RUSSIA IN THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY
THE COUNTRY AND THE PEOPLE
I.—RUSSIA, NEW AND OLD. II.—THE TERRITORY. III.—SOCIAL MATTERS: THE ARISTOCRACY. IV.—POLITICAL AND SOCIAL ORGANIZATION: THE ORIGIN OF ABSOLUTISM. V.—THE PEASANTS. VI.—THE SERFS. VII.—THE TOWNSFOLK. VIII.—THE CHURCH.
I.—Old and New Russia.
'An eagle, many-winged, with lion's claws, has fallen upon me. He has robbed me of three Cedars of Lebanon: my beauty, my wealth, my children. Our country is deserted, our city is in ruins, our markets are destroyed. My brothers have been carried to a place where neither our fathers, nor our grandfathers, nor our forefathers have dwelt. …'
Thus, by the mouth of one of her chroniclers, did Pskov, a free and republican town, absorbed, in the year 1510, into the new Muscovite Empire, lament her lost independence, her broken privileges, and her exiled sons. The father of Ivan the Terrible, Vassili Ivanovitch, had just passed by, had carried off the great bell which for centuries had called the townsmen to the viétchié—the popular meetings of the place—deported hundreds of families—quickly replaced by Muscovite immigrants—to the interior of his territories, and proclaimed the incorporation of the Republic with his State.
And this, in a then unknown corner of the European world, was the repetition, at short notice, of a chapter of European history. Thus, at Liége, in 1467, Charles the Bold had overthrown the famous perron, the ancient bronze column, at the foot of which, for centuries past, the people had been wont to make its laws and accomplish all the acts of its public life. Thus, too, at the same time, and hard by, Louis XI., striving with his vassals of Burgundy, Brittany, and Guyenne, was labouring to 'réunir les fleurons' of the crown of France.
From one end of the European continent to the other, this was the decisive hour of great political formations, everywhere attended by the same painful crises. But here, in the far North-East, the task of the 'gatherers of the Russian land,' as they have been called, was especially difficult and arduous. This was, in fact, no matter of welding together provinces already bound by numerous affinities, common traditions, an evident solidarity of interests. Conceive the France of the fifteenth century conquered by the English, and some Burgundian Prince founding, not at Dijon even, but in Germany, in Switzerland, or in Italy, the nucleus of a new monarchy, destined to gather into one whole the rsmnants of the French fatherland, dismembered, broken into pieces. There you have the equivalent of the obscure and laborious process of gestation which gave birth, in the early days of the sixteenth century, to that new world, the Russia of the Ivans and the Vassilis.
What was that Russia? Not the country you now traverse in your sleeping-car from Kiev to St. Petersburg, from Warsaw to Irkutsk. The Russia of Kiev had passed away; as yet the Russia of St. Petersburg was not. Of the lands which in the tenth and eleventh centuries had made up the Empire of the Jaroslavs and the Vladimirs, the Sovereign seated at Moscow held not an inch. He called himself Duke, or Tsar, 'of All the Russias' indeed, but his right to assume the title was much on a par with that of the English kings, his contemporaries, to reckon the crown and arms of France in their own patrimony. The Russia of Kiev was now part of the Polish territory; the Russia of Mokhilev belonged to Lithuania. Red Russia, White Russia, Little Russia, were all held by neighbours. Moscow was but a Russian colony in a foreign—a Finnish—country.
Between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, the Empire of Kiev had melted away in the fratricidal struggle waged by the sons of Vladimir Monomachus. In the thirteenth century, it underwent a Tartar invasion, in the next, a Polish-Lithuanian conquest, and naught remained. At the height of the tempest, George Dolgorouki, one of Monomachus' heirs, put himself at the head of a band of Russian colonists in quest of a new home. Crossing the huge forests which at that time parted the plain of the Dnieper from that of the Volga, he pushed north-westward, subjugating the tribes of Finnish origin he found on his way. And this led to Moscow, founded in 1147—a town set in a conquered country, an emigrant station. And here, again, the Mongol invasion had overtaken the scarcely settled colony, and imposed foreign laws and foreign customs. For two centuries, reckoning from the disaster of the Kalka (1224), it bowed the country down under all the weight of an Eastern tornado. It was only towards the close of the fifteenth century that the Muscovite princes, taking advantage of the slow crumbling of the Mongol Empire, felt strong enough to cast off the yoke. They had laboured, meanwhile, to bring together some neighbouring colonies, first, and then some other remnants, relatively near, of the ancient Russian fatherland, and thus had gathered them up a new empire, and endowed Russia with a new home. Novgorod had been theirs since 1478; Tver, Rostov, Jaroslav, soon joined them. Ivan III.—the Great, as he has been justly called—added more territory, which had not been included within the boundaries of Ancient Russia, pushing the frontiers of New Russia as far as Finland, the White Sea, and the frozen seas to the north, and towards the Ural on the east. His son Vassili added Riazan and Novgorod Siéverskiï, to the south. Did all this constitute a country in the historical meaning of that word? Not yet!
When he succeeded to the throne, in 1533, Ivan IV.—the Terrible—inherited a territory already extensive, but which, geographically speaking, lacked unity and harmony. The tumult of battle, the confusion of conquest, were apparent everywhere. It was a scene of spoils scattered broadcast. Around the Muscovite nucleus in the centre had been grouped, in constantly broadening eccentric circles, territories which, for the most part, had no resemblance, even, to provinces, and can only be designated by topographical indications: the Governments of Arkhangelsk, Vologda, and Olonetz to the north-east; those of Novgorod and Pskov to the north-west; to the west and south-west, the region of the Dnieper, and the present Government of Smolensk, the western portion of the present Government of Kaluga, part of that of Tchernigov, and the western parts of those of Orel and Kursk; north-east lay the Steppe country, without any definite southern frontier, and for its northern limit the 55th parallel—the northern boundary, in other words, of the present Governments of Kaluga, Tula, Riazan, Tambov, Penza, and Simbirsk; and, lastly, to the east, the basin of the Kama and its tributaries, the Viatka, the Tshoussova, and the Biela.
A singularity which in itself paints the nature of this settlement is that its most recent and distant conquests, Novgorod and Pskov, with their dependencies, were its most important constituents; for these included the industrial and commercial regions of the country, and on these, economically speaking, the new Empire subsisted and depended.
Industries were trifling, trade brisker, but still confined to very modest proportions. The population of this land of desolate marsh and moor, living mostly by fishing and only quite exceptionally by husbandry, drew its chief subsistence from a certain flow of merchandise passing to and fro between the Baltic seaboard and the interior of the country. But on an area of 282,127 square versts there were but fourteen towns. Most of these, too, were no more than tiny forts (ostrojki), and in the districts (piatiny) of Biéjets and Olonetz, a huge country covering 171,119 square versts, there were no towns at all; their place was taken by villages (possiélki), with markets and small bazaars.
Up to near the second half of the sixteenth century, Novgorod, with its 5,300 dwelling-houses, was the most important of all the towns in the Empire, save Moscow; and at Pskov the inventories of the period enumerate 1,300 shops or trading-houses within the town alone, apart from the suburbs. But these documents everywhere point to a phenomenon which looms large in the sixteenth-century history of this particular sphere—the swift extinction of the civilian citizen, properly so called, eliminated by the military element which takes his place. At Gdov, which boasts the largest number of inhabitants belonging to this class, the lists for 1580–1585 only give fourteen! And this is the work of the Muscovite conquest, which, with its system of general confiscation and its bestowal of the confiscated properties on men of its own choice, has rapidly succeeded in changing the face of the country, even as to its social elements. Now, these newcomers are all warriors, and Moscow, in her invading march, her overflowing expansion, still preserves the primitive characteristic of her first settlement—a military colony in a conquered country.
And it could not be otherwise, for this, like all the other provinces of the new Empire, remains a battlefield, with frontiers ill-defined on one side, and constantly disputed elsewhere. Amongst the fortresses protecting it on the north-west, Smolensk, only conquered in 1514, is still the nominal capital of a Lithuanian-Polish Palatinate, and Viélikié-Louki will soon be snatched by Batory from Ivan IV. North-eastward colonization creeps gradually along the White Sea, from the Onega and the Northern Dvina to the Ural; but possession is limited along this coast—pomorié, as it is called—to the seashore and the river-banks, and even from the economic point of view, monasteries—strategically-occupied points more than pious foundations—take first rank here. That of Solovki, on the White Sea, possesses, with valuable salt-works and fisheries, a police force and a little army of its own. Further on, east of the Dvina, the conquest is barely outlined: the only rallying-point of the poor fishing population is a half-yearly fair at Lampojnia, on the Mezen, and, the Mezen once crossed, there is a desert country.
