With the exception of the writings of the monks, we have no trace of Literature of any kind during the darker period of Russian history. Nestor, Basil, and Sylvester—all priests —wrote the annals of their times; Kyril, too, and many other holy men excelled in theological disquisitions, some of which are still extant; but almost every record of that early period was destroyed by the Mongol-Tartars of the Middle-Horde, who, for upward of two hundred years, kept the Muscovite princes in a state of subjection. It was not till the middle of the fifteenth century that Russia was once more free; but her people had been too long restrained from any attempt at enlightenment, by their savage oppressors, to be able to compete with their more western rivals in the race for improvement: those fatal years had given them too long a start, and the Muscovites abandoned the idea of emulating this onward progress in despair. It was not until the accession of Peter the Great to the throne that any positive change took place; and during this period the more educated Russians were influenced by the Polish and German literature and languages, which may be accounted for by the fact, that Ivan the Terrible, when engaged in the siege of Kazan against the Tartars, obtained the assistance of certain military engineers from Germany, and who in many instances remained in the Muscovite service. The influence which those foreigners exercised was soon after visible throughout all grades of Russian society; and from that time the moral action of the example of western Europe upon the vast territories of the czars has been ever increasing and progressive.
It was in the reign of Ivan, too, that the first printing-office was established at Moscow; and in 1565 he founded a school of theology. The Machiavellic czar, Boris Godunoff, though his reign was short, also interested himself in the education of the young Muscovite nobility of his time. The czar Michael, the first of the present house of Romanoff, and Alexis and Feodor III., the father and brother of Peter the Great, prepared the way ably for the rapid and gigantic strides of that master-mind among reformers.
Peter the Great was essentially practical and a utilitarian. To teach his people the habit of looking for information into books, he caused a number of the best-works to be at once translated into Russ, from the different languages of Europe. He was vigorously assisted in his laudable endeavors by Theophan Prokovitch, the Archiepiscon (archbishop) of Novgorod, who from his virtues and talents was called the Muscovite Chrysostom, and who alone wrote no less than sixty works.
In 1724 Peter founded the Academy of Sciences at St. Petersburg. His views were furthered by many gifted and excellent men; and last, but not least, by Gluck, the Livonian clergyman, who had been made a prisoner during the war of Peter with Charles XII. of Sweden, and who had brought up that interesting and humble girl in his modest household, who was afterward destined to become the empress Catherine I. of all the Russias.
During this period of Russian history and the reign of Peter I., from 1682-1725, Prince Kantemir was perhaps the most brilliant literary light that Russia possessed : he was a great classic and linguist; he wrote upon very many subjects, and his satires are still greatly admired; he died in 1745. As lyric poets, two Cossacks particularly distinguished themselves, Kirscha Daniloff and Klemovki: the national songs of the former writer, about the heroic Vladimir and his gallant Boyards, are still admired and prized in Russia.
About 1724, a Russian and a poet turned his attention to the nature of his native language, and its adaptability for poetry, and he strenuously suggested the adoption of classical metre, founded upon measure and quantity; but his efforts and almost his works were soon lost sight of, notwithstanding the warm co-operation of the empress Catherine, who even went so far as to impose as a punishment for any little fault of etiquette among her courtiers, that they should learn by heart a certain number of the verses of her protege — their quantity, of course, being commensurate with the little offence committed.
The empress Catherine I., Anna, and Elizabeth, were certainly munificent patronesses of the belles lettres. It was in the year 1755, and during the reign of Elizabeth, that the university of Moscow was founded, among many other educational institutions, subject, of course, to a governmental censorship. The free erection of printing-presses all over the country was granted by a ukase in the year 1783, during the reign of Catherine II. The bulk of the people, had, of course, but little improved by these efforts at mental progress; and yet it was in the family of a humble fisherman in the north of the empire, from the neighborhood of Archangel, that Michael Lomonosoff was born, about the year 1711 or 1712. Notwithstanding every difficulty, he made himself a linguist, a scientific authority, and a philosopher; he for some time pursued his learned labors and researches at Freiburg, in Germany. Beside being the author of the Russian Grammar, he was the first to draw a distinct line of demarcation between the ancient Slavonic and the modern Russ—at least, as spoken in his day. He wrote a history of his country, and a long and sustained national epic poem, entitled the " Petroide," which, as may be conceived, was a lofty panegyric upon the talents and virtues of his imperial master. He wrote principally upon mineralogy and chemistry ; he was also the author of several respectable tragedies, and of many miscellaneous works. Lomonosoff, perhaps, can not so much be designated a great and original genius, as a man of the most enlightened capacity, and energetic talent. He is, however, undoubtedly the father of Russian Letters — and was the first " litterateur" of European celebrity that the country had produced. After having been employed by the government with distinction for the greater portion of his life, he died in 1765, universally regretted throughout the empire.
