POLAND (called by the Latins, Sarmatia; by the Poles, Polska, signifying "Flat Land," or "Plain Country;" by the Germans, Polen; and by the French, Pologne) was formerly the name of an independent and extensive country of central Europe, comprising the territories between the forty-eighth and fifty-eighth degrees of north latitude, and the fifteenth and thirty-third degrees of east longitude ; including, with Poland proper, Lithuania, Samogitia, Courland, the Ukraine, Podolia, and other provinces, now belonging to Russia, with Galicia, belonging to Austria, the province of Posen, and some other districts in Prussia. In its greatest prosperity it had about eleven millions of inhabitants, and an area of two hundred and eighty-four thousand square miles (being about equal in extent to France, England, and Scotland). Stretching, as will be seen, from the frontiers of Hungary and Turkey to. the Baltic, and from Germany far east into ancient Muscovy, the territory thus bounded formed one vast and remarkably compact kingdom, divided into Great and Little Poland in the west; Masovia and Podlachia in the centre; Volhynia, Podolia, and the Ukraine, in the east; and Lithuania in the northeast: the principal subdivision was into thirty-one palatinates and starostys (or districts).
The existing kingdom of Poland, however, constituted by the congress of Vienna in 1815, which is now united to the Russian empire, and commonly denominated Russian Poland, is of comparatively limited dimensions, extending only between the fiftieth and fifty-fifth degrees of north latitude, and the eighteenth and twenty-fourth degrees of east longitude; having on the north, Prussia proper and the government of Wilna; on the east, the governments of Wilna, Grodno (with the province of Bialystok), and Volhynia; on the south, Austrian Poland; and on the west, Prussian Poland (the grand-duchy of Posen) and Silesia. Its greatest length from east to west is about three hundred miles, and its greatest breadth from north to south two hundred and fifty, comprising an area of forty-seven thousand six hundred square miles, being a little larger than the state of New York.
Of the population, about three fourths consist of Poles, one tenth of Jews, and the remainder principally of Russians, Germans, Tartars, and gipsies, the whole amounting to about five millions of souls.
The whole country, except in the south, where are some scattered offsets from the Carpathian mountains, is an extended plain, with a general slope toward the Baltic, in which its principal rivers have their embouchure. These are the Vistula (with its tributaries the Wieprz, Bug, Narew, Pilica, &c), the Niemen, and the Warta. The Vistula, after bounding the kingdom for a lengthened distance on the south, traverses its centre, leaving it near Thorn. The Niemen, Bobr, and Bug, bound nearly all the eastern, and the Prosna, a tributary of the Warta, a considerable part of the western frontier. These rivers are all more or less navigable. There are innumerable smaller streams, Poland being an extremely well-watered country ; and, in the north, east, and west, are a great number of lakes and many very extensive marshes.
The surface, though flat, is abundantly diversified, presenting alternately fertile grain-lands, savage steppes, rich pastures, sandy wastes, dense forests, and dreary swamps. The climate is rigorous : the cold of winter is often as great as in Sweden, in a latitude ten degrees higher; and in 1799 the thermometer descended to twenty-nine degrees below zero (Fahrenheit). In summer, however, the heat sometimes rises to one hundred and twenty degrees (Fahr.) ! The mean temperature of the year at Warsaw is about forty-six degrees Fahr. The atmosphere is humid, rainy and cloudy days occupying half the year.
Between the Vistula and the Prussian frontier the soil is generally fertile, the most productive districts being in the governments of Kalisch and Sandomir, and the neighborhood of Warsaw. In the northeast are also some very fertile tracts; but even there, and in the governments of Plock, Lublin, &c, the surface is in great part waste.
"The traveller in Poland," says Burnett," sometimes finds himself in an expanse of surface almost without a house, a tree, or any single object large enough to attract his notice. Soon, however, are descried the skirts of some vast forest fringing the distant horizon; and, on entering it, we proceed for eight or ten miles, more or less, winding with the road, through lofty pines, &c, precluded from the sight of all objects but trees and shrubs. Sometimes, in the midst of a forest, we meet with a small spot of ground (for example, of ten or twenty acres) cleared and cultivated; its sides prettily fenced by the green, surrounding woods. Sometimes a small lake is found thus situated, its borders ornamented in a similar manner: and these, generally speaking, are the prettiest scenes which Poland furnishes. These forests, in some places, are fifteen and even twenty miles in all directions. Indeed, if we exclude morasses and the level pasture-lands, perhaps not more than half the country, speaking generally, is cleared. At distant intervals are found plains of some extent, affording rich pasturage. The best are those contiguous to the Vistula, some of which are periodically overflowed by that river. Such are those in the neighborhood of Warsaw, which supply that town with good butchers' meat."
