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who had sided with the rebels. There appeared having two regiments of grenadiers quartered on not any alteration in her, nor any fear of death, his estates. The result was that they became when the sentence of being burned alive was Potemkin's serfs! It was a state-stroke of the pronounced against her. Crossing herself, in the most tricky and hideous kind. Russian manner, over the forehead and breast, The farcical manner in which the philosophershe “ laid herself quietly down upon the pile, and Empress dealt with serfdom may be seen from was burned to ashes.”
the fact of a decree having been issued by her This semi-emancipated nun may be said to which struck out the word “slave" from the have been the first type of a Russian woman Russian vocabulary, while she herself converted acting, and even dying, in the people's cause. so many men into slaves. By another decree of Others were to follow in our days.
Catharine (ukase of August 22, 1767) it was enacted that any serf bold enough to present a pe
tition against his master should be knouted and THERE had at first been a law which or- sent for life to a Siberian mine. It is reported dained that the serf can only be sold together that Catharine, “in order to honor philosophy," with the land. This law was soon set aside in asked the Academy to express an opinion on the practice. The same Czar who burned the public rightful validity of bondage. This servile body registers of nobility, in order, as he alleged, to of demi-savants and thorough lackeys repliedput an end to the ceaseless disputes as regards that “no doubt all principles of right were in rank—or, as is more probable, in order to do favor of freedom, but that there was a measure away with some of the last remnants of the pres- in all things" (in favorem libertatis omnia jura tige and influence of old families-quietly al- clamant, sed est modus in rebus). lowed the peasant to be treated like a beast. Peter I., it is true, thundered in a ukase against
III. the evil custom of the sale of children, who were The wholesale enslavement of the peasantry torn away from their parents, or of whole fami- in what is now southern Russia, by Catharine lies who were sold from their native cottage into II., had been preceded by the great conspiracy distant and unknown parts of the realm. But and insurrection at whose head Iemeljan Puga-' the reforming tendencies of this arbitrary ruler tcheff stood. did not reach far in the question of serfage. He For two years — from 1773 to 1775—that who handed the cup of poison to his own son in dreaded Cossack shook the southeast of the emthe very presence of his court, and who felt pire. Having served, during the Seven Years' greatly astonished when to his question as to war, first under Frederick II. of Prussia, and then "what was the price for a German professor of in the Austrian army, he rose under the name of natural science," the reply was made that they Peter III., whom the popular legend declared to " were not accustomed in Germany to sell pro- be still alive. The foul crime Catharine II. had fessors"—this Czar Peter the Great, who stood committed she now felt sticking on her hands. himself on so low a level of human culture, It came home to her through this terrible rebelcould not be expected to be over-enthusiastic in lion, in which the counterfeit figure of her mur. the matter of peasant emancipation.
dered husband moved, like an avenger's form, Catharine II., the philosophical Empress, the from the misty banks of the Volga toward Mos-, friend, as she called herself, of Hellenic regener- cow's gilded domes. ation, but whose life showed a sadder want of The history of Russia is full of such false the most ordinary decency than is usually exhib- royal apparitions-weird mirages of secret murited among the most degraded classes, extended ders. The very attempts of races and classes serfdom over the Ukraine, or Little Russia, which bent upon escaping from oppression have generat the time of Boris had not formed part of the ally been mixed up in Russia with these imposMuscovite Empire. If Boris had acted with art- tures of a half-tragic, half-grotesque character. ful suddenness, surprising his intended victims In the story of the pseudo-Demetriuses, and the with a tiger-like spring, the deed of enslavement numerous conspiracies connected with their rise in the Ukraine was, under Catharine, accompa- and fall, there is a succession of horrors and denied by even more loathsome falseness. Cour- ceptions in which the ghastly continually verges tiers who were in the secret, and who had estates upon the ridiculous. After Pugatcheff had been in southern Russia, allured, shortly before the on the scene for a while under the pretense of appearance of the ukase, as many workingmen being Peter III., not only a number of false Peas they could to their land, in order, on the given ters, but even many false Pugatcheffs, started up, day, to throw the lasso over their heads. Potem- as armed heads, everywhere, until a large part kin, the well-known favorite of the Empress, suc- of the empire was filled with a perfect masquerceeded, before her decree was promulgated, in ade of returned ghosts and living doubles.