A further singularity is that Moscow, girdled by a ring of fortified posts, remained an open town, with all the appearances of a temporary settlement. The city proper, indeed—the Kreml—was surrounded by battlemented walls studded with towers. But this enclosure, which included the Sovereign's palace, some boïars' houses, a few churches and monasteries, did not in any sense encircle the life of the capital. The town, with its wooden dwelling-houses, its shops, its markets, its gostinnyḯ dvor, a stone-built bazaar on the Levantine model, and all its busy trade, escaped outwards in huge suburbs, some open, some protected by mere wooden palisades, and all stretching out into the country, till its meadows and tilled fields mingled with the houses and shops. Industrial life was scattered still further afield, in spacious slobodas, perfect villages, which neighboured it, still amongst fields and woods and gardens, with more monasteries, whose white enclosures and gilded church domes carried the landscape, half urban, half rustic, far out to the horizon. And a fitting capital it was for this Empire on its outward march, moving to a future that still lay obscure, hidden in a perpetual beyond.
The designations of the hastily-formed provinces of the new Empire corresponded with the migratory nature of their constitution. Men said 'The towns beyond the Oka,' 'beyond the Kama,' the word town (gorod) meaning, to them, the territory with its chief town. For the central region itself, the nucleus of the Empire in process of formation, the expression was 'The towns beyond the Moskva, zamoskovnyié gorody.' Nijni-Novgorod, recently conquered by the rulers of Moscow from another group of the descendants of Monomachus, was sometimes looked on as belonging to this central region, and sometimes relegated, with Arzamas and Mourom, to the outer zone. And yet here the Russia of the North-West, just beginning her new life, possessed another Kiev, as it were, on the very marches of the annexed territories. The situation, the beauty of the site, were both the same. Jenkinson, the Englishman, starting thence. in 1558, with his flotilla of galleys, for the Far East, was to see a renewal of the period of the floating caravans despatched by the Princes of Kiev on the 'Voyage to Greece.' But all around, even to the neighbouring river basin of the Kliazma, save for Vladimir, where some remnants of vanished splendours still remained, the conquest had laid the country waste and scattered it with ruins. The population in the country parts still clung to the soil. In the towns no one was left, save the soldiers, who were everywhere. This is the general hall-mark of the new settlement. The populated centres of the province of Moscow, beyond a radius of some 60 to 100 miles, themselves bore this mark. Northward, at the distance thus indicated, stretched an essentially military zone, wherein military considerations were constantly mingled with peaceful occupations, and the urban districts—Tver, Rjev, Zoubstov, Staritsa—were all strategic points. South-ward, the towns of Serpoukhov, Kashira, and Kolomna, on the Upper Moskva, and the Oka, guarded the passage of the two rivers against an ever-threatening invasion. Beyond these lay another desert, the dikoië pole (wild field), not to be colonized till in the second half of the century.
Such was the territory to which the rule of Ivan IV. was to annex, with Kazan, Astrakan, and their dependencies, the low-lying lands along the Middle and Lower Volga, the Kama, the Viatka, and the Caspian seaboard, and to which, as a field for future hope, was to be added, from the banks of the Volga to those of the Don, the Northern Doniêts, and the Lower Dnieper, the enigmatic sphere of the Kozatchina, that huge reservoir into which, from the furthest depths of Poland and Muscovy alike, a whole population of willing exiles perpetually flowed; upon which, from either side, the same action of laws, political and social, poured forth, in one continuous stream, the same quota of diverse elements, driven out of their natural centres by those three eternal instruments of the formation and disaggregation of societies—the spirit of revolt, the spirit of enterprise, and the spirit of liberty.
As to the total numbers of the population within these borders we have no clue, not even approximate. Touching the capital itself, information varies to an extent which defies all certainty. The number of houses set down for the year 1520—41,500—would give us a population of at least 100,000 souls. But thirty years later the Pope's Envoy, Possevino, gives 30,000 as a more likely number. True it is, indeed, that the town, during the interval, had undergone a Tartar invasion which had laid it in utter ruin. But the same thing is true of most of the towns of this Empire, in which war still raged almost everywhere, and, between any two given periods—often in the space of a year—changed the whole face of a country.
From the ethnographical point of view, the Russian element in nine-tenths of this country was that exceedingly slight one arising out of a very recent colonization. There is no necessity, at this period, for scratching the Muscovite to discover the Tartar, or, above all, the Finn. The bulk of the population everywhere is of this latter race. Yet, in this respect, the conquests of the Terrible and his successors have been the chief instruments of the introduction into the composition of the Empire of that great diversity, the existence of which Keppen's map even now demonstrates. We have no documents, indeed, on which to found any exact opinion as to the part played by the various races. This scarcely appears, except in the moral and intellectual life of the country, and these I shall set forth later. Politically it is almost non-existent; whether by elimination or absorption, the Muscovite hegemony has put down all resistance. Socially, the difference of origin does not appear, for another reason. It is hardly possible to assert that this Muscovite centre contained two, or several, distinct societies, in mutual but antagonistic contact. Was there, in fact, any society at all?
III.—Social Classes: The Aristocracy.
Amidst the divergencies on which a certain school of history and politics has been fond of dilating, even to exaggeration—divergencies greatly diminished at a later date, which then separated this growing world from Western Europe—the absence of all social classes holds the front rank. Other features of dissimilarity may easily be noted. There was no feudal organization, nor any of its modern offshoots; no chivalry, nor survivals from it; no Church armed with secular powers, and using them to battle with the State. But all these features are easily traced back to one common denominator—no social classes.
The phenomenon is genuine, but most complex, both as to its causes and its manifestations. In this country, of course, as in every other, there are rich men and poor, labourers and tradesmen, townsfolk and country folk, and a variety, therefore, of social elements. But these elements have no real organic value here. Let me explain myself.
Ivan IV. was to spend his whole life warring against the boïars. The boïars certainly formed an aristocracy, and the country, indeed, recognised several of these. Along with the boïars, the descendants of the old appanaged Princes—who traced back their origin in some cases to Rurik, the first Russian, in others to Guédymin, the first Lithuanian, Prince, and who all held governmental powers in that country—claimed a predominant position. Some members of the elder branch of the family of the founder of the dynasty—the ruling house of Moscow was of the younger branch—and still holding remnants of their ancient patrimony, had just claims to high pretensions, and did not fail to put them forward. They enjoyed certain rights and privileges, clearly denoting their former quality as independent Sovereigns, and fought for them fiercely.
But read the Code drawn up by the grandfather of the Terrible, the Soudiébnik of 1497: not a trace does it bear of all these rights and privileges and pretensions! The clergy once set apart, it divides all the remaining dwellers in the country into two categories, which have no social quality about them, and in which the diverse conditions history creates count not at all: 'men who serve' on one side, 'men who do not serve on the other'—sloojilyié and niésloojilyié, nothing more. What does this mean? It means that the legislator wiped out all historical precedents, and, dealing despotically with the mass of beings at his disposal, divided it up according to the constitution of the existing settlement at Moscow—that, as I have endeavoured to show, of a campaigning army.
In a regiment, there are neither princes nor churls, neither merchants nor labourers—there are soldiers, corporals, officers. And here we have a regiment. In a prison, the prisoners are only known by their numbers. And this is, or is to be, a prison. The sloojilyié are soldiers, who are to help their chief to 'gather up the soil of Russia.' The niésloojilyié are the labourers, the fatigue-parties, who feed the army on its march. Neither class has any place, or dignity, or function, save that allotted to it by the regulation. Every man to serve in the ranks—that is the general order. No sign of any hierarchy of birth. In the first category, with the boïars, the Princes, the great officers of the Crown, the chief functionaries, and hardly distinguished from them by a subordination of a purely administrative character, we see the humble workers, civil and military, blacksmiths and gunners, carpenters and private soldiers. Merchants and agriculturists, again, in the other category, are mingled together under the common law of the taxation imposed on them. The sloojilyié of the highest rank do, indeed, enjoy certain privileges—they perform the higher functions, they own the land. In the eye of the law their testimony carries greater weight, and the indemnity rightfully paid them for an offence is three times that a mere diak (clerk) can claim. But this tariff of honour, varying according to grades and occupations, affects every rank. There is nothing social about it, as yet. It forms part of the emoluments assigned to each post.
I have yet to explain how it became possible to carry out this artificial grouping and despotic classification of the social forces. It was inevitable, in the first place, that elements so torn apart and cast into new and arbitrary moulds should have but little coherence at the outset. As regards the aristocratic element this was assuredly the case. Here, as in the West, the higher stratum of society found its first nucleus in the Prince's immediate following. Etymologists disagree as to the origin of the word boïar. Whether it comes from boï (fight), or from bol, boliï, bolchyï (greater), it was used, in the first instance, to designate the comrades of the leader of the primitive band, his droojinniki (droojina, suite, company), who played, at his side, the part played by the anthrustions of the first Frankish chiefs, the Anglo-Saxon thanes, the ministeriales in the heart of feudal Germany. But whereas in the West the relations thus formed between the Princes and their vassals were solidified by the establishment of each and all on domains, in political and social functions, clear, fixed, hallowed by law, by custom, and by habit, the same relations here continued vague, and shared thegenera mobility of all things. For a long time the Prince was a nomad, and his droojina followed, or did not follow, him. There was no rule nor any obligation in this matter. The chief could dismiss his comrades, and they could leave him if they chose. They frequently used their right. When the Prince of Volhynia undertook a campaign against the Prince of Kiev, in 1149, his droojina failed him, and exposed him to disaster. No constraint was recognised. When Russia was all cut up amongst a number of Sovereigns, the boïars had no scruple about going over from one ruler to another, according to their own interest or fancy, and these desertions were no disgrace whatever. They were not regarded as felonious acts. The deserters continued to hold their lands, and carried them into the pale of the authority of the new chief, chosen of their own free will.