This description was written early in the present century; and, though a considerable proportion of forest-land has been cleared in the interval, it is still substantially accurate. Of seven hundred and forty-one thousand acres (wloka) of land comprised in the kingdom, two hundred and fifty-five thousand are supposed to be arable; two hundred and five thousand in forest; one hundred and seventy-one thousand in natural pastures, rivers, and marshes ; forty-six thousand in meadows ; thirty-eight thousand occupied with roads and buildings, and twenty-six thousand in gardens.
Poland has, for a lengthened period, been the granary of a great part of Europe. But Volhynia, Podolia, and Galicia, formerly included in the Polish dominion, were the principal grain-growing provinces; and within the limits of Russian Poland, except in one or two southwestern provinces, the land, according to Mr. Jacob, is so poor, that it can scarcely be made to yield a medium crop of wheat more than once in nine years. The soil is mostly thin, sandy, or sandy loam, resting chiefly on a bed of granite, through which the heavy grains gradually percolate. South of the Pilica, however, the appearance of the land and the face of the country improve; and as we proceed southward to the Vistula, the surface becomes more undulating, and the soil stronger and more tenacious. In this quarter there are extensive tracts of clayey loam, requiring three or four horses to plough it, and yielding, when tolerably well managed, excellent crops of wheat and oats. Where, in this district, anything like a system of rotationis adopted, the crops are very heavy.
Some of the estates belonging to the nobility of the highest rank are of enormous extent; and, not long since, those of Prince Czartoryski and Count Zamoyski, taken together, occupied a space nearly equal to half the extent of England, or larger than the states of New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts ! In the times of the republic, the former contributed twenty thousand and the latter ten thousand men to the army. Owing, however, to the practice of dividing the land equally among the children, unless a majorat be established in favor of the eldest son, which is sometimes the case, much of it is possessed in smaller allotments. These, however, we should still call large, for they mostly vary from five or six thousand up to thirty or forty thousand acres each. The rent and price of land are generally low, depending much more on the number of peasants than the extent of the farm. The crown-lands, comprising one third part of the whole surface, or about ten millions of acres, include perhaps two millions of acres of wood, the remainder being chiefly arable land, leased to tenants, who, in consequence, acquire right to the services that may be legally demanded from the peasantry. The tenants of the crown are exempted, as well as their peasants, from some taxes to which the other occupiers of land are subject, and in consequence the crown-estates are better stocked with peasants. With this freedom from taxation, and ample supply of laborers, the rent of eight millions of acres of land is said to have amounted in a given year to no more than four millions of florins (about half a million of dollars), or somewhat less than six cents the English acre. But a large extent of land is included in this average that is literally of no value; so that the rent of the cultivable land may be fairly set down at from twenty to thirty cents per acre. In point of fact, however, the money-rent of land, in a country like Poland, without towns and without a market for its produce, affords no test whatever of its real value. Lands belonging to private individuals are rarely, indeed, ever let, except for services to be performed on the other parts of the same estates; and the value of the land is to be determined, not by the amount of the money-rent it will bring, but by the amount of subsistence it affords, or the number of individuals it will maintain in an average state of comfort, according to the customs and habits of the society.
Formerly the whole lands of the republic were the property of the nobility or gentry, and could not be held by any one else. The possession of land was, in fact, of itself a proof of nobility; and the owner of an estate of three acres in extent voted in the elections of nuncios, and, in respect of political rights and privileges, was on a level with the richest nobleman in the country. But this state of things is now wholly changed. Landed property is no longer the appanage of a particular class; but may be indifferently held by nobles, burghers, and peasants. Jews only are prohibited from becoming proprietors of the soil, though they have numerous mortgages thereon. When they foreclose, the lands must consequently be sold; and as the Jews, who engross the greater part of the money-capital of the country, can not become purchasers, the prices they yield are very trifling. Latterly, however, some modifications have been made in the regulations respecting the Jews, and various privileges have been conceded to them.
