THE roads of Russia, with, the exception of a few principal lines, are universally represented by travellers as being the most execrable in Europe. The inconvenience and evils resulting from this fact, however, are much lessened during a portion of the year, by the frost rendering the worst roads fit for sledge-travelling, and during the warm season by the number of navigable rivers, and the extension that has been effected by the construction of numerous canals, giving a continuous navigation from the Arctic ocean to the Black sea, and from the Baltic to the Caspian, with an intersection of branch canals, by which all the great towns of the interior have ready access to their outports and to each other. The valuable communications thus provided are about to receive a vast accession from the railway system, for which the configuration of the country affords unwonted facilities. The period is probably not far distant when the Russian territory will be traversed with a network of iron, connecting all its important points both in the interior and on the seaboard, affording facilities, at all seasons, for the prompt transport of goods and merchandise, and to the man of business or the tourist an agreeable and rapid transit across the length and breadth of this mammoth empire.
The first railway that was constructed in Russia was that leading from St. Petersburg to Czarsko Selo, a distance of seventeen miles. This road was opened in 1837. At the beginning, it was rather regarded with prejudice by the mass; but as it was undertaken with the consent and countenance of the emperor, no one dared to raise objection. By the time it went into active operation, and the imperial family had passed and repassed several times in safety, it began to be looked upon with more favor, and it became quite fashionable to ride down to Czarsko Selo or to Paulofsky, the Vauxhall of Russia. Maxwell relates the following characteristic incident, connected with the early travel on this road: —
" On one occasion, the confidence of the Russian public was interrupted by a serious accident. The cars took fire, and several people who could not or would not break open the doors of the carriage in which they were riding, were burned to death. There is nothing that so shocks a Russian community as accidents attended with loss of life. When Carter the lion-tamer went to St. Petersburg, he was permitted to exhibit his animals, but not to enter the cages, lest he would be devoured in the presence of the people. In consequence of this accident upon the railroad, no one would run the risk of travelling by steam to Czarsko; and the emperor, in a paroxysm of rage, ordered the president of the company to appear before him. This happened to be no less a person than a descendant of the great Catherine, a left-handed cousin of his majesty, and by universal report one of his most intelligent and faithful subjects. He was fortunately absent on a visit to his estates, in the south of Russia. Couriers were instantly despatched, with orders to the count to repair immediately to St. Petersburg, and report himself to his liege lord and master. He rode night and day, and reached the city in the evening. The autocrat was at the theatre. Thither went the count, and in the lobby adjoining the imperial box he received the indignant rebuke of his angry sovereign. Fortunately the tempest was partially allayed before his arrival; the count, moreover, was a favorite, and well knew the man he had to deal with. He received the imperial threats with due submission, and was dismissed with orders to be at the railway station at an early hour the next morning. He was there at the appointed time, and so was Nicholas. An engine was ordered to ' fire up,' a car was attached thereto, and away went the master and the subject for Czarsko Selo. No accident occurred. His majesty was gracious, the count was most agreeable. They returned in safety ; and when they left the car, the emperor embraced the noble president of the railroad company avec effusion de ceur. Public confidence was restored, stock went up, and travel was immediately renewed."
This road was followed by the great enterprise undertaken by the emperor, in which he took a deep interest, of a first-class railway from St. Petersburg to Moscow, four hundred miles in length. In the prosecution of this work, the late Major Whistler, who was one of the efficient engineers of the western railroad in Massachusetts, was invited thither through the agency of Mr. Bodisco, the Russian minister, and was employed in a very responsible situation in the conduct of the work, until his death, which took place a short time before it was finished. Under the agency of Major Whistler, a large number of American mechanics were invited to Russia, and employed in the construction of locomotives and machinery. This work was constructed under the direction of the minister of public works, Count Kleir Michel, aided by Major Whistler, and was opened on the 1st of November, 1851. It is found to be of immense benefit to the commerce of the country, and the business upon it is daily increasing. The passage is made from one capital to the other in twenty-two hours, which previously occupied four days, in diligent travelling day and night.