When Moscow began to play her part in history, she did not hesitate to take advantage of these habits, which she recognised as a wonderful instrument to serve her policy of unification—a means of ruining the neighbouring States by their disaggregation, and strengthening her own sovereignty at their expense. She had become an unrivalled centre of attraction, so the game held no risk for her; everything came to her, none dreamed of leaving her. Thus, from one neighbour to another, she gathered up the remnants of the lesser planets absorbed into her own sun—all the wreckage from scattered Courts and disbanded troops—and found in them an eminently plastic substance, easily shaped in her own chosen mould.
The Sovereign had fresh companions—not even the comrades who had shared his perils and his triumphs, but beaten men, captives, rooted up from their own soil. Further, the whole aristocracy in the heart of this North-Eastern Russia, even that which had remained on its hereditary domains, lacked any sufficient consistency. Its descent was not over ancient, and it had no solid foundation. Under the feudal régime, the relations between the Sovereign and the great lords had their counterpart, on a lower scale, in those between the nobles and their churls. Serfdom completed vassalage. Here, as we shall see, amidst a free agricultural population, which only gave the great landed proprietors a sorely-bargained and disputed, and always most precarious, forced service, the counterpart was non-existent. And to use these floating elements at will and solidify them, under another form, into a military organization, the power of Moscow must have been strongly constituted indeed.
IV.—Political and Social Organization: The Origin of Absolutism.
The origin and nature of this power have given rise to much conjecture. The school of history at the teaching of which I have already hinted has chosen to recognise it as an organic phenomenon, arising out of the temperament of the Slav race, domiciled, by the chances of destiny, in a land far distant from its ancient home. It has also taken it to be the only régime that has proved capable of supplying the special needs of this race, politically speaking, and of insuring the living existence of the settlements founded by it. After careers occasionally very brilliant, but always short, all the Slav States founded on other principles have proved themselves insufficiently protected against an abnormal development of the aristocratic element, and weakening of the central power.
But whence came the special inclination of the Slav colony in the north-east to adopt this régime, and its adaptability to it? Monsieur Zabiéline has ascribed the phenomenon to the principle of domestic absolutism developed by the teaching of the Eastern Church. Monsieur Kostomarov holds that it proceeds from the Tartar conquest, and others have attributed it to the influence of the Finnish element. These three explanations are of small value. The Eastern Church wielded quite as great an influence, or greater, over Southern Russia during the Kiev period, and during that very period the application of a personal and absolute power, as realized in Moscow towards the close of the fifteenth century, was unknown. The most ancient information we have as to the Slav peoples—Byzantine chronicles, Procopius' historical works, those of the Emperor Leon, of Dithmar, of Merseburg—shows us popular assemblies wielding supreme power, or sharing it, and the Slavonic tribes settled in Russia form no exception to this rule. As Nestor testifies, they even did without Princes. Later, in the eleventh century, we find the same democratic institutions at Kiev and Novgorod, at Smolensk and Polotsk. From one end of the country to the other the viétchie (from viéstchat, to announce), as the popular gatherings were called, are doing their work with varying privileges: here a full exercise of sovereign power, there a right to choose the ruler, and everywhere a more or less complete share in every authority, guaranteed by regular contracts and formal charters.
Autocracy itself, in its first form, was not synonymous, here, with absolute power. Certainly the Muscovite samodiérjets is the counterpart of the Byzantine autocrator, but the absolutism of the Byzantine Emperors admitted the clergy to a share of power. And for a lengthened period the Muscovite clergy recognised the samodiérjavié merely as a symbol of the national independence in dealing with the foreigner. It reserved the rights of the Church, at all events, if not those of the people, too. The word, nevertheless, favoured a dangerous misunderstanding, and, as a matter of fact, even long before the coming of the Tartars, the rival principle of popular sovereignty, compromised first in the North-Eastern regions, where the Princes of Souzdal and Riazan succeeded in establishing their dynasties on a firm basis of heredity and primogeniture, only maintained itself in exceptional cases. At Pskov and Novgorod it was preserved in all its integrity till the close of the fifteenth century. Elsewhere, from the beginning of the thirteenth, it had been eliminated or visibly weakened.
The phenomenon does not find its explanation in the Mongol hegemony any more than in the Byzantine influence. The former did, indeed, introduce a radical change into the relations between governments and the governed. For the traditional source of supreme power, the popular favour, it substituted the caprice of the new sovereign masters. A journey towards the banks of the Volga and gifts offered to the Khan were better than any election. The pilgrim hied him homewards with an iarlik which made any other investiture superfluous. The Florentine Union and the fall of Constantinople also worked, to some extent, in the same direction. Up to the end of the fourteenth century, the Church recognised but one Tsar in Russia—the Emperor of Constantinople—called 'Emperor of the Russians' and 'Sovereign of the Universe,' even in the prayers of the Muscovite clergy. After that date it became necessary to carry the same homage elsewhere, and the ruler of Moscow rose according to the measure of the Byzantine Sovereign's fall.
Yet all these incidences, we must admit, played but a secondary part; their action decided nothing. As to the influence of the Finnish element on the evolution in question, if the fact that a conquered people has imposed its ways, its ideas, its customs on its conquerors is not altogether undiscoverable in history, we must at least conclude, in every example known to us, that this triumph was accounted for by some superiority of culture. In this case no such hypothesis can be entertained. The Russian colonists of the thirteenth and fourteenth century were certainly barbarians, but those they had to deal with were more barbarous still, and it was not force of numbers which gave them the victory.
The key to the riddle lies, as it seems to me, in the combined action and mutual reaction of two phenomena to which I have previously referred: the absence of any organic development in the heart of Russian society, and the military form imposed on that society by the circumstances attending the constitution or reconstitution of its new settlement in the north-east. Here Russian colonization found itself, for many years, in a hostile country, hemmed in by foes. Thus the Sovereign became the leader of an army. In this quality he naturally acted as a dissolvent on social elements which possessed no sufficient coherence, and, as they crumbled to atoms, his power fed on their weakness.
The origins of most States have witnessed the reproduction of these phenomena. The curious thing, in the case of this eccentric community, is that after long tarrying on the outer borders of European life, it was suddenly initiated into certain of Europe's noblest conquests, and into the refinements of a culture according but ill with the backwardness of its organization, social and political. Everything in it was done all at once, and the normal course of progress was often reversed. In a certain sense, the civilizing current, coming from without, has favoured the development of absolutism in this country, by endowing the personal power with resources and means of action it could never have drawn from the heart of a barbarous society. Ivan IV. was an 'intellectual,' and as such a far more redoubtable despot than Louis XI., who professed scorn for literature, science, and the arts. He only took men's bodies, but Ivan was to take their souls, and shut them up in that iron cage of his, within which all Russia was to live, bent double, for centuries to come.
It is easy to show how this cage was built. When a sufficient tale of 'comrades,' tempted from neighbouring Princes, had been enticed away, and Moscow was overflowing with men fit for service, the lord of the city grew eager to put down the system of free enlistment which had enabled him to fill up his fighting corps. His neighbours, indeed, had begun the work for him. Their own interest had impelled them to impose some restrictions in the matter, but it was a Republican and so-called Liberal Government which had taken the decisive step. Republics are responsible for a good many misdeeds of this nature, and nobody can accuse me of dealing with present events—the fact occurred in the year 1368! At that date the Republic of Novgorod decreed that any citizen quitting her territory forfeited all right to hold any property within it. All Moscow had to do was to follow suit. For some time yet the principle was respected, but even under Ivan III. any 'man who served' who seemed inclined to leave the Prince was cast into prison; and to get out, he had not only to renounce his right, still nominally respected, but to undertake not to use it, and sometimes to furnish security as well.
I dwell on these details because they are indispensable to any comprehension of the interior development of the nation. Ivan IV. was to apply the precedents thus created in the broadest fashion, going so far as to establish a sort of mutual insurance against the infidelity of his sloojilyié.
Yet princes and boïars, even thus enlisted and settled in the ranks, preserved a certain autonomy, political and social, rooted in their illustrious origin and their possession of the ancient domains, or the remains of them—appanages and freehold lands—over which they still held certain sovereign rights and numerous privileges. To this the Muscovite Government applied a twofold remedy—first, by placing at the head of its new military hierarchy, not the descendants of Rurik and Guédymin, natural peers and rivals of the new master, but his own 'comrades'—those who had been his first helpers in the task of 'gathering up the soil of Russia,' even if their ancestors had been no more than humble stable-grooms. The absence of any corporate spirit, any caste feeling, in this aristocracy in embryo made the operation all the easier.
