life-like
characteristics and various little details dexterously introduced,
and at the same time we are so carried away by the overflowing fun
of the narrative, that we have neither time nor inclination to use
our critical faculties. In a very short time Gogol's fame spread
throughout the length and breadth of the Empire, and many of his
characters became as familiar to his countrymen as Sam Weller and
Mrs. Gamp were to Englishmen. His descriptions were so graphic--so
like the world which everybody knew! The characters seemed to be
old acquaintances hit off to the life; and readers revelled in that
peculiar pleasure which most of us derive from seeing our friends
successfully mimicked. Even the Iron Tsar could not resist the fun
and humour of "The Inspector" (Revizor), and not only laughed
heartily, but also protected the author against the tyranny of the
literary censors, who considered that the piece was not written in
a sufficiently "well-intentioned" tone. In a word, the reading
public laughed as it had never laughed before, and this wholesome
genuine merriment did much to destroy the morbid appetite for
Byronic heroes and Romantic affectation.

The Romantic Muse did not at once abdicate, but with the spread of
Gogol's popularity her reign was practically at an end. In vain
some of the conservative critics decried the new favourite as
talentless, prosaic, and vulgar. The public were not to be robbed
of their amusement for the sake of any abstract aesthetic
considerations; and young authors, taking Gogol for their model,
chose their subjects from real life, and endeavoured to delineate
with minute truthfulness.

This new intellectual movement was at first purely literary, and
affected merely the manner of writing novels, tales, and poems.
The critics who had previously demanded beauty of form and elegance
of expression now demanded accuracy of description, condemned the
aspirations towards so-called high art, and praised loudly those
who produced the best literary photographs. But authors and
critics did not long remain on this purely aesthetic standpoint.
The authors, in describing reality, began to indicate moral
approval and condemnation, and the critics began to pass from the
criticism of the representations to the criticism of the realities
represented. A poem or a tale was often used as a peg on which to
hang a moral lecture, and the fictitious characters were soundly
rated for their sins of omission and commission. Much was said
about the defence of the oppressed, female emancipation, honour,
and humanitarianism; and ridicule was unsparingly launched against
all forms of ignorance, apathy, and the spirit of routine. The
ordinary refrain was that the public ought now to discard what was
formerly regarded as poetical and sublime, and to occupy itself
with practical concerns--with the real wants of social life.

The literary movement was thus becoming a movement in favour of
social and political reforms when it was suddenly arrested by
political events in the West. The February Revolution in Paris,
and the political fermentation which appeared during 1848-49 in
almost every country of Europe, alarmed the Emperor Nicholas and
his counsellors. A Russian army was sent into Austria to suppress
the Hungarian insurrection and save the Hapsburg dynasty, and the
most stringent measures were taken to prevent disorders at home.
One of the first precautions for the preservation of domestic
tranquillity was to muzzle the Press more firmly than before, and
to silence the aspirations towards reform and progress; thenceforth
nothing could be printed which was not in strict accordance with
the ultra-patriotic theory of Russian history, as expressed by a
leading official personage: "The past has been admirable, the
present is more than magnificent, and the future will surpass all
that the human imagination can conceive!" The alarm caused by the
revolutionary disorders spread to the non-official world, and gave
rise to much patriotic self-congratulation. "The nations of the
West," it was said, "envy us, and if they knew us better--if they
could see how happy and prosperous we are--they would envy us still
more. We ought not, however, to withdraw from Europe our
solicitude; its hostility should not deprive us of our high mission
of saving order and restoring rest to the nations; we ought to
teach them to obey authority as we do. It is for us to introduce
the saving principle of order into a world that has fallen a prey
to anarchy. Russia ought not to abandon that mission which has
been entrusted to her by the heavenly and by the earthly Tsar."*

* These words were written by Tchaadaef, who, a few years before,
had vigorously attacked the Slavophils for enouncing similar views.