The reign of Catherine II., from 1762-1796, is one of the most brilliant epochs of Russian history; and the period between the death of Lomonosoff and the close of the century in which he lived, was particularly marked by the number of gifted and eminent men, whose unceasing energies tended to strengthen and nourish the tottering childhood of Muscovite literature as it then stood. The "Iliad" and "Eneid" were ably translated by Kostroff and Petroff; an excellent version of Pope and Locke was presented to his countrymen by Popovski; and Ariosto and some portions of the " Inferno " of Dante were submitted to the empress by Bulgakoff.
A contemporary with Lomonosoff was Cheraskoff, who has been called the Russian Homer. Sumarokoff for a considerable time was his rival in public opinion. Both these poets were remarkable for their extreme fertility ; and the number of tragedies, comedies, poems, and odes, which they produced so rapidly was the theme of never-ending astonishment and speculation. But Gabriel Derjahvin, who was born about the year 1743, was incontestably the greatest Russian poet of the period. His ode to God has not only been translated into most European languages, but even into the Japanese, according to the Russian traveller Golownin, who saw it hanging in a place of honor in the temple of Jeddo; and it is a known fact that it is versified in the language of the Celestial Empire, where it is hung up in the palace of the emperor, printed on white satin and in letters of gold. Hippolyt Bogdanovich, a charming writer upon light and general subjects, and Chemnitzer, the fabulist, also flourished at this period. At the same era several eminent Russians occupied themselves with the formation of the national theatre, for which it was discovered that the Muscovite genius possessed a strong and decided natural aptitude. Kniashnin, Maikoff, Nikoleff, Klushin, and Daniel von Wisin—the protege of prince Potemkin — were the authors of several chefs d'euvres of dramatic composition which have descended to our own day, and which afford as much pleasure even now to the Russian who witnesses them as upon the first occasion of their representation. The first Russian theatre was opened in Yaroslav in 1746, and the nucleus of a national stage was founded at Moscow in 1759; and in St. Petersburg the artistes were permitted to establish themselves by letters patent as early as 1754.
It will be observed that from the very earliest period the Russians have ever sought to annalize their national history with an undeviating devotion; and this can only be attributed to the feeling of patriotism that is, and has ever been, so widely diffused throughout the empire. Hence, from the most remote times, when the little learning that had found its dubious way to the hyperborean wilds of Russia was celled and isolated in the convents of the priesthood, as early even as the beginning of the twelfth century, the work had begun with the local histories of Nestor, which were continued after his death by the priests: even during those fearful two centuries and a half when the Russians were writhing under the horrors of Tartar dominion.
Unhappily these relics of the past are but of slight value out of Russia, and of little interest even to a Russian, as they treat only of the different phases of violence and anarchy, caused by the continual wars peculiar to all people in those dark times, and to the international feuds of the turbulent and powerful Boyards, which so particularly convulsed Russia, till the advent of the terrible Ivan Vassiliovich to the throne of the czars.
But the period of which we are writing—the close of the foregoing century—was rich, too, in the appearance of historians of different descriptions. Among the ranks of her men of letters, Golikoff, Rietchkoff, and Jemin, gave to the world several volumes, the contents of which were dedicated to particular portions and phases of the history of the country. Tcshulkoff wrote upon the rise and progress of commerce in his native land; while Boltin, himself an historian of considerable merit, had the honor of reviewing the fifteen volumes of Russian history written by the accomplished Prince Tchetcherbatoff. Nor must Miiller be forgotten: though his name be German, he himself was a Russian, and the whole of his existence had been dedicated to the furtherance and development of that Russian literature, of which he had himself, as it were witnessed the very birth. He published the first Russian periodical in 1755, the columns of which were principally occupied by historical subjects of interest to the Russias.
The year 1724 witnessed the foundation of the Imperial Academy of Sciences; and in 1783 that of the Imperial Russian Academy; and in less than five years afterward, the last-named institution published the first (true) standard grammar of the language, together with an etymological dictionary of considerable pretension, and upon an arrangement of a novel nature. These important steps in philological advancement were particularly induced by the munificent patronage and general encouragement afforded them by the empress Catherine II. There was also a host of biblical and theological writers at the close of the last century; and it were needless to name them all, except to state that Konnisk, an archiepiscon of Western Russia, and Platon Leovshin, the metropolitan of Moscow, were the most eminent of all these authors in dogmatic and speculative religion. Of the latter distinguished theologian, it may be as well to mention, that one of his most important works, entitled " The Summary of Christian Divinity," has been translated by Doctor Pinkerton, in his " Present State of the Greek Church in Russia."