However, the terrific nature of the insurrec- The book quoted above, which is a translation tion was ever present before the eyes of the from a Russian work, says, however, that many affrighted Empress Catharine. Malcontents of believed there had been secret orders from adall kinds took up arms in the lands near the Ural, herents of the condemned leader, forcing the the Volga, and the Don. These insurrectionary executioner to act as he did. This reminds one outbreaks were not the mere achievement of an almost of the secret orders at present so often ambitious leader; they were the result of a wide- issued by the so-called Nihilist League. spread discontent. Tribes which had lost their It was also said at the time that “ powerful national independence made common cause with secret friends of the impostor had promised the enslaved men that once were yeomen on their executioner a considerable reward, as well as own freehold property. The spirit of Spartacus impunity, for his culpable ‘distraction of mind.'” mingled with that of Vercingetorix and Civilis. Others alleged that even the executioner was Rebellious hinds, workmen from the salt and a friend and adherent of Pugatcheff, and had metal mines, religious dissenters, Raskolniks, and promised him to shorten his sufferings by hastthe like, together with Cossacks, Calmucks, Bash- ening his death. kirs, Wotjaks, Permjaks, and other Finnic and In all this the dark and doubtful character of Tartar hordes, were taken into the ranks of the everything connected with an irresponsible auinsurgents, whom Pugatcheff hurled against the tocracy, which shuns the light and avoids public Muscovite Empire. Poles, exiled as captives to control, comes out in perfection. those southeastern provinces, helped to organizė Pugatcheff died bravely, as even his enemies his artillery. Kazan, the old Tartar capital, fell acknowledge. His rising was the last grand atinto his hands. One Russian general after the tempt at restoring the independence of the steppe other was defeated by him. The troops of Catha- tribes, and taking the yoke of villeinage from the rine II., in many cases, went over to Pugatcheff, cottier. After the fall of this rebel chieftain, the delivering their officers into his hands. He south could not any longer resist the institution hanged the officers, and took the soldiers into of serfdom. “The peasant of the Ukraine,” says his army, dressing them in Cossack fashion, with Ogareff, “yielded to force; but never did he betheir hair and beards trimmed in the manner of lieve that the soil on which he dwells, and which those bold raiders. For a time Pugatcheff was he tills, did not belong to him; and there are the Czar in eastern Russia.
still old men who recollect the time when there Moscow, where a hundred thousand serfs was no serfage. The Russine peasant considers lived, showed signs of deep agitation. The himself, therefore, proprietor of the soil, and looks masses began to talk boldly of freedom. Threats upon serfdom as a temporary yoke, inflicted upon of a wholesale massacre of their masters were him by a foreigner--that is, by the imperialism heard. In this grave crisis Generals Suwaroff of St. Petersburg, which, traditionally, he desigand Panin at last succeeded in cutting off the nates as 'Muscovite."" leader of the insurrection from the bulk of his forces. Being surprised, he was pinioned, put in
IV. an iron cage, and thus delivered over to the ten- In this way it came to pass at last that nearly der mercies of the philosopher-Empress. the whole population of Russia, north and south,
I have before me a painfully interesting ac- with the exception of a small fraction, comprising count of the last days of the bold Cossack leader the upper classes and a few of the nomadic tribes, of this servile revolt, published in London in had lost the simplest rights of personal freedom. 1775, under the title of “ Le Faux Pierre III.” The Slavonic, or Slavonized, Russian race of the There we read: “The clemency of the Empress center was, in its peasent population, almost to having restricted the action of the judges, who a man under the yoke of serfdom. Whatever would have considered it a duty to accumulate "free" peasants still existed were mainly found tortures in order to punish him for his misdeeds, among the Finns and the Tartars of the outlying they simply condemned him, in their sentence, to provinces. Out of about sixty million inhabihave his feet and hands cut off, and then to be tants of European Russia, nearly fifty million beheaded." This was the merciful view which were serfs, more than half of whom, at the time Catharine, the murderer of her own consort, of the emancipation decree, under Alexander II., took. But by a strange aberration of the execu- were serfs of the crown domains. tioner she was foiled in her humane desire.
