Illustrated Description Of Russia

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The surface is in general an undulating plain; and the hills, which are the last ramifications of the Carpathians, though they nowhere rise to three hundred feet above the level of the sea, give an agreeable variety to the scenery. The Boug rises in this province: the other principal rivers are the Styr, Goryne, &c, tributaries of the Pripet. Along some of these are extensive marshes and beds of turf; but in general the land is very fertile, producing at an average a considerable surplus of grain above the consumption. A good deal of flax and hemp is also grown. Agriculture is, however, not more advanced than in the Lithuanian provinces; and the gardens and orchards, particularly the former, are much neglected. The climate, though comparatively mild, is not warm enough for the vine. The forests comprise oak, beech, lindens, firs, pines, &c, and are very extensive, though only about two hundred square miles of forest-land belong to the crown. The pastures are excellent, and well adapted for the fattening of cattle ; a good many sheep, hogs, and poultry, are kept. Volhynia has a breed of horses smaller than the generality of those of Poland. Fishing is an occupation of some importance; bog-iron, millstones, potter's clay, nitre, and flint, are among the mineral products.

Though agriculture is the chief occupation of the inhabitants, the manufacturing industry of Volhynia is greater than that of most other parts of Western Russia. The women, almost everywhere, spin and weave different fabrics; and leather, glass, and earthenware, paper, potash, tar, charcoal, &c, are generally made. The principal exports are, however, grain, cattle, hides, flour, wool, wax, honey, and other rural produce. The trade is principally in the hands of the Jews, of whom there are about forty thousand in the government. The rest of the population consists of Rusniaks, with Poles in the towns, and some Great Russians, gipsies, Tartars, Moldavians, and Germans. The inhabitants are mostly of the Greek or united church.

Volhynia is divided into twelve districts. The principal towns are Jitomir, the capital, Berditschev, Storo-Konstantov, Ostrog, and Kremenets. Public education appears to be less backward in this than in most of the Russian governments. Volhynia, like Podolia, is subordinate to the military governor of Kiev, but is one of the Polish provinces which preserves, in some degree, its ancient constitution and laws.

Jitomir (Polish, Zytomir, or Zytomiers), the capital of the above government, is situated on the left bank of the river Teterew, six hundred and seventy miles south-southwest from St. Petersburg. It is the see of both a Greek and a Roman catholic bishop; has manufactures of leather and hats, and an active trade in linen, silk, and woollen goods, wax, honey, Hungarian wines, salt, and tallow. It also has four important annual fairs. Its population is rising thirty thousand.


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Berditschev (Polish, Berdyczew), another town in the government of Yolhynia, twenty-five miles south of Jitomir, is an ill-built place, but contains several churches, and a large Carmelite convent, in the church of which is an image of the Virgin Mary, the object of pilgrimages. It carries on a considerable trade in grain, wine, cattle, honey, wax, and leather, and is celebrated for its quarterly fairs. At these, goods to the value of three millions of dollars are disposed of, and much business is done, especially with Austrian dealers. An almanac of great repute is printed here. Its population is about twenty thousand, comprising many Jews.

The government of Minsk lies between the fifty-first and fifty-sixth degrees of north latitude, and the twenty-fifth and thirty-first degrees of east longitude, bounded north and northeast by the government of Yitepsk, east by Moghilev and Tchernigov, south by Kiev and Yolhynia, and west by Grodno and Wilna. In shape it bears a considerable resemblance to an isosceles triangle, with its vertex in the north, and its base resting on the south: its greatest length from north to south is two hundred and ninety miles, and its average breadth one hundred and fifty, comprising an area of about thirty-seven thousand square miles.