The most numerous class of cultivators are peasants, who are a species of quasi proprietors of the lands they occupy, holding them under condition of working a stipulated number of days in each week on their lord's demesne, and paying him, in addition, specified quantities of poultry, eggs, yarn, &c. The extent of their holdings varies according to the quality of the land, the quantity of work to be performed, and of payments in kind to be made. On a large property examined by Mr. Jacob, the peasants had each about forty-eight acres of land, for which they were bound to work two days a week with a pair of oxen. If their further labor was required, they were paid at the rate of six cents a day for two days more; and if beyond that number, they received twelve cents a day. On another property the peasants had about thirty-six acres, for which they worked two days a week with two oxen; when called upon for extra labor, they were paid twelve cents a day for themselves and their oxen for the next two days, or, without the oxen, six cents.
Under the republic the Polish peasants did not, in fact, enjoy as much consideration as the blacks of our southern states in the present day. They were the absolute property of their masters. Down to 1768, a lord who had killed his serf was merely amerced in a small fine; and, though in that year the offence was made capital, such an accumulation of evidence was required to prove the fact, that the enactment was rendered quite nugatory. It was customary to make the serfs work five days a week on the estates of their lords ; the latter also might seize on whatever wealth the serfs had accumulated, might inflict on them corporal punishment, and might sell them as if they had been so many head of cattle. The boasted freedom of Poland was, in truth and reality, merely the license of the gentry to trample under foot the mass of the people, browbeat their sovereign, and sell their votes. It is due, however, to the nobility, to state that some among them — as the Zamoyskis, Czartoryskis, and others — perceived the miserable consequences of such a state of society, and were most anxious for the improvement of the peasantry on their estates, of whom they emancipated considerable numbers. Generally, however, the Polish gentry were not inclined to establish or give efficacy to any regulations in favor of the peasantry, of whom they scarcely considered as belonging to the same race of beings with themselves, or as entitled to the common rights of humanity. Under these circumstances, none will be surprised to learn that the Polish peasantry, at the dismemberment of the republic, in 1774, were in the lowest state of degradation, being at once ignorant, indolent, addicted to drunkenness, poor and improvident in the extreme.
The servitude of the peasants was modified by the constitution of 1791, and it was wholly abolished in the grand-duchy of "Warsaw (nearly identical with the present kingdom) in 1807; the labor and services due by the peasants to their lords having since been regulated and defined by law. Owing to the ignorance of the peasantry, the influence of this great and salutary change was for a lengthened period less considerable than might have been supposed. Though the peasants may now leave one part of the country to settle in another, they must first pay off any debt that may be owing their lords; and from inability to do this, and various other circumstances, they do not often quit the estates on which they were born. When a young peasant marries, his lord assigns him a certain quantity of land, sufficient for his maintenance and that of his family in the way in which they have been accustomed to live. Should the family grow numerous, some little addition is made to the grant. At the same time, the young couple obtain a few cattle, as a cow or two, with steers to plough their land. These are fed in the stubble, or in the open places in the woods, as the season admits. The master also provides them with a cottage, with implements of husbandry; in short, with all their little movable property. Owing to the powerful influence of old habits, but few peasants improve the little stock committed to their management; their conduct being most frequently marked by carelessness and a want of forecast. This, however, is by no means uniformly the case: there have been many instances of accumulation ; indeed, several of the peasants have become proprietors, while others have hired a larger extent of land. But it will require the lapse of a lengthened series of years before any very general change can be made in the habits and condition of the bulk of the people.
Speaking generally, the houses of the Polish peasantry are miserable hovels. They are all built of wood; even those of the better class have merely the ground-floor. On the exterior they are, in every point of view, humble, very often mean in appearance: the interior is occasionally somewhat better, though you look in vain for anything like comfort. There are usually two or three ordinary rooms, whitewashed, though only one serves, for the most part, as a sitting-room. The floors are sometimes of earth only, but more frequently planked. A bed stands almost always in every room.
