Chapter XXII - Proprietors Of The Modern School
Hitherto I have presented to the reader old-fashioned types which were common enough thirty years ago, when I first resided in Russia, but which are rapidly disappearing. Let me now present a few of the modern school.
In the same district as Ivan Ivan'itch and the General lives Victor Alexandr'itch L----. As we approach his house we can at once perceive that he differs from the majority of his neighbours. The gate is painted and moves easily on its hinges, the fence is in good repair, the short avenue leading up to the front door is well kept, and in the garden we can perceive at a glance that more attention is paid to flowers than to vegetables. The house is of wood, and not large, but it has some architectural pretensions in the form of a great, pseudo-Doric wooden portico that covers three- fourths of the façade. In the interior we remark everywhere the influence of Western civilisation. Victor Alexandr'itch is by no means richer than Ivan Ivan'itch, but his rooms are much more luxuriously furnished. The furniture is of a lighter model, more comfortable, and in a much better state of preservation. Instead of the bare, scantily furnished sitting-room, with the old- fashioned barrel-organ which played only six airs, we find an elegant drawing-room, with a piano by one of the most approved makers, and numerous articles of foreign manufacture, comprising a small buhl table and two bits of genuine old Wedgwood. The servants are clean, and dressed in European costume. The master, too, is very different in appearance. He pays great attention to his toilette, wearing a dressing-gown only in the early morning, and a fashionable lounging coat during the rest of the day. The Turkish pipes which his grandfather loved he holds in abhorrence, and habitually smokes cigarettes. With his wife and daughters he always speaks French, and calls them by French or English names.
But the part of the house which most strikingly illustrates the difference between old and new is "le cabinet de monsieur." In the cabinet of Ivan Ivan'itch the furniture consists of a broad sofa which serves as a bed, a few deal chairs, and a clumsy deal table, on which are generally to be found a bundle of greasy papers, an old chipped ink-bottle, a pen, and a calendar. The cabinet of Victor Alexandr'itch has an entirely different appearance. It is small, but at once comfortable and elegant. The principal objects which it contains are a library-table, with ink-stand, presse- papier, paper-knives, and other articles in keeping, and in the opposite corner a large bookcase. The collection of books is remarkable, not from the number of volumes or the presence of rare editions, but from the variety of the subjects. History, art, fiction, the drama, political economy, and agriculture are represented in about equal proportions. Some of the works are in Russian, others in German, a large number in French, and a few in Italian. The collection illustrates the former life and present occupations of the owner.
The father of Victor Alexandr'itch was a landed proprietor who had made a successful career in the civil service, and desired that his son should follow the same profession. For this purpose Victor was first carefully trained at home, and then sent to the University of Moscow, where he spent four years as a student of law. From the University he passed to the Ministry of the Interior in St. Petersburg, but he found the monotonous routine of official life not at all suited to his taste, and very soon sent in his resignation. The death of his father had made him proprietor of an estate, and thither he retired, hoping to find there plenty of occupation more congenial than the writing of official papers.
At the University of Moscow he had attended lectures on history and philosophy, and had got through a large amount of desultory reading. The chief result of his studies was the acquisition of many ill-digested general principles, and certain vague, generous, humanitarian aspirations. With this intellectual capital he hoped to lead a useful life in the country. When he had repaired and furnished the house he set himself to improve the estate. In the course of his promiscuous reading he had stumbled on some descriptions of English and Tuscan agriculture, and had there learned what wonders might be effected by a rational system of farming. Why should not Russia follow the example of England and Tuscany? By proper drainage, plentiful manure, good ploughs, and the cultivation of artificial grasses, the production might be multiplied tenfold; and by the introduction of agricultural machines the manual labour might be greatly diminished. All this seemed as simple as a sum in arithmetic, and Victor Alexandr'itch, more scholarum rei familiaris ignarus, without a moment's hesitation expended his ready money in procuring from England a threshing-machine, ploughs, harrows, and other implements of the newest model.
