Donald Mackenzie Wallace

Part 3 out of 15

earlier than usual, and the old porter had put us into the nearest
ward until he could fetch a light--locking the door behind us lest
any of the lunatics should escape. The noise had awakened one of
the unfortunate inmates of the ward, and her hysterical scream had
terrified the others.

By the influence of asylums, hospitals, and similar institutions,
the old conceptions of disease, as I have said, are gradually dying
out, but the znakharka still finds practice. The fact that the
znakharka is to be found side by side not only with the feldsher,
but also with the highly trained bacteriologist, is very
characteristic of Russian civilisation, which is a strange
conglomeration of products belonging to very different periods.
The enquirer who undertakes the study of it will sometimes be
scarcely less surprised than would be the naturalist who should
unexpectedly stumble upon antediluvian megatheria grazing
tranquilly in the same field with prize Southdowns. He will
discover the most primitive institutions side by side with the
latest products of French doctrinairism, and the most childish
superstitions in close proximity with the most advanced free-



Ivan Petroff--His Past Life--Co-operative Associations--
Constitution of a Peasant's Household--Predominance of Economic
Conceptions over those of Blood-relationship--Peasant Marriages--
Advantages of Living in Large Families--Its Defects--Family
Disruptions and their Consequences.

My illness had at least one good result. It brought me into
contact with the feldsher, and through him, after my recovery, I
made the acquaintance of several peasants living in the village.
Of these by far the most interesting was an old man called Ivan

Ivan must have been about sixty years of age, but was still robust
and strong, and had the reputation of being able to mow more hay in
a given time than any other peasant in the village. His head would
have made a line study for a portrait-painter. Like Russian
peasants in genera], he wore his hair parted in the middle--a
custom which perhaps owes its origin to the religious pictures.
The reverend appearance given to his face by his long fair beard,
slightly tinged with grey, was in part counteracted by his eyes,
which had a strange twinkle in them--whether of humour or of
roguery, it was difficult to say. Under all circumstances--whether
in his light, nondescript summer costume, or in his warm sheep-
skin, or in the long, glossy, dark-blue, double-breasted coat which
he put on occasionally on Sundays and holidays--he always looked a
well-fed, respectable, prosperous member of society; whilst his
imperturbable composure, and the entire absence of obsequiousness
or truculence in his manner, indicated plainly that he possessed no
small amount of calm, deep-rooted self-respect. A stranger, on
seeing him, might readily have leaped to the conclusion that he
must be the Village Elder, but in reality he was a simple member of
the Commune, like his neighbour, poor Zakhar Leshkof, who never let
slip an opportunity of getting drunk, was always in debt, and, on
the whole, possessed a more than dubious reputation.

Ivan had, it is true, been Village Elder some years before. When
elected by the Village Assembly, against his own wishes, he had
said quietly, "Very well, children; I will serve my three years";
and at the end of that period, when the Assembly wished to re-elect
him, he had answered firmly, "No, children; I have served my term.
It is now the turn of some one who is younger, and has more time.
There's Peter Alekseyef, a good fellow, and an honest; you may
choose him." And the Assembly chose the peasant indicated; for
Ivan, though a simple member of the Commune, had more influence in
Communal affairs than any other half-dozen members put together.
No grave matter was decided without his being consulted, and there
was at least one instance on record of the Village Assembly
postponing deliberations for a week because he happened to be
absent in St. Petersburg.

No stranger casually meeting Ivan would ever for a moment have
suspected that that big man, of calm, commanding aspect, had been
during a great part of his life a serf. And yet a serf he had been
from his birth till he was about thirty years of age--not merely a
serf of the State, but the serf of a proprietor who had lived
habitually on his property. For thirty years of his life he had
been dependent on the arbitrary will of a master who had the legal
power to flog him as often and as severely as he considered
desirable. In reality he had never been subjected to corporal
punishment, for the proprietor to whom he had belonged had been,
though in some respects severe, a just and intelligent master.

Ivan's bright, sympathetic face had early attracted the master's
attention, and it was decided that he should learn a trade. For
this purpose he was sent to Moscow, and apprenticed there to a
carpenter. After four years of apprenticeship he was able not only
to earn his own bread, but to help the household in the payment of
their taxes, and to pay annually to his master a fixed yearly sum--
first ten, then twenty, then thirty, and ultimately, for some years
immediately before the Emancipation, seventy roubles. In return
for this annual sum he was free to work and wander about as he
pleased, and for some years he had made ample use of his
conditional liberty. I never succeeded in extracting from him a
chronological account of his travels, but I could gather from his
occasional remarks that he had wandered over a great part of
European Russia. Evidently he had been in his youth what is
colloquially termed "a roving blade," and had by no means confined
himself to the trade which he had learned during his four years of
apprenticeship. Once he had helped to navigate a raft from Vetluga
to Astrakhan, a distance of about two thousand miles. At another
time he had been at Archangel and Onega, on the shores of the White
Sea. St. Petersburg and Moscow were both well known to him, and he
had visited Odessa.

The precise nature of Ivan's occupations during these wanderings I
could not ascertain; for, with all his openness of manner, he was
extremely reticent regarding his commercial affairs. To all my
inquiries on this topic he was wont to reply vaguely, "Lesnoe
dyelo"--that is to say, "Timber business"; and from this I
concluded that his chief occupation had been that of a timber
merchant. Indeed, when I knew him, though he was no longer a
regular trader, he was always ready to buy any bit of forest that
could be bought in the vicinity for a reasonable price.

During all this nomadic period of his life Ivan had never entirely
severed his connection with his native village or with agricultural
life. When about the age of twenty he had spent several months at
home, taking part in the field labour, and had married a wife--a
strong, healthy young woman, who had been selected for him by his
mother, and strongly recommended to him on account of her good
character and her physical strength. In the opinion of Ivan's
mother, beauty was a kind of luxury which only nobles and rich
merchants could afford, and ordinary comeliness was a very
secondary consideration--so secondary as to be left almost entirely
out of sight. This was likewise the opinion of Ivan's wife. She
had never been comely herself, she used to say, but she had been a
good wife to her husband. He had never complained about her want
of good looks, and had never gone after those who were considered
good-looking. In expressing this opinion she always first bent
forward, then drew herself up to her full length, and finally gave
a little jerky nod sideways, so as to clench the statement. Then
Ivan's bright eye would twinkle more brightly than usual, and he
would ask her how she knew that--reminding her that he was not
always at home. This was Ivan's stereotyped mode of teasing his
wife, and every time he employed it he was called an "old
scarecrow," or something of the kind.

Perhaps, however, Ivan's jocular remark had more significance in it
than his wife cared to admit, for during the first years of their
married life they had seen very little of each other. A few days
after the marriage, when according to our notions the honeymoon
should be at its height, Ivan had gone to Moscow for several
months, leaving his young bride to the care of his father and
mother. The young bride did not consider this an extraordinary
hardship, for many of her companions had been treated in the same
way, and according to public opinion in that part of the country
there was nothing abnormal in the proceeding. Indeed, it may be
said in general that there is very little romance or sentimentality
about Russian peasant marriages. In this as in other respects the
Russian peasantry are, as a class, extremely practical and matter-
of-fact in their conceptions and habits, and are not at all prone
to indulge in sublime, ethereal sentiments of any kind. They have
little or nothing of what may be termed the Hermann and Dorothea
element in their composition, and consequently know very little
about those sentimental, romantic ideas which we habitually
associate with the preliminary steps to matrimony. Even those
authors who endeavour to idealise peasant life have rarely ventured
to make their story turn on a sentimental love affair. Certainly
in real life the wife is taken as a helpmate, or in plain language
a worker, rather than as a companion, and the mother-in-law leaves
her very little time to indulge in fruitless dreaming.

As time wore on, and his father became older and frailer, Ivan's
visits to his native place became longer and more frequent, and
when the old man was at last incapable of work, Ivan settled down
permanently and undertook the direction of the household. In the
meantime his own children had been growing up. When I knew the
family it comprised--besides two daughters who had married early
and gone to live with their parents-in-law--Ivan and his wife, two
sons, three daughters-in-law, and an indefinite and frequently
varying number of grandchildren. The fact that there were three
daughters-in-law and only two sons was the result of the
Conscription, which had taken away the youngest son shortly after
his marriage. The two who remained spent only a small part of the
year at home. The one was a carpenter and the other a bricklayer,
and both wandered about the country in search of employment, as
their father had done in his younger days. There was, however, one
difference. The father had always shown a leaning towards
commercial transactions, rather than the simple practice of his
handicraft, and consequently he had usually lived and travelled
alone. The sons, on the contrary, confined themselves to their
handicrafts, and were always during the working season members of
an artel.

The artel in its various forms is a curious institution. Those to
which Ivan's sons belonged were simply temporary, itinerant
associations of workmen, who during the summer lived together, fed
together, worked together, and periodically divided amongst
themselves the profits. This is the primitive form of the
institution, and is now not very often met with. Here, as
elsewhere, capital has made itself felt, and destroyed that
equality which exists among the members of an artel in the above
sense of the word. Instead of forming themselves into a temporary
association, the workmen now generally make an engagement with a
contractor who has a little capital, and receive from him fixed
monthly wages. The only association which exists in this case is
for the purchase and preparation of provisions, and even these
duties are very often left to the contractor.

In some of the larger towns there are artels of a much more complex
kind--permanent associations, possessing a large capital, and
pecuniarily responsible for the acts of the individual members. Of
these, by far the most celebrated is that of the Bank Porters.
These men have unlimited opportunities of stealing, and are often
entrusted with the guarding or transporting of enormous sums; but
the banker has no cause for anxiety, because he knows that if any
defalcations occur they will be made good to him by the artel.
Such accidents very rarely happen, and the fact is by no means so
extraordinary as many people suppose. The artel, being responsible
for the individuals of which it is composed, is very careful in
admitting new members, and a man when admitted is closely watched,
not only by the regularly constituted office-bearers, but also by
all his fellow-members who have an opportunity of observing him.
If he begins to spend money too freely or to neglect his duties,
though his employer may know nothing of the fact, suspicions are at
once aroused among his fellow-members, and an investigation ensues--
ending in summary expulsion if the suspicions prove to have been
well founded. Mutual responsibility, in short, creates a very
effective system of mutual supervision.

Of Ivan's sons, the one who was a carpenter visited his family only
occasionally, and at irregular intervals; the bricklayer, on the
contrary, as building is impossible in Russia during the cold
weather, spent the greater part of the winter at home. Both of
them paid a large part of their earnings into the family treasury,
over which their father exercised uncontrolled authority. If he
wished to make any considerable outlay, he consulted his sons on
the subject; but as he was a prudent, intelligent man, and enjoyed
the respect and confidence of the family, he never met with any
strong opposition. All the field work was performed by him with
the assistance of his daughters-in-law; only at harvest time he
hired one or two labourers to help him.