The villages, which are of the most wretched description, are thinly scattered, rather along the skirts than in the midst of the forests, and sometimes in vast bare heaths, where no other object is to be seen. They consist of from ten to fifty miserable huts, rudely constructed of timber, and covered over with straw, turf, or shingles; and afford so imperfect a shelter, that the inhabitants are glad to stop up the chimneys in winter, and to be half smothered with smoke, rather than die of cold. Each of these huts consists generally of only one apartment, with a stove, round which the inhabitants and their cattle crowd together. Bad as these villages are, you may travel ten miles, even in the clear part of the country, without seeing one, or indeed beholding any human habitation. The common diet of the peasantry is cabbage ; potatoes sometimes, but not generally; peas, black bread, and soup, or rather gruel, without the addition of butter or meat. Their chief beverage is the cheap whiskey of the country, which they drink in quantities that would astonish the best customers of the gin-palaces of England or of this country. Their houses generally have little that merits the name of furniture ; and their clothing is at once coarse and disgustingly filthy. These, however, are only their general characteristics. The condition of the peasantry depends much on the character of their lords, and upon the more or less embarrassed state of the property on which they may be settled. On the estates of opulent and enlightened landlords it is wholly different from what it is on the estates of those of an opposite description, and may indeed be said to be decidedly comfortable.
It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to state that, from the labor applied to the lords' estates being rendered as compulsory service, it is performed in the most negligent and slovenly manner possible. All the operations of husbandry are very ill executed: the ploughing is shallow and irregular; the harrows, with wooden tines, do not penetrate sufficiently to root up weeds in fallowing; so that the land is always foul, and in bad order. The same want of attention prevails in thrashing. In short, the natural effects of the system of duty-labor are strikingly visible in the whole administration of most of the large estates where it is followed; and is hardly even prevented from exhibiting itself on the estates belonging to the few proprietors who have intelligent and active managers, and are free from pecuniary embarrassments. The common course of crops is the old system of a whole year's fallow, followed by winter grain, and that by summer grain, and then a fallow again, so that one third of the land bears nothing. The winter crop, in the north of Poland, consists of wheat and rye, the latter being to the former nearly as nine to one, the little manure that is preserved being laid out on the wheat-land. In the southern part of the kingdom the wheat bears a larger proportion to the rye, amounting, on the more tenacious soils, to one fifth, and in some cases to one fourth part, or upward. On a well-managed farm in the province of Lublin, the quantities of seed and produce are said by Mr. Jacob to have been as follows: Potatoes, about twenty bushels to the acre planted, and about two hundred bushels raised; wheat, two bushels sown, and from sixteen to twenty reaped; rye, two bushels sown, and from twelve to fifteen reaped; buckwheat, three bushels sown, and from ten to fifteen reaped. The barley and oats scarcely yield four times the seed.
The stock of cattle is small in proportion to the extent of land and the number of the inhabitants. The Polish horses, formerly held in high estimation, have much degenerated, and a good breed is to be met with only in a few studs. A miserable race of colts is employed to transport merchandise, and field-labor is almost wholly performed by oxen or cows. The latter are small, and generally kept in bad condition, both as to food and condition. They are mostly .stall-fed, but, from negligence, yield very little butter, and no good cheese. Previously to the revolution of 1831, the total number of sheep in Poland was roughly estimated at three millions ; but, though the country is extremely well adapted to sheep-breeding, the Polish breeds were greatly inferior to those of Saxony, and there were very few flocks of fine-woolled sheep. Latterly, however, the Polish wool has improved very much in point of quality; and is now sent in large quantities to the markets of Leipsic, Berlin, and Breslau, where it sometimes brings a very high price. Hogs, though not very numerous, are of a good breed, originally from Hungary.
The burdens laid directly on the land are not very heavy. Tithes are moderate, and principally compounded for at fixed rates. A small sum is levied in each district for the repair of roads, bridges, and other local purposes ; but that and the land-tax do not exceed twenty-five per cent, on the presumed annual value of the land, which is usually far below its real value. The other taxes fall equally on the different classes of the community. That on beer is let to farm by the government to the brewers. Heavy duties are laid on foreign commodities, such as sugar, coffee, wine, &c. The great mass of the population can not, however, afford to purchase such luxuries, but content themselves with honey, dried chicory, and whiskey.
The forests are highly important, and in. the governments of Augustow and Plopk they cover more than a third part of the surface; though in some of the other governments they have been much neglected, especially in the territory adjacent to Krakow, where, however, the place of wood-fuel is supplied by coal. Scotch pine, black fir, alder, aspen, oak, beech, ash, maple, linden, and elm, are the principal forest-trees, and the Polish oak and fir timber is of very superior quality. Most of the larger forests belong to the crown, and are felled in portions annually, so as to cut them every fifty years.
