23 FEBRUARY 1861, Page 19


Ili spite of the vast number of travellers, both English and foreign, who within the last few years have undertaken the task of enlighten- ing us on the subject of Russia and the Russians, it may be doubted whether, after all, we have really acquired any considerable amount of accurate knowledge respecting the inner life of this great empire. Prince Dolgorouki, in his recently published work, La Ve'riti sur la Bussie, asserts that none but a Russian is competent to write about Russia. Without going the length of this sweeping statement, it must, we think, be admitted that something more than a hasty transit through a country, or a few weeks' residence in its capital., is re- quired in order to warrant a writer in pronouncing an authoritative verdict on the nature of its institutions and the character of its people. This is peculiarly true in the case of Russia. A traveller seldom enters that country with his judgment entirely unbiased by • 77te Ruesiane at Horns: awolitical Skekhe,s. By Sutherland Edwards. W. H. Alien and Co. preconceived opinions ; and, even supposing his Po—wers- of observa. tion to be equal to the task, ins time and opportunities for acquiring information will both be so limited, that the chances are that his at- tention will be directed mainly, if not exclusively, to those points which tend to confirm and establish his previous views. It is at least possible that the uniformly unfavourable nature of the report which has been made on Russia by the great majority of recent travellers may be susceptible of some such explanation as this. And when we find that a very different verdict is pronounced by a gentleman whose stay in the country was far longer, and whose opportunities for obser- vation were far greater, than those of most writers on the subject, this conjecture becomes not only possibly, but also very probably, true. Mr. Edwards spent eight months in Russia, 'not as a tourist, but as an actual resident; and far the greater part of this time was passed in Moscow, where the peculiar features of Russian life are much more strongly developed than they are in the far less characteristically national city of St. Petersburg. His opinions on Russian character and Russian institutions are, therefore, obviously entitled to more than common attention and respect. The conclusions at which he arrives possess, for the most part, the charm of novelty; and though possibly some readers may not agree with us in our high estimate of their actual value, there can be but one opinion as to the lively and entertaining manner in which they are conveyed.

Russia is, according to Mr. Edwards, a far more desirable country to live in than is generally supposed. He acknowledges, indeed, that, owing to the universal prevalence of that miserable system of false economy which not only permits, but actually compels, all holders of official situations to eke out their wretched wages by the most un- blushing extortion, the police, instead of being a protection to the peaceful citizen, are, in fact, the most dangerous depredators to whom he is exposed. But, with this single exception, things are much better than is generally believed. There is scarcely any real founda- tion for the prevailing notion that, in Russia, interference with the liberty of the subject is carried to an excessive and intolerable extent. It is a common belief that the life of a stranger in Russia is made a burden to him by a continual and vexatious inquisition into his pass- port ; but Mr. Edwards tells us that, though this may have been the case five-and-twenty years ago, now-a-days a foreigner who speaks the language has less trouble with his "papers" in Russia than in France. The delays attributed to the passport office may, he adds, be often owing to the devices of hotel-keepers, who are resolved that the sup- posed victims of official procrastination shall remain with them as long as possible. So far from political discussion being forbidden in Russia, Mr. Edwards knows no people, except the English, who talk about politics more, or more openly, than the Russians. On the sub- ject of the freedom of the press in Russia, Mr. Edwards gives a great deal of new and interesting information. Newspapers, in our sense of the term, do not exist in Russia at all. The invalids Busse, the Abeille du Nord, and other wretched substitutes for our newspapers, are published, not in the French, but in the Russian language. To this rule there are but two exceptions, the Journal de St. Petersburg being published in French, and a German sheet being issued for the benefit of the numerous German residents in the same city. Foreign newspapers are allowed to circulate freely, after they have been ex- amined by the censor of the press. If this functionary finds anything objectionable in a paper, he does not, like his French representative, confiscate the entire copy, but contents himself with a less sweeping mode of procedure. In St. Petersburg he effaces the offending article or paragraph by blackening it over with printer's ink ; while in Mos- cow he removes it entirely by means of a preparation of guttapercha and pounded glass, without leaving a mark to show that the blank space has ever been printed on at