To this the Muscovite policy added another and a yet more efficacious expedient. A system of confiscation, energetically applied, amidst the destruction of the ancient principalities annexed to the Empire, placed a huge area of land at the Government's disposal. This Moscow parcelled out afresh, but, when she bestowed them on her 'servants,' she carefully avoided preserving the peculiar rights attending the possession of these lands by the old proprietors. They were no longer called appanages or freeholds (vottchiny): they were mere pomiéstia—in other words, as their name denotes (miésto, place), allotments, corresponding to the posts held by their occupiers in the 'service,' and intended as remuneration for their work. They were thus life interests, or hereditary only in so far as the pomiéshtchik's heir showed himself fit to succeed him in his functions too. They were free from taxes, like the vottchiny, but burdened with the heaviest impost of all, that of forced service. They bore some analogy to the feudal holdings of the West, but differed from them in that, far from the service being a freely accepted condition and charge on the fief, the fief, in this case, was the consequence, the reward, of an arbitrarily imposed service. To sum it up, there was no aristocratic or corporative position here. There was pay, emolument in kind. And, further, there was a deliberate intention to gradually assimilate the ancient appanages and freehold lands to this new type of property, and the vottchinniki to the pomiéshtchiki of the new régime.
The new territorial holdings, uncertain both by their mode of constitution and their slight chance of permanence, remained within very small proportions. Some did not cover more than 30 diéssiatines (about equal to a French hectare, or 2½ acres, English), and even within these limits their bestowal was often delayed, or purely fictitious. Towards 1570, out of 168 'children of boïars'—the term used to describe the fallen descendants of those high functionaries who had been unable to transmit the titles of the posts they had held to their heirs—out of 168 of these young men, borne on the service' lists at Pootivl and Rylsk, 99 had been given nothing, because there was no post to give. And at the same time, and for the same reason, a certain pomiéshtchiki, very well provided for on paper, had not received 74 diéssiatines out of the 80 conferred on him!
Hence, in matters of household life, lodging, food, clothing, the mass of the sloojilyié lioodi were scarcely distinguishable from the common peasantry. Their condition sometimes appears even lower. The dwellings of a few great men, holding high posts, and well paid accordingly, were the only ones which, though invariably built of wood, presented an imposing appearance, with their many pavilions clustered against a central block, their covered outer staircases, their projecting galleries, their elaborate roofs, and huge outbuildings. In most cases these palaces were replaced by isbas, which, with their wooden floor, daily washed, scraped, and swept, the truss of hay by the entry to wipe the visitors' feet, and a certain display of plate, more often pewter than silver, in the first room, had no lordly quality about them.
The difference between the boïar and the peasant was more especially marked by the number of servants the former thought himself obliged to keep—cooks, bakers, gardeners, tailors, workmen of every kind. Other daily guests he had, higher in degree, but rather less important, whose only function was to follow the master, on foot or horseback, whithersoever he went, and keep him company on his travels, in his business, and his pleasures. I had forgotten the steward, but he was the most indispensable man of all. Even if he only held a few trifling acres, the pomiéshtchik could not do without this alter ego, nor himself cultivate the soil on which he was to live. Had he possessed the desire, he would not have had the time. His time belonged to his Sovereign, who, from infancy to extreme old age, disposed of it at will. Campaigning service, service at the desk—the sloojily is a man of all work. We see him called out to fight. He takes a small bag of millet, a few pounds of salted pork, a little salt and pepper mixed (if his means allow of his indulging in this last much-appreciated condiment, already regarded as a luxury). To these supplies he adds a hatchet, some tinder, and a cooking vessel, and therein consists his whole equipment. On campaign he will dispense with the services of a military commissariat, non-existent here. When he comes back to his property, to find it devastated, perhaps, and pillaged, certainly, by that same steward, he will pick up the orange-skins and scraps of pumpkin thrown from the passing traveller's vehicle—see Herberstein—but he will not even knock at his neighbour's door except on horseback and attended by a serving-man.
Such are his fortunes. And it not unfrequently happens that his desires tend towards quitting them, and losing himself in that other category of 'non-servers' who, not having the same burdens to bear, are often more comfortably circumstanced. The only thing that holds him back is the chain that binds him to his post. Of esprit de corps he has no trace. In fact, the line of demarcation between the two classes is marked by the official registers only. The son of a boïar, borne on them, has brothers who, having escaped enrolment by some chance, are plain peasants, and are glad of it. Another sloojily may have become a tailor in some boïar's house.
Even in the highest places the solidarity of this hierarchy—a legacy of ancient aristocratic affinities, or the product of a new community of functions and positions—is constantly weakened and destroyed by the perpetual despotism and never-ceasing changes which break up every position attained, and carry men of every grade from the foot of the ladder to the top, from the lowest rank to the highest, making a dog-boy, on the shortest notice, the equal of the proudest boïar. Feeling themselves thus swallowed up in the mob of low-born 'servants,' with no link of blood, tradition, nor even interest, between themselves and many of them, the descendants of Rurik and Guédymin soon lost, if not the memory of their own origin and their pride in it, their eagerness, at all events, to defend and establish and illustrate the new dignity they shared with comrades such as these.
Thus, voluntary abdication followed on enforced humiliation, and this shadowy aristocracy, constrained at first, and then submissive, surrendered itself to a victorious absolutism, till a power which knew how to turn it to account and use it, to serve the needs and higher ends of Russia, had thus been consolidated, and even rendered indispensable.
And the same evolution repeats itself through every stratum of this society which is no society. Its progress is even more evident, perhaps, in the destiny of other classes, and notably in that of the peasant class.
The story I must here tell is a sad one. As a child, I saw the closing days of a régime which, in this humble sphere, only died out of Russia a little less than half a century ago, and the Emancipation of 1861 was then looked on as a belated act of justice and political wisdom. But, as a matter of fact, it was a premature and hasty measure, for the state of things it ended had only lasted two centuries and a half. Contrary to what had happened in every other European country, the serfdom of modern Russia was not the painful legacy of a barbarous age, but a new fact, coinciding with the country's entrance on the path of European civilization, and the contradictory consequence, in a certain measure, of that new phase of the national existence.
This is an unquestionable paradox. Towards the close of the sixteenth century, when in every European country, and even close by, in Poland, the personal bond between the agricultural population and the landowners was breaking, or slackening, at all events, under the action of the new social and economic laws which were reforming the old feudal world, Russia contrives to forge, all complete, the very chains which have hitherto been non-existent within her borders!
Up to this period most of the peasants dwelling on the land conquered or recovered by Russian colonies in the north-west had been free—in theory, at all events—and the social condition of the class had even undergone some improvement. These peasants, once called smerdi—a name indicating scorn, if not infamy—(smerdit, to smell nasty), were now known by another generic title, which, while testifying to the lack of corporative differentiation always to be a peculiarity of the social elements of their country, clearly indicated a rise in the social scale. Whether town or country dwellers, tilling the soil or following other avocations, they were all simply called Khrestianié (Christians).
They made up the contingent of agricultural or industrial labourers. As agriculturists, whether working their own land or land belonging to another, their time and their labour were their own. In the first case, they had the free disposal of their property, so long as they paid the taxes imposed by the State or by their own commune. In the second, whether as tenant farmers or metayers, they paid for the use of the ground according to the very varying provisions of their agreements with the owners. These depended on local custom, on the value of the land, and especially on the nature of its judicial tenure.
The land was said to be 'white'—free from State taxation—or 'black'—that is, taxed. The former category belonged to the vottchiny and the pomiéstia, the latter either to the Court or to the peasants themselves. Church lands might belong to either category, according to the concessions conferred on the clergy or the acquisitions made by them.
Leases on the metayage system for the period of crop rotation—three years—or even longer, were common, especially in the north and centre of the country, and those who held them were generally better off than their neighbours.
Other agreements imposed obligations on the farmer, resembling those of the English sveman, such as to cut wood and bring it to the manor-house, and pay certain fines, much like the French formariage, when his daughters married.
It was customary also, at Christmas and Easter, and on some other solemn feast days, for the tenant to make his landlord certain presents. These special dues bore the name of barchtchina (the lord's work), or izdiélié (work), or boïarskoié diélo (the lord's work). They foreshadow the forced service, soon, alas! to be the law of serfdom. But at this period their definite and common reason is to be found in the supplies of money, implements, and seeds frequently received by the farmer from his landlord, and the interest on which he thus returned.