From the commencement of the present century, and during the reign of the emperors Alexander and Nicholas I. — from 1801 to the present moment—the progress of Russian letters has been accelerated with a rapidity and success that are really marvellous. In the year 1820 alone, nearly three thousand five hundred works were produced, about a thousand of which had been translated from the French, English, and German tongues. This fecundity in literary productions may, in a great measure, be attributed to the liberal encouragement of the emperors, and the thorough reformation which they had set on foot in all the scientific institutions of the country. The various existing academies were reorganized and extended, while four new universities were added to the empire. In 1823, a college was founded in the new capital, for the study and culture of the oriental languages ; and a few years later Odessa boasted of a similar school. The most marked success has attended them all, which was, no doubt, the result of the interest which the government experienced in the object sought to be attained—not the least salient proof of which was the express clause in the treaty of peace, which was entered into during the reign of Alexander, with Persia, in 1813, at Gulistan, wherein he stipulated expressly for the delivery to the Russian plenipotentiaries of five hundred of the most valuable manuscripts, the names of which had been drawn up by those distinguished authorities on Orientalism, Senkovski and his colleagues, and which were known to be in the possession of the Persians. They were afterward deposited in the Imperial library at St. Petersburg, for the use of the students of the oriental schools, which were no doubt originally founded for the training of diplomatic agents among those people, but which have, nevertheless, been of the greatest utility to the study of the philology of the East, not only for the Russians themselves, but for all Europe. Among these invaluable relics of past ages, are the Geography of Ptolemy, and some translations in the Arabic of several important Greek and Latin works, of which the originals are no longer extant.
Nicholai Karamzin is, however, the next literary luminary of whom we have to treat. He died in 1826. His principal work is his " Istoria Ros-siskago Gosudarstva," or " History of the Russian Empire," but which only extends to the accession of the present dynasty—the illustrious house of Michael Romanoff, in the year 1613. It consists of eleven volumes. And this most important production has been translated into the more prominent languages of Europe. Its second edition was published in 1818. His other voluminous labors have been collected and condensed into nine large volumes, which were again given to the public in 1820, in the form of a third edition. His career of literary distinction was commenced by a periodical work which he published under the title of the " Moscow Journal." The second periodical which he owned and edited was the " European Messenger."
Karamzin is essentially a Russian writer, and no Muscovite ever understood the pliancies and delicacies of his language so well; but the charm of his writings is so purely one of idiom, so entirely national, that it is next to impossible for a foreigner to appreciate him according to his merits. In his lyrical poems, and indeed throughout his entire works, there exist a warm patriotism, a national verve, a grace and an indescribable tenderness, that must always endear them to his countrymen; while the learning and indefatigable research displayed in his superb " History of the Russian Empire" will ever constitute it the standard work upon this subject in the repertory of Slavonic literature: and it is, perhaps, from the period of his influence that the renewed energy to be remarked in literary taste in Russia may be deduced.
Ivan Demitriev, it is considered, exercised as much influence upon Russian poesy as Karamzin had effected upon the prose of his language. He was as remarkable for the correctness of his style as for the richness and versatility of his imagination.
Prince Viazemski, Rilejeff (who was executed for his share in the unhappy conspiracy of 1825), Vostokoff, the Slavonic philologist, Khvostoff Batjushkoff, Glinka, and Baron Delwig, whose works were reviewed in the French and English periodicals, are all esteemed as lyrical poets of more or less importance. Baron Rosen was also a very successful translator of Lord Byron, whose works were enthusiastically admired and imitated by Kosloff, who, notwithstanding blindness, lameness, and continued ill-health, dedicated his life to the literature of his country, in which he was eminently successful. Nareshnoi must not be forgotten in this rapid synopsis of the literati who distinguished themselves at that particular period. He is the author of " Bursack," a Malo-Russian tale. This work is a kind of Russian " Gil Blas."