The arrival of these was an event that was long remembered. The peasants examined them with attention, not unmixed with wonder, but said nothing. When the master explained to them the advantages of the new instruments, they still remained silent. Only one old man, gazing at the threshing-machine, remarked, in an audible "aside," "A cunning people, these Germans!"* On being asked for their opinion, they replied vaguely, "How should we know? It OUGHT to be so." But when their master had retired, and was explaining to his wife and the French governess that the chief obstacle to progress in Russia was the apathetic indolence and conservative spirit of the peasantry, they expressed their opinions more freely. "These may be all very well for the Germans, but they won't do for us. How are our little horses to drag these big ploughs? And as for that [the threshing-machine], it's of no use." Further examination and reflection confirmed this first impression, and it was unanimously decided that no good would come of the new-fangled inventions.
* The Russian peasant comprehends all the inhabitants of Western Europe under the term Nyemtsi, which in the language of the educated designates only Germans. The rest of humanity is composed of Pravoslavniye (Greek Orthodox), Busurmanye (Mahometans), and Poliacki (Poles).
These apprehensions proved to be only too well founded. The ploughs were much too heavy for the peasants' small horses, and the threshing-machine broke down at the first attempt to use it. For the purchase of lighter implements or stronger horses there was no ready money, and for the repairing of the threshing-machine there was not an engineer within a radius of a hundred and fifty miles. The experiment was, in short, a complete failure, and the new purchases were put away out of sight.
For some weeks after this incident Victor Alexandr'itch felt very despondent, and spoke more than usual about the apathy and stupidity of the peasantry. His faith in infallible science was somewhat shaken, and his benevolent aspirations were for a time laid aside. But this eclipse of faith was not of long duration. Gradually he recovered his normal condition, and began to form new schemes. From the study of certain works on political economy he learned that the system of communal property was ruinous to the fertility of the soil, and that free labour was always more productive than serfage. By the light of these principles he discovered why the peasantry in Russia were so poor, and by what means their condition could he ameliorated. The Communal land should he divided into family lots, and the serfs, instead of being forced to work for the proprietor, should pay a yearly sum as rent. The advantages of this change he perceived clearly--as clearly as he had formerly perceived the advantages of English agricultural implements--and he determined to make the experiment on his own estate.
His first step was to call together the more intelligent and influential of his serfs, and to explain to them his project; but his efforts at explanation were eminently unsuccessful. Even with regard to ordinary current affairs he could not express himself in that simple, homely language with which alone the peasants are familiar, and when he spoke on abstract subjects he naturally became quite unintelligible to his uneducated audience. The serfs listened attentively, but understood nothing. He might as well have spoken to them, as he often did in another kind of society, about the comparative excellence of Italian and German music. At a second attempt he had rather more success. The peasants came to understand that what he wished was to break up the Mir, or rural Commune, and to put them all on obrok--that is to say, make them pay a yearly sum instead of giving him a certain amount of agricultural labour. Much to his astonishment, his scheme did not meet with any sympathy. As to being put on obrok, the serfs did not much object, though they preferred to remain as they were; but his proposal to break up the Mir astonished and bewildered them. They regarded it as a sea-captain might regard the proposal of a scientific wiseacre to knock a hole in the ship's bottom in order to make her sail faster. Though they did not say much, he was intelligent enough to see that they would offer a strenuous passive resistance, and as he did not wish to act tyrannically, he let the matter drop. Thus a second benevolent scheme was shipwrecked. Many other schemes had a similar fate, and Victor Alexandr'itch began to perceive that it was very difficult to do good in this world, especially when the persons to be benefited were Russian peasants.
In reality the fault lay less with the serfs than with their master. Victor Alexandr'itch was by no means a stupid man. On the contrary, he had more than average talents. Few men were more capable of grasping a new idea and forming a scheme for its realisation, and few men could play more dexterously with abstract principles. What he wanted was the power of dealing with concrete facts. The principles which he had acquired from University lectures and desultory reading were far too vague and abstract for practical use. He had studied abstract science without gaining any technical knowledge of details, and consequently when he stood face to face with real life he was like a student who, having studied mechanics in text-books, is suddenly placed in a workshop and ordered to construct a machine. Only there was one difference: Victor Alexandr'itch was not ordered to do anything. Voluntarily, without any apparent necessity, he set himself to work with tools which he could not handle. It was this that chiefly puzzled the peasants. Why should he trouble himself with these new schemes, when he might live comfortably as he was? In some of his projects they could detect a desire to increase the revenue, but in others they could discover no such motive. In these latter they attributed his conduct to pure caprice, and put it into the same category as those mad pranks in which proprietors of jovial humour sometimes indulged.