The relative importance of these dues varies greatly, and it is rather difficult to fix their value. In the central provinces, towards the middle of the sixteenth century, the rent of an obja or a vyt—five to six diéssiatines—reached two or three roubles. But very often the charge was paid in labour, the tenant of an obja, for instance, being bound to till a diéssiatine, or one and a half, for the landlord's benefit. And, further, we should have to settle the value of the rouble at that period. It has been reckoned, according to the price of corn, at nearly 100 roubles of our coinage, but this seems a doubtful calculation.
On the 'black' lands belonging to the State these taxes were replaced by imposts and forced service, which occasionally reached a similar value, but were, generally speaking, less heavy. On lands, 'black' or 'white,' belonging to the Church, the expenses connected with working the soil were also much lighter, as a rule.
The tenant, wherever he was, could give up his tenancy when he had settled accounts with his landlord, and the landlord had power to put in a new tenant as soon as the old one's lease had expired. The extreme mobility of the popular existence—a universal feature, hereditary, and accentuated at this period—made these migrations matters of frequent occurrence. From the fifteenth century, however, economic necessities had brought about a certain modification of this freedom on both sides. First of all arose a custom according to which no landlord exercised his rights in harvest-time, a moment at which no peasant could dream of using his. This led Ivan III. to fix a period of fourteen days, just after St. George's Day (November 24), for the relinquishment of tenancies and the winding up of accounts with landlords; and in his time the outgoing tenant further paid for his right of habitation (pojiloié) a sum varying, according to the value of the land occupied, between fifty-six kopecks and one rouble six kopecks.
Such was the law. In practice, as may be imagined, many evasions were possible. Labour being scarce and universally sought after, proprietors enticed farmers from one property to another, just like the Sovereigns, on the look-out for 'servants.' Often there were forcible abductions. These were called svoz. Often, too, on divers pretexts, outgoing tenants were called on to pay more than they owed, and thus detained. Yet, liberty, even so fettered and curtailed, was liberty still. What with the dues to his landlord and his commune, the extra charges for judicial proceedings, and the constantly increasing taxes laid upon him, the peasant had a heavy burden. Monsieur Rojkov, in his book on 'Russian Agriculture in the Sixteenth Century' (1899, p. 244), has calculated that the peasant in the northern provinces gave the landlord back one-half of the cereal produce of his holding, and that the other half hardly fed himself and his family for six months. Cattle-raising and some small industries enabled him to make two ends meet, but barely that. Very poor he was, but, like the old Anglo-Saxon ceorl, or the German Markgenosse, he continued to some degree the equal, from the judicial and administrative point of view, of the boïar, the merchant, and the Churchman. The courts of justice were open to him as to others, and such was the equality in this respect, that in a dispute between men of different ranks, amenable, by virtue of their condition, to different jurisdictions, the peasant, like any other subject of the Empire, had a right to choose his judges.
Within his own commune, too, whether rural or urban, he enjoyed a certain administrative autonomy which has taxed the sagacity of quite recent historians, and the nature of which I shall have to indicate more precisely when I reach a more detailed study of the organization of the country.
Finally, as I have just reminded my readers, these peasants were not all husbandmen. The documents of the period frequently divide them into two classes: labourers (pakhatnyié) and villagers (dereviénskiié). What are these villagers who do not dig? In this category we find men registered as millers, tailors, shoemakers. Here again is manifested, once again, that lack of the corporative spirit, that confusion of social atoms, which, save in the Church—and even there we shall soon have to go back to the subject—keeps the national organization in the outline stage. If many country peasants do not till the soil, the towns hold many who are husbandmen. In country places the peasants of this first-named category often, though the fact is disputed (see Monsieur Diakhonov's 'View of the History of the Rural Populations in Russia,' 1889, p. 209, and Serguiéiévitch's 'Judicial Antiquities,' 1903, iii., 133, etc.), belonged to the mysterious class of the bobyli, landless peasants, occasionally tillers, but not on their own account, and in that case agricultural labourers, but trade labourers often, and, oftenest of all, vagabonds pure and simple, lost in the mass of outlaws of every kind—Cossacks, wandering jugglers, beggars, and thieves. Those who would differentiate them from the tiaglyié—qualified peasants—are mistaken. Except in the case of lands enjoying a temporary or perpetual, but always an exceptional, freedom by virtue of special charters, the tiaglo (from tianout, to draw, to drag a load) is the universal rule of the period. Everybody pays in some fashion, everywhere, and on everything, and the bobyli, who pay taxes or imposts on the houses they inhabit or the trades they follow, are no exception. They owe nothing for the soil they till, because they till for others, and in this lies the sole difference between them and the ordinary husbandman.
Whether imposed on them by some misfortune or voluntarily accepted, nothing binds them to this comparatively humiliating condition in life. They can always leave it as soon as they find means to do so, and share the common rights once more. In the sixteenth century the proportion of bobyli in the country parts was from 4·2 to 41·6 per cent., the lowest percentage occurring on the lands held by monastic establishments. In the following century, and under the influence of the tumult into which the disputes over the inheritance of the Terrible cast the country, these figures will be quite upset.
In a more and more floating population the monasteries alone, or almost alone, will preserve a regular supply of labour, settling most of these bobyli, together with another class of unqualified peasants, the 'children of the monasteries' (monastyrskiïé diétiénychy), in their own villages and hamlets. These last were peasants of an inferior class, but free in their own persons, and not serfs at all. Were there no serfs, then, in this country, which, till the middle of the nineteenth century, was the last stronghold of European serfdom? Yes, indeed. But in the sixteenth century they formed an almost imperceptible element in the mass of the population.
Even at a later period, the conversion of war captives into slaves was considered a natural law, and there were other causes of slavery besides, such as marriage with a slave, slave birth, bankruptcy, certain domestic functions, and even the deliberate laying down of his own liberty by any man. Down to the fifteenth century the man who performed the duties of a tivoune (turnkey) was necessarily a slave, and until the seventeenth, an insolvent debtor was made over to his creditor, and remained his slave until the debt was paid.
To these constituting causes of serfdom the sixteenth century added a new custom—the kabala, or, after an Arab word, the contract made by a man who borrows a sum of money and undertakes to pay the interest with his labour. This transaction did not in itself involve loss of liberty, and in Germany and Southern Italy similar contracts did not produce this consequence. The kabalnyï could free himself by paying his debt. In Germany and Italy the man thus conditionally permitted to recover the power of his own person generally made use of the possibility. In Russia, as a rule, the fulfilment of the conditions was impossible, and the whole history of serfdom, as finally established in the country, rests on this fact.
Ivan IV.'s Code noted four classes of slaves: full slaves (polnyié)—that is to say, those whose slavery, like that of their offspring, was unconditional—senior slaves, whose slavery, no doubt, was limited, according to a fashion unknown to us; slaves called kabalynié; and slaves known as dokladnyié, enslaved by virtue of a doklad, another form of free contract. But the legislator, while thus noting a state of things created by the action of the past, sought to reduce the proportions of this legacy from barbarous times, to restrict the causes constituting a state of slavery, and to encircle their application with formalities which in many cases became prohibitive. Russia, now brought into contact with the Western world, showed her inclination to follow in the path of freedom, as well as on other roads to civilization; and besides, though lack of documentary evidence prevents us from offering any exact figures on the subject, the question, according to the agreement of many authorities, affected only a very small proportion of the labouring population.
Yet this period it was which led up to the general serfdom of the whole people. How? By what strange reversal of the natural development of corresponding relations?
Up to a comparatively recent date, the Russian Government of the close of the sixteenth century has borne the heaviest and most terrible responsibility in this matter. Alone, according to the very general belief, on its own initiative, by its own action, it worked this ruinous and far-reaching change in the judicial and social position of the classes affected by it. At the present day this view is generally cast aside. In Russia, as elsewhere, serfdom has been the outcome of time, and of a particular stage in the political and economic history of the country, and there is no necessity for seeking an explanation of the phenomenon in the misty conceptions of the Slavophile doctrine.
According to Kaveline (see his 'Works,' vol. i., p. 630), this phenomenon was the natural, necessary, logical result of the general organization of the country, itself based on the principle of domestic authority, and, as such, was rather beneficial than otherwise in its nature. This power of one man over another, used cruelly sometimes, because the habits and customs of the time were rough, but not really abused on the whole, was limited, in his view, to a sort of guardianship, founded, not on the strength of the guardian who had thus found means to impose his will, but on the feebleness of the ward, whose consciousness of weakness led him to accept an indispensable authority, guidance, and protection.
Granting this hypothesis, we should still have to account for the sudden discovery of a condition of social incapacity which had in no wise been previously revealed, and the coincidence of this new state of things with a period of growth which should rather have prevented or diminished it. The truth, as it appears from historical data, would seem to be very different. In the records of the populations in question during the sixteenth century, two facts rule. One is the rapid disappearance of the peasant proprietor, the other the equally rapid impoverishment of the peasant in general. And behold the results On one side a mass of men, agricultural labourers and others, who, finding they cannot support themselves in any other way, agree to sell their liberty, so that they may not die of hunger; on the other a mass of tenants, who, being unable to pay their landlords' dues, lose the essential right on which their liberty depends—that of leaving their tenancy at the end of their term. The first-named, having lost the scrap of land on which they lived, are forced either to beg or to give service; the others, who have received a subvention, in some form, from their landlords, find its repayment an impossibility. In the most ordinary circumstances a peasant entering into possession of his farm received an advance of three roubles. In ten years he had thirty roubles to pay, besides either fifty-six kopecks or one rouble fifty-six kopecks for the pojiloié—say, about 300 roubles in all, in our money.