Men who saw in the significant political eruption of 1848 nothing
but an outburst of meaningless, aimless anarchy, and who believed
that their country was destined to restore order throughout the
civilised world, had of course little time or inclination to think
of putting their own house in order. No one now spoke of the
necessity of social reorganisation: the recently awakened
aspirations and expectations seemed to be completely forgotten.
The critics returned to their old theory that art and literature
should be cultivated for their own sake and not used as a vehicle
for the propagation of ideas foreign to their nature. It seemed,
in short, as if all the prolific ideas which had for a time
occupied the public attention had been merely "writ in water," and
had now disappeared without leaving a trace behind them.

In reality the new movement was destined to reappear very soon with
tenfold force; but the account of its reappearance and development
belongs to a future chapter. Meanwhile I may formulate the general
conclusion to be drawn from the foregoing pages. Ever since the
time of Peter the Great there has been such a close connection
between Russia and Western Europe that every intellectual movement
which has appeared in France and Germany has been reflected--albeit
in an exaggerated, distorted form--in the educated society of St.
Petersburg and Moscow. Thus the window which Peter opened in order
to enable his subjects to look into Europe has well served its



The Emperor Nicholas and his System--The Men with Aspirations and
the Apathetically Contented--National Humiliation--Popular
Discontent and the Manuscript Literature--Death of Nicholas--
Alexander II.--New Spirit--Reform Enthusiasm--Change in the
Periodical Literature--The Kolokol--The Conservatives--The
Tchinovniks--First Specific Proposals--Joint-Stock Companies--The
Serf Question Comes to the Front.

The Russians frankly admit that they were beaten in the Crimean
War, but they regard the heroic defence of Sebastopol as one of the
most glorious events in the military annals of their country. Nor
do they altogether regret the result of the struggle. Often in a
half-jocular, half-serious tone they say that they had reason to be
grateful to the Allies. And there is much truth in this
paradoxical statement. The Crimean War inaugurated a new epoch in
the national history. It gave the death-blow to the repressive
system of the Emperor Nicholas, and produced an intellectual
movement and a moral revival which led to gigantic results.

"The affair of December," 1825--I mean the abortive attempt at a
military insurrection in St. Petersburg, to which I have alluded in
the foregoing chapter--gave the key-note to Nicholas's reign. The
armed attempt to overthrow the Imperial power, ending in the
execution or exile of many young members of the first families,
struck terror into the Noblesse, and prepared the way for a period
of repressive police administration. Nicholas had none of the
moral limpness and vacillating character of his predecessor. His
was one of those simple, vigorous, tenacious, straightforward
natures--more frequently to be met with among the Teutonic than
among the Slav races--whose conceptions are all founded on a few
deep-rooted, semi-instinctive convictions, and who are utterly
incapable of accommodating themselves with histrionic cleverness to
the changes of external circumstances. From his early youth he had
shown a strong liking for military discipline and a decided
repugnance to the humanitarianism and liberal principles then in
fashion. With "the rights of man," "the spirit of the age," and
similar philosophical abstractions his strong, domineering nature
had no sympathy; and for the vague, loud-sounding phrases of
philosophic liberalism he had a most profound contempt. "Attend to
your military duties," he was wont to say to his officers before
his accession; "don't trouble your heads with philosophy. I cannot
bear philosophers!" The tragic event which formed the prelude to
his reign naturally confirmed and fortified his previous
convictions. The representatives of liberalism, who could talk so
eloquently about duty in the abstract, had, whilst wearing the
uniform of the Imperial Guard, openly disobeyed the repeated orders
of their superior officers and attempted to shake the allegiance of
the troops for the purpose of overthrowing the Imperial power! A
man who was at once soldier and autocrat, by nature as well as by
position, could of course admit no extenuating circumstances. The
incident stereotyped his character for life, and made him the sworn
enemy of liberalism and the fanatical defender of autocracy, not
only in his own country, but throughout Europe. In European
politics he saw two forces struggling for mastery--monarchy and
democracy, which were in his opinion identical with order and
anarchy; and he was always ready to assist his brother sovereigns
in putting down democratic movements. In his own Empire he
endeavoured by every means in his power to prevent the introduction
of the dangerous ideas. For this purpose a stringent intellectual
quarantine was established on the western frontier. All foreign
books and newspapers, except those of the most harmless kind, were
rigorously excluded. Native writers were placed under strict
supervision, and peremptorily silenced as soon as they departed
from what was considered a "well-intentioned" tone. The number of
university students was diminished, the chairs for political
science were suppressed, and the military schools multiplied.
Russians were prevented from travelling abroad, and foreigners who
visited the country were closely watched by the police. By these
and similar measures it was hoped that Russia would be preserved
from the dangers of revolutionary agitation.