Oliphant, who passed over this road in 1853, thus graphically describes the journey, and also alludes to some of the annoyances incident to travelling in Russia even by railway : —
" We proceeded, bag and baggage, to the station of the Moscow railway. Only one train starts daily ; and the hour at which this most important event takes place is, or ought to be, eleven, A. M. Travellers are commanded by the government to be at the station at ten precisely; and even then they are liable to be told that the train is full — as it is quite an unheard-of thing to put on an extra carriage for any number of passengers. Having arrived, therefore, at ten minutes before ten, to be quite sure of being in time, our luggage was seized by a soldier, policeman, or railway porter (for they all wear somewhat the same uniform), and carried in one direction, while we rushed in another to show our passport for Moscow, to procure which we had been to three different offices the day before. Here the descriptions of our persons and our reasons for travelling, which it contained, being copied at full length, we were hurried to another counter, where we got it stamped; whence, catching sight of our baggage en passant, we sped on to the ticket-office, and then, returning to our portmanteaux, we went through a few formalities, which ended in receiving a ticket to add to the number of those with which our pockets were now pretty well filled. The anxiety of mind which such a variety of documents causes is not to be wondered at, when the consequences which the loss of any of them would entail are considered. Ladies in Russia do not think of trying to carry their tickets in their gloves. We now betook ourselves to the waiting-room, which we should have thought handsome had we not been detained in it so long that we got tired of admiring it. For an hour did the destined occupants of the train sit patiently on the benches, every man with head uncovered; for even a skull cap is an abomination to a Russian under a roof. Every man in military garb seemed to have the entree to the platform, while the doors were rigorously shut against us unhappy civilians. At a quarter before eleven, however, they are opened, a general rush follows, and we are hurried through a barrier, the doors of which close behind us. Soon the whole barrier becomes thronged with people waving their adieus as ardently as if we were booked for Australia. A bell, a whistle, and a sort of dull attempt at a scream, are, as in more civilized parts of the world, the signals for starting; we leave the weeping eyes and waving pocket-handkerchiefs behind us, arid, in the course of ten minutes, find, to our satisfaction, that we have increased our speed to fifteen miles an hour. We have hardly done so ere we arrive at a station. Everybody rushes out and lights a cigarette. We are to stop here ten minutes, and the people during that time walk up and down the platform, and smoke; then we huddle into our old places, and have time to look about us. The carriages are large. Nobody seems to go in the first-class. A second-class carriage accommodates about fifty people. They are built as in Austria and America, with a passage in the centre, perambulated by a man in uniform, who occasionally asks people for their tickets. He seems to make inquiry the first time to satisfy himself that you have got one, and afterward merely as an amusement, which he apparently enjoys the more if he fancies you are going to sleep. The men are bearded and dirty, and relate stories in a loud tone of voice, for the benefit of the whole company, most of whom have evidently never been in a railway before.
" At every station the same scene ensues. The unsmoked ends of the last station's cigars having been carefully preserved, are lighted afresh, and vehemently smoked on the platform during five or ten minutes, as the case may be. The stations are all very spacious, and uniformly constructed, with an immense domed building for engines attached to each. Though there is only one passenger-train daily, there are three goods-trains, always well loaded with inland produce, tallow, fur, tea, &c., or with cotton from St. Petersburg to the interior. I should hardly think the line could possibly pay; but as it is a government concern nobody has any means of ascertaining this fact. Whether it pays or not, the railway traveller in Russia soon discovers that the requirements of trade are as little regarded by government as his own personal convenience; for the restrictive policy of the empire must ever neutralize, in a great measure, the beneficial effects of rapid internal communication, while the difficulties which have always been placed in the way of free mercantile intercourse exist in full force, though the physical obstacles by which it has hitherto been encompassed are overcome. In fact, though the public can not but be benefited by the formation of railroads through a country, it is hardly for the public benefit that railroads are constructed here. Russian railroads seem to be meant for Russian soldiers; and it is the facility thus afforded of moving large bodies of men, that invests this mode of communication in Russia with an importance which does not attach to it in Great Britain, or perhaps any other country in Europe, to an equal extent. When St. Petersburg, Moscow, Odessa, and Warsaw, become connected, Russia assumes an entirely new position with regard to the rest of Europe. A few days, instead of many months, will then suffice to concentrate the armies of the north and south upon the Austrian or Prussian frontiers. Through this same quarter of the world, many hundred years ago, poured those barbarichordes which overran civilized Europe; it would, indeed, be a singular testimony to the spirit of the age, if the next invaders made their descent by means of railroads."
