THE POPULAR ASPIRATIONS IN RUSSIAN LITERATURE.
IN a recent romance of Tourgenieff, the strange tale of "Pounine and Babourine," there is an incident which may serve to in- troduce this notice of a subject at once most important and most imperfectly known. Babourine, the hero of the story, Republican -and almost Socialist, of servile station, but of an ideal philan- thropy, has been arrested on account of his membership of a popular secret society, and banished to Siberia. There he is plunged in the miseries of convict exile, which are hardly lightened by the eompanionship of his wife, who has followed him in his punishment. Crushed in spite of his iron will, despairing for his fellows, if not lor himself, he has hardly a feeling, save of the wretchedness of the class from which he springs and the awful oppression of the State. The manifesto of the Tsar Alexander reaches Siberia, proclaiming the -abolition of Serfdom. Babourine reads it ; he tries to speak, but bursts into tears. And when he-finds voice, this fierce and injured -man, it is to cry in a frenzy of enthusiasm, " Hurrah I hurrah! God .save the Tsar! God bless the Tsar ! There are now no serfs in Russia." It is fifteen years since the events amid which Tourgenieff laid the scene of " Pounine and Babourine," and in the interval the enfranchisement of the Serfs has been developing for good -and ill the consequences of so glorious but so tardy an instalment of the primary rights of humanity. The Russian is the master of his bodily self, but he is master of little else. His government is not hie, though it may be becoming his. The very exercise of his faculties depends upon conditions beyond his wilL There are in fact, as in France previous to 1789, two Russias—one, the nar- row, official, grinding, thriftless, unnational, " old " State ;" and the other, the people, who may be the " new " State to-morrow. La the meantime, a sad discouragement has arrested the expansive enthusiasm of 1861, and perhaps the most striking evidence of this depression is to be found in the contemporary literature of the country.
We know few or no literatures which produce a more pro- foundly painful impression than much, we might say the most, of the works produced by Russian authors of late. When times were worse, books were better. In the midst of the denunciations of misery, of frivolity, of cruelty, of vice which used to prevail, 'there was seldom absent the confident hope that a bright dawn -could not be far distant. The emancipation of the Serfs seemed to be that dawn, but the bright day is still hidden by thicker -darkness than ever. The "Stormy Sea" and the " Whirlpool " —titles significant in themselves—of Pisemsky are infinitely more distressing than the worst pictures which preceded them, and they belong to the period since 1861. "It is not our fault," wrote the author, in the consciousness of the repulsiveness of his personages and the life they lead, "it is not our fault if the life of to-day contains so mach grossness and sensuality, if the crowd which gives itself the name of " enlightened " is habituated to mere phrases, and to doing nothing, or worse ; and if, casting common-sense aside, it welcomes the first phosphoric light which shines, no matter where, and believes that there alone are strength and safety." But though the materialists and phrase-makers de- -scribed by Pisemsky and Dostoievsky are of a type so little calcu- lated to encourage or attract, the moral of the latest of Tourgenieff's -social analyses, "Smoke," is, as the name implies, a hopeless record of illusions and disappointments. The society, we are almost forced to conclude, must be sick indeed when the native pens which describe it can pass no better judgment upon it. We believe that it is sick indeed, that the upper strata of Russian
civilisation are in hardly better case than were the upper strata of French civilisation a century ago ; and we should not be surprised to find, side by side with this, the proofs that the masses of the people, the millions of the nation, are tormented and urged by a vague yet intense and most real unrest, which assuredly must form one of the greatest motive forces since the motive forces of the great French Revolution itself.
Not only do we find these proofs in the literature of the day, but very significantly the group of writers who have taken on them to translate this popular condition in their works are known distinctively as "the New School,"--new, because hitherto Russian authors, even when they descended among the masses, had looked at common men and common things with the eyes of men of culture and refinement, while this new school boldly professes to think with, as well as to write of, the Moujiks. The hero of Ouspensky's " Good-for-Nothing " is one of the proletariat, in perpetual protest against society. The hero of Tcherniaschewsky's famous novel, "What to Do ?" has, indeed, serfs to enfranchise, but he not only enfranchises them, he places himself in the con- dition of his former serfs. He becomes a boatman on the Volga. He lives the rude life of the Volga bourlaki, and of all his aristocratic prejudices has but a single one which he cannot conquer,—a weakness for good cigars. Pomialovski, another writer of the New School, if he places his leading character in the comparatively superior grade of a domestic tutor, quickly compensates for this by making him lose his post in dis- grace, and only find happiness in hard but honest labour. It is rarely, however, that the writers of the New School discover aught but thankless toil in the Russian proletarian's life. The terrible realism of the hamlet of Podlipna, in the master-piece of Reschetnikoff, the leader of the New School, is simply harrowing in the naturalness of its interpretation of the sordid wretchedness in which the Russian masses have until lately been content to live. The dumb multitude are finding voice at last. The Russian peasant, the Muscovite Jacques Bonhomme, is coming as surely to the front as his French congener long ago. While dim-eyed Western alarmists, oppressed with visions of militant autocracy, can hardly pause to reason in their panic terrors, that same auto- cracy sees itself confronted more and more visibly every day with a Russian Declaration of the Rights of Man.