Nicholas has been called the Don Quixote of Autocracy, and the
comparison which the term implies is true in many points. By
character and aims he belonged to a time that had passed away; but
failure and mishap could not shake his faith in his ideal, and made
no change in his honest, stubborn nature, which was as loyal and
chivalresque as that of the ill-fated Knight of La Mancha. In
spite of all evidence to the contrary, he believed in the practical
omnipotence of autocracy. He imagined that as his authority was
theoretically unlimited, so his power could work miracles. By
nature and training a soldier, he considered government a slightly
modified form of military discipline, and looked on the nation as
an army which might be made to perform any intellectual or economic
evolutions that he might see fit to command. All social ills
seemed to him the consequence of disobedience to his orders, and he
knew only one remedy--more discipline. Any expression of doubt as
to the wisdom of his policy, or any criticism of existing
regulations, he treated as an act of insubordination which a wise
sovereign ought not to tolerate. If he never said, "L'Etat--c'est
moi!" it was because he considered the fact so self-evident that it
did not need to be stated. Hence any attack on the administration,
even in the person of the most insignificant official, was an
attack on himself and on the monarchical principle which he
represented. The people must believe--and faith, as we know, comes
not by sight--that they lived under the best possible government.
To doubt this was political heresy. An incautious word or a
foolish joke against the Government was considered a serious crime,
and might be punished by a long exile in some distant and
inhospitable part of the Empire. Progress should by all means be
made, but it must be made by word of command, and in the way
ordered. Private initiative in any form was a thing on no account
to be tolerated. Nicholas never suspected that a ruler, however
well-intentioned, energetic, and legally autocratic he may be, can
do but little without the co-operation of his people. Experience
constantly showed him the fruitlessness of his efforts, but he paid
no attention to its teachings. He had formed once for all his
theory of government, and for thirty years he acted according to it
with all the blindness and obstinacy of a reckless, fanatical
doctrinaire. Even at the close of his reign, when the terrible
logic of facts had proved his system to be a mistake--when his
armies had been defeated, his best fleet destroyed, his ports
blockaded, and his treasury well-nigh emptied--he could not recant.
"My successor," he is reported to have said on his deathbed, "may
do as he pleases, but I cannot change."

Had Nicholas lived in the old patriarchal times, when kings were
the uncontrolled "shepherds of the people," he would perhaps have
been an admirable ruler; but in the nineteenth century he was a
flagrant anachronism. His system of administration completely
broke down. In vain he multiplied formalities and inspectors, and
punished severely the few delinquents who happened by some accident
to be brought to justice; the officials continued to pilfer,
extort, and misgovern in every possible way. Though the country
was reduced to what would be called in Europe "a state of siege,"
the inhabitants might still have said--as they are reported to have
declared a thousand years before--"Our land is great and fertile,
but there is no order in it."

In a nation accustomed to political life and to a certain amount of
self-government, any approach to the system of Nicholas would, of
course, have produced wide-spread dissatisfaction and violent
hatred against the ruling power. But in Russia at that time no
such feelings were awakened. The educated classes--and a fortiori
the uneducated--were profoundly indifferent not only to political
questions, but also to ordinary public affairs, whether local or
Imperial, and were quite content to leave them in the hands of
those who were paid for attending to them. In common with the
uneducated peasantry, the nobles had a boundless respect--one might
almost say a superstitious reverence--not only for the person, but
also for the will of the Tsar, and were ready to show unquestioning
obedience to his commands, so long as these did not interfere with
their accustomed mode of life. The Tsar desired them not to
trouble their heads with political questions, and to leave all
public matters to the care of the Administration; and in this
respect the Imperial will coincided so well with their personal
inclinations that they had no difficulty in complying with it.