Ivan's household was a good specimen of the Russian peasant family
of the old type. Previous to the Emancipation in 1861 there were
many households of this kind, containing the representatives of
three generations. All the members, young and old, lived together
in patriarchal fashion under the direction and authority of the
Head of the House, called usually the Khozain--that is to say, the
Administrator; or, in some districts, the Bolshak, which means
literally "the Big One." Generally speaking, this important
position was occupied by the grandfather, or, if he was dead, by
the eldest brother, but the rule was not very strictly observed.
If, for instance, the grandfather became infirm, or if the eldest
brother was incapacitated by disorderly habits or other cause, the
place of authority was taken by some other member--it might be by a
woman--who was a good manager, and possessed the greatest moral

The relations between the Head of the Household and the other
members depended on custom and personal character, and they
consequently varied greatly in different families. If the Big One
was an intelligent man, of decided, energetic character, like my
friend Ivan, there was probably perfect discipline in the
household, except perhaps in the matter of female tongues, which do
not readily submit to the authority even of their owners; but very
often it happened that the Big One was not thoroughly well fitted
for his post, and in that case endless quarrels and bickerings
inevitably took place. Those quarrels were generally caused and
fomented by the female members of the family--a fact which will not
seem strange if we try to realise how difficult it must be for
several sisters-in-law to live together, with their children and a
mother-in-law, within the narrow limits of a peasant's household.
The complaints of the young bride, who finds that her mother-in-law
puts all the hard work on her shoulders, form a favourite motive in
the popular poetry.

The house, with its appurtenances, the cattle, the agricultural
implements, the grain and other products, the money gained from the
sale of these products--in a word, the house and nearly everything
it contained--were the joint property of the family. Hence nothing
was bought or sold by any member--not even by the Big One himself,
unless he possessed an unusual amount of authority--without the
express or tacit consent of the other grown-up males, and all the
money that was earned was put into the common purse. When one of
the sons left home to work elsewhere, he was expected to bring or
send home all his earnings, except what he required for food,
lodgings, and other necessary expenses; and if he understood the
word "necessary" in too lax a sense, he had to listen to very
plain-spoken reproaches when he returned. During his absence,
which might last for a whole year or several years, his wife and
children remained in the house as before, and the money which he
earned could be devoted to the payment of the family taxes.

The peasant household of the old type is thus a primitive labour
association, of which the members have all things in common, and it
is not a little remarkable that the peasant conceives it as such
rather than as a family. This is shown by the customary
terminology, for the Head of the Household is not called by any
word corresponding to Paterfamilias, but is termed, as I have said,
Khozain, or Administrator--a word that is applied equally to a
farmer, a shopkeeper or the head of an industrial undertaking, and
does not at all convey the idea of blood-relationship. It is
likewise shown by what takes place when a household is broken up.
On such occasions the degree of blood-relationship is not taken
into consideration in the distribution of the property. All the
adult male members share equally. Illegitimate and adopted sons,
if they have contributed their share of labour, have the same
rights as the sons born in lawful wedlock. The married daughter,
on the contrary--being regarded as belonging to her husband's
family--and the son who has previously separated himself from the
household, are excluded from the succession. Strictly speaking,
the succession or inheritance is confined to the wearing apparel
and any little personal effects of a deceased member. The house
and all that it contains belong to the little household community;
and, consequently, when it is broken up, by the death of the
Khozain or other cause, the members do not inherit, but merely
appropriate individually what they had hitherto possessed
collectively. Thus there is properly no inheritance or succession,
but simply liquidation and distribution of the property among the
members. The written law of inheritance founded on the conception
of personal property, is quite unknown to the peasantry, and quite
inapplicable to their mode of life. In this way a large and most
important section of the Code remains a dead letter for about four-
fifths of the population.

This predominance of practical economic considerations is
exemplified also by the way in which marriages are arranged in
these large families. In the primitive system of agriculture
usually practised in Russia, the natural labour-unit--if I may use
such a term--comprises a man, a woman, and a horse. As soon,
therefore, as a boy becomes an able-bodied labourer he ought to be
provided with the two accessories necessary for the completion of
the labour-unit. To procure a horse, either by purchase or by
rearing a foal, is the duty of the Head of the House; to procure a
wife for the youth is the duty of "the female Big One" (Bolshukha).
And the chief consideration in determining the choice is in both
cases the same. Prudent domestic administrators are not to be
tempted by showy horses or beautiful brides; what they seek is not
beauty, but physical strength and capacity for work. When the
youth reaches the age of eighteen he is informed that he ought to
marry at once, and as soon as he gives his consent negotiations are
opened with the parents of some eligible young person. In the
larger villages the negotiations are sometimes facilitated by
certain old women called svakhi, who occupy themselves specially
with this kind of mediation; but very often the affair is arranged
directly by, or through the agency of, some common friend of the
two houses.

Care must of course be taken that there is no legal obstacle, and
these obstacles are not always easily avoided in a small village,
the inhabitants of which have been long in the habit of
intermarrying. According to Russian ecclesiastical law, not only
is marriage between first-cousins illegal, but affinity is
considered as equivalent to consanguinity--that is to say a mother-
in-law and a sister-in-law are regarded as a mother and a sister--
and even the fictitious relationship created by standing together
at the baptismal font as godfather and godmother is legally
recognised, and may constitute a bar to matrimony. If all the
preliminary negotiations are successful, the marriage takes place,
and the bridegroom brings his bride home to the house of which he
is a member. She brings nothing with her as a dowry except her
trousseau, but she brings a pair of good strong arms, and thereby
enriches her adopted family. Of course it happens occasionally--
for human nature is everywhere essentially the same--that a young
peasant falls in love with one of his former playmates, and brings
his little romance to a happy conclusion at the altar; but such
cases are very rare, and as a rule it may be said that the
marriages of the Russian peasantry are arranged under the influence
of economic rather than sentimental considerations.

The custom of living in large families has many economic
advantages. We all know the edifying fable of the dying man who
showed to his sons by means of a piece of wicker-work the
advantages of living together and assisting each other. In
ordinary times the necessary expenses of a large household of ten
members are considerably less than the combined expenses of two
households comprising five members each, and when a "black day"
comes a large family can bear temporary adversity much more
successfully than a small one. These are principles of world-wide
application, but in the life of the Russian peasantry they have a
peculiar force. Each adult peasant possesses, as I shall hereafter
explain, a share of the Communal land, but this share is not
sufficient to occupy all his time and working power. One married
pair can easily cultivate two shares--at least in all provinces
where the peasant allotments are not very large. Now, if a family
is composed of two married couples, one of the men can go elsewhere
and earn money, whilst the other, with his wife and sister-in-law,
can cultivate the two combined shares of land. If, on the contrary
a family consists merely of one pair with their children, the man
must either remain at home--in which case he may have difficulty in
finding work for the whole of his time--or he must leave home, and
entrust the cultivation of his share of the land to his wife, whose
time must be in great part devoted to domestic affairs.

In the time of serfage the proprietors clearly perceived these and
similar advantages, and compelled their serfs to live together in
large families. No family could be broken up without the
proprietor's consent, and this consent was not easily obtained
unless the family had assumed quite abnormal proportions and was
permanently disturbed by domestic dissension. In the matrimonial
affairs of the serfs, too, the majority of the proprietors
systematically exercised a certain supervision, not necessarily
from any paltry meddling spirit, but because their own material
interests were thereby affected. A proprietor would not, for
instance, allow the daughter of one of his serfs to marry a serf
belonging to another proprietor--because he would thereby lose a
female labourer--unless some compensation were offered. The
compensation might be a sum of money, or the affair might be
arranged on the principle of reciprocity by the master of the
bridegroom allowing one of his female serfs to marry a serf
belonging to the master of the bride.

However advantageous the custom of living in large families may
appear when regarded from the economic point of view, it has very
serious defects, both theoretical and practical.

That families connected by the ties of blood-relationship and
marriage can easily live together in harmony is one of those social
axioms which are accepted universally and believed by nobody. We
all know by our own experience, or by that of others, that the
friendly relations of two such families are greatly endangered by
proximity of habitation. To live in the same street is not
advisable; to occupy adjoining houses is positively dangerous; and
to live under the same roof is certainly fatal to prolonged amity.
There may be the very best intentions on both sides, and the
arrangement may be inaugurated by the most gushing expressions of
undying affection and by the discovery of innumerable secret
affinities, but neither affinities, affection, nor good intentions
can withstand the constant friction and occasional jerks which
inevitably ensue.

Now the reader must endeavour to realise that Russian peasants,
even when clad in sheep-skins, are human beings like ourselves.
Though they are often represented as abstract entities--as figures
in a table of statistics or dots on a diagram--they have in reality
"organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions." If not exactly
"fed with the same food," they are at least "hurt with the same
weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means,"
and liable to be irritated by the same annoyances as we are. And
those of them who live in large families are subjected to a kind of
probation that most of us have never dreamed of. The families
comprising a large household not only live together, but have
nearly all things in common. Each member works, not for himself,
but for the household, and all that he earns is expected to go into
the family treasury. The arrangement almost inevitably leads to
one of two results--either there are continual dissensions, or
order is preserved by a powerful domestic tyranny.

It is quite natural, therefore, that when the authority of the
landed proprietors was abolished in 1861, the large peasant
families almost all crumbled to pieces. The arbitrary rule of the
Khozain was based on, and maintained by, the arbitrary rule of the
proprietor, and both naturally fell together. Households like that
of our friend Ivan were preserved only in exceptional cases, where
the Head of the House happened to possess an unusual amount of
moral influence over the other members.

This change has unquestionably had a prejudicial influence on the
material welfare of the peasantry, but it must have added
considerably to their domestic comfort, and may perhaps produce
good moral results. For the present, however, the evil
consequences are by far the most prominent. Every married peasant
strives to have a house of his own, and many of them, in order to
defray the necessary expenses, have been obliged to contract debts.
This is a very serious matter. Even if the peasants could obtain
money at five or six per cent., the position of the debtors would
be bad enough, but it is in reality much worse, for the village
usurers consider twenty or twenty-five per cent. a by no means
exorbitant rate of interest. A laudable attempt has been made to
remedy this state of things by village banks, but these have proved
successful only in certain exceptional localities. As a rule the
peasant who contracts debts has a hard struggle to pay the interest
in ordinary times, and when some misfortune overtakes him--when,
for instance, the harvest is bad or his horse is stolen--he
probably falls hopelessly into pecuniary embarrassments. I have
seen peasants not specially addicted to drunkenness or other
ruinous habits sink to a helpless state of insolvency. Fortunately
for such insolvent debtors, they are treated by the law with
extreme leniency. Their house, their share of the common land,
their agricultural implements, their horse--in a word, all that is
necessary for their subsistence, is exempt from sequestration. The
Commune, however, may bring strong pressure to bear on those who do
not pay their taxes. When I lived among the peasantry in the
seventies, corporal punishment inflicted by order of the Commune
was among the means usually employed; and though the custom was
recently prohibited by an Imperial decree of Nicholas II, I am not
at all sure that it has entirely disappeared.