all. Sometimes he performs his duty either very carelessly or very capriciously. Mr. Edwards saw, in a copy of Galignani's Messenger which had passed through his hands, a full account of the battle of Inkermann, taken from the English papers, which was singularly at variance with the official reports which were subsequently published. A letter of Mr. Russell's in the Time:, which stated that the fire-arms of Tonla are very inferior to those of Birmingham and Liege, and that the resources of Russia were nearly exhausted at the conclusion of the war, was obliterated by the censor at St. Petersburg, but passed unnoticed by his colleague at Moscow. The absence of real native newspapers in Russia is owing, says Mr. Edwards, not to the presence of the censor, but to the non- existence of that class of men which supplies the journalists of other countries. The true organs of Russian opinion are the reviews, of which The National Annals, The Russian Messenger, and The Contem- porary, are, perhaps, the chief. These publications appear fortnightly, like the Revue des Deter Mondes ; and each number, containing nearly four hundred closely-printed octavo pages, costs about two shillings— a price which, considering that the expense of paper and printing is nearly double what it is in England, argues that their circulation must be enormous. Their writers, besides discussing freely all subjects connected with the material, moral, and intellectual progress of their eountry, devote a great portion of their attention to English litera- ture, not only reviewing, but in many cases actually translating, popular English works. Mr. Thackemy appears to be, on the whole, their favourite author; and The Irish Sketchbook is, perhaps, the only one of this gentleman's numerous writings which a Russian may not have read in his own language. The Book of Snobs, especially, is so thoroughly appreciated in Russia, that Panaeff, one of the editors of The Contemporary, has commenced a series of papers on Russian snobs, the first of which is entitled "The Snob of the Great World !" These papers are not a mere imitation of Mr. Thackemy's, Fusers plan being to illustrate the various classes of snobs by telling a dis- tinct story about each. "Our readers," says Mr. Edwards, "will

the Russian word for snob' is khlishch.'

Nor is the existence of these reviews the only evidence that the censorship of the press in Russia does not prevent a free expression of opinion on political and social• questions of a very delicate nature. The most popular and thoroughly characteristic Russian authors are those who have devoted themselves to the construction of fables—a class of compositions which affords peculiar facilities for the insinua- tion of hostile criticisms on existing institutions. Mr. Edwards de- votes a chapter to the works of Kriloff, the best and most popular of Russian fabulists ; and the samples which he gives of these produc- tions certainly show no timidity on the part of their author in satirising either political or social abuses. Again the two most popular comedies in the Russian language are "he General In- spector" (Revisor) of Gog,ol, and "Grief from Wit" (Gore "(It Ousna) -of Griboiedoff. The first of these plays is an exceedingly humorous hit at the unblushing corruption which prevails among Russian officials of every grade ; and the second, while exhibiting an animated picture of fashionable life in Moscow, points out the fate which inevitably awaits an honest and clear-seeing man when lie is surrounded by a society of rogues and fools. No attempt was made by the censor to prohibit either of these works; nor did their authors get into any sort of trouble on their account. Nothing, in fact, can be more erroneous than the prevalent impression that an author is liable to punishment in Russia for speaking his mind on such points as these. The careers of the writers whom we have just mentioned afford a striking proof of this fact. Kriloff enjoyed the favour of the em- peror during the whole of his long life, held for many years the office of custodian of the Imperial Library, and, on resigning that post, re- ceived a pension equivalent to 600/. a year. Alexander lierzea, the well-known Russian exile, states in one of his works that in Russia "a dark and terrible fate is reserved for anyone who dares to raise his head above the level traced by the imperial sceptre," and in a list which he proceeds to give of authors whom "an inexorable fatality has thrust into the tomb,' we find the name of Griboiedoff, with the comment "as- sassinated at Teheran." "The reader," says Mr. Edwards, "naturally imagines that the assassination of Griboiedoff was somehow or• other connected with his intellectual superiority ; and the reader is right. Griboiedoff, the brilliant poet and satirist, having already served with distinction in Persia, under Paskievitch, was appointed minister plenipotentiary to the court of Teheran, where he was killed during an insurrection ; so that it may be asserted, without positively trans- gressing the bounds of truth, that Griboiedoff would probably not have been murdered unless he had written the best comedy in the Rus- sian language. The treatment of intellectual superiority is far from being the only