In most cases the finding of such a sum was a pure impossibility. Therefore there was difficulty at the very start: the conversion of the debt that kept rolling up, the serebro, as it was called (serebro, money), into a sort of obligation which bound the debtor to the soil; the habitual assimilation of the serebrianiki to the serfs in common law, Kholopy dokladnyié, or kabalnyié. Here we have the history of the insolvent farmers of the ager publicus at Rome, as set forth by Fustel de Coulanges.
In fact, from the second half of the sixteenth century, liberty, while it was the theoretical right of most peasants, had practically become the privilege of a constantly decreasing number of proprietors and solvent tenants.
But what had caused this general impoverishment of the agricultural class? Easily guessed! A state of war is a most expensive condition. The Muscovite Government, when it adopted the fighting organization to which I have already referred, and perpetually increased its army, was forced to increase its expenditure and pay the 'service men,' whose numbers grew from day to day. Then, when it placed its establishment in some degree on a European footing, it had to pay for the necessary plant, for the arms imported from foreign parts, and the employés recruited in every European country. And wherewithal? The only funds it could command, the only real wealth of the country, lay in the soil. The land, then, had to bear all these new charges. To find pomiéstia for the sloojilyié the peasants were dispossessed, and to pay the foreign handicraftsmen the Government taxed the pomiéchtchiki, who, themselves hard pressed, ground down their tenants.
The land answered for everything, paid for everything, became a sort of State coin, convertible into labour, military and civil service, obligations of every kind. It made no fight. It had never, even in the hands of the vottchinniki, been subjected to any complete, tangible appropriation. The conception of a very early date made it a thing belonging essentially to the State, which could only be private property within certain limits, and subject to higher rights. The proprietors, on their side, were all in the master hand, and, lacking, as I have already shown, any cohesion or corporate organization, were incapable of making any serious resistance. Their weakness and docility only hastened the development of the system under which they suffered. The most recalcitrant could only hit on one expedient—flight. This has always been a feature in the Russian character. The Russian who finds himself in an unendurable position will always slip out rather than resist. We shall have to follow the historical manifestation of this phenomenon. The peasants, but in far greater numbers, acted on the example thus set them. In their case flight was easier. The vottchinniki and pomiéchtchiki who sought fresh employment in the neighbouring country of Poland were more closely watched and less easily satisfied, and they ran serious risks and chances. But all the peasant had to do was to slip across the south-west frontier, ill-guarded and constantly pushed further afield, and there, in endless spaces, find hospitality on a virgin and untaxed soil.
Therefore, from the earliest years of the sixteenth century, the exodus of the agriculrural population and the abandonment of the soil, left to lie untilled, became the great contemporary fact, a national peril. Then the State, whose pocket was threatened, resolved to interfere. It began with that which seemed most pressing. It would seem—though the assertion is debatable—that in the middle of this century a series of administrative measures and judicial decisions, if not of legislative arrangements, established a fixed system of rating, and thence it resulted that the ratepayers on the 'black' lands belonging to the Court were unable to leave them. For though the tenant was still free to give up his tenancy, he had to pay the same tiaglo, or a higher one, elsewhere. Then came the turn of the 'white' lands held by the 'service men.'
The peasants' flight ruined the pomiéchtchik, and a ruined pomiéchtchik brought poverty on the State. Wherefore the State, without having recourse, as yet, to any general measure, laboured to insure the continuity and yield of its 'service' by means of individual and local arrangements, which, in exceptional cases, authorized certain owners to keep the peasants settled on their land, or force the fugitives back to it.
The policy of Moscow always leaned to this marking out, in the first instance, of a regulation ultimately to become general and definite. Towards the middle of the century two charters, granted to the brothers Stroganov, marked a decisive step forward on this road. They stipulated that the concessionnaires should seize and send back such peasants as might seek refuge, in their flight, on the huge domains they proposed to colonize in that far-away land of uncultivated steppes to which the current which was sapping the economic prosperity and military organization of the country had turned its course.
It has been further supposed that a general law, passed in the middle of the sixteenth century, suppressed the right of free exodus in the case of a certain class of peasants, the starojiltsy, or husbandmen settled for many years on the land they worked. But Monsieur Serguiéiévitch, disagreeing with Monsieur Diakonov and several other historians ('Antiq. Jur.,' iii., p. 460, etc.), has finally refuted this hypothesis. The questions of labour and rating were the only ones which played a decisive part in the matter, and prepared the birth of the monster called Kriépostnoïé pravo, the law of serfdom. One slavery involved another, and the 'service man,' shut up in his iron cage, forced it on the peasant, soon to be followed by the merchant and even the Churchman. We have seen that there was no distinction, in this country, between the urban and the rural populations. Here, again, is an abyss which parts the Russia of the sixteenth century from the rest of Europe.
In the West, the progress of trade and industry led to the organization of the townsfolk into corporations, which armed themselves to withstand feudalism. In the bosom of these associations, in the mutual relations of their members, was elaborated that spirit of liberty from which the institutions of communal autonomy sprang, and that material and intellectual activity which evolved the higher forms of economic existence—the creation of capital, the establishment of credit, and the most elevated forms of cultured life, science, art, and society.
Russia has known nothing of this kind, and the absence of these centres of social life and resistance has contributed, more than any other reason, perhaps, to the maintenance and confirmation of the despotic organization imposed upon the country. Trade was restricted, manufactures hardly existed, and consequently the Russian town was not the natural outcome of their development. For long, as their name shows us—gorody means places that are ogorojennyié, fortified—the urban settlements performed a very different function. As a matter of fact, industrial life, as we have seen in the case of Moscow, escaped beyond their enclosures into the possady and slobody, in which most of the artisans, sharing their destinies and habits with the equal or larger number of husbandmen who likewise dwelt there, made their homes. It was only in the sixteenth century that the State was moved to draw a line, not even between the two classes of inhabitants, but between the places in which they lived. And this distinction was of a purely fiscal nature, inasmuch as the townsmen had to pay more than the rustics, the reform, of course, not going so far as to create any organic tie between the taxpayers. The only anxiety of the Government was to obtain the highest possible yield from the taxable body, and insure a fixed taxation. And its ideas of political economy being misty and generally false, it succeeded in paralyzing this source of revenue, instead of increasing it, by multiplying the taxes and the places where they were paid, setting a Custom-house officer at every cross-road and a collector at every street corner, and monopolizing for its own benefit every branch of industry and commerce, from the sale of rye, oats, and every cereal, to the making of beer, kvass, and every drink.
No resistance here, as in other countries—no trace of any struggle against this creeping system of monopoly. For the cases of Pskov and Novgorod are purely political. Yet elements of resistance are not lacking. From the very earliest times commerce had been honoured in the country, and held to be a noble occupation. The enterprises of the Varegians and of the ancient Slav Princes had been both military and commercial in their character, and the heroes of the national legends, Sadko, Soloviéï Boudomirovitch, Tchourila Plenkovitch, Vaska Bouslaiév, all personified this twofold type of adventurous activity and courage. What was lacking was esprit de corps. The retail trader (koupiéts) and the wholesale merchant (gost) were both of them in trade, indeed, but they were also capable of turning to other avocations, and very frequently did so turn. On the other hand, the professional speciality to which they owed their designations was by no means confined to their persons. Everybody was in trade: peasants, monks, soldiers, high functionaries, all dabbled in it as they chose, till the time came when the Empire, still spurred by the same anxiety, separated the functions, so as to be better able to apportion and settle the charges they were to bear. That was to be the work of the seventeenth century. But even then there was only to be one regiment more in the great army, more prisoners in the great cage, and no corporation as yet. That was to be set up, by virtue of ukases, in Peter the Great's time, and Catherine the Second's—the march of history never evolved it.
Thus these elements, as separate as all their fellows, and bereft—after the ruin of Pskov and Novgorod, consequent on their absorption into the great Empire—of the only centres in which they could have attained to efficacious association, shared in the general servitude, and were utterly incapable of playing the part in the rise and progress of civilization so brilliantly borne by the town communities of the West.
The Church remained. I shall now show how she, too, failed, partly on account of the same causes, to follow the path of her Western rivals in this matter.