Among the wild animals of Poland may be specified the bison (Polish, zubr), found in the vast forests of the province of Plock, traversed by the Narew. The emperor Alexander prohibited the chase of the bison, of which, perhaps, the only remnant in Europe is now to be found in Plock and the adjoining province of Bialystok. The other wild animals include the elk, roebuck, wild boar, badgers, foxes, hares, &c, the skins of which last form articles of export.
Minerals are more numerous and valuable than might have been expected in so flat a country. Bog-iron is found almost everywhere; but the principal mining districts are in the south, in the government of Sandomir and in Austrian Poland. Coal is raised in considerable quantities at Bendzine, Reden, Niemcy, &c. Zinc, which is exported in considerable quantities, is found in the vicinity of Krakow; lead at Olhusz; and copper at Kielce. Iron of excellent quality is also mined in Sandomir.
The domestic manufacture of woollen and other stuffs is universal throughout Poland, almost every agricultural family having a loom for the manufacture of the coarse cloths required for their consumption. The yarn used to be partly imported from foreign countries, but lately a large spinning-factory has been established at Girardow, which occupies five hundred hands, and produces, besides yarn, a quantity of linen cloth. In 1829, the woollen cloth made in the country was estimated at seven millions of Polish ells, worth upward of seventy millions of florins, about a tenth part of which was sent into Russia. During the disturbed period which followed, the production of Polish woollens sank to one third of what it had previously been; but it has lately revived in consequence of the importation of Polish cloths into Russia, duty free, where they are in extensive demand for the clothing of the troops, and for other purposes. They are also sent in considerable quantities to Kiachta, on the borders of Chinese Tartary. Leather is the manufacture next in importance; and then follow linen and cotton fabrics, sailcloth, paper, bleached wax and wax-candles, alum and other chemical products, glass, printing-types, jewelry, carriages, &c. Generally, however, these articles are produced on a very small scale; and, notwithstanding the cheapness of labor, they are mostly, from the want of skill on the part of the workmen, at once high-priced and inferior. Poland, in fact, is an agricultural country; and, except a few of the more bulky and coarser articles, it would, were the citizens permitted to resort to the cheapest markets, derive almost all its manufactures and articles of luxury from other countries, in exchange for grain, wool, timber, tallow, flax, spirits, and such like articles. Spirits are distilled in every village from rye and potatoes, but their sale is still, as formerly, a manorial right, each lord of a manor having the exclusive sale of spirits within his domain. There are breweries in Warsaw, and in some other large towns; and mead, and drinks made from raspberries, cherries, &c, principally in the southern provinces, are favorite beverages of the people. Of late years several beetroot sugar factories have been established.
The trade of Poland is almost wholly in the hands of the Jews. The internal commerce is carried on chiefly by means of fairs, at which, also, a considerable portion of the foreign trade is conducted. During the revolution of 1831, '32, the exports decreased greatly, while the imports were considerably augmented. Since that period, however, the balance has been in a great measure restored. England, Holland, and France, take off, through Dantzic, most of the grain which Poland has to export. But in years when prices are high in the former countries, and when, consequently, there is a great demand for breadstuffs in Dantzic, a good deal of the supplies brought to that port come from Galicia. Goods are conveyed in summer by heavy wagons, and in winter by sledges; but the roads are generally bad, and during the insurrection were much cut up. Latterly, however, the imperial government has been exerting itself for their improvement. Steam-navigation is but in its infancy; and merchandise is at present mostly forwarded down the rivers by flat-bottomed boats to the Prussian ports. But Russia seems to be endeavoring to put a stop to the intercourse between Poland and the Prussian ports on the Baltic, by constructing a great commercial road from the southwestern angle of Poland to the Baltic; and a railway has been projected to convey from Warsaw to the harbors of Windau and Libau, in Courland, the goods which formerly went to Tilsit or Memel, or by the Pregel to Konigsberg. A similar purpose is served by the canal of Augustow, connecting the Narew and Vistula with the Niemen, and which is continued to the Baltic by the Windau canal, in the government of Wilna. The canal of Augustow is ninety-six miles in length, from live to six feet in depth, and of sufficient breadth for two large boats to pass each other with ease. It has seventeen locks, and several convenient basins in different parts of its course. It was wholly completed between 1821 and 1829, and is now the means of an active traffic. Notwithstanding these measures, the Vistula must be regarded as the great natural highway of the country, and Dantzic (formerly belonging to the Polish monarchy) her proper shipping port.