When the Tsar ordered those of them who held office to refrain from
extortion and peculation, his orders were not so punctiliously
obeyed, but in this disobedience there was no open opposition--no
assertion of a right to pilfer and extort. As the disobedience
proceeded, not from a feeling of insubordination, but merely from
the weakness that official flesh is heir to, it was not regarded as
very heinous. In the aristocratic circles of St. Petersburg and
Moscow there was the same indifference to political questions and
public affairs. All strove to have the reputation of being "well-
intentioned," which was the first requisite for those who desired
Court favour or advancement in the public service; and those whose
attention was not entirely occupied with official duties, card-
playing, and the ordinary routine of everyday life, cultivated
belles-lettres or the fine arts. In short, the educated classes in
Russia at that time showed a complete indifference to political and
social questions, an apathetic acquiescence in the system of
administration adopted by the Government, and an unreasoning
contentment with the existing state of things.

About the year 1845, when the reaction against Romanticism was
awakening in the reading public an interest in the affairs of real
life,* began to appear what may be called "the men with
aspirations," a little band of generous enthusiasts, strongly
resembling the youth in Longfellow's poem who carries a banner with
the device "Excelsior," and strives ever to climb higher, without
having any clear notion of where he was going or of what he is to
do when he reaches the summit. At first they had little more than
a sentimental enthusiasm for the true, the beautiful, and the good,
and a certain Platonic love for free institutions, liberty,
enlightenment, progress, and everything that was generally
comprehended at that period under the term "liberal." Gradually,
under the influence of current French literature, their ideas
became a little clearer, and they began to look on reality around
them with a critical eye. They could perceive, without much
effort, the unrelenting tyranny of the Administration, the
notorious venality of the tribunals, the reckless squandering of
the public money, the miserable condition of the serfs, the
systematic strangulation of all independent opinion or private
initiative, and, above all, the profound apathy of the upper
classes, who seemed quite content with things as they were.

* Vide supra, p. 377 et seq.

With such ugly facts staring them in the face, and with the habit
of looking at things from the moral point of view, these men could
understand how hollow and false were the soothing or triumphant
phrases of official optimism. They did not, indeed, dare to
express their indignation publicly, for the authorities would allow
no public expression of dissatisfaction with the existing state of
things, but they disseminated their ideas among their friends and
acquaintances by means of conversation and manuscript literature,
and some of them, as university professors and writers in the
periodical Press, contrived to awaken in a certain section of the
young generation an ardent enthusiasm for enlightenment and
progress, and a vague hope that a brighter day was about to dawn.

Not a few sympathised with these new conceptions and aspirations,
but the great majority of the nobles regarded them--especially
after the French Revolution of 1848--as revolutionary and
dangerous. Thus the educated classes became divided into two
sections, which have sometimes been called the Liberals and the
Conservatives, but which might be more properly designated the men
with aspirations and the apathetically contented. These latter
doubtless felt occasionally the irksomeness of the existing
system, but they had always one consolation--if they were oppressed
at home they were feared abroad. The Tsar was at least a thorough
soldier, possessing an enormous and well-equipped army by which he
might at any moment impose his will on Europe. Ever since the
glorious days of 1812, when Napoleon was forced to make an
ignominious retreat from the ruins of Moscow, the belief that the
Russian soldiers were superior to all others, and that the Russian
army was invincible, had become an article of the popular creed;
and the respect which the voice of Nicholas commanded in Western
Europe seemed to prove that the fact was admitted by foreign
nations. In these and similar considerations the apathetically
contented found a justification for their lethargy.