In the last years of serfage there were a good many landed proprietors like Victor Alexandr'itch--men who wished to do something beneficent, and did not know how to do it. When serfage was being abolished the majority of these men took an active part in the great work and rendered valuable service to their country. Victor Alexandr'itch acted otherwise. At first he sympathised warmly with the proposed emancipation and wrote several articles on the advantages of free labour, but when the Government took the matter into its own hands he declared that the officials had deceived and slighted the Noblesse, and he went over to the opposition. Before the Imperial Edict was signed he went abroad, and travelled for three years in Germany, France, and Italy. Shortly after his return he married a pretty, accomplished young lady, the daughter of an eminent official in St. Petersburg, and since that time he has lived in his country-house.
Though a man of education and culture, Victor Alexandr'itch spends his time in almost as indolent a way as the men of the old school. He rises somewhat later, and instead of sitting by the open window and gazing into the courtyard, he turns over the pages of a book or periodical. Instead of dining at midday and supping at nine o'clock, he takes dejeuner at twelve and dines at five. He spends less time in sitting in the verandah and pacing up and down with his hands behind his back, for he can vary the operation of time- killing by occasionally writing a letter, or by standing behind his wife at the piano while she plays selections from Mozart and Beethoven. But these peculiarities are merely variations in detail. If there is any essential difference between the lives of Victor Alexandr'itch and of Ivan Ivan'itch, it is in the fact that the former never goes out into the fields to see how the work is done, and never troubles himself with the state of the weather, the condition of the crops, and cognate subjects. He leaves the management of his estate entirely to his steward, and refers to that personage all peasants who come to him with complaints or petitions. Though he takes a deep interest in the peasant as an impersonal, abstract entity, and loves to contemplate concrete examples of the genus in the works of certain popular authors, he does not like to have any direct relations with peasants in the flesh. If he has to speak with them he always feels awkward, and suffers from the odour of their sheepskins. Ivan Ivan'itch is ever ready to talk with the peasants, and give them sound, practical advice or severe admonitions; and in the old times he was apt, in moments of irritation, to supplement his admonitions by a free use of his fists. Victor Alexandr'itch, on the contrary, never could give any advice except vague commonplace, and as to using his fist, he would have shrunk from that, not only from respect to humanitarian principles, but also from motives which belong to the region of aesthetic sensitiveness.
This difference between the two men has an important influence on their pecuniary affairs. The stewards of both steal from their masters; but that of Ivan Ivan'itch steals with difficulty, and to a very limited extent, whereas that of Victor Alexandr'itch steals regularly and methodically, and counts his gains, not by kopecks, but by roubles. Though the two estates are of about the same size and value, they give a very different revenue. The rough, practical man has a much larger income than his elegant, well- educated neighbour, and at the same time spends very much less. The consequences of this, if not at present visible, must some day become painfully apparent. Ivan Ivan'itch will doubtless leave to his children an unencumbered estate and a certain amount of capital. The children of Victor Alexandr'itch have a different prospect. He has already begun to mortgage his property and to cut down the timber, and he always finds a deficit at the end of the year. What will become of his wife and children when the estate comes to be sold for payment of the mortgage, it is difficult to predict. He thinks very little of that eventuality, and when his thoughts happen to wander in that direction he consoles himself with the thought that before the crash comes he will have inherited a fortune from a rich uncle who has no children.
The proprietors of the old school lead the same uniform, monotonous life year after year, with very little variation. Victor Alexandr'itch, on the contrary, feels the need of a periodical return to "civilised society," and accordingly spends a few weeks every winter in St. Petersburg. During the summer months he has the society of his brother--un homme tout a fait civilise--who possesses an estate a few miles off.
