IT was incidentally mentioned, in the previous chapter, that the Russian empire is parcelled into the two great divisions of European and Asiatic Russia by the natural boundary of the Ural mountains. In its upper part, the Ural range forms such a conspicuous natural barrier, that its title to fix the frontiers of Europe and Asia, so far at least as the governments of Archangel and Vologda extend, has been universally recognised. To the south of this, however, authorities have differed as to what constitutes the true division-line of the two continents. Some, in giving the boundary, quit the Ural chain at the sources of the Vishera, a tributary of the Kama, follow it down to its junction with the latter-named river, thence down the Kama to its junction with the Volga, and finally follow the Volga to its mouth in the Caspian sea. This boundary has the merit of being well defined, and of giving a prominence to the Volga, whose mighty flood would seem almost to entitle it to be the boundary of a continent. Theline, however, more generally adopted by modern geographers, and which is the one adhered to in the maps attached to this volume, is to follow the Ural chain southward till it reaches the sources of the river Ural, and thence follow the course of this river to its mouth in the Caspian. This boundary-line is deemed the preferable one, as it has the advantage of being at once simple and definite. Between the Caspian and Black seas, the central chain of the Caucasus is now generally considered as the natural boundary-line of Europe and Asia; and consequently the Trans-Caucasian provinces, Georgia, Russian Armenia, Shirvan, &c, more strictly belong to Asiatic Russia. But, as the same physical region prevails on both sides of the Caucasian range, and the provinces on both sides are embraced in the same political government, we have, as the most convenient mode of describing them, included them all under the division of European Russia. The divisions of the Russian empire have differed materially at different periods. Peter the Great made some important changes in the distribution that had existed previously to his epoch. The whole, however, was remodelled and placed on a new footing by Catherine II. in 1775. She divided the entire empire into three great regions — those of the north, middle, and south. Each of these regions was subdivided into governments, of which there were at first forty-two, and at the end of her reign fifty. Paul made some ill-advised changes on this distribution, which were set aside on the accession of Alexander.
The existing political divisions were mostly fixed by the latter in 1822, nearly on the basis laid down by Catherine. The empire is divided into governments (exclusive of certain territories called provinces, or oblasts, not formed into governments). Of these governments, by far the greater number belong to European Russia, which includes those classed under the general divisions of the Baltic Provinces, Great and Little Russia, Western, Southern, and Eastern Russia, Russian Poland, and the Caucasian Provinces ; while the vast tract of Asiatic Russia has been divided into only two governments — that of Western Siberia, including the provinces of Tobolsk, Tomsk, and Yenesei; and Eastern Siberia, comprising the provinces of Irkoutsk, Yakoutsk, Okhotsk, and Kamtschatka.
The following table, made up from the latest and most authentic sources, gives the names, with the superficial area in square miles, and population, of the governments and provinces into which the different sections of the empire are divided: —
THE BALTIC PROVINCES
Finland, called by the inhabitants Snomen-maa, or Land of Marshes, lies between the sixtieth and seventieth degrees of north latitude, and the twenty-first and thirty-second degrees of east longitude, forming the extreme northwestern portion of the Russian empire, including the province of Yiborg and the western portion of Russian Lapland, which are politically connected with it. It has on the north the Norwegian province of Finmark; on the east, the governments of Archangel and Olonetz; on the south, the lake Ladoga, the government of St. Petersburg, and the gulf of Finland; and on the west, Sweden and the gulf of Bothnia. Its length from north to south is seven hundred and thirty miles ; its average breadth is about one hundred and eighty-five miles; and its area one hundred and forty-four thousand square miles. Its greater portion is a table-land, reaching generally from four to six hundred feet above the level of the sea, and interspersed with hills of no great elevation. In the north, however, are the Mauselka mountains, with an average height supposed to be between three and four thousand feet.