When it became evident that Russia was about to engage in a trial
of strength with the Western Powers, this optimism became general.
"The heavy burdens," it was said, "which the people have had to
bear were necessary to make Russia the first military Power in
Europe, and now the nation will reap the fruits of its long-
suffering and patient resignation. The West will learn that her
boasted liberty and liberal institutions are of little service in
the hour of danger, and the Russians who admire such institutions
will be constrained to admit that a strong, all-directing autocracy
is the only means of preserving national greatness." As the
patriotic fervour and military enthusiasm increased, nothing was
heard but praises of Nicholas and his system. The war was regarded
by many as a kind of crusade--even the Emperor spoke about the
defence of "the native soil and the holy faith"--and the most
exaggerated expectations were entertained of its results. The old
Eastern Question was at last to be solved in accordance with
Russian aspirations, and Nicholas was about to realise Catherine
II.'s grand scheme of driving the Turks out of Europe. The date at
which the troops would arrive at Constantinople was actively
discussed, and a Slavophil poet called on the Emperor to lie down
in Constantinople, and rise up as Tsar of a Panslavonic Empire.
Some enthusiasts even expected the speedy liberation of Jerusalem
from the power of the Infidel. To the enemy, who might possibly
hinder the accomplishment of these schemes, very little attention
was paid. "We have only to throw our hats at them!" (Shapkami
zakidaem) became a favourite expression.

There were, however, a few men in whom the prospect of the coming
struggle awoke very different thoughts and feelings. They could
not share the sanguine expectations of those who were confident of
success. "What preparations have we made," they asked, "for the
struggle with civilisation, which now sends its forces against us?
With all our vast territory and countless population we are
incapable of coping with it. When we talk of the glorious campaign
against Napoleon, we forget that since that time Europe has been
steadily advancing on the road of progress while we have been
standing still. We march not to victory, but to defeat, and the
only grain of consolation which we have is that Russia will learn
by experience a lesson that will be of use to her in the future."*

* These are the words of Granovski.

These prophets of evil found, of course, few disciples, and were
generally regarded as unworthy sons of the Fatherland--almost as
traitors to their country. But their predictions were confirmed by
events. The Allies were victorious in the Crimea, and even the
despised Turks made a successful stand on the line of the Danube.
In spite of the efforts of the Government to suppress all
unpleasant intelligence, it soon became known that the military
organisation was little, if at all, better than the civil
administration--that the individual bravery of soldiers and
officers was neutralised by the incapacity of the generals, the
venality of the officials, and the shameless peculation of the
commissariat department. The Emperor, it was said, had drilled out
of the officers all energy, individuality, and moral force. Almost
the only men who showed judgment, decision, and energy were the
officers of the Black Sea fleet, which had been less subjected to
the prevailing system. As the struggle went on, it became evident
how weak the country really was--how deficient in the resources
necessary to sustain a prolonged conflict. "Another year of war,"
writes an eye-witness in 1855, "and the whole of Southern Russia
will be ruined." To meet the extraordinary demands on the
Treasury, recourse was had to an enormous issue of paper money; but
the rapid depreciation of the currency showed that this resource
would soon be exhausted. Militia regiments were everywhere raised
throughout the country, and many proprietors spent large sums in
equipping volunteer corps; but very soon this enthusiasm cooled
when it was found that the patriotic efforts enriched the jobbers
without inflicting any serious injury on the enemy.