The road from St. Petersburg to Moscow was hardly finished when the emperor ordered the construction of another gigantic road, between St. Petersburg and Warsaw. This road will be six hundred and seventy miles long. It will pass by the cities of Louga, Pskov, Dunaburg, Wilna, Grodno, Vileka, Viala, Niemen, and Narev. A company has also been formed at Riga for building a branch to this road, which is to unite that seaport with the city of Dunaburg, and thus connect Riga with the two capitals of Russia and Poland. This branch, the track of which was laid out by the engineer Gouzenback, will be one hundred and forty miles in length. It will keep along the right bank of the Duna, and will pass near the cities of Jacobstadt and Freidrichstadt. The capital is fixed at nine millions roubles. Another line is projected to unite Dunaburg, by Smolensk, with Moscow,, and establish a direct communication between this ancient Russian capital and Warsaw by the route which was pursued by the advance and retreat of the French army in 1812. In the south of the empire, a company is about to undertake the construction of a railroad-between Kharkov and Odessa. This road will cross the Dnieper, at Krementchoug, above the rapids which obstruct the navigation of the river. This road will benefit the commerce in grain in the same manner as the line from Dunaburg to Riga is destined to help forward that of linen and timber. Finally, in the kingdom of Poland, where for some years the line from Warsaw to Myslovitz (in Prussian Silesia) lias been in full activity, two other lines are thought of: one from Warsaw to Bromberg, the other from the same capital to Posen; but the arrangements necessary to be made with the Prussian government for this purpose have not reached a satisfactory conclusion. The line from Warsaw to Myslovitz, a little more than two hundred miles in length, puts the capital of Poland in communication by railway with Vienna and Berlin, and consequently with Paris. When the line which is to join Warsaw to St. Petersburg, is completed and opened for travel, the immense distance which separates France and Russia may be travelled over in four or five days. It must be borne in mind, however, that all these projected lines have been more or less interrupted by the war in which Russia has unfortunately become involved with the western powers of Europe.
Until superseded, however, by a general railway system throughout the empire, the wretched roads incidentally alluded to at the opening of the chapter must continue to furnish a serious drawback to locomotion on Russian territory. A few details in relation to these roads and roadside accommodation will not be out of place here. The whole distance from Odessa to Moscow is a mere track, marked by verst-posts, about ten feet high, and by them the traveller is guided across the open steppe ; but these posts do not determine the width of the track ; each carriage picks its own way, either a hundred yards or half a mile to the right or left, as the horses or driver may think fit. This track cannot be called a road, in the same sense that it would be in this country; it is merely traced over the natural soil, and there is not a shovelful of material laid down, nor is there any fencing or draining. In the winter, the verst-posts are the compass of the steppe, and without them it would be impossible to travel after heavy falls of snow; late in the season the track is so uneven that persons are often thrown with violence out of their sledges. In wet weather it is almost impassable, and, after the thaw has set in, quite so, for a few weeks. Traffic is then almost suspended, and the transport of the mails becomes at this period a service of some danger, as the wooden bridges which have been taken up during the winter are not replaced till the weather is settled, and the Yagers are sometimes obliged to pass the rivers on rafts. In the latter part of the spring the ground is suddenly hardened in all its inequal-ities of ruts, holes, and hillocks, by the slight frosts which follow the thaw, and in the summer retains much of the inequality it then assumed, particularly through forests, where the track is narrow, and consequently more cut up. In the continuous heat of summer, which withers all the grass on the steppe, some inches deep of the surface is beaten into dust, and in windy weather a veil over the face is almost indispensable. In some districts, trees are planted by the side of the track, but they are not much more picturesque, and certainly in this season not more verdant, than the verst-posts.