At the same time, the severity with which Instead of first cutting off Pugatcheff's feet oppression was exercised had grown year by and hands, the executioner began by striking off year, since the days of Boris, in a frightful dehis head. Taken to task for this reversal of the gree. The ukase prohibiting the sale of landorder, he excused himself by saying that he had slaves without the land was openly broken in the labored under a sudden access of forgetfulness. capital itself. Bondsmen were sold by auction
under the windows of the Imperial Palace. The time, again, the rising was overthrown. Not labor, the body, the life of the peasant remained many years afterward, however, an imperial at the absolute disposal of the owner. With the ukase appeared, at least for Livonia and Esthowhip the latter inculcated upon his serf the Mus- nia, which somewhat bettered the lot of the sufcovite proverb that “a beaten man is worth two fering bondmen. unbeaten ones.” If ever a proprietor wished to The whole position of that class in the Baltic get rid altogether of a hated or incapable worker, provinces was regulated after the conclusion of he could, on his own responsibility, send him to the Napoleonic wars. From the position of men Siberia. Scarcely ever was a land-owner taken bound to the soil, the agricultural laborers were up for downright murder committed against his raised to that of farmers enjoying personal freehuman cattle.
dom, though by no means holding the same posiSuch being the general state of things, it tion as the corresponding class in other parts of looked liked progress that Alexander I. sought Continental Europe. For the Lithuanian and to create a class of peasant freeholders by grad- Polish peasants also Alexander I. meditated some ual redemption, though on an almost infinitesi- slight reform. The French invasion, albeit quickmal scale. The measure led to very little, from ly repelled, yet brought some change for the betits execution being surrounded by a mass of ter there. troublesome and oppressing formalities. As In the Old Muscovite parts of the empire often as autocracy put its hand to this question, matters remained as bad and as cruelly oppresit did so in a halting, half-hearted way. Two sive as before. The atrocities practiced on the opposite currents of thought were ever at war estate of Count Araktcheyeff, the favorite of with each other within the Imperial Government. Alexander I., were of a nature so revolting that The Czar was continually thrown backward and their fiendishness can only be said to have been forward between the desire of breaking the social surpassed by those of a lady of the name of power of the nobility by an act of “liberalism" Soltykoff, who had been brought to justice in and the fear lest the nobles should do an act of 1788 for having killed, by inhuman tortures, in vengeance against him, or outrun him even in the course of ten or eleven years, about a hunliberal aspirations.
dred of her serfs, chiefly of the female sexIn the beginning of the present century the among them several young girls of eleven and comparatively more decided action was taken by twelve years of age! The sole alleviation, under the Court of St. Petersburg with regard to serf- Alexander I., of the lot of the peasantry, was the dom in those provinces which had been recently gradual conversion of not a few of the serfs of acquired or conquered—in Courland, Livonia, the nobility into serfs of the Crown. That is to Esthonia, Lithuania, and Poland. There the say, the Crown, by way of redemption or of loans object was to gain over the great mass, as made to the nobles, bought a number of landagainst a nobility of ancient renown and influ- slaves in order to put them into its own domains. ence. In those parts of the empire the Russian These “ Crown peasants” were, of course, Government, therefore, acted with some degree not free. Their treatment was better than that of of resolution. However, apart from such con- their brethren on the estates of the land-owners. siderations of autocratic state policy, the attitude They even possessed the right of removing. But of the fettered multitude itself-especially in the in reality they still were far from having freedom Baltic provinces—strongly suggested to the au- in our sense; for the right of removing was dethorities the overthrow, or at least the consider- pendent upon so many formalities, not to menable alleviation, of serfage. Toward the end of tion the pecuniary difficulties, that the thought last century, a deputation of the discontented of exercising that right could but seldom take Baltic peasantry went to Riga and St. Peters. the shape of an act. The small difference beburg. After their demands had been refused, tween the two kinds of peasants may be seen the enraged people broke out in open insurrec- from the fact that, down to Alexander I., even tion (1783-'84). It was only suppressed after the Crown peasant could be given away as a much bloodshed, and by means of a large force present, like any head of cattle. This custom of troops. A few years later, when the news of only ceased after the influence of modern ideas the French Revolution and of the abolition of all had brought about a better treatment of subject socage service came to those distant shores of classes all through the Continent. the Finnic Gulf, the Baltic peasantry compelled It was the appearance of a foreign army on the nobility to make some concessions, which, Russian soil in 1812 which forced the Czar to however, were soon retracted. In 1802 a new occupy himself with the question of the abolition servile revolt