Under the sting of the great national humiliation, the upper
classes awoke from their optimistic resignation. They had borne
patiently the oppression of a semi-military administration, and for
this! The system of Nicholas had been put to a crucial test, and
found wanting. The policy which had sacrificed all to increase the
military power of the Empire was seen to be a fatal error, and the
worthlessness of the drill-sergeant regime was proved by bitter
experience. Those administrative fetters which had for more than a
quarter of a century cramped every spontaneous movement had failed
to fulfil even the narrow purpose for which they had been forged.
They had, indeed, secured a certain external tranquillity during
those troublous times when Europe was convulsed by revolutionary
agitation; but this tranquillity was not that of healthy normal
action, but of death--and underneath the surface lay secret and
rapidly spreading corruption. The army still possessed that
dashing gallantry which it had displayed in the campaigns of
Suvorof, that dogged, stoical bravery which had checked the advance
of Napoleon on the field of Borodino, and that wondrous power of
endurance which had often redeemed the negligence of generals and
the defects of the commissariat; but the result was now not
victory, but defeat. How could this be explained except by the
radical defects of that system which had been long practised with
such inflexible perseverance? The Government had imagined that it
could do everything by its own wisdom and energy, and in reality it
had done nothing, or worse than nothing. The higher officers had
learned only too well to be mere automata; the ameliorations in the
military organisation, on which Nicholas had always bestowed
special attention, were found to exist for the most part only in
the official reports; the shameful exploits of the commissariat
department were such as to excite the indignation of those who had
long lived in an atmosphere of official jobbery and peculation; and
the finances, which people had generally supposed to be in a highly
satisfactory condition, had become seriously crippled by the first
great national effort.

This deep and wide-spread dissatisfaction was not allowed to appear
in the Press, but it found very free expression in the manuscript
literature and in conversation. In almost every house--I mean, of
course, among the educated classes--words were spoken which a few
months before would have seemed treasonable, if not blasphemous.
Philippics and satires in prose and verse were written by the
dozen, and circulated in hundreds of copies. A pasquil on the
Commander in Chief, or a tirade against the Government, was sure to
be eagerly read and warmly approved of. As a specimen of this kind
of literature, and an illustration of the public opinion of the
time, I may translate here one of those metrical tirades. Though
it was never printed, it obtained a wide circulation:

"'God has placed me over Russia,' said the Tsar to us, 'and you
must bow down before me, for my throne is His altar. Trouble not
yourselves with public affairs, for I think for you and watch over
you every hour. My watchful eye detects internal evils and the
machinations of foreign enemies; and I have no need of counsel, for
God inspires me with wisdom. Be proud, therefore, of being my
slaves, O Russians, and regard my will as your law.'

"We listened to these words with deep reverence, and gave a tacit
consent; and what was the result? Under mountains of official
papers real interests were forgotten. The letter of the law was
observed, but negligence and crime were allowed to go unpunished.
While grovelling in the dust before ministers and directors of
departments in the hope of receiving tchins and decorations, the
officials stole unblushingly; and theft became so common that he
who stole the most was the most respected. The merits of officers
were decided at reviews; and he who obtained the rank of General
was supposed capable of becoming at once an able governor, an
excellent engineer, or a most wise senator. Those who were
appointed governors were for the most part genuine satraps, the
scourges of the provinces entrusted to their care. The other
offices were filled up with as little attention to the merits of
the candidates. A stable-boy became Press censor! an Imperial
fool became admiral! Kleinmichel became a count! In a word, the
country was handed over to the tender mercies of a band of robbers.

"And what did we Russians do all this time?

"We Russians slept! With groans the peasant paid his yearly dues;
with groans the proprietor mortgaged the second half of his estate;
groaning, we all paid our heavy tribute to the officials.
Occasionally, with a grave shaking of the head, we remarked in a
whisper that it was a shame and a disgrace--that there was no
justice in the courts--that millions were squandered on Imperial
tours, kiosks, and pavilions--that everything was wrong; and then,
with an easy conscience, we sat down to our rubber, praised the
acting of Rachel, criticised the singing of Frezzolini, bowed low
to venal magnates, and squabbled with each other for advancement in
the very service which we so severely condemned. If we did not
obtain the place we wished we retired to our ancestral estates,
where we talked of the crops, fattened in indolence and gluttony,
and lived a genuine animal life. If any one, amidst the general
lethargy, suddenly called upon us to rise and fight for the truth
and for Russia, how ridiculous did he appear! How cleverly the
Pharisaical official ridiculed him, and how quickly the friends of
yesterday showed him the cold shoulder! Under the anathema of
public opinion, in some distant Siberian mine he recognised what a
heinous sin it was to disturb the heavy sleep of apathetic slaves.
Soon he was forgotten, or remembered as an unfortunate madman; and
the few who said, 'Perhaps after all he was right,' hastened to
add, 'but that is none of our business.'