Communal Land--System of Agriculture--Parish Fetes--Fasting--
Winter Occupations--Yearly Migrations--Domestic Industries--
Influence of Capital and Wholesale Enterprise--The State Peasants--
Serf-dues--Buckle's "History of Civilisation"--A precocious
Yamstchik--"People Who Play Pranks"--A Midnight Alarm--The Far

Ivanofka may be taken as a fair specimen of the villages in the
northern half of the country, and a brief description of its
inhabitants will convey a tolerably correct notion of the northern
peasantry in general.

Nearly the whole of the female population, and about one-half of
the male inhabitants, are habitually engaged in cultivating the
Communal land, which comprises about two thousand acres of a light
sandy soil. The arable part of this land is divided into three
large fields, each of which is cut up into long narrow strips. The
first field is reserved for the winter grain--that is to say, rye,
which forms, in the shape of black bread, the principal food of the
rural population. In the second are raised oats for the horses,
and buckwheat, which is largely used for food. The third lies
fallow, and is used in the summer as pasturage for the cattle.

All the villagers in this part of the country divide the arable
land in this way, in order to suit the triennial rotation of crops.
This triennial system is extremely simple. The field which is used
this year for raising winter grain will be used next year for
raising summer grain, and in the following year will lie fallow.
Before being sown with winter grain it ought to receive a certain
amount of manure. Every family possesses in each of the two fields
under cultivation one or more of the long narrow strips or belts
into which they are divided.

The annual life of the peasantry is that of simple husbandman,
inhabiting a country where the winter is long and severe. The
agricultural year begins in April with the melting of the snow.
Nature has been lying dormant for some months. Awaking now from
her long sleep, and throwing off her white mantle, she strives to
make up for lost time. No sooner has the snow disappeared than the
fresh young grass begins to shoot up, and very soon afterwards the
shrubs and trees begin to bud. The rapidity of this transition
from winter to spring astonishes the inhabitants of more temperate

On St. George's Day (April 23rd*) the cattle are brought out for
the first time, and sprinkled with holy water by the priest. They
are never very fat, but at this period of the year their appearance
is truly lamentable. During the winter they have been cooped up in
small unventilated cow-houses, and fed almost exclusively on straw;
now, when they are released from their imprisonment, they look like
the ghosts of their former emaciated selves. All are lean and
weak, many are lame, and some cannot rise to their feet without

* With regard to saints' days, I always give the date according to
the old style. To find the date according to our calendar,
thirteen days must be added.

Meanwhile the peasants are impatient to begin the field labour. An
old proverb which they all know says: "Sow in mud and you will be a
prince"; and they always act in accordance with this dictate of
traditional wisdom. As soon as it is possible to plough they begin
to prepare the land for the summer grain, and this labour occupies
them probably till the end of May. Then comes the work of carting
out manure and preparing the fallow field for the winter grain,
which will last probably till about St. Peter's Day (June 29th),
when the hay-making generally begins. After the hay-making comes
the harvest, by far the busiest time of the year. From the middle
of July--especially from St. Elijah's Day (July 20th), when the
saint is usually heard rumbling along the heavens in his chariot of
fire*--until the end of August, the peasant may work day and night,
and yet he will find that he has barely time to get all his work
done. In little more than a month he has to reap and stack his
grain--rye, oats, and whatever else he may have sown either in
spring or in the preceding autumn--and to sow the winter grain for
next year. To add to his troubles, it sometimes happens that the
rye and the oats ripen almost simultaneously, and his position is
then still more difficult.

* It is thus that the peasants explain the thunder, which is often
heard at that season.

Whether the seasons favour him or not, the peasant has at this time
a hard task, for he can rarely afford to hire the requisite number
of labourers, and has generally the assistance merely of his wife
and family; but he can at this season work for a short time at high
pressure, for he has the prospect of soon obtaining a good rest and
an abundance of food. About the end of September the field labour
is finished, and on the first day of October the harvest festival
begins--a joyous season, during which the parish fetes are commonly

To celebrate a parish fete in true orthodox fashion it is necessary
to prepare beforehand a large quantity of braga--a kind of home-
brewed small beer--and to bake a plentiful supply of piroghi or
meat pies. Oil, too, has to be procured, and vodka (rye spirit) in
goodly quantity. At the same time the big room of the izba, as the
peasant's house is called, has to be cleared, the floor washed, and
the table and benches scrubbed. The evening before the fete, while
the piroghi are being baked, a little lamp burns before the Icon in
the corner of the room, and perhaps one or two guests from a
distance arrive in order that they may have on the morrow a full
day's enjoyment.

On the morning of the fete the proceedings begin by a long service
in the church, at which all the inhabitants are present in their
best holiday costumes, except those matrons and young women who
remain at home to prepare the dinner. About mid-day dinner is
served in each izba for the family and their friends. In general
the Russian peasant's fare is of the simplest kind, and rarely
comprises animal food of any sort--not from any vegetarian
proclivities, but merely because beef, mutton, and pork are too
expensive; but on a holiday, such as a parish fete, there is always
on the dinner table a considerable variety of dishes. In the house
of a well-to-do family there will be not only greasy cabbage-soup
and kasha--a dish made from buckwheat--but also pork, mutton, and
perhaps even beef. Braga will be supplied in unlimited quantities,
and more than once vodka will be handed round. When the repast is
finished, all rise together, and, turning towards the Icon in the
corner, bow and cross themselves repeatedly. The guests then say
to their host, "Spasibo za khelb za sol"--that is to say, "Thanks
for your hospitality," or more literally, "Thanks for bread and
salt"; and the host replies, "Do not be displeased, sit down once
more for good luck"--or perhaps he puts the last part of his
request into the form of a rhyming couplet to the following effect:
"Sit down, that the hens may brood, and that the chickens and bees
may multiply!" All obey this request, and there is another round
of vodka.

After dinner some stroll about, chatting with their friends, or go
to sleep in some shady nook, whilst those who wish to make merry go
to the spot where the young people are singing, playing, and
amusing themselves in various ways. As the sun sinks towards the
horizon, the more grave, staid guests wend their way homewards, but
many remain for supper; and as evening advances the effects of the
vodka become more and more apparent. Sounds of revelry are heard
more frequently from the houses, and a large proportion of the
inhabitants and guests appear on the road in various degrees of
intoxication. Some of these vow eternal affection to their
friends, or with flaccid gestures and in incoherent tones harangue
invisible audiences; others stagger about aimlessly in besotted
self-contentment, till they drop down in a state of complete
unconsciousness. There they will lie tranquilly till they are
picked up by their less intoxicated friends, or more probably till
they awake of their own accord next morning.

As a whole, a village fete in Russia is a saddening spectacle. It
affords a new proof--where, alas! no new proof was required--that
we northern nations, who know so well how to work, have not yet
learned the art of amusing ourselves.

If the Russian peasant's food were always as good and plentiful as
at this season of the year, he would have little reason to
complain; but this is by no means the case. Gradually, as the
harvest-time recedes, it deteriorates in quality, and sometimes
diminishes in quantity. Besides this, during a great part of the
year the peasant is prevented, by the rules of the Church, from
using much that he possesses.

In southern climes, where these rules were elaborated and first
practised, the prescribed fasts are perhaps useful not only in a
religious, but also in a sanitary sense. Having abundance of fruit
and vegetables, the inhabitants do well to abstain occasionally
from animal food. But in countries like Northern and Central
Russia the influence of these rules is very different. The Russian
peasant cannot get as much animal food as he requires, whilst sour
cabbage and cucumbers are probably the only vegetables he can
procure, and fruit of any kind is for him an unattainable luxury.
Under these circumstances, abstinence from eggs and milk in all
their forms during several months of the year seems to the secular
mind a superfluous bit of asceticism. If the Church would direct
her maternal solicitude to the peasant's drinking, and leave him to
eat what he pleases, she might exercise a beneficial influence on
his material and moral welfare. Unfortunately she has a great deal
too much inherent immobility to attempt anything of the kind, so
the muzhik, while free to drink copiously whenever he gets the
chance, must fast during the seven weeks of Lent, during two or
three weeks in June, from the beginning of November till Christmas,
and on all Wednesdays and Fridays during the remainder of the year.

From the festival time till the following spring there is no
possibility of doing any agricultural work, for the ground is hard
as iron, and covered with a deep layer of snow. The male peasants,
therefore, who remain in the villages, have very little to do, and
may spend the greater part of their time in lying idly on the
stove, unless they happen to have learned some handicraft that can
be practised at home. Formerly, many of them were employed in
transporting the grain to the market town, which might be several
hundred miles distant; but now this species of occupation has been
greatly diminished by the extension of railways.

Another winter occupation which was formerly practised, and has now
almost fallen into disuse, was that of stealing wood in the forest.
This was, according to peasant morality, no sin, or at most a very
venial offence, for God plants and waters the trees, and therefore
forests belong properly to no one. So thought the peasantry, but
the landed proprietors and the Administration of the Domains held a
different theory of property, and consequently precautions had to
be taken to avoid detection. In order to ensure success it was
necessary to choose a night when there was a violent snowstorm,
which would immediately obliterate all traces of the expedition;
and when such a night was found, the operation was commonly
performed with success. During the hours of darkness a tree would
be felled, stripped of its branches, dragged into the village, and
cut up into firewood, and at sunrise the actors would be tranquilly
sleeping on the stove as if they had spent the night at home. In
recent years the judicial authorities have done much towards
putting down this practice and eradicating the loose conceptions of
property with which it was connected.

For the female part of the population the winter used to be a busy
time, for it was during these four or five months that the spinning
and weaving had to be done, but now the big factories, with their
cheap methods of production, are rapidly killing the home
industries, and the young girls are not learning to work at the
jenny and the loom as their mothers and grandmothers did.

In many of the northern villages, where ancient usages happen to be
preserved, the tedium of the long winter evenings is relieved by
so-called Besedy, a word which signifies literally conversazioni.
A Beseda, however, is not exactly a conversazione as we understand
the term, but resembles rather what is by some ladies called a
Dorcas meeting, with this essential difference, that those present
work for themselves and not for any benevolent purposes. In some
villages as many as three Besedy regularly assemble about sunset;
one for the children, the second for the young people, and the
third for the matrons. Each of the three has its peculiar
character. In the first, the children work and amuse themselves
under the superintendence of an old woman, who trims the torch* and
endeavours to keep order. The little girls spin flax in a
primitive way without the aid of a jenny, and the boys, who are, on
the whole, much less industrious, make simple bits of wicker-work.
Formerly--I mean within my own recollection--many of them used to
make rude shoes of plaited bark, called lapty, but these are being
rapidly supplanted by leather boots. These occupations do not
prevent an almost incessant hum of talk, frequent discordant
attempts to sing in chorus, and occasional quarrels requiring the
energetic interference of the old woman who controls the
proceedings. To amuse her noisy flock she sometimes relates to
them, for the hundredth time, one of those wonderful old stories
that lose nothing by repetition, and all listen to her attentively,
as if they had never heard the story before.

* The torch (lutchina) has now almost entirely disappeared and been
replaced by the petroleum lamp.