The road to Archangel is, in many parts, boarded with planks, laid flat across it; when quite new it is well enough, but wood, as a material for road-making, is not exactly suitable; there are still some corduroy roads in the environs of St. Petersburg. These roads are constructed of small trees and logs laid transversely, and bad as they are they have their value, for without them it would be impossible to get across some parts of the country.
There is not, on the public roads, any fixed time or place for the traveller to take his meals, and no specified hour for arriving at or quitting any particular town. Some travellers, and we may add most Russians and all sensible persons, take care to order what is either ready or quickly procured, and seldom keep the courier waiting; others, not sufficiently versed in the cuisine, order dinners of so many dishes, and the consequence almost invariably is that the stranger subjects himself to imposition by naming some dish not mentioned in the carte. In addition to this, the chances are that the horses are put to about the time the eatables make their appearance ; the courier inserts his swarthy visage at the door, and after saying "Gotovo" (ready), vanishes, only to reappear again with his watch in his hand, repeating the magic word gotovo; a glass of wine, or something stronger, offered to the conductor, may have its effect, and if, as these men generally are, he is a good-natured fellow, the hungry traveller will be allowed to finish his dinner.
The posthouses in most parts of the empire are mere huts, commonly constructed of mud or pine logs; in the latter case they swarm with cockroaches ; there is no accommodation beyond a table, chairs, and a rough cane-bottomed or wooden sofa, and the traveller has no right to expect more than to walk into the room next to that in which the padaroshnas are entered, throw himself upon it in his cloak, and there take his rest, " if rest it be which thus convulses slumber," for upon it he is not likely to sleep alone. The fair pilgrim on the shores of the Baltic describes these post-stations on the Riga road as " fine buildings outwardly, but otherwise whitened sepulchres." This charge will not hold good against those in the steppe, for there is no whitewash, and, therefore, no deception; they are what they appear to be, mud or wooden structures of the humblest kind. The following extract from the same author gives one a very cheerless idea of what may be expected even on the more frequented and macadamized road to the above-mentioned city: "At about three o'clock I alighted at a station-house of no very promising exterior. Anton (the servant) peeped into a room on the right and shook his head, into one on the left and repeated the gesture ; each was filled with smoke from a party of noisy ca-rousers. The host coming forward, I asked (for here German was a passport) for an 'ordentliches zimmer'a decent room, in which I could dine. When looking round at his filthy floors, rickety chairs and smoking guests, he answered, with a shrug, 'Was konnen sie mehr verlangen ?' 'What can you wish for more ?') I very nearly laughed in his face." On the crossroads, and in the steppe, eggs and milk are generally to be obtained, but no butter, nor anything else but the black rye-bread; the latter very good fare for a Russian or a Spartan, but if the traveller is neither the one nor the other, he finds his gastronomic tastes severely tried. Russian families almost invariably sleep in their travelling-carriages, which are very ponderous and roomy vehicles. Those who can afford it are accompanied by a kibitka, or telega, in which is placed their bedding and other comforts.
Posting is deemed at present the preferable mode of travelling in Russia, it being the most rapid, independent, and, all things considered, the most economical. To travel post, it is necessary to be provided with a padaroshna, or order for horses, in which is inserted the name of the place which is the destined termination of the journey, the distance in versts, and the number of horses wanted. This is required to be shown at each post-station, as an authority to the postmasters to furnish fresh horses, and if mislaid or lost the unfortunate owner will be obliged to continue his journey with peasant's horses, subject to all his caprices as to charge, hour of starting, and distance of each day's journey.