By the prestige attaching to her functions in this land of a robust faith, by her position as the depositary of all knowledge and the sole imparter of instruction, and even by her material resources, the Church was a mighty power. Comprising, from early in the sixteenth century, the ten eparchies of Moscow, Novgorod, Rostov, Vologda, Souzdal, Riazan, Smolensk, Kolomna, Saraïsk, and Perm, she exercised, within their borders, a far-reaching authority, at once spiritual and civil, alike over her clerical servants and her lay administrators, episcopal boïars and diaks, lieutenants and bailies. To exercise justice meant, in those days, to levy taxes on those amenable to it, and this order of things, copied from the civil organization of the country, and borrowing therefrom a system of imposition based on private rights, while it added to the strength of the institution which took advantage of it, was not calculated to increase its moral authority. It was destined, indeed, to feel the reform which tended, in the course of the sixteenth century, to the erection of several administrative centres into autonomous communes. On the model of what then happened in the matter of civil administration, representative persons, starosts, duly elected and sworn in, were introduce in every jurisdiction, and the civil and spiritual jurisdictions were separated. But this arrangement was ephemeral. The State, which had outlined it by a mere accident, under the influence of the liberal tendencies reaching it from the West, very soon returned, as we shall see, to its original despotism, and the Church followed this second current as she had followed the first.
It was her destiny to be identified, all through the course of time, with that other power, the rival of her own, till an almost complete confusion of organs, functions, and prerogatives was reached.
Yet means whereby the Church might have maintained and safeguarded her independence were not lacking. Even to the administration of her property her prerogatives were equal to the Sovereign's. The Church lands, like the Sovereign's, were, from the judicial and administrative point of view, save in the case of certain criminal affairs—theft, murder, brigandage—quite independent of the local authorities. And these lands were vast. The wealth of the clergy—secular and regular, but regular especially—most unequally divided, but constantly increasing, exceeded that of all the other classes. The properties owned by the Metropolite at the close of the sixteenth century brought in as much as 3,000 roubles a year, and the archbishopric of Novgorod, with 10,000 or 12,000 roubles a year, was richer still. The other bishoprics were more or less well dowered, but all of them richly. The parochial clergy, with their modest allotments, sometimes not exceeding three diéssiatines, and seldom attaining, thirty or their subventions (rougi) varying from nineteen roubles to twelve kopecks, could not hope much from the liberality of the faithful, generally bestowed on the monastic establishments, and were less well provided.
Four times a year at least the priest, bearing cross and holy water, passed round his parish with outstretched hand, but even on the results of this quarterly begging expedition the Bishops took their tithes.
The greater part of the public wealth was in the hands of the 'black' clergy. Not only was their landed property much larger, but their revenues were increased by the tribute of the national piety, which frequently produced enormous sums. From Ivan IV. alone the monastery of the Troïtsa must have received, in less than thirty years, the sum of 25,000 roubles, averaging, according to some calculations, about a million roubles of our money. The monastery of St. Cyril at Biélooziéro, less highly favoured, received 18,493 roubles in the same space of time, without reckoning gifts in kind—a hundred pounds of honey, for instance, in 1570, ten horses the next year, and from time to time ikons and sacred objects of great value, one single gift of sacerdotal vestments being reckoned at 6,000 roubles.
On these huge lands of theirs, generally free from all imposts, on which they levied their own taxes, to which they attracted and on which they kept an abundant supply of labour, the monks added to the harvests of a soil that was better farmed than any other in the country, and to the perpetual aggrandizement of their properties resulting from increased colonization, a variety of other industries. They gathered up all the money in the country and turned it over in advantageous investments; they were big capitalists, almost the only ones in Russia—very big merchants, and far the largest of all the landed proprietors. The domains of the monastery of the Troïtsa, which comprised all the best land in the twenty-five districts, bore, at the close of this century, 106,600 peasants, and its revenue was calculated at 100,000 roubles, about 2,400,000 roubles of our money. Monsieur Ikonnikov ('Essay on the Byzantine Influence on the History of Russia,' 1869, Part I.) reckons the revenues of the monastic communities in South Russia at 824,593 roubles, drawn from 3,858,396 diéssiatines of land, tilled by 660,185 peasants; to these figures should be added the sums produced by the lands cultivated by the monasteries themselves.
These valuations, we may be sure, are only approximate. But the whole of the documents at our disposal give us an impression of considerable wealth, quite out of proportion with the general resources of the country.
It would be absolutely unjust to assert, as it was asserted even at that period, that the clergy, secular or regular, only used their material wealth for their own advantage. For long years here, as elsewhere, the moral consciousness of the people had no refuge save in the bosom of the Church, and no expression save in her teaching. Up to the middle of the sixteenth century the spiritual power of its chiefs, and notably of its Metropolitan, acted as a precious counterpoise to the omnipotence of the State. Among the rights claimed by the upper clergy, that of intervening in favour of the victims of arbitrary power and violence is written in letters of gold in the country's history.
And much more. The Church and her secular clergy were active co-operators, and, to a certain point, even the chief workers, in the great labour of national unification pursued at Moscow. This calls for explanation. Amongst the first gatherers of the soil of Russia' the idea of unity only appears in the half-conscious stage. The will of Simon the Superb, son of Kalita (1341–1353) does, indeed, enjoin on his son to march in the pafh he has traced out for him, 'so that the memory of our fathers and our own may not die out, and that the torch may not be extinguished.' Yet an anxiety very different from any ambitious dream of a great fatherland seems to have inspired these obscure Princes in their centuries of effort. When they bought village after village, added land to land, heaped their coffers with gold, silver, precious stones, and pearls; when they cheated their Tartar master of his tribute; when they misused and stripped their brother Kings, if any of them ever went so far as to reveal his inner thought, and hint at the reason of this unflagging toil, he was simply heard to speak of the time when 'God shall deliver us from the Horde.' What they sought was liberty first and foremost, power to live without bending their backs under the conqueror's foot, and licking up the drops of fermented milk dropped on his horse's mane from the goblet they themselves had handed to the master. For they were still as low as that. And from that state of humiliation they longed to be delivered. Which done, they will amass more riches, commit more violence and more acts of spoliation, simply, as it would seem, for the sake of gaining a few more acres or filling a few more coffers to the brim.
Yet slowly the idea of a national unity works its way into the obstinate brains of these hungry spoilers. But it had sprung into being, and grown already, close at their very side. Long before any Prince of Moscow thought of making himself the political representative of a united Russia, the Metropolitan of Moscow had become its religious representative. The force of circumstance had brought this about. Eastern Slavdom could only conceive an eparchy dependent on the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Here, then, it found a first centre of unity, a common hearth. This centre, like all the rest, was nomadic for a considerable time. But a contemporary of Kalita's (1325–1341), the Metropolitan Peter, took upon him, even at that period, the title of 'Metropolitan of All the Russias,' and then among all the Princes, each claiming the primacy for Moscow, Riazan, Souzdal, Tver, arose a competition for the presence of the Primate in his capital, and, with it, a visible sign of his own pre-eminence. Michael Iaroslavitch of Tver gained the first advantage by forthwith dubbing himself of 'of All the Russias' too. But Kalita soon retaliated triumphantly, and the Muscovite hegemony was founded a century and a half before the days of Ivan IV.
A hundred and fifty years later, religious unity was to disappear, owing to the constitution, close beside it, of a new religious focus—that of the Polish-Lithuanian Empire. The Florentine union completed the severance of the two centres. But by that time political unity, as maintained and fortified at Moscow, had acquired a fair chance of integrity and duration.
The monasteries, on their side, contributed their share to that simultaneous work of colonization, of which all modern Russia is the issue. The forward progress of the monastic establishments, generally speaking, took a direction contrary to that pursued by the ordinary colonists, who were impelled by exclusively practical motives. While these last turned towards the fertile southern lands, the monks, many of them ascetics, inspired by a higher ideal, preferred the north-eastern countries, deserts and pathless forests, which but for them would long have checked the enterprise of their lay rivals. There they came into touch with the Finnish inhabitants, still sunk in idolatry; and labouring on their twofold task, breaking up the barren steppes and instructing pagan souls, they pushed onwards, ever onwards. Such a man was Phéodonite, a contemporary of Ivan the Terrible. On the banks of the Piétchenga, aided. by his comrade Triphonius, he taught agriculture and the truths of the Faith, at once, to bands of Lapps, who, hostile at first, threatening and ill-treating the pious hermits, ended by hearkening to their voice.
To the east, on the Tartar frontier, the religious apostolate marched abreast of the military conquest. Monastic establishments were pushed across the Soura as early as in the fourteenth century, long before the fall of Kazan, and from that time they followed, aided, and sometimes protected, the progress of the expansion of the nation. These monasteries, which everywhere commanded great resources, and were often strongly fortified, served as points of support for the campaigning armies. That of St. Cyril, with its ramparts garnished with artillery and its eight-and-thirty great towers, was more important, strategically speaking, than Novgorod.