The coasts, particularly in the south, are surrounded by a vast number of rocky islands, separated from the mainland and from each other by intricate and narrow channels, rendering the shores of Finland easy of defence in case of hostile attack by sea. But the chief natural feature of the country is its myriads of lakes, which occupy a large proportion of its surface; and some of which, as the Enare, Saima, Paiyane, and others, are of considerable size. The greater number of these are in the south and east; they have frequent communications with each other, and generally abound with islands, the natural strength of whose situation has been taken advantage of to cover them with batteries, some of them impregnable save to want or famine. There are no rivers of any importance.
The climate is rigorous ; even in the south the winter lasts seven months of the year, and the summer season, which commences in June, terminates in August. Dense fogs are very frequent; heavy rains take place in autumn, and in May and June the thaws nearly put a stop to all travelling. In the north the sun is absent during December and January; but during the short summer, while that luminary is almost perpetually above the horizon, the heat is often very great, and near Uleaborg the grain is sowed and reaped within six weeks !
The principal geological formations are granite, which very easily disintegrates, hard limestone, and slate. The soil for the most part is stony and poor; but how barren soever, Finland is more productive than the opposite part of the Scandinavian peninsula; and when it belonged to the Swedish crown, it furnished a good deal more grain than was necessary for its own consumption, and was termed the granary of Sweden. Barley and rye are the kinds of grain chiefly cultivated, and the rye of Yasa is celebrated for its excellence: wheat and oats are but little grown. The peasants are obliged, from the humidity of the atmosphere, to dry all the grain in ovens, after which it will keep for fifteen or eighteen years. Pulse, hops, hemp, flax, and a little tobacco, are raised; and potatoes were introduced about the year 1762, but they have not yet been brought into general use. Only a small proportion of the surface is under culture. The land requires a large quantity of manure, and that in common use is wood-ashes, procured by setting fire to the forests and underwood, after which operation heavy crops are sometimes obtained. The natural poverty of the soil is such that, excepting in the southern province of Tavastehus, where it is deprived of a continual supply of artificial stimulus, the crops rapidly fall off, and the cleared land is soon abandoned for another portion of soil, the wood on which is purposely destroyed. This plan of manuring the land, though well enough adapted to bring the fens covered with brushwood under cultivation, is highly injurious to the forests, and consequently to one of the chief sources of national wealth. The forests are very extensive, and reach as far north as latitude sixty-nine degrees. They consist principally of pine and fir; but they contain also beech, elm, poplar, oak, ash, birch, &c.
Timber, deals, potash, pitch, tar, and rosin, are among the most important products of Finland. Cherries and apples ripen at Vasa, and a species of crab-apple grows wild in the west; but other fruits, except a few kinds of berries, are rare. Next to agriculture, cattle-breeding and fishing are the chief occupations of the people. Pasturage is scarce and indifferent, and forage rare ; but cattle, goats, and hogs, which are fed upon leaves, straw, &c., are comparatively numerous. In the north, the peasants possess large herds of reindeer.
Bears, wolves, elks, deer, foxes, beavers, polecats, and various kinds of game, abound in Finland. Seal and herring fisheries are established on many parts of the coast; and the salmon and straemling (Clupea harengus) are caught in great quantities in the lakes, supplying the inhabitants with an important part of their food. Iron-mines were formerly wrought, but at present only bog-iron is procured. Lead, sulphur, arsenic, nitre, and a little copper, are met with; salt is veryscarce, and is one of the chief articles of import.
The manufactures of Finland are quite insignificant. Except the products of a few iron-forges, and glass, sailcloth, and hose factories, they are entirely domestic. The peasant prepares his own tar, potash, and charcoal ; constructs his own boat-furniture and wooden utensils ; and weaves at home the coarse woollen and other fabrics he uses. He often lives one hundred miles from any town, and is therefore thrown for the most part upon his own resources and ingenuity for the supply of his wants. In some districts the inhabitants never repair to a town but to obtain salt. The exports consist of timber, butcher's meat, butter, skins, tar, and fish, to other parts of the empire and to Sweden, with which countries the principal intercourse is maintained. There are a few good roads, made by the Swedes while they were in possession of the country; but they do not extend far into the interior. Post-horses are furnished, as in Sweden, by the adjacent farmers. In commercial dealings, the Russian is the currency established by law; but Swedish paper-money is in circulation, and is generally preferred by the population.