"But amidst all this we had at least one consolation, one thing to
be proud of--the might of Russia in the assembly of kings. 'What
need we care,' we said, 'for the reproaches of foreign nations? We
are stronger than those who reproach us.' And when at great
reviews the stately regiments marched past with waving standards,
glittering helmets, and sparkling bayonets, when we heard the loud
hurrah with which the troops greeted the Emperor, then our hearts
swelled with patriotic pride, and we were ready to repeat the words
of the poet--

"Strong is our native country, and great the Russian Tsar."

Then British statesmen, in company with the crowned conspirator of
France, and with treacherous Austria, raised Western Europe against
us, but we laughed scornfully at the coming storm. 'Let the
nations rave,' we said; 'we have no cause to be afraid. The Tsar
doubtless foresaw all, and has long since made the necessary
preparations.' Boldly we went forth to fight, and confidently
awaited the moment of the struggle.

"And lo! after all our boasting we were taken by surprise, and
caught unawares, as by a robber in the dark. The sleep of innate
stupidity blinded our Ambassadors, and our Foreign Minister sold us
to our enemies.* Where were our millions of soldiers? Where was
the well-considered plan of defence? One courier brought the order
to advance; another brought the order to retreat; and the army
wandered about without definite aim or purpose. With loss and
shame we retreated from the forts of Silistria, and the pride of
Russia was humbled before the Hapsburg eagle. The soldiers fought
well, but the parade-admiral (Menshikof)--the amphibious hero of
lost battles--did not know the geography of his own country, and
sent his troops to certain destruction.

* Many people at that time imagined that Count Nesselrode, who was
then Minister for Foreign Affairs, was a traitor to his adopted

"Awake, O Russia! Devoured by foreign enemies, crushed by slavery,
shamefully oppressed by stupid authorities and spies, awaken from
your long sleep of ignorance and apathy! You have been long enough
held in bondage by the successors of the Tartar Khan. Stand
forward calmly before the throne of the despot, and demand from him
an account of the national disaster. Say to him boldly that his
throne is not the altar of God, and that God did not condemn us to
be slaves. Russia entrusted to you, O Tsar, the supreme power, and
you were as a God upon earth. And what have you done? Blinded by
ignorance and passion, you have lusted after power and have
forgotten Russia. You have spent your life in reviewing troops, in
modifying uniforms, and in appending your signature to the
legislative projects of ignorant charlatans. You created the
despicable race of Press censors, in order to sleep in peace--in
order not to know the wants and not to hear the groans of the
people--in order not to listen to Truth. You buried Truth, rolled
a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, placed a strong guard
over it, and said in the pride of your heart: For her there is no
resurrection! But the third day has dawned, and Truth has arisen
from the dead.

"Stand forward, O Tsar, before the judgment-seat of history and of
God! You have mercilessly trampled Truth under foot, you have
denied Freedom, you have been the slave of your own passions. By
your pride and obstinacy you have exhausted Russia and raised the
world in arms against us. Bow down before your brethren and humble
yourself in the dust! Crave pardon and ask advice! Throw yourself
into the arms of the people! There is now no other salvation!"

The innumerable tirades of which the above is a fair specimen were
not very remarkable for literary merit or political wisdom. For
the most part they were simply bits of bombastic rhetoric couched
in doggerel rhyme, and they have consequently been long since
consigned to well-merited oblivion--so completely that it is now
difficult to obtain copies of them.* They have, however, an
historical interest, because they express in a more or less
exaggerated form the public opinion and prevalent ideas of the
educated classes at that moment. In order to comprehend their real
significance, we must remember that the writers and readers were
not a band of conspirators, but ordinary, respectable, well-
intentioned people, who never for a moment dreamed of embarking in
revolutionary designs. It was the same society that had been a few
months before so indifferent to all political questions, and even
now there was no clear conception as to how the loud-sounding
phrases could be translated into action. We can imagine the
comical discomfiture of those who read and listened to these
appeals, if the "despot" had obeyed their summons, and suddenly
appeared before them.