point in which Russia has been grossly misrepresented. Nothing, for mstance, is more common than to hear the Russians spoken of as Tartars, a mode of appellation which implies, if not that they are actually of Tartar blood, at least that they have become completely Tartarised at some more or less remote period; whereas the fact is that the long and finally successful struggle of the Russians against the Tartars, from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, is one of the noblest and most notable facts in Russian 'history. Again, Mr. Edwards reminds us that many of- the most monstrous statements of Russian tyranny—such, for instance, as the story of the nuns of Minsk—have proved on investigation to be entirely without founda- tion; and points out, as a warning against too ready ciedulity in future, that most of the Russian news which finds its 'way into our journals comes to us either from Germany or from Poland through Germany—that is to say, from a' country which hates Russia through one which Tisza it. Even the sympatliywhich is so generally felt for this hatred of Russia on the part of Poland rests, to a certain extent, on another misrepresentation; since it is likely to be somewhat modified by a more general knowledge of the fact that, in 1612, the persitions of the two Powers were reversed, Russia having been in that year actually partitioned by Poland. To descend to less weighty matters, some of our readers may remember a statement which was current in England during the late war, to the effect that the direction of the Russian Church was in the hands of a cavalry officer. This absurd mistake arose from an ignorance of the correspondence which exists between civil and military. officers in the Russian Tchinn, or doable table of ranks; the fact being that M. Monravieff, the present procurator of the holy synod, has the rank of chamberlain, which is equivalent to that of cavalry general in, the military service. Mr. Edwards's jealousy on behalf of all things Russian extends even to the language, which, he takes occasion to intimate, is by no means so unpronounceable as is generally supposed. Thus, in speaking of a modern Russian author, who writes under the pseudonym of Shche- drin, he says : "The shch looks very difficult, but we pronounce it easily enough in parish church ;' and it is more difficult by at to say smaski " We have hitherto dwelt almost exclusively upon Mr. Edwards's zealous, and in our judgment successful, attempt to vindicate Russia and the Russians from many of the charges which are commonly brought against them, because we conceive this to be the main object, or, as it were, the backbone of his book. Our readers will, however, be very much mistaken if they conclude that this is all that they will find in The Russians at Rome. Mr. Edwards's book contains brief but complete sketches of several subjects which, like that of the Origin and Abolition of Serfdom, (rive him abundant opportunity for dis- playing a thorough acquaintance with at least the leading facts of Russian history, as well as a multitude of rainute and interesting details respecting the mental culture and the social life of the Russian people. Want of space, however, forbids us to do more than refer not be able to pronounce it, but they may feel interested in seeing that all those who wish for amusing and accurate information respecting the Church, the stage, the music, the travelling, the popular and im- perial fetes, the clubs, the balls, the eating, drinking, and visiting, of the Russian nation, to the pages of Mr. Edwards's volume. All we can do is to glean one or two stray facts, and present them as sample: of the rest. Here, for instance, is a very sensible device for avoidi the nuisance of morning calls, which, by the way, must always be paid in Russia in full evening dress. Those who dislike the trouble of paying the ceremonial New-Year's visit to their friends', send three roubles to the poor, and the journals, on New Year's-day, publish a list of those who have given in charity the money they would other- wise have spent in cards. 'Here, again, is an account, which is new to us, of the origin of the use of the word e'picier, in the sense of "a snob." In Fiance, under the old reqinin, the Officials who received bribes generally took them in the form of e'pices, commonly sugar- loaves ; whence a bribe-taker who would sacrifice his honour for a loaf of 'ugar was called an cinder. Mr. Edwards does not make any special mention of the fact that some at least of the sketches contained in this volume have already appeared in a separate form. There is, however, no lack of internal evidence that such is the ease ; and, in one instance at least, we dis- tinctly recognize an old Mend. We do not mention this fact as in any way detracting from the merit of the book. To the great majority of readers, Mr. Edwards's sketches will, we believe, be entirely new; and those to whom anyof them are alreadyfamiliar, will gladly welcome their reappearance, constituting., as they do in their collective form, not only one of the most amusing books that we have read for a long time, but also the best and most reliable account of Russian life and manners which has hitherto been given to the public.