Administratively, Finland is divided into eight lanes, or governments, viz., Viborg, St. Michael, Nyland, Tavastehus, Abo-Biomeborg, Yasa, Kuopia, and Uleaborg-kaiana; and these again are subdivided into fogderier, or districts, harades, &c. The chief towns are Helsingfors, the present capital; Abo, the former capital; Tavastehus, Vasa, Uleaborg, and Tornea. A Russian military governor resides at Helsingfors, which is one of the great naval stations of the Baltic, and is strongly fortified. Finland has a diet, composed of the four orders of the nobility, clergy, citizens, and peasantry, and a code of laws and judicial system similar to that of Sweden ; but the diet is rarely convoked, except to consent to the imposition of fresh taxes, a senate more recently established having replaced it in the exercise of its functions. The annual revenue derived by the crown from Finland is about one million dollars ; the whole of it is, however, expended in the country. Among their privileges is the one that none but a native Finlander can hold any office of trust in the country. The regiments raised in Finland are also not promiscuously intermixed with the general forces of the Russian empire ; and their fleet, by far the best-manned portion of the Russian naval force, forms a distinct squadron under the Finnish flag. Almost all the population are Lutherans, under the bishops of Abo and Borgo; except in the government of Viborg, where they belong to the Russian (Greek) church. Public education is very backward; there is a university at Helsingfors, besides schools in all the towns, but there is a great deficiency of country-schools.
On the western coast, and in the Aland archipelago (which is included in Finland),* the inhabitants are mostly of Swedish origin, and in the southeast of Russian descent; but the great majority of the population are Finns. The latter have, by many geographers, been identified with the Fenni of Tacitus, and the Phinni of Ptolemy. There are, however, circumstances which give rise to considerable doubt respecting such identity. The Finns call themselves Sonomalaisetlo, or "inhabitants of the marshes." They have no analogy with the Slavonian or Teutonic races. They are of middle height, and robust, flat-faced, with prominent cheek-bones, light, reddish, or yellowish-brown hair, gray eyes, little beard, and a dull, sallow complexion. They are courageous, hospitable, and honest; but obstinate in the extreme, indolent, dirty, and it is said revengeful. They have not the gay disposition of their Slavonic neighbors, but are grave and unsocial. Almost every one is a poet or musician.
The customs and habits of the Finns have been handed down time immemorial, and their costume forcibly brought their supposed eastern origin to the mind of Mr. Elliot, who observes, in his "Letters from the North of Europe:""I could fancy myself in Asia, The peasants wear long, loose robes, of a coarse woollen manufacture, secured by a silken cincture, like the kummerbund of the mussulmans. Their dress, except the European hat, resembles that of the Beoparries of Cabul. In Russia or Old Finland, the peasants wear a cloak or caftan, sometimes called a khalaat, resembling in form, as well as in name, the eastern dress." The Finns make frequent use of hot vapor baths, and Malte-Brun considers it certain that it was they who communicated the custom to their Russian conquerors.
The Finns were pagans, living under their own independent kings, till the twelfth century; about the middle of which Finland was conquered by the Swedes, who introduced Christianity. The province of Viborg was conquered and annexed to Russia by Peter the Great, in 1721. The remainder of the country became part of the Russian dominions (also by conquest) in 1809.
Abo (pronounced Obo), the former capital of Finland, lies on the river Aurajoki, between the gulfs of Bothnia and Finland. The streets of the town strike a stranger at first as enormously wide, though they by no means exceed the usual dimensions of Russian towns ; but the low style of building, almost universal in this town, and the number of sites at present unoccupied by houses, joined to the solitary appearance of its almost deserted thoroughfares, give an air of desolation to the whole place. The glory of Abo has indeed departed. It had once a flourishing port, and a well-attended university: its trade is now inconsiderable, and its university is removed to Helsingfors, the Russian capital of Finland.