This government, though generally flat,.is traversed in the north by part of the great dorsal ridge which forms the water-shed between the basins of the Baltic and the Black sea. To the former basin the northern portion sends its waters by the Duna (which, besides forming the northern boundary of the government, receives the Desna from within it), and by the Nie-men or Memel, which, together with its affluent the Vilia, rises in the government. To the latter basin the southern portion sends its waters by the Dnieper, which, besides bounding the government on the southeast, receives from it the Berezina and the Pripet, each augmented by numerous tributaries. In this southern portion large marshy tracts extend on both banks of the Pripet, and in spring are generally under water, giving the whole country the appearance of one vast lake. In such circumstances, anything like a regular system of agriculture is altogether impracticable. Where the surface is more elevated, and less exposed to inundation, it is toa great extent covered with sand, or with a poor, sandy soil, it being only in particular patches that a fertile loam occurs. Barley and oats are grown in far greater quantity than might be expected in the circumstances, and fully equal to the consumption. Hemp and flax are also raised in considerable quantities, and hops and tobacco occasionally.

The chief wealth of the country is in its forests, which occupy a large part of the surface, and, where the ground is dry, yield excellent timber. A great proportion of the inhabitants are employed in felling it, and preparing it for market. Neither manufactures nor trade have made much progress. The former are in a great measure confined to linen-weaving; the latter consists chiefly of wood, mats, potash, meal, hemp, flax, honey, wax, and some horses and horned cattle.

The inhabitants are mostly Rusniaks, of the orthodox or united Greek church, but Roman Catholicism is generally professed by the higher classes. The women are handsome, and appear on the sabbath decked out in all their finery. The Jews in this province number about one hundred thousand. For administrative purposes, Minsk is divided into ten districts or circles — Minsk, the capital, Wilnika, Desna, Borisov, Igumen, Bobrowisk, Slutsk, Pinsk, Mozyr, and Retschitza.

Minsk, the capital of the above government, is situated on the Svislotsch, four hundred and thirty miles southwest of St. Petersburg. It is irregularly built, with narrow and dirty streets. The houses are generally mean, and of wood, but some fine edifices occur among the palaces of the nobility. It is the see of a Greek archbishop and of a Roman catholic bishop, and contains two castles, several Greek and catholic churches, a Greek monastery, a synagogue, and a gymnasium. It has manufactures of woollen cloth, hats, and leather, and considerable trade. Its population is fifteen thousand. Under the Poles, Minsk was the capital of the palatinate of the same name.

The government of Moghilev, or Mohilef (Polish, Mohilow), lies mostly between the fifty-second and fifty-fifth degrees of north latitude, and the twenty-ninth and thirty-second degrees of east longitude. It is bounded north by the government of Vitepsk, east by Smolensk, southeast and south by Tchernigov, and west by Minsk. Its greatest length from north to south is two hundred and ten miles, and its central breadth one hundred and twelve, containing an area of about nineteen thousand square miles.

Though containing part of the water-shed which divides Europe into two great basins, the surface of this province is generally flat, consisting of a very extensive southern and a much smaller northern plain. The former belongs to the Duna, and sends its waters to it by two small tributaries; the latter to the Dnieper, which, besides traversing a great part of it centrally, and forming part of its southwestern boundary, is also augmented within it by the Drutz on the right, and the Soj, with its tributaries Ostr and Besed, on the left. Besides these rivers, the government has several small lakes, and numerous large swamps. The climate is comparatively mild for the latitude.

Much of the soil is fertile, and, though under very imperfect culture, produces good crops of rye, barley, oats, hemp, and flax; in other parts, the soil consists either of a cold, damp, hungry clay, or of a loose and almost sterile sand. A considerable portion of the surface is well wooded with oak and fir, and furnishes excellent ship-timber, particularly masts, which are floated down the rivers to the Black sea, and supply the dockyards of Odessa, Sevastopol, &c. All along the banks of the rivers are rich meadows, on which large numbers of fine cattle are fed. Sheep also are numerous, and have been very much improved by crossing with the breed of Saxony. The rivers abound with fish, and the forests with game. Bog-iron ore occurs in extensive beds, and is worked to a very limited extent.

The manufactures and trade are almost wholly in the hands of the Jews, and very insignificant. The former include a few coarse woollen, linen, and cotton tissues, candles, soap, glass, and leather; the latter is chiefly in timber, floated north by the Duna to the Baltic, or south by the Dnieper and its tributaries to the Black sea. There is also a small export of hemp, flax, tallow, and potash.

