In the last chapter, as in many of the preceding ones, the reader must have observed that at one moment there was a sudden break, almost a solution of continuity, in Russian national life. The Tsardom of Muscovy, with its ancient Oriental costumes and Byzantine traditions, unexpectedly disappears, and the Russian Empire, clad in modern garb and animated with the spirit of modern progress, steps forward uninvited into European history. Of the older civilisation, if civilisation it can be called, very little survived the political transformation, and that little is generally supposed to hover ghostlike around Kief and Moscow. To one or other of these towns, therefore, the student who desires to learn something of genuine old Russian life, untainted by foreign influences, naturally wends his way. For my part I thought first of settling for a time in Kief, the oldest and most revered of Russian cities, where missionaries from Byzantium first planted Christianity on Russian soil, and where thousands of pilgrims still assemble yearly from far and near to prostrate themselves before the Holy Icons in the churches and to venerate the relics of the blessed saints and martyrs in the catacombs of the great monastery. I soon discovered, however, that Kief, though it represents in a certain sense the Byzantine traditions so dear to the Russian people, is not a good point of observation for studying the Russian character. It was early exposed to the ravages of the nomadic tribes of the Steppe, and when it was liberated from those incursions it was seized by the Poles and Lithuanians, and remained for centuries under their domination. Only in comparatively recent times did it begin to recover its Russian character--a university having been created there for that purpose after the Polish insurrection of 1830. Even now the process of Russification is far from complete, and the Russian elements in the population are far from being pure in the nationalist sense. The city and the surrounding country are, in fact, Little Russian rather than Great Russian, and between these two sections of the population there are profound differences--differences of language, costume, traditions, popular songs, proverbs, folk-lore, domestic arrangements, mode of life, and Communal organisation. In these and other respects the Little Russians, South Russians, Ruthenes, or Khokhly, as they are variously designated, differ from the Great Russians of the North, who form the predominant factor in the Empire, and who have given to that wonderful structure its essential characteristics. Indeed, if I did not fear to ruffle unnecessarily the patriotic susceptibilities of my Great Russian friends who have a pet theory on this subject, I should say that we have here two distinct nationalities, further apart from each other than the English and the Scotch. The differences are due, I believe, partly to ethnographical peculiarities and partly to historic conditions.
As it was the energetic Great Russian empire-builders and not the half-dreamy, half-astute, sympathetic descendants of the Free Cossacks that I wanted to study, I soon abandoned my idea of settling in the Holy City on the Dnieper, and chose Moscow as my point of observation; and here, during several years, I spent regularly some of the winter months.
The first few weeks of my stay in the ancient capital of the Tsars were spent in the ordinary manner of intelligent tourists. After mastering the contents of a guide-book I carefully inspected all the officially recognised objects of interest--the Kremlin, with its picturesque towers and six centuries of historical associations; the Cathedrals, containing the venerated tombs of martyrs, saints, and Tsars; the old churches, with their quaint, archaic, richly decorated Icons; the "Patriarchs' Treasury," rich in jewelled ecclesiastical vestments and vessels of silver and gold; the ancient and the modern palace; the Ethnological Museum, showing the costumes and physiognomy of all the various races in the Empire; the archaeological collections, containing many objects that recall the barbaric splendour of old Muscovy; the picture- gallery, with Ivanof's gigantic picture, in which patriotic Russian critics discover occult merits which place it above anything that Western Europe has yet produced! Of course I climbed up to the top of the tall belfry which rejoices in the name of "Ivan the Great," and looked down on the "gilded domes"* of the churches, and bright green roofs of the houses, and far away, beyond these, the gently undulating country with the "Sparrow Hills," from which Napoleon is said, in cicerone language, to have "gazed upon the doomed city." Occasionally I walked about the bazaars in the hope of finding interesting specimens of genuine native art-industry, and was urgently invited to purchase every conceivable article which I did not want. At midday or in the evening I visited the most noted traktirs, and made the acquaintance of the caviar, sturgeons, sterlets, and other native delicacies for which these institutions are famous--deafened the while by the deep tones of the colossal barrel-organ, out of all proportion to the size of the room; and in order to see how the common people spent their evenings I looked in at some of the more modest traktirs, and gazed with wonder, not unmixed with fear, at the enormous quantity of weak tea which the inmates consumed.