The second Beseda is held in another house by the young people of a
riper age. Here the workers are naturally more staid, less given
to quarrelling, sing more in harmony, and require no one to look
after them. Some people, however, might think that a chaperon or
inspector of some kind would be by no means out of place, for a
good deal of flirtation goes on, and if village scandal is to be
trusted, strict propriety in thought, word, and deed is not always
observed. How far these reports are true I cannot pretend to say,
for the presence of a stranger always acts on the company like the
presence of a severe inspector. In the third Beseda there is
always at least strict decorum. Here the married women work
together and talk about their domestic concerns, enlivening the
conversation occasionally by the introduction of little bits of
village scandal.

Such is the ordinary life of the peasants who live by agriculture;
but many of the villagers live occasionally or permanently in the
towns. Probably the majority of the peasants in this region have
at some period of their lives gained a living elsewhere. Many of
the absentees spend yearly a few months at home, whilst others
visit their families only occasionally, and, it may be, at long
intervals. In no case, however, do they sever their connection
with their native village. Even the peasant who becomes a rich
merchant and settles permanently with his family in Moscow or St.
Petersburg remains probably a member of the Village Commune, and
pays his share of the taxes, though he does not enjoy any of the
corresponding privileges. Once I remember asking a rich man of
this kind, the proprietor of several large houses in St.
Petersburg, why he did not free himself from all connection with
his native Commune, with which he had no longer any interests in
common. His answer was, "It is all very well to be free, and I
don't want anything from the Commune now; but my old father lives
there, my mother is buried there, and I like to go back to the old
place sometimes. Besides, I have children, and our affairs are
commercial (nashe dyelo torgovoe). Who knows but my children may
he very glad some day to have a share of the Commune land?"

In respect to these non-agricultural occupations, each district has
its specialty. The province of Yaroslavl, for instance, supplies
the large towns with waiters for the traktirs, or lower class of
restaurants, whilst the best hotels in Petersburg are supplied by
the Tartars of Kasimof, celebrated for their sobriety and honesty.
One part of the province of Kostroma has a special reputation for
producing carpenters and stove-builders, whilst another part, as I
once discovered to my surprise, sends yearly to Siberia--not as
convicts, but as free laborours--a large contingent of tailors and
workers in felt! On questioning some youngsters who were
accompanying as apprentices one of these bands, I was informed by a
bright-eyed youth of about sixteen that he had already made the
journey twice, and intended to go every winter. "And you always
bring home a big pile of money with you?" I inquired. "Nitchevo!"
replied the little fellow, gaily, with an air of pride and self-
confidence; "last year I brought home three roubles!" This answer
was, at the moment, not altogether welcome, for I had just been
discussing with a Russian fellow-traveller as to whether the
peasantry can fairly be called industrious, and the boy's reply
enabled my antagonist to score a point against me. "You hear
that!" he said, triumphantly. "A Russian peasant goes all the way
to Siberia and back for three roubles! Could you get an Englishman
to work at that rate?" "Perhaps not," I replied, evasively,
thinking at the same time that if a youth were sent several times
from Land's End to John o' Groat's House, and obliged to make the
greater part of the journey in carts or on foot, he would probably
expect, by way of remuneration for the time and labour expended,
rather more than seven and sixpence!

Very often the peasants find industrial occupations without leaving
home, for various industries which do not require complicated
machinery are practised in the villages by the peasants and their
families. Wooden vessels, wrought iron, pottery, leather, rush-
matting, and numerous other articles are thus produced in enormous
quantities. Occasionally we find not only a whole village, but
even a whole district occupied almost exclusively with some one
kind of manual industry. In the province of Vladimir, for example,
a large group of villages live by Icon-painting; in one locality
near Nizhni-Novgorod nineteen villages are occupied with the
manufacture of axes; round about Pavlovo, in the same province,
eighty villages produce almost nothing but cutlery; and in a
locality called Ouloma, on the borders of Novgorod and Tver, no
less than two hundred villages live by nail-making.

These domestic industries have long existed, and were formerly an
abundant source of revenue--providing a certain compensation for
the poverty of the soil. But at present they are in a very
critical position. They belong to the primitive period of economic
development, and that period in Russia, as I shall explain in a
future chapter, is now rapidly drawing to a close. Formerly the
Head of a Household bought the raw material, had it worked up at
home, and sold with a reasonable profit the manufactured articles
at the bazaars, as the local fairs are called, or perhaps at the
great annual yarmarkt* of Nizhni-Novgorod. This primitive system
is now rapidly becoming obsolete. Capital and wholesale enterprise
have come into the field and are revolutionising the old methods of
production and trade. Already whole groups of industrial villages
have fallen under the power of middle-men, who advance money to the
working households and fix the price of the products. Attempts are
frequently made to break their power by voluntary co-operative
associations, organised by the local authorities or benevolent
landed proprietors of the neighbourhood--like the benevolent people
in England who try to preserve the traditional cottage industries--
and some of the associations work very well; but the ultimate
success of such "efforts to stem the current of capitalism" is
extremely doubtful. At the same time, the periodical bazaars and
yarmarki, at which producers and consumers transacted their affairs
without mediation, are being replaced by permanent stores and by
various classes of tradesmen--wholesale and retail.

* This term is a corruption of the German word Jahrmarkt.

To the political economist of the rigidly orthodox school this
important change may afford great satisfaction. According to his
theories it is a gigantic step in the right direction, and must
necessarily redound to the advantage of all parties concerned. The
producer now receives a regular supply of raw material, and
regularly disposes of the articles manufactured; and the time and
trouble which he formerly devoted to wandering about in search of
customers he can now employ more profitably in productive work.
The creation of a class between the producers and the consumers is
an important step towards that division and specialisation of
labour which is a necessary condition of industrial and commercial
prosperity. The consumer no longer requires to go on a fixed day
to some distant point, on the chance of finding there what he
requires, but can always buy what he pleases in the permanent
stores. Above all, the production is greatly increased in amount,
and the price of manufactured goods is proportionally lessened.

All this seems clear enough in theory, and any one who values
intellectual tranquillity will feel disposed to accept this view of
the case without questioning its accuracy; but the unfortunate
traveller who is obliged to use his eyes as well as his logical
faculties may find some little difficulty in making the facts fit
into the a priori formula. Far be it from me to question the
wisdom of political economists, but I cannot refrain from remarking
that of the three classes concerned--small producers, middle-men,
and consumers--two fail to perceive and appreciate the benefits
which have been conferred upon them. The small producers complain
that on the new system they work more and gain less; and the
consumers complain that the manufactured articles, if cheaper and
more showy in appearance, are far inferior in quality. The
middlemen, who are accused, rightly or wrongly, of taking for
themselves the lion's share of the profits, alone seem satisfied
with the new arrangement.

Interesting as this question undoubtedly is, it is not of permanent
importance, because the present state of things is merely
transitory. Though the peasants may continue for a time to work at
home for the wholesale dealers, they cannot in the long run compete
with the big factories and workshops, organised on the European
model with steam-power and complicated machinery, which already
exist in many provinces. Once a country has begun to move forward
on the great highway of economic progress, there is no possibility
of stopping halfway.

Here again the orthodox economists find reason for congratulation,
because big factories and workshops are the cheapest and most
productive form of manufacturing industry; and again, the observant
traveller cannot shut his eyes to ugly facts which force themselves
on his attention. He notices that this cheapest and most
productive form of manufacturing industry does not seem to advance
the material and moral welfare of the population. Nowhere is there
more disease, drunkenness, demoralisation and misery than in the
manufacturing districts.

The reader must not imagine that in making these statements I wish
to calumniate the spirit of modern enterprise, or to advocate a
return to primitive barbarism. All great changes produce a mixture
of good and evil, and at first the evil is pretty sure to come
prominently forward. Russia is at this moment in a state of
transition, and the new condition of things is not yet properly
organised. With improved organisation many of the existing evils
will disappear. Already in recent years I have noticed sporadic
signs of improvement. When factories were first established no
proper arrangements were made for housing and feeding the workmen,
and the consequent hardships were specially felt when the factories
were founded, as is often the case, in rural districts. Now, the
richer and more enterprising manufacturers build large barracks for
the workmen and their families, and provide them with common
kitchens, wash-houses, steam-baths, schools, and similar requisites
of civilised life. At the same time the Government appoints
inspectors to superintend the sanitary arrangements and see that
the health and comfort of the workers are properly attended to.

On the whole we must assume that the activity of these inspectors
tends to improve the condition of the working-classes. Certainly
in some instances it has that effect. I remember, for example,
some thirty years ago, visiting a lucifer-match factory in which
the hands employed worked habitually in an atmosphere impregnated
with the fumes of phosphorus, which produce insidious and very
painful diseases. Such a thing is hardly possible nowadays. On
the other hand, official inspection, like Factory Acts, everywhere
gives rise to a good deal of dissatisfaction and does not always
improve the relations between employers and employed. Some of the
Russian inspectors, if I may credit the testimony of employers, are
young gentlemen imbued with socialist notions, who intentionally
stir up discontent or who make mischief from inexperience. An
amusing illustration of the current complaints came under my notice
when, in 1903, I was visiting a landed proprietor of the southern
provinces, who has a large sugar factory on his estate. The
inspector objected to the traditional custom of the men sleeping in
large dormitories and insisted on sleeping-cots being constructed
for them individually. As soon as the change was made the workmen
came to the proprietor to complain, and put their grievance in an
interrogative form: "Are we cattle that we should be thus couped up
in stalls?"

To return to the northern agricultural region, the rural population
have a peculiar type, which is to be accounted for by the fact that
they never experienced to its full extent the demoralising
influence of serfage. A large proportion of them were settled on
State domains and were governed by a special branch of the Imperial
administration, whilst others lived on the estates of rich absentee
landlords, who were in the habit of leaving the management of their
properties to a steward acting under a code of instructions. In
either case, though serfs in the eye of the law, they enjoyed
practically a very large amount of liberty. By paying a small sum
for a passport they could leave their villages for an indefinite
period, and as long as they sent home regularly the money required
for taxes and dues, they were in little danger of being molested.
Many of them, though officially inscribed as domiciled in their
native communes, lived permanently in the towns, and not a few
succeeded in amassing large fortunes. The effect of this
comparative freedom is apparent even at the present day. These
peasants of the north are more energetic, more intelligent, more
independent, and consequently less docile and pliable than those of
the fertile central provinces. They have, too, more education. A
large proportion of them can read and write, and occasionally one
meets among them men who have a keen desire for knowledge. Several
times I encountered peasants in this region who had a small
collection of books, and twice I found in such collections, much to
my astonishment, a Russian translation of Buckle's "History of

How, it may be asked, did a work of this sort find its way to such
a place? If the reader will pardon a short digression, I shall
explain the fact.