For administrative purposes, the government is divided into twelve districts ; its chief towns are Moghilev and Mstislaw. The inhabitants are mostly Russians and Jews, with some Poles, Lithuanians, Moldavians, and Wallachs; and their circumstances are, for the most part, far from comfortable. Their religion is partly that of the Greek and partly of the Roman catholic church.

Moghilev, the capital of the government, is situated on the right bank of the Dnieper, two hundred and twelve miles west-southwest of Moscow. It consists of four quarters, two of which are surrounded by a rampart, and form the town, properly so called; the third, built on a height, forms the Kremlin, or citadel; the fourth is a suburb. The town is tolerably well built, partly of stone and partly of wood, and the streets are wide and paved. Near the centre is a large octagonal square, surrounded by handsome stone buildings ; among others, the bazar, and the palace of the Greek archbishop. The number of churches is twenty, of which the Roman catholics have five, and the Lutherans one. The Jews, who are numerous, have two synagogues. There are also four convents, two ecclesiastical seminaries, a gymnasium, high school, hospital, several poorhouses, and a prison. The staple manufacture is tobacco; and an extensive trade is carried on with Riga, Memel, Dantzic, and Odessa, in leather, wax, honey, potash, oil, and grain.

Moghilev, besides being the residence of the principal authorities of the government, is the headquarters of the Russian "army of the west;" and is the see of both a Greek and a Roman catholic archbishop, the latter having authority over all the Roman catholics of Poland and Russia. Many of the Russian nobility reside here ; and a great part of the ground in the vicinity is occupied by gardens. Its fairs are well attended. The epoch of its foundation is unknown. After several times changing masters, it was finally annexed to Russia in 1772. It has a population of about sixteen or eighteen thousand.

The government of Vitepsk ( Vitebsk, or Witepsk) lies principally between the fifty-fifth and fifty-seventh degrees of north latitude, and the twenty-sixth and thirty-second degrees of east longitude; having the government of Pskov on the northeast, Smolensk and Moghilev on the southeast, Minsk and Courland on the southwest, and Livonia on the northwest. Its area is about sixteen thousand eight hundred square miles.

The surface of the country is generally level, though on the banks of the rivers there are occasionally some low hills. The rivers and small lakes are numerous: of the former, which all flow toward the Baltic, the Duna is the principal. Notwithstanding the soil is but of medium fertility, and agriculture is in a very backward state, more grain is produced than is required to supply the wants of the inhabitants. Hemp and flax are grown on a large scale, with peas, beans, hops, fruits, &c, in the smaller enclosures. The forests are very extensive, two hundred and seventy thousand acres of forest-land belonging to the crown. The grass-lands are also extensive, and a good many horses and cattle are reared, though of inferior breeds. The sheep yield only coarse wool; and honey is also of inferior quality. The mineral products and manufactures are insignificant; the last being, with the exception of a few cloth-factories, almost wholly restricted to distilleries and tanneries.

The trade of the government is facilitated by the Duna and the canal of Berezina: it is chiefly in the hands of the merchants of the principal towns, many of whom are Jews. This government is divided into twelve circles. The chief towns are Vitepsk, Wieliz, Dunuburg, Polotzk, and Rejitsa.

Vitepsk, the capital of the above government, is situated on both banks of the Duna, where it receives the Viteba, three hundred and thirty miles south by west of St. Petersburg. Its population is about eighteen thousand. It is irregularly built, and is surrounded by old walls : it has numerous Greek and some Roman catholic churches, convents, and Jewish synagogues. Though by far the greater number of its houses are of wood, it has some dwellings of stone, a high school, a bazar, an old castle, several hospitals, &c.; with manufactures of woollen cloths, and tanneries. The grand-duke Constantine, brother to the present emperor of Russia, and viceroy of Poland, died at Vitepsk on the 27th of June, 1832.

The government of Wilna, or Vilna, lies principally between the fifty-fourth and fifty-sixth degrees of north latitude, and the twenty-first and twenty-seventh degrees of east longitude, having the government of Courland on the north, that of Minsk on the east, Grodno on the south, and Poland and Prussia on the southwest. It has an area of about twenty-four thousand four hundred square miles.