The first expedition of the Russians round the world was undertaken in the year 1803 ; and the travels of Admirals Krusenstern, Wrangel, Lazareff, and Captain Golownin, say much for the enterprise and honor of Russia and her sons. The voyages into China of Timovsky are already known and valued out of Russia, by means of translations. Bronevski and Muravieff fully explored the Caucasus and Taurida—the result of which is several volumes, replete with the most valuable information; while Bitchourin has given one of the best accounts extant of Thibet and the country of the Mongols and Tartars. Martinoff excelled in his translation of the classics ; and the " Jerusalem" of Tasso, the "Eneid," and " Iliad" were successively and successfully rendered into Russian by Vojekoff, Gneditch, and Mertzjakoff. It was then, too, that Ivan Kriloff became so deservedly popular as a fabulist. There is an air of nature, a sweetness about his works, that is not often found elsewhere. He was also acknowledged to have been the best speaker of his time of the Russian language, and has even been styled the Russian " La Fontaine." He has also been translated into German, French, and Italian.
We now come to the time when Alexander Pushkin, the brightest genius of Russian poetical literature, had arrived at the zenith of his reputation, and stood, as he has since done, unrivalled and alone. He was born in 1793, and he died violently in the flower of his days, at the early age of thirty-seven, the victim of domestic unhappiness and of a terrible duel. Pushkin acquired his education at one of the imperial institutes. At the very outset of his career, a production which he thought proper to bring before the public, and which was conceived with too much latitude of sentiment, procured his removal from St. Petersburg. He was, however, employed by the government officially, in the southern provinces of the empire, to which he was banished; and there can be no doubt that his genius became tinctured, and probably more developed, by the wild scenery and poetical influence of the semi-civilized region in which he sojourned. In the meanwhile the present august ruler of the Russias had placed the diadem of the czars upon his brow, and the imprudent poet was recalled. But the advent of the emperor to the throne had taken place amid an armed insurrection, and his majesty felt that to bulwark the Russias from foreign revolutionary example, the most legitimate and politic steps would be to bring her back to the full appreciation of her own old Muscovite nationality. The elevated and the educated classes who had so long been accustomed to look to France, England, and Germany, for their sentiments, opinions, manners, and even for their language, had almost forgotten that they were Russians, in Russia. Between those higher phases of society and the masses an impassable gulf then existed: a more insurmountable one, indeed, than ever had been before or since, for its peculiarly antagonistic form was the utter absence of the remotest sympathy between the classes : the higher ones appearing, in fact, as if they were mere " sojourners in the land" of the Muscovite "people."
Pushkin had ever been remarkable for the nationality of his effusions, though he had also evinced in them a spirit of restlessness, and a yearning after a vague independence, which seems to have even actuated him personally in the earlier and more stormy period of his brilliant career. The literary efforts born of this influence possessed a double character, for they were at the same time national and individual, and reflected the tendencies of Russian genius, and the individuality of Pushkin, and the poets who followed so enthusiastically in his steps ; the effervescence of wild and uncontrolled passion, the pursuit of an impossible ideal,-the worship of an indefinite and unknown liberalism, by turns opposed or gained the ascendency over the calm, measured, and hitherto acknowledged tone of Russian literary feeling. The fiery genius of Lermontoff was the first that identified in his own writings this dangerous tendency of the school of Pushkin, which found its last representative in the literary efforts of a young contemporary poet, Maikoff. Toward the latter end of his life, and even at the period of his reappearance in the literary circles of the metropolis, Pushkin, whose taste had been refined by study and experience, would fain have led back the national taste he had misled, to the more sober and classic path from which he had originally lured it with the perilous glitter of his own surpassing talent; but it was too late: the fascination of his style had taken too deep a root in the hearts of the young writers of the day, who would soon have transformed what had been the self-possessed and sober Russian muse into a wild and licentious Bacchante. The emperor, fearful of her doing herself and others, perhaps, an injury, confined her as closely to her home as was possible—the Russian heart—her proper dwelling-place, to the revival of the old Russian nationality. The most rigorous measures were adopted, even to the restriction of the absence of the wanderer from his Russian fatherland, to five years at the furthest, the institution of a severe censorship, and the interruption of the study of philosophy throughout the empire; though when safe from foreign propa-gandism, and within the cordon sanitaire of the protected interior, the grand work of general national progress continued with unabated vigor. Of the exalted opinions of these enthusiasts the only one tolerated by the government was the idea of Panslavism—that is, the incorporation into one vast whole of all the races of Slavonic origin.