* Allowance must be made here for poetical licence. In reality, very few of the domes are gilt. The great majority of them are painted green, like the roofs of the houses.
Since these first weeks of my sojourn in Moscow more than thirty years have passed, and many of my early impressions have been blurred by time, but one scene remains deeply graven on my memory. It was Easter Eve, and I had gone with a friend to the Kremlin to witness the customary religious ceremonies. Though the rain was falling heavily, an immense number of people had assembled in and around the Cathedral of the Assumption. The crowd was of the most mixed kind. There stood the patient bearded muzhik in his well- worn sheepskin; the big, burly, self-satisfied merchant in his long black glossy kaftan; the noble with fashionable great-coat and umbrella; thinly clad old women shivering in the cold, and bright- eyed young damsels with their warm cloaks drawn closely round them; old men with long beard, wallet, and pilgrim's staff; and mischievous urchins with faces for the moment preternaturally demure. Each right hand, of old and young alike, held a lighted taper, and these myriads of flickering little flames produced a curious illumination, giving to the surrounding buildings a weird picturesqueness which they do not possess in broad daylight. All stood patiently waiting for the announcement of the glad tidings: "He is risen!" As midnight approached, the hum of voices gradually ceased, till, as the clock struck twelve, the deep-toned bell on "Ivan the Great" began to toll, and in answer to this signal all the bells in Moscow suddenly sent forth a merry peal. Each bell-- and their name is legion--seemed frantically desirous of drowning its neighbour's voice, the solemn boom of the great one overhead mingling curiously with the sharp, fussy "ting-a-ting-ting" of diminutive rivals. If demons dwell in Moscow and dislike bell- ringing, as is generally supposed, then there must have been at that moment a general stampede of the powers of darkness such as is described by Milton in his poem on the Nativity, and as if this deafening din were not enough, big guns were fired in rapid succession from a battery of artillery close at hand! The noise seemed to stimulate the religious enthusiasm, and the general excitement had a wonderful effect on a Russian friend who accompanied me. When in his normal condition that gentleman was a quiet, undemonstrative person, devoted to science, an ardent adherent of Western civilisation in general and of Darwinism in particular, and a thorough sceptic with regard to all forms of religious belief; but the influence of the surroundings was too much for his philosophical equanimity. For a moment his orthodox Muscovite soul awoke from its sceptical, cosmopolitan lethargy. After crossing himself repeatedly--an act of devotion which I had never before seen him perform--he grasped my arm, and, pointing to the crowd, said in an exultant tone of voice, "Look there! There is a sight that you can see nowhere but in the 'White-stone City.'* Are not the Russians a religious people?"
*Belokamenny, meaning "of white stone," is one of the popular names of Moscow.
To this unexpected question I gave a monosyllabic assent, and refrained from disturbing my friend's new-born enthusiasm by any discordant note; but I must confess that this sudden outburst of deafening noise and the dazzling light aroused in my heretical breast feelings of a warlike rather than a religious kind. For a moment I could imagine myself in ancient Moscow, and could fancy the people being called out to repel a Tartar horde already thundering at the gates!
The service lasted two or three hours, and terminated with the curious ceremony of blessing the Easter cakes, which were ranged-- each one with a lighted taper stuck in it--in long rows outside of the cathedral. A not less curious custom practised at this season is that of exchanging kisses of fraternal love. Theoretically one ought to embrace and be embraced by all present--indicating thereby that all are brethren in Christ--but the refinements of modern life have made innovations in the practice, and most people confine their salutations to their friends and acquaintances. When two friends meet during that night or on the following day, the one 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 uncomfortable.
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.