And even if the affluence of the faithful towards favourite places of pilgrimage resulted in some unjustifiable trafficking at the fairs held on the various saints' days, if the legality of the money advances made by the monks to private individuals at interest generally reckoned at between 10 and 100 per cent. gave rise to painful controversies, a tradition which subsisted even down to the eighteenth century likewise held the wealth accumulated in these monasteries to be a sort of reserve fund, on which the country was entitled to draw in days of trouble. These treasures, like those laid up by the Egyptian priests, were not so jealously guarded as to prevent their forming part, in certain circumstances, of the common patrimony. Custom further demanded that no monastery should ever refuse food or temporary hospitality to any person. Even Princes and boïars took advantage of this rule, halted as they passed by these houses of God, and, having refreshed themselves, departed, laden with provisions for their journey. As to the poor, they looked on these establishments as being, in a sense, their own property. And the monasteries justified the pretension. On one single day, in a year of famine, 7,000 starving creatures were given bread at the monastery of Volokolamsk, and for months from 400 to 500 received their daily food. That was under Vassili Ivanovitch, father of the Terrible, and in the course of that year the prior Joseph sold the cattle and even the wearing apparel of his community, and the monks did without kvass, and reduced their own food to the barest necessaries. The establishment of permanent refuges and hospitals within the monasteries dates from this period.
What was wanting to these priests, whose lives were so often heroic, who went from door to door begging the sustenance of thousands of unhappy beings, braved the elements in wild northern countries, or—and that was worse—faced, on the steps of the throne, the rage of Princes? What did they lack to raise them up yet more, to make their churches and their hermitages, like those of Western lands, centres of higher culture or of elementary teaching, to enable them to be, not only the religious teachers, but the educators and civilizers of their people?
History has long since answered this question. They were uneducated.
Up to the Mongol invasion, out of twenty-three Metropolitans holding Russian sees, seventeen were Greeks, and long after that the Greek or Bulgarian element predominated in the composition of the two clergies. Even after Constantinople had ceased to appoint them—that is to say, after the Florentine Union—the Metropolitans were still confirmed in their titles there, and the constant advent of Eastern monks, who came to collect alms in Russia, and the journeys, just as frequent, of Russian pilgrims to the shrines of Mount Athos and other neighbouring sanctuaries, kept up a constant stream of intercourse between the two Churches. Thus the religious life of the country was in perpetual touch with its original source. Now history has taught us what that spring, from which the Europe of the West herself had drunk in former times, had now become. I shall presently have to show what the Russia of the sixteenth century was able to draw from it, what elements of moral and intellectual culture it could supply. I will confine myself, at present, to one fact.
Between 1420 and 1500, the country had seen the rise of 150 new monastic establishments, between 1500 and 1588, of 65 more. Although the English traveller Fletcher exaggerated when he described sixteenth-century Russia as 'a land of monasteries,' it is certain that foundations of that nature did then increase to a relatively considerable extent. To this the extreme liberty in connection with such establishments largely conduced. Any hermit who found means to build a little wooden church or oratory could, if it so pleased him, become a prior, or head of a community. He applied to the Sovereign, to the boïars, or simply to wealthy persons, for a gift of land, and the piety of the faithful, the value generally attributed to monkish intercession, did the rest.
But all these communities accepted the rule of St. Basil, as the Western communities for many years accepted that of St. Benedict; and this feature, perpetuated and continued even to our own day, is surely a proof that the religious life, thus hardened in a single mould, was anything but intense!
Life means movement, and, besides, the motives ruling these communities had no connection, in many cases, with any longing for pious edification or for an ideal culture of the soul. Having exposed the face of the phenomenon, I must now turn to the reverse side. The facts to which I must refer are of universal notoriety, and have stirred a disapproval and caused a reaction even in the very bosom of the Church, the nature and origin of which I must describe, but which, in its results, has been powerless and wellnigh barren.
The ascetic idealists of this period, such as Maximus the Greek, Vassiane Kossoï, or Nil Sorski, closed their lives in a solitude other than that which they had chosen. All of them, like the heroic Phéodonite himself, to whose exploits I have already referred, and who expiated in a prison the crime of having set his contemporaries an example too sublime for them to follow, were attainted, anathematized, and driven beyond the pale of religion. Though the great majority of their fellow-monks wore the same garb, they were very far from reaching the same heights. Though not content with eating the fruits of their pious trade in idleness, if not in debauchery; though, as I have already shown, willing to give the poor their share, their horizon, none the less, was circumscribed within the limits of a narrow-minded devotion, confined to most material practices. Many archimandrites and priors followed still less worthy leanings, using the monastic possessions for purposes of fruitful speculation, and adapting the rule of their order to habits of sybaritic idleness. Life in common was quite an exception to the general rule. The common table only fed a few brothers with the remnants of the sumptuous repasts shared by the higher authorities, who swallowed up the common wealth, with their numerous guests—relations, friends, and wealthy gentlemen who elected to inhabit these luxurious solitudes. They led a gay life there, and drank deep. From the sixteenth century to the seventeenth, as Monsieur Prijov shows us in his 'History of Taverns' (1868, p. 53), the monasteries were the chief manufacturers and depositaries of beverages of every kind. The company frequenting them was numerous and gay. Ladies were frequent visitors in the monks' cells. Occasionally other visitors, too, were seen—little boys. In certain conventual establishments monks and nuns lived cheek by jowl.
The reforming current of the sixteenth century was destined to reach these communities, infected, like the Western communities of the same period, by the general corruption of morals. But here, where it did not find elements strong enough to support it and insure its victory, the reforming effort missed its aim, and the authority of the Church was irremediably damaged.
At the same time, and as the result of yet another cause, her social power was reduced and partly forfeited. Up to the period of the Tartar invasion, the subdivision of the country into petty principalities, and the maintenance of the Church under the ultimate authority of Constantinople, had guaranteed an independent position to her chiefs. But at this moment they thought it wise to place themselves under the protection of another power, and the Metropolitan Cyril established his seat at the very Court of the Khans. This attitude was rewarded by a charter graciously bestowed by Mengou-Timour, and numerous iarliks, freely distributed by his successors. But the obtaining of such favours involved a complete abdication of the old independence, and by the time Moscow took over the inheritance of the Asiatic despots the habit was formed. Ukases, following on the iarliks, claimed the same obedience.
Further, the Church, having co-operated, as I have shown, in the constitution of the national unity, did not hesitate to join in the work of destroying the appanages. The division of the country, as a fact, interfered with the exercise of her power. But the political enterprise thus pursued in common inevitably resulted in a confusion of the two allied elements, and then to the subjection of the weaker to the stronger. The omnipotence acquired by Moscow perpetuated this result, and the rupture with Constantinople deprived the gradually subjugated Church of that national character and external support which made the fortune of Catholicism, and continued its best defence against the enterprises of civil despotism. When, after the close of the sixteenth century, the collation of ecclesiastical dignitaries and of church benefices in Russia became matters entirely at the Sovereign's discretion, this state of things was not the outcome of any kind of concordat. It was the natural evolution of the country's institutions, which had wedded, and inseparably mingled, the two orders of interest and power.
Even in the fifteenth century the Sovereign, as the chief protector of orthodoxy, summoned the Conciles, and in these assemblies affairs of State were discussed, as well as questions touching faith or religious rites. On the other hand, the high ecclesiastical dignitaries were frequently called to sit on the Sovereign's Lay Council, the Douma, and shared all its deliberations. Between such a position and that of being enrolled with everybody else in the great army of the sloojilyié, under the common law of 'service,' there was but a step. Even the regular clergy did not escape it. While the archimandrites and priors of certain monasteries had their seats both at the lay and the religious council boards, the Russian monks, after the example of their Western brethren, were moved, at a very early date, to appeal to their Sovereign against the episcopal authority, just as the others appealed to the Pope; and the Sovereign lent a willing ear, until the time arrived when he felt himself strong enough to simplify all these relations by centralizing their jurisdiction in his own civil government.
Both orders of the clergy might certainly, by virtue of their ministry alone, have lifted themselves out of the downfall entailed on them by their common fate. But to that end, the intellectual dignity and moral value of their leaders, at all events, should have been on a par with the prestige of their sacred functions, and the light and heat shed by the flame of their august vocation should have kindled and burned as brightly in the centres of this autocephalous Church as in those of the West, where, even in Rome's worst disorders, such men as Leo X. and Pius V. shed a brilliance that fell on every side. Alack! our Cyrils and Ionas failed to discover any divine spark under the ashes of Byzantium!
Under Ivan III. the upper secular clergy still held out. A quarrel on some liturgical point set the Grand Duke and the Metropolitan by the ears. The latter abandoned his diocesan seat, left his churches unconsecrated, and thus forced the Sovereign to 'beat his forehead' in repentance. But when, under the successors of this Sovereign, himself not sufficiently strongly entrenched, as yet, in his omnipotence, it took more than a consciousness of outraged dignity to withstand a victorious despotism,—when St. Philip, the story of whose martyrdom I shall have to tell, sealed his lonely profession of independence and faith in disowned traditions with his blood, his voice found no echo, his example no followers. The Church, like all the rest of the nation, passed into the silence and the darkness, and there was another wheel in the great machine that ground up the intelligence and the wills of men.