Immediately after the Crimean War there was a curious intellectual
movement--of which I shall have more to say hereafter--among the
Russian educated classes. The movement assumed various forms, of
which two of the most prominent were a desire for encyclopaedic
knowledge, and an attempt to reduce all knowledge to a scientific
form. For men in this state of mind Buckle's great work had
naturally a powerful fascination. It seemed at first sight to
reduce the multifarious conflicting facts of human history to a few
simple principles, and to evolve order out of chaos. Its success,
therefore, was great. In the course of a few years no less than
four independent translations were published and sold. Every one
read, or at least professed to have read, the wonderful book, and
many believed that its author was the greatest genius of his time.
During the first year of my residence in Russia (1870), I rarely
had a serious conversation without hearing Buckle's name mentioned;
and my friends almost always assumed that he had succeeded in
creating a genuine science of history on the inductive method. In
vain I pointed out that Buckle had merely thrown out some hints in
his introductory chapter as to how such a science ought to be
constructed, and that he had himself made no serious attempt to use
the method which he commended. My objections had little or no
effect: the belief was too deep-rooted to be so easily eradicated.
In books, periodicals, newspapers, and professional lectures the
name of Buckle was constantly cited--often violently dragged in
without the slightest reason--and the cheap translations of his
work were sold in enormous quantities. It is not, then, so very
wonderful after all that the book should have found its way to two
villages in the province of Yaroslavl.

The enterprising, self-reliant, independent spirit which is often
to be found among those peasants manifests itself occasionally in
amusing forms among the young generation. Often in this part of
the country I have encountered boys who recalled young America
rather than young Russia. One of these young hopefuls I remember
well. I was waiting at a post-station for the horses to be
changed, when he appeared before me in a sheep-skin, fur cap, and
gigantic double-soled boots--all of which articles had been made on
a scale adapted to future rather than actual requirements. He must
have stood in his boots about three feet eight inches, and he could
not have been more than twelve years of age; but he had already
learned to look upon life as a serious business, wore a commanding
air, and knitted his innocent little brows as if the cares of an
empire weighed on his diminutive shoulders. Though he was to act
as yamstchik he had to leave the putting in of the horses to larger
specimens of the human species, but he took care that all was done
properly. Putting one of his big boots a little in advance, and
drawing himself up to his full shortness, he watched the operation
attentively, as if the smallness of his stature had nothing to do
with his inactivity. When all was ready, he climbed up to his
seat, and at a signal from the station-keeper, who watched with
paternal pride all the movements of the little prodigy, we dashed
off at a pace rarely attained by post-horses. He had the faculty
of emitting a peculiar sound--something between a whirr and a
whistle--that appeared to have a magical effect on the team and
every few minutes he employed this incentive. The road was rough,
and at every jolt he was shot upwards into the air, but he always
fell back into his proper position, and never lost for a moment his
self-possession or his balance. At the end of the journey I found
we had made nearly fourteen miles within the hour.

Unfortunately this energetic, enterprising spirit sometimes takes
an illegitimate direction. Not only whole villages, but even whole
districts, have in this way acquired a bad reputation for robbery,
the manufacture of paper-money, and similar offences against the
criminal law. In popular parlance, these localities are said to
contain "people who play pranks" (narod shalit). I must, however,
remark that, if I may judge by my own experience, these so-called
"playful" tendencies are greatly exaggerated. Though I have
travelled hundreds of miles at night on lonely roads, I was never
robbed or in any way molested. Once, indeed, when travelling at
night in a tarantass, I discovered on awaking that my driver was
bending over me, and had introduced his hand into one of my
pockets; but the incident ended without serious consequences. When
I caught the delinquent hand, and demanded an explanation from the
owner, he replied, in an apologetic, caressing tone, that the night
was cold, and he wished to warm his fingers; and when I advised him
to use for that purpose his own pockets rather than mine, he
promised to act in future according to my advice. More than once,
it is true, I believed that I was in danger of being attacked, but
on every occasion my fears turned out to be unfounded, and
sometimes the catastrophe was ludicrous rather than tragical. Let
the following serve as an illustration.

I had occasion to traverse, in company with a Russian friend, the
country lying to the east of the river Vetluga--a land of forest
and morass, with here and there a patch of cultivation. The
majority of the population are Tcheremiss, a Finnish tribe; but
near the banks of the river there are villages of Russian peasants,
and these latter have the reputation of "playing pranks." When we
were on the point of starting from Kozmodemiansk a town on the bank
of the Volga, we received a visit from an officer of rural police,
who painted in very sombre colours the habits and moral character--
or, more properly, immoral character--of the people whose
acquaintance we were about to make. He related with melodramatic
gesticulation his encounters with malefactors belonging to the
villages through which we had to pass, and ended the interview with
a strong recommendation to us not to travel at night, and to keep
at all times our eyes open and our revolver ready. The effect of
his narrative was considerably diminished by the prominence of the
moral, which was to the effect that there never had been a police-
officer who had shown so much zeal, energy, and courage in the
discharge of his duty as the worthy man before us. We considered
it, however, advisable to remember his hint about keeping our eyes

In spite of our intention of being very cautious, it was already
dark when we arrived at the village which was to be our halting-
place for the night, and it seemed at first as if we should be
obliged to spend the night in the open air. The inhabitants had
already retired to rest, and refused to open their doors to unknown
travellers. At length an old woman, more hospitable than her
neighbours, or more anxious to earn an honest penny, consented to
let us pass the night in an outer apartment (seni), and this
permission we gladly accepted. Mindful of the warnings of the
police officer, we barricaded the two doors and the window, and the
precaution was evidently not superfluous, for almost as soon as the
light was extinguished we could hear that an attempt was being made
stealthily to effect an entrance. Notwithstanding my efforts to
remain awake, and on the watch, I at last fell asleep, and was
suddenly aroused by some one grasping me tightly by the arm.
Instantly I sprang to my feet and endeavoured to close with my
invisible assailant. In vain! He dexterously eluded my grasp, and
I stumbled over my portmanteau, which was lying on the floor; but
my prompt action revealed who the intruder was, by producing a wild
flutter and a frantic cackling! Before my companion could strike a
light the mysterious attack was fully explained. The supposed
midnight robber and possible assassin was simply a peaceable hen
that had gone to roost on my arm, and, on finding her position
unsteady, had dug her claws into what she mistook for a roosting-

When speaking of the peasantry of the north I have hitherto had in
view the inhabitants of the provinces of Old-Novgorod, Tver,
Yaroslavl, Nizhni-Novgorod, Kostroma, Kazan, and Viatka, and I have
founded my remarks chiefly on information collected on the spot.
Beyond this lies what may be called the Far North. Though I cannot
profess to have the same personal acquaintance with the peasantry
of that region, I may perhaps be allowed to insert here some
information regarding them which I collected from various
trustworthy sources.

If we draw a wavy line eastward from a point a little to the north
of St. Petersburg, as is shown in the map facing page 1 of this
volume, we shall have between that line and the Polar Ocean what
may be regarded as a distinct, peculiar region, differing in many
respects from the rest of Russia. Throughout the whole of it the
climate is very severe. For about half of the year the ground is
covered by deep snow, and the rivers are frozen. By far the
greater part of the land is occupied by forests of pine, fir,
larch, and birch, or by vast, unfathomable morasses. The arable
land and pasturage taken together form only about one and a half
per cent, of the area. The population is scarce--little more than
one to the English square mile--and settled chiefly along the banks
of the rivers. The peasantry support themselves by fishing,
hunting, felling and floating timber, preparing tar and charcoal,
cattle-breeding, and, in the extreme north, breeding reindeer.

These are their chief occupations, but the people do not entirely
neglect agriculture. They make the most of their short summer by
means of a peculiar and ingenious mode of farming, well adapted to
the peculiar local conditions. The peasant knows of course nothing
about agronomical chemistry, but he, as well as his forefathers,
have observed that if wood be burnt on a field, and the ashes be
mixed with the soil, a good harvest may be confidently expected.
On this simple principle his system of farming is based. When
spring comes round and the leaves begin to appear on the trees, a
band of peasants, armed with their hatchets, proceed to some spot
in the woods previously fixed upon. Here they begin to make a
clearing. This is no easy matter, for tree-felling is hard and
tedious work; but the process does not take so much time as might
be expected, for the workmen have been brought up to the trade, and
wield their axes with marvellous dexterity. When they have felled
all the trees, great and small, they return to their homes, and
think no more about their clearing till the autumn, when they
return, in order to strip the fallen trees of the branches, to pick
out what they require for building purposes or firewood, and to
pile up the remainder in heaps. The logs for building or firewood
are dragged away by horses as soon as the first fall of snow has
made a good slippery road, but the piles are allowed to remain till
the following spring, when they are stirred up with long poles and
ignited. The flames rapidly spread in all directions till they
join together and form a gigantic bonfire, such as is never seen in
more densely-populated countries. If the fire does its work
properly, the whole of the space is covered with a layer of ashes;
and when these have been slightly mixed with soil by means of a
light plough, the seed is sown.

On the field prepared in this original fashion is sown barley, rye,
or flax, and the harvests, nearly always good, sometimes border on
the miraculous. Barley or rye may be expected to produce about
sixfold in ordinary years, and they may produce as much as thirty-
fold under peculiarly favourable circumstances. The fertility is,
however, short-lived. If the soil is poor and stony, not more than
two crops can be raised; if it is of a better quality, it may give
tolerable harvests for six or seven successive years. In most
countries this would be an absurdly expensive way of manuring, for
wood is much too valuable a commodity to be used for such a
purpose; but in this northern region the forests are boundless, and
in the districts where there is no river or stream by which timber
may be floated, the trees not used in this way rot from old age.
Under these circumstances the system is reasonable, but it must be
admitted that it does not give a very large return for the amount
of labour expended, and in bad seasons it gives almost no return at

The other sources of revenue are scarcely less precarious. With
his gun and a little parcel of provisions the peasant wanders about
in the trackless forests, and too often returns after many days
with a very light bag; or he starts in autumn for some distant
lake, and comes back after five or six weeks with nothing better
than perch and pike. Sometimes he tries his luck at deep-sea
fishing. In this case he starts in February--probably on foot--for
Kem, on the shore of the White Sea, or perhaps for the more distant
Kola, situated on a small river which falls into the Arctic Ocean.
There, in company with three or four comrades, he starts on a
fishing cruise along the Murman coast, or, it may be, off the coast
of Spitzbergen. His gains will depend on the amount caught, for it
is a joint-venture; but in no case can they be very great, for
three-fourths of the fish brought into port belongs to the owner of
the craft and tackle. Of the sum realised, he brings home perhaps
only a small part, for he has a strong temptation to buy rum, tea,
and other luxuries, which are very dear in those northern
latitudes. If the fishing is good and he resists temptation, he
may save as much as 100 roubles--about 10 pounds--and thereby live
comfortably all winter; but if the fishing season is bad, he may
find himself at the end of it not only with empty pockets, but in
debt to the owner of the boat. This debt he may pay off, if he has
a horse, by transporting the dried fish to Kargopol, St.
Petersburg, or some other market.