This brother, Vladimir Alexandr'itch, was educated in the School of Law in St. Petersburg, and has since risen rapidly in the service. He holds now a prominent position in one of the Ministries, and has the honourary court title of "Chambellan de sa Majeste." He is a marked man in the higher circles of the Administration, and will, it is thought, some day become Minister. Though an adherent of enlightened views, and a professed "Liberal," he contrives to keep on very good terms with those who imagine themselves to be "Conservatives." In this he is assisted by his soft, oily manner. If you express an opinion to him he will always begin by telling you that you are quite right; and if he ends by showing you that you are quite wrong, he will at least make you feel that your error is not only excusable, but in some way highly creditable to your intellectual acuteness or goodness of heart. In spite of his Liberalism he is a staunch Monarchist, and considers that the time has not yet come for the Emperor to grant a Constitution. He recognises that the present order of things has its defects, but thinks that, on the whole, it acts very well, and would act much better if certain high officials were removed, and more energetic men put in their places. Like all genuine St. Petersburg tchinovniks (officials), he has great faith in the miraculous power of Imperial ukazes and Ministerial circulars, and believes that national progress consists in multiplying these documents, and centralising the Administration, so as to give them more effect. As a supplementary means of progress he highly approves of aesthetic culture, and he can speak with some eloquence of the humanising influence of the fine arts. For his own part he is well acquainted with French and English classics, and particularly admires Macaulay, whom he declares to have been not only a great writer, but also a great statesman. Among writers of fiction he gives the palm to George Eliot, and speaks of the novelists of his own country, and, indeed, of Russian literature as a whole, in the most disparaging terms.
A very different estimate of Russian literature is held by Alexander Ivan'itch N----, formerly arbiter in peasant affairs, and afterwards justice of the peace. Discussions on this subject often take place between the two. The admirer of Macaulay declares that Russia has, properly speaking, no literature whatever, and that the works which bear the names of Russian authors are nothing but a feeble echo of the literature of Western Europe. "Imitators," he is wont to say, "skilful imitators, we have produced in abundance. But where is there a man of original genius? What is our famous poet Zhukofski? A translator. What is Pushkin? A clever pupil of the romantic school. What is Lermontoff? A feeble imitator of Byron. What is Gogol?"
At this point Alexander Ivan'itch invariable intervenes. He is ready to sacrifice all the pseudo-classic and romantic poetry, and, in fact, the whole of Russian literature anterior to about the year 1840, but he will not allow anything disrespectful to be said of Gogol, who about that time founded the Russian realistic school. "Gogol," he holds, "was a great and original genius. Gogol not only created a new kind of literature; he at the same time transformed the reading public, and inaugurated a new era in the intellectual development of the nation. By his humorous, satirical sketches he swept away the metaphysical dreaming and foolish romantic affectation then in fashion, and taught men to see their country as it was, in all its hideous ugliness. With his help the young generation perceived the rottenness of the Administration, and the meanness, stupidity, dishonesty, and worthlessness of the landed proprietors, whom he made the special butt of his ridicule. The recognition of defects produced a desire for reform. From laughing at the proprietors there was but one step to despising them, and when we learned to despise the proprietors we naturally came to sympathise with the serfs. Thus the Emancipation was prepared by the literature; and when the great question had to be solved, it was the literature that discovered a satisfactory solution."
This is a subject on which Alexander Ivan'itch feels very strongly, and on which he always speaks with warmth. He knows a good deal regarding the intellectual movement which began about 1840, and culminated in the great reforms of the sixties. As a University student he troubled himself very little with serious academic work, but he read with intense interest all the leading periodicals, and adopted the doctrine of Belinski that art should not be cultivated for its own sake, but should be made subservient to social progress. This belief was confirmed by a perusal of some of George Sand's earlier works, which were for him a kind of revelation. Social questions engrossed his thoughts, and all other subjects seemed puny by comparison. When the Emancipation question was raised he saw an opportunity of applying some of his theories, and threw himself enthusiastically into the new movement as an ardent abolitionist. When the law was passed he helped to put it into execution by serving for three years as an Arbiter of the Peace. Now he is an old man, but he has preserved some of his youthful enthusiasm, attends regularly the annual assemblies of the Zemstvo, and takes a lively interest in all public affairs.
As an ardent partisan of local self-government he habitually scoffs at the centralised bureaucracy, which he proclaims to be the great bane of his unhappy country. "These tchinovniks," he is wont to say in moments of excitement, "who live in St. Petersburg and govern the Empire, know about as much of Russia as they do of China. They live in a world of official documents, and are hopelessly ignorant of the real wants and interests of the people. So long as all the required formalities are duly observed they are perfectly satisfied. The people may be allowed to die of starvation if only the fact do not appear in the official reports. Powerless to do any good themselves, they are powerful enough to prevent others from working for the public good, and are extremely jealous of all private initiative. How have they acted, for instance, towards the Zemstvo? The Zemstvo is really a good institution, and might have done great things if it had been left alone, but as soon as it began to show a little independent energy the officials at once clipped its wings and then strangled it. Towards the Press they have acted in the same way. They are afraid of the Press, because they fear above all things a healthy public opinion, which the Press alone can create. Everything that disturbs the habitual routine alarms them. Russia cannot make any real progress so long as she is ruled by these cursed tchinovniks."