* I am indebted for the copies which I possess to friends who
copied and collected these pamphlets at the time.

Was the movement, then, merely an outburst of childish petulance?
Certainly not. The public were really and seriously convinced that
things were all wrong, and they were seriously and enthusiastically
desirous that a new and better order of things should be
introduced. It must be said to their honour that they did not
content themselves with accusing and lampooning the individuals who
were supposed to be the chief culprits. On the contrary, they
looked reality boldly in the face, made a public confession of
their past sins, sought conscientiously the causes which had
produced the recent disasters, and endeavoured to find means by
which such calamities might be prevented in the future. The public
feeling and aspirations were not strong enough to conquer the
traditional respect for the Imperial will and create an open
opposition to the Autocratic Power, but they were strong enough to
do great things by aiding the Government, if the Emperor
voluntarily undertook a series of radical reforms.

What Nicholas would have done, had he lived, in face of this
national awakening, it is difficult to say. He declared, indeed,
that he could not change, and we can readily believe that his proud
spirit would have scorned to make concessions to the principles
which he had always condemned; but he gave decided indications in
the last days of his life that his old faith in his system was
somewhat shaken, and he did not exhort his son to persevere in the
path along which he himself had forced his way with such obstinate
consistency. It is useless, however, to speculate on
possibilities. Whilst the Government had still to concentrate all
its energies on the defence of the country, the Iron Tsar died, and
was succeeded by his son, a man of a very different type.

Of a kind-hearted, humane disposition, sincerely desirous of
maintaining the national honour, but singularly free from military
ambition and imbued with no fanatical belief in the drill-sergeant
system of government, Alexander II. was by no means insensible to
the spirit of the time. He had, however, none of the sentimental
enthusiasm for liberal institutions which had characterised his
uncle, Alexander I. On the contrary, he had inherited from his
father a strong dislike to sentimentalism and rhetoric of all
kinds. This dislike, joined to a goodly portion of sober common-
sense, a limited confidence in his own judgment, and a
consciousness of enormous responsibility, prevented him from being
carried away by the prevailing excitement. With all that was
generous and humane in the movement he thoroughly sympathised, and
he allowed the popular ideas and aspirations to find free
utterance; but he did not at once commit himself to any definite
policy, and carefully refrained from all exaggerated expressions of
reforming zeal.

As soon, however, as peace had been concluded, there were
unmistakable symptoms that the rigorously repressive system of
Nicholas was about to be abandoned. In the manifesto announcing
the termination of hostilities the Emperor expressed his conviction
that by the combined efforts of the Government and the people, the
public administration would be improved, and that justice and mercy
would reign in the courts of law. Apparently as a preparation for
this great work, to be undertaken by the Tsar and his people in
common, the ministers began to take the public into their
confidence, and submitted to public criticism many official data
which had hitherto been regarded as State secrets. The Minister of
the Interior, for instance, in his annual report, spoke almost in
the tone of a penitent, and confessed openly that the morality of
the officials under his orders left much to be desired. He
declared that the Emperor now showed a paternal confidence in his
people, and as a proof of this he mentioned the significant fact
that 9,000 persons had been liberated from police supervision. The
other branches of the Administration underwent a similar
transformation. The haughty, dictatorial tone which had hitherto
been used by superiors to their subordinates, and by all ranks of
officials to the public, was replaced by one of considerate
politeness. About the same time those of the Decembrists who were
still alive were pardoned. The restrictions regarding the number
of students in each university were abolished, the difficulty of
obtaining foreign passports was removed, and the Press censors
became singularly indulgent. Though no decided change had been
made in the laws, it was universally felt that the spirit of

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