It is here in the Far North that the ancient folk-lore--popular
songs, stories, and fragments of epic poetry--has been best
preserved; but this is a field on which I need not enter, for the
reader can easily find all that he may desire to know on the
subject in the brilliant writings of M. Rambaud and the very
interesting, conscientious works of the late Mr. Ralston,* which
enjoy a high reputation in Russia.

* Rambaud, "La Russie Epique," Paris, 1876; Ralston, "The Songs of
the Russian People," London, 1872; and "Russian Folk-tales,"
London, 1873.



Social and Political Importance of the Mir--The Mir and the Family
Compared--Theory of the Communal System--Practical Deviations from
the Theory--The Mir a Good Specimen of Constitutional Government of
the Extreme Democratic Type--The Village Assembly--Female Members--
The Elections--Distribution of the Communal Land.

When I had gained a clear notion of the family-life and occupations
of the peasantry, I turned my attention to the constitution of the
village. This was a subject which specially interested me, because
I was aware that the Mir is the most peculiar of Russian
institutions. Long before visiting Russia I had looked into
Haxthausen's celebrated work, by which the peculiarities of the
Russian village system were first made known to Western Europe, and
during my stay in St. Petersburg I had often been informed by
intelligent, educated Russians that the rural Commune presented a
practical solution of many difficult social problems with which the
philosophers and statesmen of the West had long been vainly
struggling. "The nations of the West"--such was the substance of
innumerable discourses which I had heard--"are at present on the
high-road to political and social anarchy, and England has the
unenviable distinction of being foremost in the race. The natural
increase of population, together with the expropriation of the
small landholders by the great landed proprietors, has created a
dangerous and ever-increasing Proletariat--a great disorganised
mass of human beings, without homes, without permanent domicile,
without property of any kind, without any stake in the existing
institutions. Part of these gain a miserable pittance as
agricultural labourers, and live in a condition infinitely worse
than serfage. The others have been forever uprooted from the soil,
and have collected in the large towns, where they earn a precarious
living in the factories and workshops, or swell the ranks of the
criminal classes. In England you have no longer a peasantry in the
proper sense of the term, and unless some radical measures be very
soon adopted, you will never be able to create such a class, for
men who have been long exposed to the unwholesome influences of
town life are physically and morally incapable of becoming

"Hitherto," the disquisition proceeded, "England has enjoyed, in
consequence of her geographical position, her political freedom,
and her vast natural deposits of coal and iron, a wholly
exceptional position in the industrial world. Fearing no
competition, she has proclaimed the principles of Free Trade, and
has inundated the world with her manufactures--using unscrupulously
her powerful navy and all the other forces at her command for
breaking down every barrier tending to check the flood sent forth
from Manchester and Birmingham. In that way her hungry Proletariat
has been fed. But the industrial supremacy of England is drawing
to a close. The nations have discovered the perfidious fallacy of
Free-Trade principles, and are now learning to manufacture for
their own wants, instead of paying England enormous sums to
manufacture for them. Very soon English goods will no longer find
foreign markets, and how will the hungry Proletariat then be fed?
Already the grain production of England is far from sufficient for
the wants of the population, so that, even when the harvest is
exceptionally abundant, enormous quantities of wheat are imported
from all quarters of the globe. Hitherto this grain has been paid
for by the manufactured goods annually exported, but how will it be
procured when these goods are no longer wanted by foreign
consumers? And what then will the hungry Proletariat do?"*

* This passage was written, precisely as it stands, long before the
fiscal question was raised by Mr. Chamberlain. It will be found in
the first edition of this work, published in 1877. (Vol. I., pp.

This sombre picture of England's future had often been presented to
me, and on nearly every occasion I had been assured that Russia had
been saved from these terrible evils by the rural Commune--an
institution which, in spite of its simplicity and incalculable
utility, West Europeans seemed utterly incapable of understanding
and appreciating.

The reader will now easily conceive with what interest I took to
studying this wonderful institution, and with what energy I
prosecuted my researches. An institution which professes to solve
satisfactorily the most difficult social problems of the future is
not to be met with every day, even in Russia, which is specially
rich in material for the student of social science.

On my arrival at Ivanofka my knowledge of the institution was of
that vague, superficial kind which is commonly derived from men who
are fonder of sweeping generalisations and rhetorical declamation
than of serious, patient study of phenomena. I knew that the chief
personage in a Russian village is the Selski Starosta, or Village
Elder, and that all important Communal affairs are regulated by the
Selski Skhod, or Village Assembly. Further, I was aware that the
land in the vicinity of the village belongs to the Commune, and is
distributed periodically among the members in such a way that every
able-bodied peasant possesses a share sufficient, or nearly
sufficient, for his maintenance. Beyond this elementary
information I knew little or nothing.

My first attempt at extending my knowledge was not very successful.
Hoping that my friend Ivan might be able to assist me, and knowing
that the popular name for the Commune is Mir, which means also "the
world," I put to him the direct, simple question, "What is the

Ivan was not easily disconcerted, but for once he looked puzzled,
and stared at me vacantly. When I endeavoured to explain to him my
question, he simply knitted his brows and scratched the back of his
head. This latter movement is the Russian peasant's method of
accelerating cerebral action; but in the present instance it had no
practical result. In spite of his efforts, Ivan could not get much
further than the "Kak vam skazat'?" that is to say, "How am I to
tell you?"

It was not difficult to perceive that I had adopted an utterly
false method of investigation, and a moment's reflection sufficed
to show me the absurdity of my question. I had asked from an
uneducated man a philosophical definition, instead of extracting
from him material in the form of concrete facts, and constructing
therefrom a definition for myself. These concrete facts Ivan was
both able and willing to supply; and as soon as I adopted a
rational mode of questioning, I obtained from him all I wanted.
The information he gave me, together with the results of much
subsequent conversation and reading, I now propose to present to
the reader in my own words.

The peasant family of the old type is, as we have just seen, a kind
of primitive association in which the members have nearly all
things in common. The village may be roughly described as a
primitive association on a larger scale.

Between these two social units there are many points of analogy.
In both there are common interests and common responsibilities. In
both there is a principal personage, who is in a certain sense
ruler within and representative as regards the outside world: in
the one case called Khozain, or Head of the Household, and in the
other Starosta, or Village Elder. In both the authority of the
ruler is limited: in the one case by the adult members of the
family, and in the other by the Heads of Households. In both there
is a certain amount of common property: in the one case the house
and nearly all that it contains, and in the other the arable land
and possibly a little pasturage. In both cases there is a certain
amount of common responsibility: in the one case for all the debts,
and in the other for all the taxes and Communal obligations. And
both are protected to a certain extent against the ordinary legal
consequences of insolvency, for the family cannot be deprived of
its house or necessary agricultural implements, and the Commune
cannot be deprived of its land, by importunate creditors.

On the other hand, there are many important points of contrast. The
Commune is, of course, much larger than the family, and the mutual
relations of its members are by no means so closely interwoven.
The members of a family all farm together, and those of them who
earn money from other sources are expected to put their savings
into the common purse; whilst the households composing a Commune
farm independently, and pay into the common treasury only a certain
fixed sum.

From these brief remarks the reader will at once perceive that a
Russian village is something very different from a village in our
sense of the term, and that the villagers are bound together by
ties quite unknown to the English rural population. A family
living in an English village has little reason to take an interest
in the affairs of its neighbours. The isolation of the individual
families is never quite perfect, for man, being a social animal,
takes necessarily a certain interest in the affairs of those around
him, and this social duty is sometimes fulfilled by the weaker sex
with more zeal than is absolutely indispensable for the public
welfare; but families may live for many years in the same village
without ever becoming conscious of common interests. So long as
the Jones family do not commit any culpable breach of public order,
such as putting obstructions on the highway or habitually setting
their house on fire, their neighbour Brown takes probably no
interest in their affairs, and has no ground for interfering with
their perfect liberty of action. Amongst the families composing a
Russian village, such a state of isolation is impossible. The
Heads of Households must often meet together and consult in the
Village Assembly, and their daily occupation must be influenced by
the Communal decrees. They cannot begin to mow the hay or plough
the fallow field until the Village Assembly has passed a resolution
on the subject. If a peasant becomes a drunkard, or takes some
equally efficient means to become insolvent, every family in the
village has a right to complain, not merely in the interests of
public morality, but from selfish motives, because all the families
are collectively responsible for his taxes.* For the same reason
no peasant can permanently leave the village without the consent of
the Commune, and this consent will not be granted until the
applicant gives satisfactory security for the fulfilment of his
actual and future liabilities. If a peasant wishes to go away for
a short time, in order to work elsewhere, he must obtain a written
permission, which serves him as a passport during his absence; and
he may be recalled at any moment by a Communal decree. In reality
he is rarely recalled so long as he sends home regularly the full
amount of his taxes--including the dues which he has to pay for the
temporary passport--but sometimes the Commune uses the power of
recall for purposes of extortion. If it becomes known, for
instance, that an absent member is receiving a good salary or
otherwise making money, he may one day receive a formal order to
return at once to his native village, but he is probably informed
at the same time, unofficially, that his presence will be dispensed
with if he will send to the Commune a certain specified sum. The
money thus sent is generally used by the Commune for convivial
purposes. **

* This common responsibility for the taxes was abolished in 1903 by
the Emperor, on the advice of M. Witte, and the other Communal
fetters are being gradually relaxed. A peasant may now, if he
wishes, cease to be a member of the Commune altogether, as soon as
he has defrayed all his outstanding obligations.

** With the recent relaxing of the Communal fetters, referred to in
the foregoing note, this abuse should disappear.

In all countries the theory of government and administration
differs considerably from the actual practice. Nowhere is this
difference greater than in Russia, and in no Russian institution is
it greater than in the Village Commune. It is necessary,
therefore, to know both theory and practice; and it is well to
begin with the former, because it is the simpler of the two. When
we have once thoroughly mastered the theory, it is easy to
understand the deviations that are made to suit peculiar local

According, then, to theory, all male peasants in every part of the
Empire are inscribed in census-lists, which form the basis of the
direct taxation. These lists are revised at irregular intervals,
and all males alive at the time of the "revision," from the newborn
babe to the centenarian, are duly inscribed. Each Commune has a
list of this kind, and pays to the Government an annual sum
proportionate to the number of names which the list contains, or,
in popular language, according to the number of "revision souls."
During the intervals between the revisions the financial
authorities take no notice of the births and deaths. A Commune
which has a hundred male members at the time of the revision may
have in a few years considerably more or considerably less than
that number, but it has to pay taxes for a hundred members all the
same until a new revision is made for the whole Empire.

Now in Russia, so far at least as the rural population is
concerned, the payment of taxes is inseparably connected with the
possession of land. Every peasant who pays taxes is supposed to
have a share of the land belonging to the Commune. If the Communal
revision lists contain a hundred names, the Communal land ought to
be divided into a hundred shares, and each "revision soul" should
enjoy his share in return for the taxes which he pays.