Scarcely less pernicious than the tchinovnik, in the eyes of our would-be reformer, is the baritch--that is to say, the pampered, capricious, spoiled child of mature years, whose life is spent in elegant indolence and fine talking. Our friend Victor Alexandr'itch is commonly selected as a representative of this type. "Look at him!" exclaims Alexander Ivan'itch. "What a useless, contemptible member of society! In spite of his generous aspirations he never succeeds in doing anything useful to himself or to others. When the peasant question was raised and there was work to be done, he went abroad and talked liberalism in Paris and Baden-Baden. Though he reads, or at least professes to read, books on agriculture, and is always ready to discourse on the best means of preventing the exhaustion of the soil, he knows less of farming than a peasant-boy of twelve, and when he goes into the fields he can hardly distinguish rye from oats. Instead of babbling about German and Italian music, he would do well to learn a little about practical farming, and look after his estate."
Whilst Alexander Ivan'itch thus censures his neighbours, he is himself not without detractors. Some staid old proprietors regard him as a dangerous man, and quote expressions of his which seem to indicate that his notions of property are somewhat loose. Many consider that his liberalism is of a very violent kind, and that he has strong republican sympathies. In his decisions as Justice he often leaned, it is said, to the side of the peasants against the proprietors. Then he was always trying to induce the peasants of the neighbouring villages to found schools, and he had wonderful ideas about the best method of teaching children. These and similar facts make many people believe that he has very advanced ideas, and one old gentleman habitually calls him--half in joke and half in earnest--"our friend the communist."
In reality Alexander Ivan'itch has nothing of the communist about him. Though he loudly denounces the tchinovnik spirit--or, as we should say, red-tape in all its forms--and is an ardent partisan of local self-government, he is one of the last men in the world to take part in any revolutionary movement, he would like to see the Central Government enlightened and controlled by public opinion and by a national representation, but he believes that this can only be effected by voluntary concessions on the part of the autocratic power. He has, perhaps, a sentimental love of the peasantry, and is always ready to advocate its interests; but he has come too much in contact with individual peasants to accept those idealised descriptions in which some popular writers indulge, and it may safely be asserted that the accusation of his voluntarily favouring peasants at the expense of the proprietors is wholly unfounded. Alexander Ivan'itch is, in fact, a quiet, sensible man, who is capable of generous enthusiasm, and is not at all satisfied with the existing state of things; but he is not a dreamer and a revolutionnaire, as some of his neighbours assert.
I am afraid I cannot say as much for his younger brother Nikolai, who lives with him. Nikolai Ivan'itch is a tall, slender man, about sixty years of age, with emaciated face, bilious complexion and long black hair--evidently a person of excitable, nervous temperament. When he speaks he articulates rapidly, and uses more gesticulation than is common among his countrymen. His favourite subject of conversation, or rather of discourse, for he more frequently preaches than talks, is the lamentable state of the country and the worthlessness of the Government. Against the Government he has a great many causes for complaint, and one or two of a personal kind. In 1861 he was a student in the University of St. Petersburg. At that time there was a great deal of public excitement all over Russia, and especially in the capital. The serfs had just been emancipated, and other important reforms had been undertaken. There was a general conviction among the young generation--and it must be added among many older men--that the autocratic, paternal system of government was at an end, and that Russia was about to be reorganised according to the most advanced principles of political and social science. The students, sharing this conviction, wished to be freed from all academical authority, and to organise a kind of academic self-government. They desired especially the right of holding public meetings for the discussion of their common affairs. The authorities would not allow this, and issued a list of rules prohibiting meetings and raising the class- fees, so as practically to exclude many of the poorer students. This was felt to be a wanton insult to the spirit of the new era. In spite of the prohibition, indignation meetings were held, and fiery speeches made by male and female orators, first in the class- rooms, and afterwards in the courtyard of the University. On one occasion a long procession marched through the principal streets to the house of the Curator. Never had such a spectacle been seen before in St. Petersburg. Timid people feared that it was the commencement of a revolution, and dreamed about barricades. At last the authorities took energetic measures; about three hundred students were arrested, and of these, thirty-two were expelled from the University.