A destructive fire, the ravages of which are even now not fully repaired, came to give the final blow to the already sinking fortunes of Abo. This fearful conflagration, which took place in November, 1827, consumed nearly the whole city, including the university and its valuable library, and other public buildings. The fire raged for two whole days, and was not extinguished until seven hundred and eighty-six houses, out of eleven hundred, were a mass of blackened ruins. When the town was rebuilt, the public edifices, as well as the houses, were placed at a considerable distance from each other, and the town now covers much more ground than formerly, though its inhabitants do not exceed twelve thousand, which, from being spread over so large a surface, do not give one the idea of amounting even to that number.
Abo is the most ancient city in Finland; its history being coexistent with the reign of Eric the Saint, that is, from 1150 to 1160, the period at which Christianity was first introduced into this wild and cold region. The castle is as ancient as the town, and arrested more than once the onward march of the Russian armies. It was in the dungeons of this building that Eric XIV. was imprisoned previous to his death, which took place some time afterward at Orebyhus. The castle is now used as a prison, and is garrisoned by half a battalion of infantry. The cathedral of Abo is also highly interesting — not, however, on account of its external appearance, which is coarse and heavy, but for the architectural structure of its interior, which is of three epochs; but this cathedral is more particularly worthy of interest from its having been the cradle of Christianity in Finland : here the first episcopal chair was instituted, and for centuries the first families were buried. The vaults of the chapels are filled with their remains, and some of their monuments are not unworthy of mention. On one of them is an epitaph to Caroline Morsson, a girl taken from the ranks of the people by Eric XIY., and who, after having worn the Swedish diadem, returned to Finland and died in obscurity, while her royal husband, as has been before stated, ended his days in a prison. In the same chapel, and at the end of it, are two statues in white marble, the size of life, kneeling on a sarcophagus, supported by columns of black marble: these are the wealthy and powerful Clas Tott, grandson of Eric XIV., and his wife. In another chapel is the monument of Stalhandsk, one of the generals and heroes of the Thirty Years' War. The fire of 1827 completely gutted this church, and not only were the altar and organ destroyed, but even the bells were melted by the devouring element. Subscriptions have restored the cathedral; and a patriotic Finn, a baker by trade, who had amassed about fifteen thousand dollars in his business, and was without a near relative, left that sum to purchase an organ at his death. Effect was given to his wishes, and an organ of five thousand pipes, the largest in northern Russia, now raises its decorated and painted head nearly to the roof of the building.
Gustavus Adolphus founded an academy here in 1630, which Christina his daughter subsequently elevated into a university. Abo, like Amiens, Ryswick, and Cintra, is distinguished by a treaty, being the spot on which the relations between Russia and Sweden were settled by a peace during the last century. Here, too, Alexander and Bernadotte concluded in 1813 that treaty which arrayed Sweden against France, and placed the Swedish monarch, a Frenchman, in the anomalous position of fighting against his own countrymen.
The town of Helsingfors is, historically speaking, comparatively of modern creation, having been founded by King Gustavus Yasa in the sixteenth century: its name came from a colony of the province of Helsingland, in Sweden, which had been established in the neighborhood for several centuries. In 1639, however, the town changed its site, and the inhabitants moved their wooden houses nearer the seashore; and on the spot where Helsingfors now stands — war, plague, famine, and fire, ravaged it, each in its turn, and the end of a century found it with a population of only five thousand souls. At the present time it numbers sixteen thousand, exclusive of the garrison.
