The volume herewith presented to the public was in course of preparation (to the extent, at least, of collecting material out of which to digest the subject-matter of its pages), for a considerable period anterior to the commencement of hostilities between the two governments occupying the position of principals in the present European war. That event, however, with the solicitude it has very generally and very naturally created for reliable information, as to the character, history, and resources, of the Muscovite empire, whose position seems generally though perhaps erroneously to be regarded as so formidable and threatening toward other nations, has led to its publication at a somewhat earlier day than might otherwise have been determined on.
But comparatively few of the descriptive works on Russia heretofore published, accessible to readers in the English language — those of recent as well as those of earlier date — have extended their range beyond St. Petersburg and Moscow, with perhaps the provinces immediately surrounding them. This is to be accounted for probably in the fact that (with few exceptions) they have emanated from tourists visiting that country for health or pleasure; and the restrictions with which the government everywhere trammels locomotion on Russian territory, with the miserable travelling facilities, and worse roadside accommodations, have generally been sufficient to deter them from penetrating or exploring to any considerable extent, the vast regions lying beyond the Muscovite capitals. And those works not comprised in this class, and which form the exceptions referred to above, do not cover, any one of them, but a fraction of this colossal empire. Thus Finland, the German colonies, Poland, Southern Russia, the Crimea, Kazan, the Caucasian and Trans-Caucasian provinces, Siberia, and other divisions of the imperial domain, have each had its historiographer, but each has generally formed the subject of a separate work. While still other writers have limited the scope of their pens entirely to sketches of the people, the government, and institutions of the country. To obtain a knowledge, therefore, of the whole empire, called for the perusal of so many volumes, and some of them not attainable this side of the Atlantic, that Russia has necessarily been a terra incognita to a large proportion of American readers.
This deficiency in the means of accessible information, on most subjects so abundant in this country, suggested to the Editor the plan of this volume. He felt assured that if he could furnish an illustrated description of every portion of the empire — of its institutions and people, its history, and in brief, everything requisite to a complete knowledge of "Russia and the Russians," full in details, yet carefully condensed, so as to bring the whole within the covers of a single volume, and thus within the means of every class of readers — he would essentially subserve the cause of popular information. He undertook the task, and the more completely to carry out his design, he has spared no pains in the endeavor to obtain, both in this country and in Europe, every work that promised any additional or more recent information, or which might serve to verify that already in hand. The result of his labors is embodied in the following pages. Of the success which has attended them, he will leave to his readers to judge from perusal.
The engravings (many of which are from drawings made expressly for this volume) have been selected with regard rather to the more practical purpose of illustrating the letter-press than the minor one of mere pictorial embellishment. A glance at them, however, will show that the latter consideration has not been lost sight of. They are all from the burin of William Roberts, whose eminent reputation is an ample guaranty that they have been executed in the highest and most elaborate style of the art. Of the maps, it will be a sufficient assurance of their accuracy, to mention that they are from Morse's geographical establishment, and are specimens of his beautiful art of cereographic engraving.
The preparation of this volume has been a work of no inconsiderable toil, involving, as it did, reference to such varied and frequently conflicting authorities; and its mechanical execution has been attended with a far greater outlay than any of the Editor's previous works. But should it meet with but a moiety of the favor so kindly and generously accorded to his former publications, he will feel himself amply recompensed for his labors.
Sears, Robert. An Illustrated Description of the Russian Empire. New York: Robert Sears, 1855