The horses three, and sometimes four in number, are always driven abreast. The yamstchik or postboy, instead of riding, drives from the box or the foot-board ; his beard and habiliments are not the most cleanly, and his love for vodka and gossip is intense. He knows only two paces, a walk and a gallop, and his course across the steppe is straight over every hillock, and into every hole that lies in his way; the whip, a short but heavy punisher, and an inexhaustible supply of oaths, are not unfrequently in request. The more humane have recourse to kind words, and address their horses in endearing terms, which are sometimes given in rhyme. A mare the boy calls " sudaruina" or good woman; a tired horse he addresses as " starite" or old fellow. Collectively,, they are called " golubki" or little doves. In the winter, a bell is attached to the pole of the carriage, to give notice of its approach, for the sledge glides noiselessly over the snow. A table showing the distance from one post-station to another, is hung up in every post-house, also the charge for each horse is stated; a book is also kept in which travellers may enter their complaints; should any difficulties arise, a request to see this book may have some ef? feet upon the dilatory and extortionate' post-master. The official is bound to furnish at least the number of horses ordered in the padaroshna; but he may oblige the traveller to take more if the roads require it, and this he does sometimes to the extent of making him journey with six, and in very bad roads, nine horses; he may also, and often does, on the cross-roads, tell you there are no horses left but those which he is bound to keep for the mail or a court-courier; a douceur, however, properly administered to him or the yamstchik, will have a wonderful effect in producing the requisite number of quadrupeds : the latter is occasionally the proprietor of the horses he drives. These bearded Jehus generally receive from thirty-five to fifty copper kopeks for the stage, according to its length. This varies greatly, viz., from twelve to twenty-eight versts; Russians give less, and when travelling on the public service seldom give anything. Many of the postmasters in the south of Russia are Polish Jews, and, though not more rapacious than their Christian brethren of the same trade, are quite as bad. In addition to these worthies, there is at each posthouse a government officer, called an ispravnik, who is supposed to be a check on the postmaster ; he is, however, generally his bosom-friend, but the palm of his hand is seldom shut.
Sometimes the traveller by post chances to meet with a cabinet-courier, or with an officer travelling on service, to whose horses some accident has happened, and who forthwith, and without the slightest ceremony, stops the luckless stranger, takes the horses from his carriage, harnesses them to his own, and galloped off, perfectly indifferent as to the fate of the man whom he thus leaves houseless and helpless upon the emperor's highway.
The cabinet-couriers incidentally mentioned above are worthy of a passing notice. They are confidential persons, two or more of whom are constantly in attendance in a chamber of the imperial palace, to be despatched as occasion may require. They have their orders direct from the emperor, and at any hour of day or night, they are ready to receive instructions for departure, or for delivery of their despatches. The Russian couriers are perhaps the most enduring and hardworking class of men to be found in Europe. Seated on a board covered with a thick leathern cushion, in a wooden vehicle, without springs or back to lean against, and on a level with the traces, the courier travels at full gallop over the most wretched roads, without rest or repose, to Odessa, to Chiva, or even to Port St. Peter and St. Paul, twelve thousand eight hundred versts from St. Petersburg. Add to this, that the courier, so long as he is on Russian ground, is forbidden, under pain of dismissal, to close an eye in sleep. On such tremendous journeys as the last referred to, nature becomes at last too powerful for duty to resist her call, and the harassed courier allows himself brief repose. But it has often occurred that when the despatches reached their place of destination, that the bearer was unable to deliver them, he lying a corpse in the carriage.