Alexander Pushkin was by this time highly patronized by his present Majesty, Nicholas I., and had been promoted to the honorable position of imperial historiographer for his laudable endeavors to repress the evil he had so powerfully, and perhaps unwittingly, induced; for his devotion to the cause of nationality, at that time so particularly encouraged by the government ; and for his unequalled genius. But the chastened style of Pushkin wanted in power and originality what it gained in purity and legitimacy. He had harnessed his Pegasus to the car of expediency, and it had lost the use of its wings, if not the freedom of its action. It will only be necessary here to say that some of his works exist in manuscript, and are, for political reasons, preserved in the imperial cabinet. The last work of Alexander Pushkin was the " Istoria Bunta," or the history of the " Insurrection of Pougatcheff." The death of Pushkin was caused by a duel at St. Petersburg, soon after his marriage, in 1835, when he fell a victim to jealousy and the machinations of others.
Nicholas Gogol now appeared in the literary firmament, with the power and the intention to direct the genius of his country toward the new goal — nationality — and to this end he strove to awaken afresh the interest that the Russians had been taught to feel in their own character as a people. Gogol made it his study to examine and analyze Russian life in all its phases; and it was not long ere, by his instrumentality, a succession of romances and comedies, based upon the actual state of society, took precedence of the many works that would have perpetuated the fiery and dangerous inspirations of Pushkin, and of his school. This influence was so powerful, and its effects so successful, that when the revolution took place in 1848, there was but one tendency throughout the entire field of Muscovite literature—namely, nationality.
Nicholas Gogol is distinguished from the other authors of his nation by a faculty of analysis and a creative power, rarely found united in the same individual. He is equally at home when painting outward and visible objects, with a graphic verve and sharpness of outline that is positively lifelike and startling; or when he applies his extraordinary talent to the innermost and secret phenomena of the human heart. His style is original and delightful; his passages of the most biting satire are followed by sudden bursts of tenderness, with an impulsiveness and nature altogether peculiar to the Slavonic genius.
The melancholy fate of Alexander Bestushev should at least entitle him to a notice in this list of distinguished men of letters. He was a subaltern officer in the guard, and, like his friend and fellow-poet Rileyez, was fatally committed in the conspiracy of 1825. He was tried, found guilty, and sent to Siberia, having, of course, been previously deprived of his nobility. Afterward, however, and through the interest of the Miloradovich family, his sentence was commuted to service as a common soldier, in that portion of the Russian army then actively employed in the Caucasus. In this disadvantageous position, by dint of sheer merit and gallantry, he again won his epaulets, and soon after died bravely by the bullets of the Caucasian mountaineers. He was the author of a highly-talented synopsis of Russian literature, and the editor of a very popular periodical, " Severnaja Swesda," the " Polar Star." He afterward wrote under the name of Marlinski; and his Cossack tales, and sketches of Siberia and the Caucasus, as well as his novels, are written with a freshness and spirit that are charming. His style has been likened to that of Spindler, the German novelist, and his contemporary.
Historical romance is a very favorite study among the Russian literati. Among the workers in this field of Russian literature may be mentioned Galitsch, Laschetnikoff, Skobelev, Degouroff, Prince Odojevski Veltman, Dahl, who gives his works to the public under the pseudonym of Cossack Luganski; Grebenka, celebrated for his humorous sketches of Malo-Rus-sia; Gautcharoff, formidable for the keenness of his satire; Grigorovich, the novelist of the fields and the peasantry; and Boutkoff, the lifelike delineator, of the social state and habits of the lower classes of his countrymen. By the force of talent and perseverance, Boutkoff raised himself from the very class which he paints so ably, and to the amelioration and advancement of whose moral position, to his honor be it said, he has dedicated his genius. Tourgenieff also should be mentioned, as having stepped down from the elegiac mood to go with the current of the common tendency in favor of romance literature. The scenes of his creations are almostall laid in the country and the provinces ; and his best work in that genre, "The Recollections of a Sportsman," will be found in every Russian library.
In 1841 the Count Solohoupe entered the arena of letters; but the greater part of the historiettes written by him, and published under the name of "Nason Griadutchi" ("The Narcotic" — or, more literally, "To Cause Sleep") had already been enthusiastically received in private; and they were equally applauded, when given to the world, by the public at large. His next important works are the " Tarantasse," " Ytchera i Segdonia," or, "Yesterday and To-day," and the "Sotrudniki" ("Confederates"), which we believe to be the latest of his works, published as late as 1851. We can not here enter into a review of the works of this author, but we will merely add, that alike in the " Tarantasse," which is full of deep and manly thought upon the mighty resources and destinies of his country, and in the " Narcotic," which is the lightest of his productions— indeed throughout everything he has written—there is a melange of keen observation, solid depth, and serious patriotism, of aristocratic finesse, humor, irony, and acute sensibility.