The reader who has followed my explanations up to this point may
naturally conclude that the taxes paid by the peasants are in
reality a species of rent for the land which they enjoy. Such a
conclusion would not be altogether justified. When a man rents a
bit of land he acts according to his own judgment, and makes a
voluntary contract with the proprietor; but the Russian peasant is
obliged to pay his taxes whether he desires to enjoy land or not.
The theory, therefore, that the taxes are simply the rent of the
land will not bear even superficial examination. Equally untenable
is the theory that they are a species of land-tax. In any
reasonable system of land-dues the yearly sum imposed bears some
kind of proportion to the quantity and quality of the land enjoyed;
but in Russia it may be that the members of one Commune possess six
acres of bad land, and the members of the neighbouring Commune
seven acres of good land, and yet the taxes in both cases are the
same. The truth is that the taxes are personal, and are calculated
according to the number of male "souls," and the Government does
not take the trouble to inquire how the Communal land is
distributed. The Commune has to pay into the Imperial Treasury a
fixed yearly sum, according to the number of its "revision souls,"
and distributes the land among its members as it thinks fit.

How, then, does the Commune distribute the land? To this question
it is impossible to reply in brief, general terms, because each
Commune acts as it pleases!* Some act strictly according to the
theory. These divide their land at the time of the revision into a
number of portions or shares corresponding to the number of
revision souls, and give to each family a number of shares
corresponding to the number of revision souls which it contains.
This is from the administrative point of view by far the simplest
system. The census-list determines how much land each family will
enjoy, and the existing tenures are disturbed only by the revisions
which take place at irregular intervals.** But, on the other hand,
this system has serious defects. The revision-list represents
merely the numerical strength of the families, and the numerical
strength is often not at all in proportion to the working power.
Let us suppose, for example, two families, each containing at the
time of the revision five male members. According to the census-
list these two families are equal, and ought to receive equal
shares of the land; but in reality it may happen that the one
contains a father in the prime of life and four able-bodies sons,
whilst the other contains a widow and five little boys. The wants
and working power of these two families are of course very
different; and if the above system of distribution be applied, the
man with four sons and a goodly supply of grandchildren will
probably find that he has too little land, whilst the widow with
her five little boys will find it difficult to cultivate the five
shares alloted to her, and utterly impossible to pay the
corresponding amount of taxation--for in all cases, it must be
remembered, the Communal burdens are distributed in the same
proportion as the land.

* A long list of the various systems of allotment to be found in
individual Communes in different parts of the country is given in
the opening chapter of a valuable work by Karelin, entitled
"Obshtchinnoye Vladyenie v Rossii" (St. Petersburg, 1893). As my
object is to convey to the reader merely a general idea of the
institution, I refrain from confusing him by an enumeration of the
endless divergencies from the original type.

** Since 1719 eleven revisions have been made, the last in 1897.
The intervals varied from six to forty-one years.

But why, it may be said, should the widow not accept provisionally
the five shares, and let to others the part which she does not
require? The balance of rent after payment of the taxes might help
her to bring up her young family.

So it seems to one acquainted only with the rural economy of
England, where land is scarce, and always gives a revenue more than
sufficient to defray the taxes. But in Russia the possession of a
share of Communal land is often not a privilege, but a burden. In
some Communes the land is so poor and abundant that it cannot be
let at any price. In others the soil will repay cultivation, but a
fair rent will not suffice to pay the taxes and dues.

To obviate these inconvenient results of the simpler system, many
Communes have adopted the expedient of allotting the land, not
according to the number of revision souls, but according to the
working power of the families. Thus, in the instance above
supposed, the widow would receive perhaps two shares, and the large
household, containing five workers, would receive perhaps seven or
eight. Since the breaking-up of the large families, such
inequality as I have supposed is, of course, rare; but inequality
of a less extreme kind does still occur, and justifies a departure
from the system of allotment according to the revision-lists.

Even if the allotment be fair and equitable at the time of the
revision, it may soon become unfair and burdensome by the natural
fluctuations of the population. Births and deaths may in the
course of a very few years entirely alter the relative working
power of the various families. The sons of the widow may grow up
to manhood, whilst two or three able-bodied members of the other
family may be cut off by an epidemic. Thus, long before a new
revision takes place, the distribution of the land may be no longer
in accordance with the wants and capacities of the various families
composing the Commune. To correct this, various expedients are
employed. Some Communes transfer particular lots from one family
to another, as circumstances demand; whilst others make from time
to time, during the intervals between the revisions, a complete
redistribution and reallotment of the land. Of these two systems
the former is now more frequently employed.

The system of allotment adopted depends entirely on the will of the
particular Commune. In this respect the Communes enjoy the most
complete autonomy, and no peasant ever dreams of appealing against
a Communal decree.* The higher authorities not only abstain from
all interference in the allotment of the Communal lands, but remain
in profound ignorance as to which system the Communes habitually
adopt. Though the Imperial Administration has a most voracious
appetite for symmetrically constructed statistical tables--many of
them formed chiefly out of materials supplied by the mysterious
inner consciousness of the subordinate officials--no attempt has
yet been made, so far as I know, to collect statistical data which
might throw light on this important subject. In spite of the
systematic and persistent efforts of the centralised bureaucracy to
regulate minutely all departments of the national life, the rural
Communes, which contain about five-sixths of the population, remain
in many respects entirely beyond its influence, and even beyond its
sphere of vision! But let not the reader be astonished overmuch.
He will learn in time that Russia is the land of paradoxes; and
meanwhile he is about to receive a still more startling bit of
information. In "the great stronghold of Caesarian despotism and
centralised bureaucracy," these Village Communes, containing about
five-sixths of the population, are capital specimens of
representative Constitutional government of the extreme democratic

* This has been somewhat modified by recent legislation. According
to the Emancipation Law of 1861, redistribution of the land could
take place at any time provided it was voted by a majority of two-
thirds at the Village Assembly. By a law of 1893 redistribution
cannot take place oftener than once in twelve years, and must
receive the sanction of certain local authorities.

When I say that the rural Commune is a good specimen of
Constitutional government, I use the phrase in the English, and not
in the Continental sense. In the Continental languages a
Constitutional regime implies the existence of a long, formal
document, in which the functions of the various institutions, the
powers of the various authorities, and the methods of procedure are
carefully defined. Such a document was never heard of in Russian
Village Communes, except those belonging to the Imperial Domains,
and the special legislation which formerly regulated their affairs
was repealed at the time of the Emancipation. At the present day
the Constitution of all the Village Communes is of the English
type--a body of unwritten, traditional conceptions, which have
grown up and modified themselves under the influence of ever-
changing practical necessity. No doubt certain definitions of the
functions and mutual relations of the Communal authorities might be
extracted from the Emancipation Law and subsequent official
documents, but as a rule neither the Village Elder nor the members
of the Village Assembly ever heard of such definitions; and yet
every peasant knows, as if by instinct, what each of these
authorities can do and cannot do. The Commune is, in fact, a
living institution, whose spontaneous vitality enables it to
dispense with the assistance and guidance of the written law, and
its constitution is thoroughly democratic. The Elder represents
merely the executive power. The real authority resides in the
Assembly, of which all Heads of Households are members.*

* An attempt was made by Alexander III. in 1884 to bring the rural
Communes under supervision and control by the appointment of rural
officials called Zemskiye Natchalniki. Of this so-called reform I
shall have occasion to speak later.

The simple procedure, or rather the absence of all formal
procedure, at the Assemblies, illustrates admirably the essentially
practical character of the institution. The meetings are held in
the open air, because in the village there is no building--except
the church, which can be used only for religious purposes--large
enough to contain all the members; and they almost always take
place on Sundays or holidays, when the peasants have plenty of
leisure. Any open space may serve as a Forum. The discussions are
occasionally very animated, but there is rarely any attempt at
speech-making. If any young member should show an inclination to
indulge in oratory, he is sure to be unceremoniously interrupted by
some of the older members, who have never any sympathy with fine
talking. The assemblage has the appearance of a crowd of people
who have accidentally come together and are discussing in little
groups subjects of local interest. Gradually some one group,
containing two or three peasants who have more moral influence than
their fellows, attracts the others, and the discussion becomes
general. Two or more peasants may speak at a time, and interrupt
each other freely--using plain, unvarnished language, not at all
parliamentary--and the discussion may become a confused,
unintelligible din; but at the moment when the spectator imagines
that the consultation is about to be transformed into a free fight,
the tumult spontaneously subsides, or perhaps a general roar of
laughter announces that some one has been successfully hit by a
strong argumentum ad hominem, or biting personal remark. In any
case there is no danger of the disputants coming to blows. No
class of men in the world are more good-natured and pacific than
the Russian peasantry. When sober they never fight, and even when
under the influence of alcohol they are more likely to be violently
affectionate than disagreeably quarrelsome. If two of them take to
drinking together, the probability is that in a few minutes, though
they may never have seen each other before, they will be expressing
in very strong terms their mutual regard and affection, confirming
their words with an occasional friendly embrace.

Theoretically speaking, the Village Parliament has a Speaker, in
the person of the Village Elder. The word Speaker is
etymologically less objectionable than the term President, for the
personage in question never sits down, but mingles in the crowd
like the ordinary members. Objection may be taken to the word on
the ground that the Elder speaks much less than many other members,
but this may likewise be said of the Speaker of the House of
Commons. Whatever we may call him, the Elder is officially the
principal personage in the crowd, and wears the insignia of office
in the form of a small medal suspended from his neck by a thin
brass chain. His duties, however, are extremely light. To call to
order those who interrupt the discussion is no part of his
functions. If he calls an honourable member "Durak" (blockhead),
or interrupts an orator with a laconic "Moltchi!" (hold your
tongue!), he does so in virtue of no special prerogative, but
simply in accordance with a time-honoured privilege, which is
equally enjoyed by all present, and may be employed with impunity
against himself. Indeed, it may be said in general that the
phraseology and the procedure are not subjected to any strict
rules. The Elder comes prominently forward only when it is
necessary to take the sense of the meeting. On such occasions he
may stand back a little from the crowd and say, "Well, orthodox,
have you decided so?" and the crowd will probably shout, "Ladno!
ladno!" that is to say, "Agreed! agreed!"

Communal measures are generally carried in this way by acclamation;
but it sometimes happens that there is such a diversity of opinion
that it is difficult to tell which of the two parties has a
majority. In this case the Elder requests the one party to stand
to the right and the other to the left. The two groups are then
counted, and the minority submits, for no one ever dreams of
opposing openly the will of the Mir.