Among those who were expelled was Nicolai Ivan'itch. All his hopes of becoming a professor, as he had intended, were thereby shipwrecked, and he had to look out for some other profession. A literary career now seemed the most promising, and certainly the most congenial to his tastes. It would enable him to gratify his ambition of being a public man, and give him opportunities of attacking and annoying his persecutors. He had already written occasionally for one of the leading periodicals, and now he became a regular contributor. His stock of positive knowledge was not very large, but he had the power of writing fluently and of making his readers believe that he had an unlimited store of political wisdom which the Press-censure prevented him from publishing. Besides this, he had the talent of saying sharp, satirical things about those in authority, in such a way that even a Press censor could not easily raise objections. Articles written in this style were sure at that time to be popular, and his had a very great success. He became a known man in literary circles, and for a time all went well. But gradually he became less cautious, whilst the authorities became more vigilant. Some copies of a violent seditious proclamation fell into the hands of the police, and it was generally believed that the document proceeded from the coterie to which he belonged. From that moment he was carefully watched, till one night he was unexpectedly roused from his sleep by a gendarme and conveyed to the fortress.
When a man is arrested in this way for a real or supposed political offence, there are two modes of dealing with him. He may be tried before a regular tribunal, or he may be dealt with "by administrative procedure" (administrativnym poryadkom). In the former case he will, if convicted, be condemned to imprisonment for a certain term; or, if the offence be of a graver nature, he may be transported to Siberia either for a fixed period or for life. By the administrative procedure he is simply removed without a trial to some distant town, and compelled to live there under police supervision during his Majesty's pleasure. Nikolai Ivan'itch was treated "administratively," because the authorities, though convinced that he was a dangerous character, could not find sufficient evidence to procure his conviction before a court of justice. For five years he lived under police supervision in a small town near the White Sea, and then one day he was informed, without any explanation, that he might go and live anywhere he pleased except in St. Petersburg and Moscow.
Since that time he has lived with his brother, and spends his time in brooding over his grievances and bewailing his shattered illusions. He has lost none of that fluency which gained him an ephemeral literary reputation, and can speak by the hour on political and social questions to any one who will listen to him. It is extremely difficult, however, to follow his discourses, and utterly impossible to retain them in the memory. They belong to what may be called political metaphysics--for though he professes to hold metaphysics in abhorrence, he is himself a thorough metaphysician in his modes of thought. He lives, indeed, in a world of abstract conceptions, in which he can scarcely perceive concrete facts, and his arguments are always a kind of clever juggling with such equivocal, conventional terms as aristocracy, bourgeoisie, monarchy, and the like. At concrete facts he arrives, not directly by observation, but by deductions from general principles, so that his facts can never by any possibility contradict his theories. Then he has certain axioms which he tacitly assumes, and on which all his arguments are based; as, for instance, that everything to which the term "liberal" can be applied must necessarily be good at all times and under all conditions.
Among a mass of vague conceptions which it is impossible to reduce to any clearly defined form he has a few ideas which are perhaps not strictly true, but which are at least intelligible. Among these is his conviction that Russia has let slip a magnificent opportunity of distancing all Europe on the road of progress. She might, he thinks, at the time of the Emancipation, have boldly accepted all the most advanced principles of political and social science, and have completely reorganised the political and social structure in accordance with them. Other nations could not take such a step, because they are old and decrepit, filled with stubborn, hereditary prejudices, and cursed with an aristocracy and a bourgeoisie; but Russia is young, knows nothing of social castes, and has no deep-rooted prejudices to contend with. The population is like potter's clay, which can be made to assume any form that science may recommend. Alexander II. began a magnificent sociological experiment, but he stopped half-way.
Some day, he believes, the experiment will be completed, but not by the autocratic power. In his opinion autocracy is "played out," and must give way to Parliamentary institutions. For him a Constitution is a kind of omnipotent fetish. You may try to explain to him that a Parliamentary regime, whatever its advantages may be, necessarily produces political parties and political conflicts, and is not nearly so suitable for grand sociological experiments as a good paternal despotism. You may try to convince him that, though it may be difficult to convert an autocrat, it is infinitely more difficult to convert a House of Commons. But all your efforts will be in vain. He will assure you that a Russian Parliament would be something quite different from what Parliaments commonly are. It would contain no parties, for Russia has no social castes, and would be guided entirely by scientific considerations--as free from prejudice and personal influences as a philosopher speculating on the nature of the Infinite! In short, he evidently imagines that a national Parliament would be composed of himself and his friends, and that the nation would calmly submit to their ukazes, as it has hitherto submitted to the ukazes of the Tsars.