The Russians have greatly augmented and improved Helsingfors since it came into their possession, more particularly since the year 1819, when it became the capital of Finland; the removal to it of the university of Abo, and the senate, after the conflagration of that town in 1827, also materially increased its importance. The streets are long, broad, and laid out at right angles, as in most Russian towns. The houses are large and regular, and a handsome granite quay extends along the water in front of the town. Among the fine buildings worthy of mention is the senate-house. The chambers in which the various branches of the assembly meet, for the ordinary purposes of business, are simple, and furnished in good taste. The large hall, intended for the meeting of the senate on great occasions, contains a splendid throne for the emperor, who once presided in person; it is hung with portraits of former (Swedish) governors of Finland. The remains of the library, saved from the fire of Abo, is at present preservedin this building. It consists of about eighty thousand volumes, chiefly editions of the classics taken by Charles XII. from the monasteries, during the Seven Years' War. An extensive collection of sagas, or traditionary records, and historical documents, relating to the history of Finland, unfortunately fell a prey to the flames.
Another handsome building is the university, which has twenty-four faculties and twenty-two professors, and where may be seen the act which incorporated that of Abo, with the signature of the illustrious Oxenstiern, the Swedish prime minister under Queen Christina. This was the oldest university in Russia, having been founded by Christina in 1630; that of Dorpat, which was founded eight years after, was closed from 1710 until 1799. Printing was not introduced into Finland until 1641, eleven years after the university was established, when Wald, a Swedish printer, made a contract with the rector, and established himself at Abo.
The approach to Helsingfors by water is exceedingly striking: the harbor is very extensive, and well protected by the works and fortress of Sweaborg, capable of containing twelve thousand men; these are built on seven islands, and from the extent of the fortifications, and the strength of their position, it has been termed by the Russians the Gibraltar of the north. The original fortress was built by Count Ehrenswerd, field-marshal of Sweden, and completed in 1758. After the conquest of Viborg and Ingerma-nia by Peter the Great, it was the last stronghold of the Swedes. In March, 1808, it was besieged by the Russians; and, two months after, Admiral Cronstadt, who defended the place with fifteen hundred men and two frigates, capitulated to a force scarcely sufficient to man the walls!
There are several agreeable walks in the neighborhood of Helsingfors; among them may be cited that to the forests of Standsvik, the solitary coast near Mailand, and the verdant gardens of Traeskenda. The town is much resorted to in summer by visiters from St. Petersburg, Revel, &c.
Tornea lies on the northwest frontier of Finland, on a peninsula in the river Tornea, where it falls into the gulf of Bothnia. It has but about one thousand inhabitants. This little town, which was built by the Swedes in 1602, consists of two principal streets of wooden houses. It has a considerable trade in the exportation of stock-fish, reindeer, skins, furs, iron, planks, tar, butter, pickled salmon, &c. The climate is very severe, though less so, perhaps, than might be expected from its high latitude. In June the sun is visible, from a mountain in the neighborhood, at midnight, above the horizon.
Tornea is celebrated in the history of science for the visit made to it in 1736, by the French academicians Maupertuis, Clairaut, Monnier, and Camus, accompanied by the Swedish astronomer Celsius, with a view to the determination of the exact figure of the earth. The operations do not, however, appear to have been conducted with sufficient accuracy; and there is a discrepancy of about two hundred toises (twelve hundred feet) between the length of the degree, as determined by the academicians, and that measured by the Swedish astronomer Svanberg in 1801. This town, along with the grand-duchy of Finland, was ceded to Russia by Sweden, by the treaty of Frederickshausen, in 1809.
Vexed as the Swedes — a proud and martial people — must be to see Borne of their finest provinces torn from them, and transferred to their more powerful neighbor, the separation was to the full as keenly felt by the Finns. Not only from forming an influential and integral part of a kingdom, were they at once reduced to a petty province of a boundless empire, but their ancient ties of friendship and affection were torn asunder. They can have no great sympathy with Russia — no fellowship in her glory — no anxiety for her distant conquests. But with Sweden it was far different : the steel-clad Finns formed, under the mighty Adolphus, a part of that unconquered army that humbled to the dust the imperial pride of Austria; and, in later days, they shared under Charles XII. the glories of Narva, and their stubborn valor retrieved for a moment the waning fortunes of the fatal day of Poltava. The very people are the same: the kindness, the open-hearted frankness of manner, the unwearied civility, and the scrupulous honesty, of the Swede, are alike to be met with throughout the whole of the western provinces of Finland. The traveller, during his wanderings, will hardly meet with a people so attaching, or with whom he will so soon find himself on terms of intimacy, as the Swedes and Finns. This remark perhaps requires qualification as applied to the peasantry of the more eastern provinces, of the unmixed Finnish race, who are represented to be habitually grave and taciturn.