The ladies, on the other hand, have shown by their efforts their willingness and power to further the cause of Russian belles-lettres. The names of Mesdames Pauloff, Panaieff, Teplef, Bunin, the Princess Yolhonski, and Helene Hahn, who has been compared, and not without reason, to Madame Dudevant (George Sand), are all celebrated; nor must the Countess Rostopchin be forgotten, who has at once cultivated the bright fields of poetry and romance. The works of this lady are distinguished by the elevation of sentiment that pervades them, by the easy and artistic style with which they are sustained throughout, and by the fine and delicate womanly feeling that gives them their principal charm. The eminent success of this gifted lady is clearly accounted for, however, when we recollect that she is the authoress of a most elegant little poem, the subject of which is " How a Woman should Write."
If we turn to the consideration of historical science in Russia, we find that the archseological commission was opened in 1834, and the libraries of France, England, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and other countries, were visited at the imperial expense, and ransacked for data and information ; and the first five volumes of Russian annals passed through the press in 1844. This institution, in conjunction with the historical and geographical societies of Moscow and St. Petersburg, met with such success in these researches, as threw considerable light upon many portions of Russian history, and added a fresh impetus to the pens of the scientific and imaginatire writers of the day. Professor Ustraloff published in 1839 his "History of Russia," in which the theory of Panslavism was developed in a novel and masterly maimer. Its leading object is to represent the Russian empire as the natural and central head of all the races of Slavonic origin. This is a work of considerable importance, and was translated into German in 1840, one year only after its publication.
Nadeshkin, too, wrote a book of decided interest to the Russian public, entitled, " Treatise on the Geography of the Old Russian World," in which it was sought to trace the seats of the ancient Slavonic nations, and with very much the same tendency as the work of Ustraloff.
Professor Kupffer, of the Imperial Academy of Sciences, made a voyage through the Ural, and published the results of his observations in 1833. Schurovsky visited the same regions, and wrote an historical and statistical work in the year 1846. Hyacinth Bitchourin, the priest, whose portrait is given at the head of this chapter, and others, still continue their useful researches among the wild Mongols and Thibetians. The government has lately caused to be written, the " History of the Commerce with Persia and Turkey," by the councillor-of-state, Yon Hagemeister, the same who paid a scientific visit to the great London exhibition of 1851. And Chaudoir, encouraged by the same patronage, wrote his celebrated " Numismatics of China, Corea, and. Japan." Both these works are published at the same time in the Russian and French languages.
In statistics, Constantine Arsenieff stands pre-eminent; his last work was published in 1848. But the works of Pallas, printed as early as 1771, of Krasheninnikoff, Lepechin, Richkoff, Tihihatcheff, and others, are still considered the standard authorities.
Among the most approved historical novelists may be mentioned Bulgarin, Puschkareff, Swinin, Massolski, Zagoskin, and many more. It need hardly be observed that the history of their own country was the never-failing source from which they drew their inspiration and their subjects. Jevjeni' Grebenka, and Kvitka, have written humorous romances in the Malo-Russian dialect, with a view to its cultivation; and the intention is most praiseworthy, if only for the wealth of Slavonic popular poetry, which is scattered over the Ukraine and Malo-Russia in general; indeed, wherever the Ruthenian tribes have wandered for a time, or settled definitely.
The Russian drama has made rapid progress since the beginning of this century. The works of Shakspere and Schiller have of course served as models, and their masterpieces have long since been successfully translated and performed in Russian. The stage also now begins to assume a more decided and national character, and of late years many pieces and operas, of which the subject and music are essentially Russian, have been brought out. In comedy, Russia is very fertile ; and among the latest productions are several which depict Russian society to the life. But it must be admitted that the empire has not yet produced a great tragic author; and though her store of theatrical compositions is very ample, yet it is not so select as those she possesses in history, poetry, and romance. The greatest possible facilities, however, have ever been and are still afforded to the development of dramatic talent in every form. During the reign of his late majesty, Alexander, and at present under Nicholas L, the theatres and the artistes of St. Petersburg and Moscow have been encouraged by the immediate imperial patronage, and are amply salaried from the privy purse. All dramatic artists who leave Russia after a stay of ten years, have a pension of four hundred dollars each, also out of the emperor's privy purse.