Pending the advent of this political Millennium, when unimpassioned science is to reign supreme, Nikolai Ivan'itch allows himself the luxury of indulging in some very decided political animosities, and he hates with the fervour of a fanatic. Firstly and chiefly, he hates what he calls the bourgeoisie--he is obliged to use the French word, because his native language does not contain an equivalent term--and especially capitalists of all sorts and dimensions. Next, he hates aristocracy, especially a form of aristocracy called Feudalism. To these abstract terms he does not attach a very precise meaning, but he hates the entities which they are supposed to represent quite as heartily as if they were personal enemies. Among the things which he hates in his own country, the Autocratic Power holds the first place. Next, as an emanation from the Autocratic Power, come the tchinovniks, and especially the gendarmes. Then come the landed proprietors. Though he is himself a landed proprietor, he regards the class as cumberers of the ground, and thinks that all their land should be confiscated and distributed among the peasantry.
All proprietors have the misfortune to come under his sweeping denunciations, because they are inconsistent with his ideal of a peasant Empire, but he recognises amongst them degrees of depravity. Some are simply obstructive, whilst others are actively prejudicial to the public welfare. Among these latter a special object of aversion is Prince S----, because he not only possesses very large estates, but at the same time has aristocratic pretensions, and calls himself Conservative.
Prince S---- is by far the most important man in the district. His family is one of the oldest in the country, but he does not owe his influence to his pedigree, for pedigree pure and simple does not count for much in Russia. He is influential and respected because he is a great land-holder with a high official position, and belongs by birth to that group of families which forms the permanent nucleus of the ever-changing Court society. His father and grandfather were important personages in the Administration and at Court, and his sons and grandsons will probably in this respect follow in the footsteps of their ancestors. Though in the eye of the law all nobles are equal, and, theoretically speaking, promotion is gained exclusively by personal merit, yet, in reality, those who have friends at Court rise more easily and more rapidly.
The Prince has had a prosperous but not very eventful life. He was educated, first at home, under an English tutor, and afterwards in the Corps des Pages. On leaving this institution he entered a regiment of the Guards, and rose steadily to high military rank. His activity, however, has been chiefly in the civil administration, and he now has a seat in the Council of State. Though he has always taken a certain interest in public affairs, he did not play an important part in any of the great reforms. When the peasant question was raised he sympathised with the idea of Emancipation, but did not at all sympathise with the idea of giving land to the emancipated serfs and preserving the Communal institutions. What he desired was that the proprietors should liberate their serfs without any pecuniary indemnity, and should receive in return a certain share of political power. His scheme was not adopted, but he has not relinquished the hope that the great landed proprietors may somehow obtain a social and political position similar to that of the great land-owners in England.
Official duties and social relations compel the Prince to live for a large part of the year in the capital. He spends only a few weeks yearly on his estate. The house is large, and fitted up in the English style, with a view to combining elegance and comfort. It contains several spacious apartments, a library, and a billiard- room. There is an extensive park, an immense garden with hot houses, numerous horses and carriages, and a legion of servants. In the drawing-room is a plentiful supply of English and French books, newspapers, and periodicals, including the Journal de St. Petersbourg, which gives the news of the day.
The family have, in short, all the conveniences and comforts which money and refinement can procure, but it cannot be said that they greatly enjoy the time spent in the country. The Princess has no decided objection to it. She is devoted to a little grandchild, is fond of reading and correspondence, amuses herself with a school and hospital which she has founded for the peasantry, and occasionally drives over to see her friend, the Countess N----, who lives about fifteen miles off.