The government of St. Petersburg (being that in which the capital of the empire is situated) lies between the fifty-eighth and sixty-first degrees of north latitude, and the twenty-eighth and thirty-fourth degrees of east longitude; having the gulf and government of Finland and Lake Ladoga on the north, Olonetz on the northeast, Novgorod on the east and southeast, Pskov on the south, and Lake Peipus and the government of Esthonia or Revel on the west. Its greatest length from northeast to southwest is two hundred and sixty-five miles, and its breadth ninety miles, comprising an area of about eighteen thousand six hundred square miles. It is, for the most part, a low flat, covered to a considerable extent with lakes and swamps, excepting small portions of the north and south, the former being broken by the low hills of Olonetz, and the latter partly traversed by a ramification of the Yaldai mountains. The whole of its drainage is carried into the gulf of Finland, either directly by the Neva, Louga, and Narova, or indirectly by the Volkhov, Siasi, Pacha, Tvir, and Oiat, which have their mouths in Lake Ladoga.
The climate is severe, and the soil by no means fertile; not above one third of the surface is under cultivation, and the grain produced falls far short of the consumption. The forests are very extensive. There are no minerals of any consequence. Manufactures have advanced with rapid strides, particularly in the capital, and trade, both foreign and domestic, is very extensive.
For administrative purposes, the government is divided into eight districts. The greater part of it belonged to ancient Ingria, which, during the war between the Swedes and Russians, in the time of Charles XII., became the principal theatre of hostilities, and in consequence suffered dreadfully. Ultimately, Peter the Great succeeded in conquering it, and it was finally secured to Russia by the peace of Nystadt.
St. Petersburg, the capital (which is fully described on future pages), had, up to the breaking out of hostilities with Turkey and the western powers, the most extensive foreign trade of any city in the north of Europe. This arises not so much from its great population as from its being the only great maritime inlet on the gulf of Finland, and from its vast and various communications with the interior. By means partly of canals, but principally of rivers, St. Petersburg is connected with the Caspian sea, goods being conveyed from the latter to the capital, a distance of fourteen hundred and thirty-four miles, without once landing them. The iron and furs of Siberia and the teas of China are received at St. Petersburg in the same way; but, owing to the great distance of these countries, and the short period during which the rivers and canals are navigable, they take three years in their transit by water! Immense quantities of the less bulky and more valuable species of goods are also brought to the city during the winter upon the ice in sledges. The principal article of export is tallow; and next are hemp, flax, iron, copper, grain (mostly wheat), timber, potashes, canvass, linseed and hempseed, with their oils, furs, hides, leather, cordage, caviare, wax, tar, &c. The chief imports are sugar, and other colonial products; cotton yarn, raw cotton, and cotton-stuffs; dye-stuffs, wines, silks, woollens, hardware, fine linen from Holland, &c.; salt, lead, tin, coal, &c.
Kronstadt, properly the port of St. Petersburg, and the principal station of the Russian navy in the Baltic, is situated on the long, flat, and arid island of Kotlin, near the eastern extremity of the gulf of Finland, and about twenty miles from St. Petersburg. The town is built in the form of an irregular triangle, on the southeastern extremity of the isle, opposite the mouth of the Neva, and is strongly fortified on all sides. On the south side of Kotlin is the narrow channel, through which only one vessel can pass at a time, from the gulf to the capital, and scores of guns could here be brought to bear on an enemy., by means of a fortress erected on a detached islet; or, if arriving on the opposite side, by the batteries of Riesbank, and the citadel of Kronslot.
Sears, Robert. An Illustrated Description of the Russian Empire. New York: Robert Sears, 1855