Previously to 1831, Poland had its two legislative chambers, those of the deputies and the senate ; but after the unhappy attempt at a revolution that then broke out, Russia suppressed these chambers, and Poland is now governed nearly in the same way as the other portions of the empire. The council of administration for the kingdom consists of three directors-general (of the interior, justice, and finance), a comptroller-general, and other persons appointed by the emperor. The reports of this council are submitted to the emperor by a secretary of state for Poland residing in St. Petersburg. There is also in that capital a department for Polish affairs, to which the government of Poland is confided. The legislative power is vested in the sovereign, and the proposed laws for this kingdom are submitted for his sanction by the Russian council of state. The local administration of Poland is exercised by civil governors, with the same powers as those established in the different governments of Russia.
The civil and commercial codes at present in force are, for the most part, the same as in France: the criminal code is modelled on that of Prussia and Austria. Personal and religious liberty are nominally guarantied; and those who do not interfere with politics are as secure in Poland as anywhere else. But those who wish to enjoy this security must have a care not to find any fault with any action of the government. The press is under the control of censors, who are stricter here than even in Russia. Justices of the peace decide in civil causes up to the amount of five hundred florins; above which the latter come before the tribunals of original jurisdiction in the capitals of the different governments. At Warsaw, besides a court of appeal, there is a supreme court of cassation, and commercial tribunals are established in all the principal towns. Criminal causes are tried in separate tribunals, of which there are four in the kingdom. Political offences come under the cognizance of a council of war, or a commission specially appointed.
Until lately, upward of three fourths of the Poles belonged to the Roman catholic, or the united Greek church, the Greco-Russian communicants being but few in number. But of late the Russian government has, by every means, been endeavoring to shake the spiritual dependence on the court of Rome, not only of the Poles, but of the united Greeks throughout the empire ; and the measures in this respect appear to have been attended with so much success, that, previously to 1840, from three to four millions of the united Greeks, including most of those of Poland, had joined the orthodox Greek church. Until 1832, the Greco-Russians had no prelate in Poland; but at that period an archimandrite was appointed, who resides at Warsaw. The bishop of the united Greek church resides at Heline, in the government of Lublin. The Roman catholics have an archbishop and eight bishops, nominated by the pope on the recommendation of the emperor of Russia. There are a number of convents possessing territorial revenues; but the secular clergy receive a regular stipend from the government, the landed possessions formerly belonging to them being now public property. The parish-priests, however, receive tithes, the amount of which is sometimes considerable. The Lutherans and Calvinists, amounting together to about two hundred and fifty thousand persons, are principally Germans. There are a few Memnonites and Moravians, and some Mohammedans.
Previously to 1830, education in Poland was scarcely diffused at all, except among the nobility and upper classes residing in the towns, and the total number of persons receiving instruction at that period is said not to have exceeded sixteen thousand, or about one in two hundred and sixty of the population. After the suppression of the insurrection, the schools were shut for several months, and, when re-opened, were organized upon the same plan as those of Russia. Private schools are subject to the same inspection on the part of the government as public schools. The number of pupils in public and private schools amounted in 1839 to about seventy thousand, or one to every sixty-two individuals. In 1838, an order was issued by the Russian government, directing that there should be a teacher of the Russian language in every primary school; and that all children attending such schools should be obliged to learn the Russian language. It was also, at the same time, ordered that no individual should be employed as a tutor unless he possessed a testimonial, signed by the proper authorities, certifying his ability to give instruction in the Russian language ; and that no person unacquainted with Russian should be promoted to any civil or military employment.
This regulation, as was to be expected, gave much offence to the Poles, and was the theme of much declamation in this and other countries. Russia, no doubt, wishes to secure her hold over Poland; and everything that tends to Russianize the latter, and to give her people the same tastes, habits, and modes of thinking, as the Russians, must necessarily contribute to this end: and it is undoubtedly thought that, of all the means to bring about this consummation, the gradual substitution of the Russian for the Polish language will be one of the most effectual. Nevertheless, this measure is one of great injustice and hardship to the conquered race; indeed, among the numerous degradations to which foreign domination subjects the Poles, there is none to which they appear more keenly sensible than this attempt to complete their national destruction by the extirpation of their native tongue, which is said to be one of the richest and sweetest of the Slavonian dialects, and having a strong affinity to the Latin, the latter being much spoken by the higher classes.