The Prince, however, finds country life excessively dull. He does not care for riding or shooting, and he finds nothing else to do. He knows nothing about the management of his estate, and holds consultations with the steward merely pro forma--this estate and the others which he possesses in different provinces being ruled by a head-steward in St. Petersburg, in whom he has the most complete confidence. In the vicinity there is no one with whom he cares to associate. Naturally he is not a sociable man, and he has acquired a stiff, formal, reserved manner that is rarely met with in Russia. This manner repels the neighbouring proprietors--a fact that he does not at all regret, for they do not belong to his monde, and they have in their manners and habits a free-and-easy rusticity which is positively disagreeable to him. His relations with them are therefore confined to formal calls. The greater part of the day he spends in listless loitering, frequently yawning, regretting the routine of St. Petersburg life--the pleasant chats with his colleagues, the opera, the ballet, the French theatre, and the quiet rubber at the Club Anglais. His spirits rise as the day of his departure approaches, and when he drives off to the station he looks bright and cheerful. If he consulted merely his own tastes he would never visit his estates at all, and would spend his summer holidays in Germany, France, or Switzerland, as he did in his bachelor days; but as a large landowner he considers it right to sacrifice his personal inclinations to the duties of his position.
There is, by the way, another princely magnate in the district, and I ought perhaps to introduce him to my readers, because he represents worthily a new type. Like Prince S----, of whom I have just spoken, he is a great land-owner and a descendant of the half- mythical Rurik; but he has no official rank, and does not possess a single grand cordon. In that respect he has followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, who had something of the frondeur spirit, and preferred the position of a grand seigneur and a country gentleman to that of a tchinovnik and a courtier. In the Liberal camp he is regarded as a Conservative, but he has little in common with the Krepostnik, who declares that the reforms of the last half-century were a mistake, that everything is going to the bad, that the emancipated serfs are all sluggards, drunkards, and thieves, that the local self-government is an ingenious machine for wasting money, and that the reformed law-courts have conferred benefits only on the lawyers. On the contrary, he recognises the necessity and beneficent results of the reforms, and with regard to the future he has none of the despairing pessimism of the incorrigible old Tory.
But in order that real progress should be made, he thinks that certain current and fashionable errors must be avoided, and among these errors he places, in the first rank, the views and principles of the advanced Liberals, who have a blind admiration for Western Europe, and for what they are pleased to call the results of science. Like the Liberals of the West, these gentlemen assume that the best form of government is constitutionalism, monarchical or republican, on a broad democratic basis, and towards the realisation of this ideal all their efforts are directed. Not so our Conservative friend. While admitting that democratic Parliamentary institutions may be the best form of government for the more advanced nations of the West, he maintains that the only firm foundation for the Russian Empire, and the only solid guarantee of its future prosperity, is the Autocratic Power, which is the sole genuine representative of the national spirit. Looking at the past from this point of view, he perceives that the Tsars have ever identified themselves with the nation, and have always understood, in part instinctively and in part by reflection, what the nation really required. Whenever the infiltration of Western ideas threatened to swamp the national individuality, the Autocratic Power intervened and averted the danger by timely precautions. Something of the kind may be observed, he believes, at present, when the Liberals are clamouring for a Parliament and a Constitution; but the Autocratic Power is on the alert, and is making itself acquainted with the needs of the people by means far more effectual than could be supplied by oratorical politicians.
With the efforts of the Zemstvo in this direction, and with the activity of the Zemstvo generally, the Prince has little sympathy, partly because the institution is in the hands of the Liberals and is guided by their unpractical ideas, and partly because it enables some ambitious outsiders to acquire the influence in local affairs which ought to be exercised by the old-established noble families of the neighbourhood. What he would like to see is an enlightened, influential gentry working in conjunction with the Autocratic Power for the good of the country. If Russia could produce a few hundred thousand men like himself, his ideal might perhaps be realised. For the present, such men are extremely rare--I should have difficulty in naming a dozen of them--and aristocratic ideas are extremely unpopular among the great majority of the educated classes. When a Russian indulges in political speculation, he is pretty sure to show himself thoroughly democratic, with a strong leaning to socialism.
The Prince belongs to the highest rank of the Russian Noblesse. If we wish to get an idea of the lowest rank, we can find in the neighbourhood a number of poor, uneducated men, who live in small, squalid houses, and are not easily to be distinguished from peasants. They are nobles, like his Highness; but, unlike him, they enjoy no social consideration, and their landed property consists of a few acres of land which barely supply them with the first necessaries of life. If we went to other parts of the country we might find men in this condition bearing the title of Prince! This is the natural result of the Russian law of inheritance, which does not recognise the principle of primogeniture with regard to titles and estates. All the sons of a Prince are Princes, and at his death his property, movable and immovable, is divided amongst them.