During the reign of Nicholas I. an attempt was made to regulate by
the written law the procedure of Village Assemblies amongst the
peasantry of the State Domains, and among other reforms voting by
ballot was introduced; but the new custom never struck root. The
peasants did not regard with favour the new method, and persisted
in calling it, contemptuously, "playing at marbles." Here, again,
we have one of those wonderful and apparently anomalous facts which
frequently meet the student of Russian affairs: the Emperor
Nicholas I., the incarnation of autocracy and the champion of the
Reactionary Party throughout Europe, forces the ballot-box, the
ingenious invention of extreme radicals, on several millions of his

In the northern provinces, where a considerable portion of the male
population is always absent, the Village Assembly generally
includes a good many female members. These are women who, on
account of the absence or death of their husbands, happen to be for
the moment Heads of Households. As such they are entitled to be
present, and their right to take part in the deliberations is never
called in question. In matters affecting the general welfare of
the Commune they rarely speak, and if they do venture to enounce an
opinion on such occasions they have little chance of commanding
attention, for the Russian peasantry are as yet little imbued with
the modern doctrines of female equality, and express their opinion
of female intelligence by the homely adage: "The hair is long, but
the mind is short." According to one proverb, seven women have
collectively but one soul, and, according to a still more ungallant
popular saying, women have no souls at all, but only a vapour.
Woman, therefore, as woman, is not deserving of much consideration,
but a particular woman, as Head of a Household, is entitled to
speak on all questions directly affecting the household under her
care. If, for instance, it be proposed to increase or diminish her
household's share of the land and the burdens, she will be allowed
to speak freely on the subject, and even to indulge in personal
invective against her male opponents. She thereby exposes herself,
it is true, to uncomplimentary remarks; but any which she happens
to receive she is pretty sure to repay with interest--referring,
perhaps, with pertinent virulence to the domestic affairs of those
who attack her. And when argument and invective fail, she can try
the effect of pathetic appeal, supported by copious tears.

As the Village Assembly is really a representative institution in
the full sense of the term, it reflects faithfully the good and the
bad qualities of the rural population. Its decisions are therefore
usually characterised by plain, practical common sense, but it is
subject to occasional unfortunate aberrations in consequence of
pernicious influences, chiefly of an alcoholic kind. An instance
of this fact occurred during my sojourn at Ivanofka. The question
under discussion was whether a kabak, or gin-shop, should be
established in the village. A trader from the district town
desired to establish one, and offered to pay to the Commune a
yearly sum for the necessary permission. The more industrious,
respectable members of the Commune, backed by the whole female
population, were strongly opposed to the project, knowing full well
that a kabak would certainly lead to the ruin of more than one
household; but the enterprising trader had strong arguments
wherewith to seduce a large number of the members, and succeeded in
obtaining a decision in his favour.

The Assembly discusses all matters affecting the Communal welfare,
and, as these matters have never been legally defined, its
recognised competence is very wide. It fixes the time for making
the hay, and the day for commencing the ploughing of the fallow
field; it decrees what measures shall be employed against those who
do not punctually pay their taxes; it decides whether a new member
shall be admitted into the Commune, and whether an old member shall
be allowed to change his domicile; it gives or withholds permission
to erect new buildings on the Communal land; it prepares and signs
all contracts which the Commune makes with one of its own members
or with a stranger; it interferes whenever it thinks necessary in
the domestic affairs of its members; it elects the Elder--as well
as the Communal tax-collector and watchman, where such offices
exist--and the Communal herd-boy; above all, it divides and allots
the Communal land among the members as it thinks fit.

Of all these various proceedings the English reader may naturally
assume that the elections are the most noisy and exciting. In
reality this is a mistake. The elections produce little
excitement, for the simple reason that, as a rule, no one desires
to be elected. Once, it is said, a peasant who had been guilty of
some misdemeanor was informed by an Arbiter of the Peace--a species
of official of which I shall have occasion to speak in the sequel--
that he would be no longer capable of filling any Communal office;
and instead of regretting this diminution of his civil rights, he
bowed very low, and respectfully expressed his thanks for the new
privilege which he had acquired. This anecdote may not be true,
but it illustrates the undoubted fact that the Russian peasant
regards office as a burden rather than as an honour. There is no
civic ambition in those little rural commonwealths, whilst the
privilege of wearing a bronze medal, which commands no respect, and
the reception of a few roubles as salary afford no adequate
compensation for the trouble, annoyance, and responsibility which a
Village Elder has to bear. The elections are therefore generally
very tame and uninteresting. The following description may serve
as an illustration:

It is a Sunday afternoon. The peasants, male and female, have
turned out in Sunday attire, and the bright costumes of the women
help the sunshine to put a little rich colour into the scene, which
is at ordinary times monotonously grey. Slowly the crowd collects
on the open space at the side of the church. All classes of the
population are represented. On the extreme outskirts are a band of
fair-haired, merry children--some of them standing or lying on the
grass and gazing attentively at the proceedings, and others running
about and amusing themselves. Close to these stand a group of
young girls, convulsed with half-suppressed laughter. The cause of
their merriment is a youth of some seventeen summers, evidently the
wag of the village, who stands beside them with an accordion in his
hand, and relates to them in a half-whisper how he is about to be
elected Elder, and what mad pranks he will play in that capacity.
When one of the girls happens to laugh outright, the matrons who
are standing near turn round and scowl; and one of them, stepping
forward, orders the offender, in a tone of authority, to go home at
once if she cannot behave herself. Crestfallen, the culprit
retires, and the youth who is the cause of the merriment makes the
incident the subject of a new joke. Meanwhile the deliberations
have begun. The majority of the members are chatting together, or
looking at a little group composed of three peasants and a woman,
who are standing a little apart from the others. Here alone the
matter in hand is being really discussed. The woman is explaining,
with tears in her eyes, and with a vast amount of useless
repetition, that her "old man," who is Elder for the time being, is
very ill, and cannot fulfil his duties.

"But he has not yet served a year, and he'll get better," remarks
one peasant, evidently the youngest of the little group.

"Who knows?" replies the woman, sobbing. "It is the will of God,
but I don't believe that he'll ever put his foot to the ground
again. The Feldsher has been four times to see him, and the doctor
himself came once, and said that he must be brought to the

"And why has he not been taken there?"

"How could he be taken? Who is to carry him? Do you think he's a
baby? The hospital is forty versts off. If you put him in a cart
he would die before he had gone a verst. And then, who knows what
they do with people in the hospital?" This last question contained
probably the true reason why the doctor's orders had been

"Very well, that's enough; hold your tongue," says the grey-beard
of the little group to the woman; and then, turning to the other
peasants, remarks, "There is nothing to be done. The Stanovoi
[officer of rural police] will be here one of these days, and will
make a row again if we don't elect a new Elder. Whom shall we

As soon as this question is asked several peasants look down to the
ground, or try in some other way to avoid attracting attention,
lest their names should be suggested. When the silence has
continued a minute or two, the greybeard says, "There is Alexei
Ivanof; he has not served yet!"

"Yes, yes, Alexei Ivanof!" shout half-a-dozen voices, belonging
probably to peasants who fear they may be elected.

Alexei protests in the strongest terms. He cannot say that he is
ill, because his big ruddy face would give him the lie direct, but
he finds half-a-dozen other reasons why he should not be chosen,
and accordingly requests to be excused. But his protestations are
not listened to, and the proceedings terminate. A new Village
Elder has been duly elected.

Far more important than the elections is the redistribution of the
Communal land. It can matter but little to the Head of a Household
how the elections go, provided he himself is not chosen. He can
accept with perfect equanimity Alexei, or Ivan, or Nikolai, because
the office-bearers have very little influence in Communal affairs.
But he cannot remain a passive, indifferent spectator when the
division and allotment of the land come to be discussed, for the
material welfare of every household depends to a great extent on
the amount of land and of burdens which it receives.

In the southern provinces, where the soil is fertile, and the taxes
do not exceed the normal rent, the process of division and
allotment is comparatively simple. Here each peasant desires to
get as much land as possible, and consequently each household
demands all the land to which it is entitled--that is to say, a
number of shares equal to the number of its members inscribed in
the last revision list. The Assembly has therefore no difficult
questions to decide. The Communal revision list determines the
number of shares into which the land must be divided, and the
number of shares to be allotted to each family. The only
difficulty likely to arise is as to which particular shares a
particular family shall receive, and this difficulty is commonly
obviated by the custom of drawing lots. There may be, it is true,
some difference of opinion as to when a redistribution should be
made, but this question is easily decided by a vote of the

Very different is the process of division and allotment in many
Communes of the northern provinces. Here the soil is often very
unfertile and the taxes exceed the normal rent, and consequently it
may happen that the peasants strive to have as little land as
possible. In these cases such scenes as the following may occur:

Ivan is being asked how many shares of the Communal land he will
take, and replies in a slow, contemplative way, "I have two sons,
and there is myself, so I'll take three shares, or somewhat less,
if it is your pleasure."

"Less!" exclaims a middle-aged peasant, who is not the Village
Elder, but merely an influential member, and takes the leading part
in the proceedings. "You talk nonsense. Your two sons are already
old enough to help you, and soon they may get married, and so bring
you two new female labourers."

"My eldest son," explains Ivan, "always works in Moscow, and the
other often leaves me in summer."

"But they both send or bring home money, and when they get married,
the wives will remain with you."

"God knows what will be," replies Ivan, passing over in silence the
first part of his opponent's remark. "Who knows if they will

"You can easily arrange that!"

"That I cannot do. The times are changed now. The young people do
as they wish, and when they do get married they all wish to have
houses of their own. Three shares will be heavy enough for me!"

"No, no. If they wish to separate from you, they will take some
land from you. You must take at least four. The old wives there
who have little children cannot take shares according to the number
of souls."

"He is a rich muzhik!" says a voice in the crowd. "Lay on him five
souls!" (that is to say, give him five shares of the land and of
the burdens).

"Five souls I cannot! By God, I cannot!"

"Very well, you shall have four," says the leading spirit to Ivan;
and then, turning to the crowd, inquires, "Shall it be so?"

"Four! four!" murmurs the crowd; and the question is settled.

Next comes one of the old wives just referred to. Her husband is a
permanent invalid, and she has three little boys, only one of whom
is old enough for field labour. If the number of souls were taken
as the basis of distribution, she would receive four shares; but
she would never be able to pay four shares of the Communal burdens.
She must therefore receive less than that amount. When asked how
many she will take, she replies with downcast eyes, "As the Mir
decides, so be it!"

"Then you must take three."

"What do you say, little father?" cries the woman, throwing off
suddenly her air of submissive obedience. "Do you hear that, ye
orthodox? They want to lay upon me three souls! Was such a thing
ever heard of? Since St. Peter's Day my husband has been
bedridden--bewitched, it seems, for nothing does him good. He
cannot put a foot to the ground--all the same as if he were dead;
only he eats bread!"

"You talk nonsense," says a neighbour; "he was in the kabak [gin-
shop] last week."

"And you!" retorts the woman, wandering from the subject in hand;
"what did YOU do last parish fete? Was it not you who got drunk
and beat your wife till she roused the whole village with her
shrieking? And no further gone than last Sunday--pfu!"

"Listen!" says the old man, sternly cutting short the torrent of
invective. "You must take at least two shares and a half. If you
cannot manage it yourself, you can get some one to help you."

"How can that be? Where am I to get the money to pay a labourer?"
asks the woman, with much wailing and a flood of tears. "Have
pity, ye orthodox, on the poor orphans! God will reward you!" and
so on, and so on.

I need not worry the reader with a further description of these


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