This province is a vast plain; there being only, in different parts, a few sandhills, reaching sometimes to the height of two hundred feet, and abounding with fossil, shells, &c. Its principal rivers are the Wilna, a tributary of the Niemen, and the Niemen, which forms its southwestern boundary. Lakes are numerous, particularly in the east and northeast. The soil is partly sandy and partly marshy; but in many places it consists of a fertile alluvial deposite. The climate, though severe, is not so cold as in some of the adjacent governments : the mean temperature of the year is about forty-five degrees Fahrenheit.

Agriculture is almost the sole occupation of the inhabitants, and rather more grain is grown than is required for home consumption. Rye is the grain principally cultivated. Hemp and flax are rarely grown; and hops and pulse are raised in gardens: fruits are neglected. The forests are very extensive, a large proportion of forest-land belonging to the crown: and there is a considerable trade in deals, timber, tar, potash, and other woodland products. Lime-trees are very abundant; and to this cause is attributed the excellence of the honey, for which this government is famous. The breeding of stock is neglected; the horses are, however, strong and active, though of small size, Game is very plentiful: elks, wild boars, bears, wolves, &c, are numerous; occasionally the urus, or wild bull, is met with; and fox, martin, and squirrel skins, are articles of trade. The mineral products are unimportant. Manufactures have increased a little of late ; but they are still quite inconsiderable.

Dr. Granville says of Chavli, a town of some two thousand inhabitants, in this government: "It consists of a long street of low, gable-roofed huts of wood, and presenting a general appearance of the most squalid misery. This may be considered as a fair specimen of the second-rate towns in the government of Wilna, and indeed all over Russia and Poland." The accompanying engraving shows one of these villages, where a party have just arrived from the chase.

Russian Village — Party of Hunters

Russian Village — Party of Hunters
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The trade of this government, which is almost entirely in the hands of the Jews, is principally in timber and agricultural produce, sent down the Duna to Riga, or by land into Prussia. Wilna is divided into eleven districts ; the chief towns are Wilna, the capital,, and Kowno. It is not subject to the government monopoly of ardent spirits; and preserves several of its old forms of administration. As respects education, it is, though far behind, in advance of many of the other governments.

Wilna, the capital of the above government, and formerly the capital of Lithuania, is situated at the confluence of the Wilenka and Wilna, ninety miles northeast of Grodno. It is surrounded by undulating hills, and enclosed by a wall. Its streets are narrow and crooked, and its houses mostly of timber, though it has several hundred dwellings built of brick or stone. Formerly a royal castle of the Jagellons existed here, but nothing is left of it except its ruins. The cathedral, founded in 1387, has some good paintings, and many chapels, one of which, appropriated to St. Casimir, and built wholly of marble, is very handsome. The body of the saint is preserved here in a silver coffin, made by order of Sigismund III., king of Poland, and weighing, it is said, three thousand pounds!

The church of St. John is surrounded by the buildings of the university, founded in 1578, and suppressed by the Russian government in 1832. Here are in all about forty churches, numerous convents, a mosque, and four synagogues, a magnificent town-hall, an arsenal, exchange, theatre, two hospitals, barracks, magazines, &c. The governor's palace, and some residences of the nobility, are fine buildings.

Previously to its dissolution, the university of Wilna was in a flourishing state, and possessed an observatory, collections in mineralogy and anatomy, and a library of fifty-two thousand volumes. A medico-chirurgical school, to which are attached the botanic garden and some of the university collections, an ecclesiastical seminary, and two gymnasia, are the principal public schools: the greater part of the university establishment has been removed to Kiev. The city also possesses deaf and dumb and foundling asylums, various other charitable institutions, a few manufactures, and a considerable trade.

Wilna was founded in 1322, and is reported to have had, in the middle of the sixteenth century, one hundred thousand inhabitants, though this, no doubt, is a gross exaggeration. Its present population is about forty thousand. It has undergone many vicissitudes, and often suffered severely from fire. It was taken by the Russians in 1794.

The government of Grodno is situated between the fifty-first and fifty-fourth degrees of north latitude, and the twenty-fourth and twenty-eighth degrees of east longitude, extending two hundred and seventy miles from north to south, and two hundred and thirty from east to west at the broadest part, comprising an area of about fifteen thousand square miles It is bounded on the north by the government of Wilna, on the east by Minsk, on the south by Volhynia, and on the west by Russian Poland and the province of Bialystok.