Another popular mode of travelling on the principal routes in Russia is by diligences. Of these there are several kinds: The government or malle-poste, the public diligence, and the private or family diligence. The malle-poste, which accommodates four inside and three outside passengers, is the fastest and most comfortable. It is very capacious, and in winter warmly fitted up with a huge wolfskin wrapper for the feet and legs. The public diligences are slower, and carry passengers at a less rate of fare. The family-diligence is fitted up to accommodate parties of from eight to twelve inside passengers. For family parties this mode of travelling has its advantages, and is a more independent mode of journeying than by the private diligence. Some of the Russian diligences are equal in style and comfort to any other European public highway conveyance. The conductor's seat is in front; he is screened by a hood and apron from the pelting storm, and beside him, totally unprotected except by his sheepskin schooba, sits the yamstchik, with his low-crowned hat and broad band adorned with many buckles, and his thick yellow hair, cut, like that of all the lower orders, in a line from ear to ear. The number of horses is generally four, harnessed abreast; but to these two leaders are frequently added, and on the off leader is perched an urchin, the very facsimile in miniature of the bearded driver, who sits with imperturbable gravity on the box. The account given of the diligences of the " second etablissement," by a traveller who recently visited Russia, is not so encouraging. He describes the vehicle as having imaginary springs, stony cushions, green baize lining, and inhabited by a thriving colony of bugs, and himself as having arrived at Novgorod with his teeth loose, and his limbs half dislocated. Some diligences are conducted by private proprietors, totally unconnected with the government.
Another commodious and comfortable country travelling-carriage, much used in the interior of Russia, is the tarantasse, an engraving of which, crossing the steppes, is given on page 215. The name of this carriage is used as the title of a work from the pen of Count Solohoupe, alluded to in the chapter on literature and education.
Another form of Russian travelling-carriage is the post-telega, which is a small open wagon without springs, but strongly constructed, so as to withstand the roads and no roads of the country. To journey in this vehicle, one must be a native, for the jolting is annihilating, and to prove what the concussions must be, the Russian officers put straw at the bottom of it, and not unfrequently a bed upon that; in these machines they get over the ground at an amazing pace. Gathering up his six or eight reins, for there are two to each horse, and grasping his short severe whip, the yamstchik leaves the posthouse at a furious gallop, and keeping the horses at this pace nearly the whole stage, not unfrequently returns to his station with one less than he set out with. When the emperor's carriage breaks down, which is not an unusual occurrence in his rapid journeys, he is sometimes obliged to proceed in one of these rude conveyances. The kibitka is an improvement on the telega, having a hood and apron, so that there is more protection from the weather.
The hack-carriage or cab of St. Petersburg, and other large cities in Russia, is the drosky; but it is a most comfortless conveyance, consisting merely of a bench upon four wheels, on which the fare sits astride, as on a
velocipede, and immediately behind the driver, who is not an agreeable person to be in very close contact with; at any rate, to those who are not fond of the odors of garlic, their favorite seasoning. Moreover, the wooden pavement is at the best indifferent, and when out of repair, which is frequently the case, most abominable, and even worse than the stone pavement.
Droskies for hire stand in the most principal streets. There is no fixed price whatever, as to distance or time; a most extraordinary thing in a country where the police seem to busy themselves about everything. To do the ivoshtshiks or drivers justice, they do not impose very exorbitantly, seldom asking more than twice as much as they will willingly take if a bargain is made before starting; and never attempting to demand more when the ride is finished than they have previously agreed for. The usual fare in St. Petersburg from one quarter to another is about twenty cents. As the distances are great, the most inveterate pedestrian will soon find these bearded Jehus, the ivoshtshiks, his best friends, and he will seldom have occasion to sing out " davai" (" here") a second time ; indeed, he need scarcely look at them ; and if he only pause for a moment, seeming to muse upon the expediency of hiring one, half a dozen will instantly dart to the spot where he stands and offer their services.
In Southern Russia the drosky has a back and the driver sits on a seat in front, at a more agreeable distance from his fare. On a good road, and with three horses attached to it, which are always placed abreast, the pace is grand and the motion very easy; the wheels are small, and the body, which is hung on C-springs, is very low. This vehicle is driven with one, two, or three horses ; in either case one is in the shafts, to which a light piece of wood is attached, forming an arch over his head ; the traces draw from the nave of the wheel; the bridle and other parts of the harness are ornamented with small bits of brass or silver. If two horses are driven, the second is always placed on the near side, his head drawn a little down and outward by a rein attached to it for the purpose; he is trained to canter and show himself off, while the other does nearly all the work at a rapid trot. When there are three horses, the one on the off-side is also harnessed with his head downward, and capers in the same way. A drosky well turned out in this manner, is by far the prettiest equipage of the three, and when going at speed, which is the usual pace, the horses have the effect of those in an ancient car. Droskies ply in all the large towns.