Prom the enjoyment which the Russians of all classes take in every species of scenic diversion, the theatre is particularly a popular amusement. During the season at St. Petersburg, which continues the whole of the winter, residents may choose between the Italian, German, and Russian operas, the Russian and French plays, or the ballet, for there are always three or four foreign dramatic corps in that city at this time, and the performances take place every evening at each of the imperial theatres in rotation. There are, independent of the one near the Hermitage, three large theatres in the imperial capital: the Bolshoi, or Great Theatre (a view of which is given on the opposite page), on the square of that name between the Moika and Catherina canals; the Alexander Theatre, in the Nevskoi Prospekt; and the French, in the square near the palace of the grand-duke Michael. The performances at the two former are devoted to Russian and German plays, and operas, the latter to French and German dramas. The houses are spacious, very nearly semicircular in shape, and handsomely decorated; and a magnificent, box for the imperial family occupies the centre of the first two tiers. The arrangements for the accommodation of the public is exceedingly good, every seat being numbered in such a manner as entirely to prevent confusion. The state box, however, is seldom used, the imperial family generally occupying one next to the stage, contiguous to that of the grand-duke Michael; opposite is one similarly decorated for the ministre de la cour. The entire pit is fitted with arm-chairs (kraslya), numbered on the back, the numbers commencing from the orchestra; and on obtaining a ticket at the kassa, on which the number of the seat is likewise specified, an usher in the imperial livery at once conducts the visiter to his appointed place, and, in case it is already occupied, ejects the intruder in the most summary manner. The ordinary price for these seats is one silver rouble, but in the two rows nearest to the stage they are two silver roubles. On extraordinary occasions, however, the public are put under extra contribution; and sometimes prices have been raised fivefold, an armchair in the pit being six silver roubles, or somewhat more than four dollars; the other prices are raised in proportion, and even at these exorbitant rates, every seat is engaged for five or six evenings in advance.
Excepting the Chinese, there is, perhaps, no language in the world so fraught with difficulties as the Russian. In the first place, the alphabet possesses nine more letters than the Roman or our own, and is made up of Greek, Roman, and Slavonic characters. In 1699, the first Russian book was printed |it Amsterdam, and it was about the year 1704 or 1705 that Peter the Great himself made many alterations in the old Slavonic letters-, for the purpose of assimilating them more nearly to the Latin ones ; and the first Russian journal was printed with this type at St. Petersburg in 1705—four years after the foundation of that city—from a font which had been cast for him by artists brought from Holland. In the old Slavonic alphabet there are forty-six letters ; but the modern Russian language comprises only thirty-five. In all matters, however, of a theological nature, the antique form is even now retained, and this constitutes the difference between the " Czerkovnoi" and " Grashdanskoi" or the civil and church alphabet. This, in a great measure, must explain the difficulties which a foreigner would have to contend with, in attempting to render himself master of the Russian language ; but if it were possible for him to do so perfectly, he would discover an extraordinary copiousness, a delicacy, and beauty of expression, that would indeed surprise him. The Russians, having been in the. earlier and darker portions of their national history subjected to Scandinavian, Mongolian, Tartar, and Polish influence, have preserved many of the words and idioms of the several dialects. Another remarkable feature in the Russian language is the extraordinary facility of construction it admits of, and rarely with danger of becoming obscure or unintelligible: in this it much resembles Greek and Latin ; but its leading peculiarity, and perhaps defect, is a paucity of conjunctions. And yet, on the other hand, this may account for the Russian language being so singularly comprehensive and distinct, since it can merely allow of comparatively short sentences ; notwithstanding which, its adaptability for the purposes of poetry are incontestable ; but whether it is really capable of entirely following and imitating the classic metres, is still a vexata questio among Slavonic philologists.
In common with all dialects of Slavonic origin, the Russian is also remarkable for its euphony and versatility; and it also embraces not only the sounds of every known language, but every guttural lisp and slur of which the human voice is capable.
The language is also divided into three leading dialects. The first is the " Russian proper," or the language spoken in the two capitals, Moscow and St. Petersburg, and throughout the northern and central portions of the empire; it is the literary language of all the Russias. Secondly, in the southern and southeastern provinces the Malo-Russian. is spoken— which dialect is supposed to approach nearer to the " old Slavonic" than any of the others: the idiom of Red Russia, in the northern and eastern districts of Hungary, and to the eastward of Galicia, inhabited by the Russniacks, is almost identical with the Malo-Russian. Thirdly, in Lithuania and Volhynia, and other portions of "Western Russia, the people speak the White-Russian dialect. The geographical position of these districts should fully account for the Polish words and idioms which are here to be found. This, the youngest of the Russian dialects — although the first translation of the Holy Scriptures was made in it—is also the furthest removed of the three from the old Slavonic.