took place. It had been prepared of bondage. In order to beat back the invader, by a conspiracy similar to that of the German the peasantry had to be armed as a mass-levy. Peasant Leagues in the sixteenth century. This The nobility, on their part, readily responded to the call of Alexander I., who, in his great af- Emperor. When Alexander I. perceived that fright at the approach of the tricolor, hastened there were men who, along with their princiin person to the ancient Kremlin of Moscow, to ples of humanity, harbored political views which beseech and entreat the aristocracy and the mer- clashed with the interests of autocracy, their dechants to lend their aid to him. Since the days votion to the cause of peasant emancipation sudof Peter I., the Sovereign had not condescended denly filled him with suspicion. The thought to speak in this way to the nation. The peril rose in him whether the movement in favor of was extreme. The answer to the imploring re- the abolition of serfage was not a desire for quest was not lacking in patriotic decision. bringing about a union of all the elements of While the Pole, the Finn, the Crim Tatar, and opposition. An irresponsible ruler is easily other subject races, listened, as it were, with ear frightened by a shadow on the wall. He sees held to the ground, to catch the tramping sound enemies lurking everywhere. He is not sure of of the approaching foreign hosts, the land-owners the trustworthiness of any of his own partisans. of Russia personally took up arms to repel the Alexander all at once recollected the attempts foe, giving at the same time a serf out of every made by the nobles at the advent of the Empress ten for the Czar's army. The merchants offered Anna to transform Russia in the Polish or Swedthe tenth part of their revenues.
ish sense—that is, to convert the Crown into an In the memory and the imagination of the elective one, or at any rate largely to curtail its masses, Moscow was always looked upon as the privileges, and to introduce a parliamentary repreal capital. When Moscow was burned, as an resentation. He now feared the recurrence of earnest of the national resolve to throw back the similar aims, the more so because the standardinvasion at all costs, the gigantic flood of flames bearers of peasant emancipation might easily spoke with fiery tongues, across the stillness of become popular among the masses, and thereby the Russian snow-desert, to many a sluggish acquire irresistible strength. mind. So great a sacrifice seemed worthy of a The Czar's alarm grew from day to day. He reward in the shape of liberty at home. Not a already saw himself, in his terrified mind's eye, few believed in the existence of a patriotic con- in the grasp of a court conspiracy. He even spiracy, which had brought about the terrible thought he was in danger of being dethroned. event. This was an error, no doubt. The ini- Poor almightiness of an autocrat! tiative of the startling act had been taken by the The deputations which appeared before him Government authorities themselves. Yet the for the furtherance of serf emancipation were impression upon the public mind remained a now received by him with icy coldness. With powerful one. The conflagration of Moscow the zeal of mistrustfulness, he sought to find out roused many a political sleeper.
why men had taken such great trouble to com
bine, in order to constitute, so to say, a body of V.
directing reformers, while he himself had been in I HAVE described before how the contact of favor of the reform scheme, which he considered the Russian troops with Western nations had was all-sufficient. His mind became deeply trouled to liberal and parliamentary aspirations. bled. The memory of his father's violent death New ideas of human dignity were learned by tormented him. He would not hear any more them, both from the Germans, with whom Rus- of projects which might lead to further demands. sia then was allied, and from their enemies the So the whole affair, the solution of which had French. Some of the officers warmly caught seemed to be near at hand, came to be stopped this progressive infection. In a smaller degree by the fears of a suspicious monarch, and was the uniformed serfs became imbued with unac- finally laid aside altogether. customed notions.
After Alexander I., Nicholas held the country No wonder, under these circumstances, that under his iron heel. The events of 1825 filled the proposal to do away with compulsory labor that tyrant with deadly hatred against everything and serfdom should have found warm advocates connected with liberal tenets. The stillness of in the more enlightened circles. At first the death which, during his reign, lay over Russia in Court entered into the question with apparent a political sense, was, however, not seldom broken zeal. Committees of inquiry were appointed. by an agrarian riot and by the frequent murder Speeches and articles of a promising character of harsh land-owners. As a rule, the Russian were published. A good result was deemed cer- peasant is a good-natured, easy-going, lazy, but tain ; the Czar himself having apparently been docile fellow, averse to blood-shedding and even gained over.
to personal encounters among his equals—so But the promoters of the scheme had left out much so that foreigners often wonder at the of account the feelings of mistrust which had tameness with which he bears the grossest insult. only been lulled for a while in the heart of the Great must, therefore, have been the provocation
which induced the hinds to attack the life of their Meanwhile, as under Czar Paul, who created masters.