The Poles are the descendants of various Slavonic tribes, who, in the sixth century, having proceeded up the Dnieper, entered the basin of the Vistula, drove out the Finns — the original inhabitants — and made themselves masters of the whole country, from the Warta eastward, and around the shores of the Baltic. They are a remarkably fine race of people, being well formed, strong, active, ardent, and daring. In their general appearance, they are said to resemble the western Asiatics rather than the Europeans, which has led some ethnographers to the belief that they are of Tartar origin. The gentry are haughty and brave, but, at the same time, frank and generous. The peasantry, however, bowed down by continual oppression, are cringing and servile; their whole behavior evincing the state of abject servility from which they are now being emancipated. The nobility are very numerous in Poland, amounting at present to not less than two hundred and eighty-three thousand individuals! According to the old laws of the republic, the nobles were terrigene: every person who possessed a freehold estate, how small soever, or who could prove his descent from ancestors formerly possessed of such an estate, and who had not debased himself by engaging in any sort of manufacture or commerce, was a nobleman or gentleman, the terms being in Poland synonymous. The gentry were all held to be equal to each other, the titles of prince, count, &c, which some of them enjoyed, not being supposed to add anything to their real dignity. Under the republic, the nobility were every thing, and the rest of the people nothing. The former were the absolute lords of their estates, and of the boors by whom they were occupied. They enjoyed the royal privilege of maintaining troops, and constructing fortresses ; and they only could elect the sovereigns. No noble could be arrested without previous conviction, except in cases of high-treason, murder, or robbery on the highway; and then only provided he were taken in the fact! His house was a secure asylum to all to whom he chose to extend his protection, whatever might be their crimes. Even his vassals could not be arrested, nor their effects seized; they were exempted from all payment of tolls and other direct duties; and though the king might bestow titles, he had no power to create a nobleman or gentleman, that being the exclusive privilege of the diet. Happily, however, this state of things has been wholly changed. Under the vigorous government of Russia (and the same remark applies to those divisions of Poland under Austria and Prussia), the oppressive privileges of the nobles have been suppressed; they can no longer trample with impunity on their inferiors, nor commit offences without subjecting themselves to the full penalty of the law; and a poor gentleman no longer considers it a degradation to engage in some department of industry.
Though modernized in a considerable degree, the richer Polish nobles continue to live in large castles, in a state of rude hospitality, entertaining great numbers of their dependents and such strangers as may happen to visit them. At these feasts the ancient custom of sitting below the salt is still kept up, the best dishes and the most costly wines being appropriated by the elite of the guests.
The Jews are more numerous in Poland than in any other European country, amounting to some four hundred and twenty-five thousand, of whom about four fifths live in towns. They are, as already stated, in the almost exclusive possession of the commerce of the country; they also are the great manufacturers and sellers of spirituous and fermented liquors; advance money on lands and goods ; are the only jewellers and silversmiths ; and carry on all pecuniary dealings. Those in the towns are mostly all burgesses, and they may be said to engross all the most lucrative business. But notwithstanding all this, the majority of the Israelites are extremely poor. They seem also to be in a lower state of civilization than any other class. Even the richer individuals, though they occupy the best houses in the towns, appear to care little for cleanliness or comfort; and the lower orders live in a state of filth and discomfort that would be intolerable anywhere else.
There are in Poland many instances of longevity, and, on the whole, the country may be said to be healthy; but the people are, notwithstanding, especially liable to endemical diseases, such as small-pox and fevers, which frequently make great havoc. Among the diseases peculiar, or nearly so, to Poland and the Lithuanian provinces, the plica polonica is the most remarkable. This is a disease of the head, which terminates by affecting the hair, which it dilates, softens, and clots into one undistinguished mass ! This disgusting malady spares neither age nor sex, gentry nor peasants, though it is more frequent among the latter than the former. Various theories have been formed to account for its origin: most probably it is occasioned by the bad water, unwholesome food,, and filth of the people.
Sears, Robert. An Illustrated Description of the Russian Empire. New York: Robert Sears, 1855