The surface of the country, with the exception of a few chalk-hills, is nearly an entire level, and a great portion of it covered with forests of pine and swamps, the former belonging chiefly to the crown. There are, however, extensive tracts of fertile land, which produce heavy crops of rye and barley, exceeding the home consumption. Hops, hemp, and flax, are likewise raised in considerable quantities. Fruits and vegetables are grown, but do not abound. The cultivation of bees occupies much attention, and large quantities of excellent honey and wax are obtained. The forests abound with wild boars, wolves, and bears; elks and roebucks are also met with. The principal rivers are the Niemen, Boug, and Narew. The climate is extremely rigorous in winter, and the air is often damp and misty. Horned cattle and sheep are raised in considerable numbers. The minerals, of which there are few, consist of iron, limestone, building-stone, clay, and saltpetre. The manufactures, not very extensive, consist chiefly of woollen-stuffs, hats, and leather. The principal articles of exportation are grain, cattle, wool, leather, hops, honey, and wax, sent chiefly to Riga, Memel, and Konigsburg.

The greater part of the inhabitants are Rusniaks, except in the north, where Lithuanians prevail. The nobles are principally Poles, and comprise about one twenty-fourth part of the whole population! The Jews number about seventy thousand. There are some Tartars and colonies of German artisans. The prevailing religions are the Roman catholic and united Greek church. The government is divided into eight districts. Its chief towns are Grodno, Novogrodek, Slonim, and Volkovitohk.

Grodno, capital of the above government, is situated partly on an eminence, and partly in a valley, on the right bank of the Niemen, two hundred and ten miles northeast of Warsaw. It is irregularly built, and consists of stone and wooden houses intermingled. Two or three of the streets are well paved and tolerably well kept, but the others are in great disorder, and excessively dirty. It contains three handsome palaces, one of which was erected by Augustus III., king of Poland. The market-place is spacious and convenient. There are nine Roman catholic churches, two Greek, one Lutheran, and a synagogue ; a gymnasium; a medical school, with a library, founded by King Stanislaus Augustus; a cabinet, containing objects of natural history; a botanic garden; and some fine residences of the nobility. Woollens, silk stuffs, linen, hats, cards, firearms, &c, are manufactured, and there are three annual fairs. There is also a considerable trade on the Niemen. Grodno is as old as the twelfth century, and was formerly considered the second town of Lithuania, and even disputed the superiority of Wilna. Its population is about sixteen thousand.

Bialystok is a province which formerly belonged to Poland, but was ceded to Russia by the treaty of Tilsit, in 1807, between Napoleon and Alexander. It has the government of Grodno on the east, and is surrounded on all other sides by Russian Poland. It is divided into four districts — Bialystok, Sokolka, Bielsk, and Drohiczya — comprising an area of three thousand four hundred square miles.

The surface is flat, with some slight undulations; the soil is generally sandy, but not infertile. It is bounded on the south by the western Boug, a navigable affluent of the Vistula, which is its principal channel of communication. The forests are extensive and valuable (two hundred and fifty thousand acres belonging to the crown), abounding with game, bears, wolves, &c. Agriculture is the chief employment, and considerable quantities of grain (especially rye and wheat), with linseed, hops, and timber, are sent to Dantzic and Elbing. The nobles are numerous, being estimated at nine thousand families, or fifty thousand individuals ; but the great bulk of them are steeped in poverty, many being compelled to cultivate their little patches of land with their own hands, or hire themselves to others. Manufacturing industry is all but unknown, and only the most common and indispensable trades are carried on.

Bialystok, the capital of the above province, is a handsome town of about eight thousand inhabitants. Its houses are constructed generally of brick, with the gables to the streets, which are straight and well paved. It has a criminal court, gymnasium, &c. The castle and fine domain formerly possessed by the counts of Braniski (who held the office of grand hetman of the Polish crown), called the "Versailles of Poland," is the distinguishing feature of the town.

Sears, Robert. An Illustrated Description of the Russian Empire. New York: Robert Sears, 1855