In winter the ivoshtshik uses the favorite national vehicle of a sledge, with which he continues to grind the pavement as long as the least trace of snow is to be felt under the spring mud. A covered carriage he never uses. The cloaks and furs of his passengers must do the service that the roof of the coach does with us; and when well wrapped up in a series of protecting folds, the warm nucleus of life that occupies the centre, patiently suffers the pelting of snow, rain, and mud, till the end of his journey, where the dirty rind is peeled off, and the said kernel steps forth clean and unspotted from his muddy covering.
The ivoshtshiks of St. Petersburg appear to be a race of Hamaxobites (dwellers in wagons), leading a sort of nomadic life among the palaces of the capital. They encamp by day in the streets, and so do many of them during the night, their sledge serving them at once as house and bed. Like the Bedouin Arabs, they carry the oat-bag constantly with them, and fasten it, during their interval of leisure, to the noses of their steeds. In every street arrangements have been made for the convenience of the ivoshtshiks. Every here and there mangers are erected for their use ; to water their horses, there are in all parts of the town convenient descents to the canals or to the river; and hay is sold at a number of shops in small bundles, just sufficient for one or two horses. To still the thirst and hunger of the charioteers themselves, there are" peripatetic dealers in quass, tea, and bread, who are constantly wandering about the streets for the charitable purpose of feeding the hungry. The animals are as hardy as their masters. Neither care for cold or rain; both eat as opportunity serves, and are content to take their sleep when it comes. Yet they are always cheerful, the horses ever ready to start off at a smart trot, the drivers at all times disposed for a song, a joke, or a gossip. When they are neither eating, nor engaged in any other serious occupation, they lounge about their sledges, singing some simple melody that they have probably brought with them from their native forests. When several of them happen to be together at the corner of a street, they are sure to be engaged in some game or other, pelting with snowballs, wrestling, or bantering each other, till the "Davai ivoshtshik!" of some chance passenger makes them all grasp their whips in a moment, and converts them into eager competitors for the expected gain.
These men are, for the most part, Russians from all the different governments of the empire; but among them there are also Finlanders, Estonians, Lettes, Poles, and Germans. They arrive at St. Petersburg generally as little boys of ten or twelve years old, hire themselves as drivers to some owner of hackney-carriages, whom they continue to serve till they have saved enough to buy a horse and vehicle, when they set up in business on their own account. Their trade, as are all trades in Russia, is uncontrolled by corporation laws; and should fodder grow dear, or business slack, theivoshtshik packs up the few worldly goods he possesses, drives away to the south, and reappears in the streets of Novgorod or Moscow; thus, in pursuit of fortune, they emerge now in one town and now in another, till enabled somewhere to form a profitable and permanent establishment.
The constant plague of the ivoshtshik is the pedestrian, who in Russia is invested with immense privileges. In other countries a man thinks himself bound to take care that he is not run over; but in Russia, he who walks afoot troubles himself but little about the matter, and thinks the coachman alone is bound to be careful. If the horse or carriage merely touch a foot-passenger, without even throwing him down, the driver is liable to be flogged and fined; should the pedestrian be thrown down, a flogging, Siberia, and the confiscation of the whole equipage, are the mild penalties imposed by the law. " Have a care," cries the ivoshtshik. " Have a care thyself, and remember Siberia," is the probably reply of the leisurely wayfarer. The moment the cry is raised that a man has been run over, a brace of butshniks rush out from their watchboxes, and the carriage, whoever it may belong to, is carried away as a police prize. The poor coachman is immediately bound, and the flattering prospect of an emigration to Siberia is immediately held forth to him, whether the accident have arisen from his own fault or not. Cases of great severity sometimes occur ; but it is difficult to point out any other way of checking the wild way of driving in which the nobles frequently indulge.
Sears, Robert. An Illustrated Description of the Russian Empire. New York: Robert Sears, 1855