the institution of “ Appanage Serfs,” so also unIn the earlier part of the government of Nicho- der Nicholas, the process of increasing the numlas, about seventy land-owners were, according to ber of Crown bondmen steadily went on. Nichoofficial statistics, killed every year. In 1850 the las definitively formed a special administration proportion had risen to two hundred. Hence over the Crown serfs. Under every reign, peasabsenteeism was continually on the increase. ants had been attached as serfs to the mines and Horrible tales now and then came out of the imperial manufacturing establishments. Under cruelty practiced against land-owners by the oth- Alexander II., down to 1862, there were still erwise slavish serfs---such as rolling the victim's serfs of the printing-office of the Imperial Uniliving body over splintered glass until death put versity of Moscow. The compositors had to do an end to his sufferings. The utter neglect in compulsory labor for pay below the minimum which the agricultural masses were left with re- of wages paid anywhere - a strange irony of gard to mental culture thus avenged itself in fate that men employed in the diffusion of that fiendish barbarities, all the more loathsome be- science which ought to strike off the fetters of cause the same men who committed them were the intellect should have been treated as slaves ! otherwise of a cringing character, and, in their cups, showed a lachrymose sentimentality which
VI. struck the beholder as rather laughable.
The abolition of serfdom was the result, as Haxthausen says: “Among the Russians all before stated, of the defeat of czardom on the social power makes itself respected by blows, Crimean battle-fields, and the consequent loss which do not change either affection or friend- of imperial prestige. Something had to be done ship. Every one deals blows: the father beats to allay the feeling of discontent which had spread his son; the husband his wife; the territorial through all classes. Naturally, the upholder of lord, or his steward, the peasants—without any the principle of unlimited monarchy preferred bitterness or revenge resulting from it. The conciliating the large majority of the people by a backs of the Russians are quite accustomed to boon, the grant of which did not touch the exerblows, and yet the stick is more sensibly felt bycise of his unrestricted sovereignty, to satisfying the nerves of their backs than by their souls.” the claims of men who hoped for the introduc
Warned by the dangers of the conspiracy tion of representative government. and insurrection which had threatened his ac- In the probable course of events, any convocession to the throne, and in which so many men cation of a duma, or Parliament, would have led of the first families were implicated, Nicholas to the discussion and the enactment of bills for played toward the serfs a double game. He the manumission, and even the partial political acted the part of the “ Little Father” in his deal- representation, of the peasantry. This, however, ings with the peasantry. He sometimes im- did not suit Alexander II. At the same time pressed them, by confidential agents, with goody- entire inaction was no longer possible to him— goody talk about his reforming wishes; that is the less so because the Polish aristocracy, in the to say, whenever he stood in need of striking provinces bordering upon Germany, had taken terror once more into malcontent land-owners. the initiative in favor of serf emancipation. This But as soon as the signs of dissatisfaction with is a fact generally lost sight of, but of great imhis harsh and arbitrary government disappeared portance in judging of the causes of the measure from among that class, and there were no longer which was happily accomplished at last, and for any whisperings in favor of parliamentary rule, which ignorance and courtier-like adulation now the promises of social reform spread about in his give the Czar the sole credit. name were quickly withdrawn. Occasionally, a By a decree dated December 2, 1857, Alex. proprietor who had flogged a serf to death, or ander II. accorded to the nobility of Wilna, Kovmurdered him by slow demoniacal torture, was, no, and Grodno, the necessary authorization for under Nicholas, punished for his cruelty. A few electing committees in which peasant emanciparestrictions were also placed upon the privileges tion was to be discussed. Thanking them for of the slaveholder"; but, beyond this, no the readiness they had shown, he ordered the change was wrought. To give the measure of Home Secretary to communicate this rescript to the ideas of Nicholas as regards peasant free- the marshals of the Russian nobility, so that they dom, I need only say that he pushed the spirit of might proceed to similar action, if they chose. bureaucratic regulation so far as to prescribe the Care was, however, taken not to let the Polish plan for building village houses by a decree from land-owners proceed to an immediate practical St. Petersburg, and that he held to uniformity in realization of their intention, lest they should gain the
appearance of the streets as much as to uni- popularity thereby. formity in military concerns.
There can be no doubt that the readiness of