The pursuit of literature, in Russia, as a profession, and as the sole object of life, is considered as something utterly inadmissible. All men, whether belonging to the fourteen classes of nobility or not, must follow a profession, or devote their time to the service of the empire, by attaching themselves to the army, the diplomatists, or the governmental offices. No amount of personal wealth or talent can absolve the individual from this moral duty to society and to the state. Peter the Great, indeed, enacted a most positive law to that effect, and though the edict may have fallen by the lapse of time into disuetude in its judicial capacity, its spirit still exists in full force. The "dolce far niente" existence of utter idleness and caprice, peculiar to the wealthy and the "men of pleasure" of Western Europe, is utterly unknown in Russia; and the man who, in full possession of his health, strength, and faculties, would attempt to brave public opinion on this point, would soon find himself treated by society, in return, with the slightest possible consideration ; and it is only during the hours snatched from the study or practice of a profession that the pen, in a literary sense, can be employed.
Notwithstanding, however, the disadvantages under which literature in Russia labors, it is acquiring an importance which nothing now, it is believed, can repress. This may be believed when it is stated that from 1833 to 1843 (a period of nearly ten years), according to the official returns of the minister of uNarodnago Prosvestchenija" (public instruction), no less than seven millions of volumes of Russian books were printed, and nearly five millions of foreign works were imported. In one particular year of that period, in 1839, eight hundred and eighty different works were printed and published within the Russian dominions ; and an average of only seventy of this number were, translated from foreign languages.
Though Russia still ranks among the more imperfectly educated countries of Europe, the government has long taken a lead in the cause of popular education, and promulgated a complete national system, which, though not yet carried into full effect, has made, and continues to make, effectual progress. The basis of this system was laid by Peter the Great, and promoted by Catherine II., but is indebted for its fuller developments to Alexander and Nicholas. It divides the whole country into university districts, in each of which a university fully equipped either has been, or is intended to be erected. Each district extends over several governments, all the public schools in which, consisting of a regular gradation of gymnasia, district and parish schools, are under the superintendence of the university. Other important schools, not subject to the same superintendence, are classed under the heads of military, ecclesiastical, and special. To give unity and vigor to the whole system, a special ministry of public instruction (incidentally alluded to above) is appointed, which forms one of the great departments of the state.
There are now (to briefly sum up the results of this national system) upward of two hundred and fifty thousand young persons in Russia receiving instruction of some kind from fifteen thousand teachers, an average of one teacher to about seventeen pupils, a very favorable proportion to the student Taking the entire population of Russia at sixty-five millions, one individual in two hundred and sixty receives the benefits of instruction. This is a small proportion compared with the United States, where, according to the last census report, four millions of youth, at the rate of one in every five free persons, are receiving instruction from one hundred and fifteen thousand teachers, in nearly one hundred thousand schools and colleges. Nevertheless, two hundred and fifty thousand well-educated young persons, dispersed each year in the different quarters of that huge empire, can not fail to leave their mark upon the national character.
We know more about the quantity than the quality of these schools, as Russian publicists have seldom anything to say on the subject; but it is generally admitted that the military institutions are of the highest order. The agricultural school of the imperial domain is said to be admirably managed, and is under the immediate supervision of Nicholas. Two hundred and fifty peasants are thoroughly instructed in theoretical and practical cultivation, and are then sent to model-farms in various parts of the country, to set a reforming example to the neighborhood. The tuition lasts four years, and is divided into three periods. In the first year, the boys are taught reading, writing, arithmetic, and surveying. In the second, grammar, mathematics, and the elements of agriculture; and during the third and fourth, agriculture, practically as well as theoretically, and mechanics. Beside these branches, they are instructed in trades which may be useful to the farmer, such as tailoring, shoemaking, cabinet-makings cooperage, blacksmith's and carpenter's work, and in the construction of agricultural machines. A foundry, a brickyard, a pottery, a tanyard, a candle-and-soap factory, and a windmill, are attached to the school. It is not required that each student shall pursue all these branches. The teachers are to judge of the aptitude of each pupil, and to direct him accordingly; but every one, upon leaving the establishment, is expected to possess a thorough acquaintance with the general principles and practice of agriculture, and a competent knowledge of the collateral branches.
At the last exposition of the agricultural products of Russia, at St. Petersburg, the various objects sent in by this school excited great attention. The leathers, in particular, were of so fine a quality that they were selected for exhibition in the World's Pair of London, in 1851.
Sears, Robert. An Illustrated Description of the Russian Empire. New York: Robert Sears, 1855