Ivan the Terrible/Part 1/Chapter 3
I.—CAUSES OF ITS WEAKNESS. II.—INTELLECTUAL CURRENTS. III.—LITERATURE. VI.—ART. V.—THE RENOVATING MOVEMENT.
I.—The Causes of its Weakness.
The Mongols who overwhelmed Russia in the thirteenth century are generally regarded as the authors of a crime against civilization. The rupture between Muscovy and the western countries, the sudden check in the development of the national culture, are taken to be their work. For many years I shared the common error, and I confess it without shame; appearances all pointed that way, and the history of the invasion is still exceedingly obscure. The first testimony against this view which attracted my attention was all the more conclusive in that it was borne by one of the Princes of the national Church; and it is a well-known fact that, until the eighteenth century at all events, the whole intellectual life of the country was almost entirely concentrated in that Church.
'Judging by the state of her knowledge and the progress of her development during the two centuries which preceded the Mongol invasion,’ writes Monsignor Macarius in his 'History of the Russian Church' (v. 285), 'we do not believe her progress during the two following centuries would have been any more rapid even if the Mongols had not come among us. … These Asiatics did nothing to prevent the clergy, especially the cloistered clergy, from pursuing their learned studies. But the Russians of that period do not seem to have felt any need of a higher culture. They followed in the path of their ancestors, and their longings were confined to being able to read easily, and understand the sacred texts. …'
Recent inquiry, too, has destroyed the illusion according to which a flood of Eastern barbarism was supposed to have swept, with the invaders, over all the elements of European culture. The comrades of Batou, and of the great head of his staff, Soubatoï, were not, as Monsieur Léon Cahun has most excellently set forth in a book which is a revelation (Introduction à l'Histoire de l'Asie, 1896, p. 343, etc.), such desperate barbarians as all that. They were first-rate strategians and wonderful organizers, worthy representatives of a civilization which was to astonish Henry of Castile's Ambassadors to Samarkand a century later (1405), and spread the use of Ouloug-Beg's astronomical tables all over Europe. They were no deliberate wreckers, either, except in cases of military exigency; nor oppressors, beyond the taxation they imposed; and their very numbers precluded them from submerging others. The legend of the overwhelming flood is a melodramatic invention: Soubatoï won his victories, in every case, with very small, but exceedingly well-equipped, mobile, and splendidly commanded bodies of troops.
The truth appears to be that he found nought but ruins everywhere—a rotting Empire, a country parted from Europe already, and cast, both from the political and intellectual point of view, into an almost utter isolation. Since Jaroslav (1016–1054) had married one of his sisters to Casimir of Poland, another to the King of Norway, and a third to Henry I. of France, no similar alliance had carried the tradition down to the heirs who fought over the great Kiovian Prince's legacy; and even as early as 1169, Kiev had been sacked by barbarians who did not come out of Asia. All the small Russian Princes strove for the possession of the old capital, carrying fire and sword with them. And the truth is this—that, by reason of her spiritual alliance with Byzantium, Russia, thus devastated and dismembered by her own children, was bound to a corpse, held in vassalage by the learning of the Greeks at a moment when doom had fallen on the antique culture, when the ancient schools were closed, when the introduction of the Oriental view had stifled that free inquiry essential to all progress. The contemporaries of Photius ascribed (A.D. 891) the patriarch’s knowledge to the spells of a Jewish page-boy, and the learning of Archbishop Theodore (Santabaren) was confused by Leo the Grammarian with evocations of the spirits of the dead. Historiography was reduced to the collecting of legends, the teaching of philosophy was forbidden, intellectual activity was circumscribed within the sphere of religious polemics—marked phases, all these, of an irreparable decay. Even in the twelfth century the eastern monasteries proved themselves incapable of utilizing the scientific materials at their disposal.
The intellectual isolation of orthodox Russia was the direct outcome of her affiliation to her Byzantine alma-mater. Out of the 240 writers who appeared in Russia up till the close of the seventeenth century (without teckoning the Catholics of the south-west), 190 were monks, 20 belonged to the secular clergy, and the remaining 30 dealt chiefly with religious subjects. Thus literature and science were almost exclusively Church property. And this Church, even in the thirteenth century, was a closed body, shut up in itself. Orthodoxy forbade all contact with unbelievers to such a degree as to impose on Russian Sovereigns that custom of washing their hands after giving audience to foreign Ambassadors which so sorely offended Possevino at the Court of Ivan the Terrible. This isolation was aggravated by the adhesion of the Metropolitan Isidore, the elect of Byzantium, to the Florentine Union, and by the capture of Constantinople by the Turks, which last, though the triumph of Islam was taken to be a well-deserved chastisement, cast suspicion on the East itself. And at that period the legend of St. Andrew's sojourn in Russia, and consequently of the antiquity and indepnedence of local orthodoxy, sprang into life, and spread with great rapidity. The idea of a national religion expressive of the original features of the Slav spirit became general in every mind.
And yet the national Church, instead of beaming with an ever-brightening light, relapsed into constantly deepening darkness. We do not find a trace, at the close of the fifteenth century, of the monastery schools, the previous existence of which is proved by numerous witnesses. At the beginning of the next century St. Gennadius, Archbishop of Novgorod, notes with sorrow that the men presented to him for ordination can neither read nor write. Even oral instruction had disappeared, the pulpits were dumb, and, according to foreign travellers, hardly one native out of ten could say his Pater. A century later, in 1620, a learned Swede, John Botvid, seriously discussed the question of whether the Muscovites were Christians at all, or not.
The monasteries, to be sure, did go on collecting books: some of them even possessed librarians. But reading became the speciality of a small and select group. It rose to be a science, and more and more the only science in existence. To read all he could, and even learn the things he read by heart—was not that as much as any man might do? The learned man was called a knijnik, a man of many books (kniga, book). But what books? In the monastic libraries a place, and even the place of honour, was given to the Apocrypha—'Adam's Manuscript, confided to the Devil,' 'The Last Will of Moses,' 'The Vision of Isaac,' …, these enjoyed the same credit as the canonical books. Maximus the Greek, the corrector of the sacred texts summoned from the East at the beginning of the sixteenth century, was the first who dared to protest against the belief that the sun did not set for a week after our Lord's resurrection, and that, somewhere on the banks of the Jordan, a viper still guarded Adam's last will and testament. The catalogue of the library of the Troïtsa in the seventeenth century is still in our hands. Ancient literature is therein represented by 411 manuscripts. This is very much the total reached by the Glastonbury library in the thirteenth century. But how different the composition! At Glastonbury the first rank is held by the Roman classics, historians, and poets. At the Troïtsa we find 101 Bibles, 46 liturgical works, 58 collections of the Fathers of the Church, 17 books on ecclesiastical law, and one solitary book on philosophy. The works on asceticism are the most numerous of all. Until the seventeenth century the ancient Greek and Latin authors were unknown to Russian readers. In profane literature chronicles were the favourite reading. But what chronicles! Those of Malala (or Maleles), with his quotations from Orpheus! The still more popular chronicle of George the Hamartolian, with its detailed description of the garment of a certain Jewish priest who went to Judæa to meet Alexander the Great! The authorities on geography and cosmography were George Pissides, and, above all, Cosmas Indicopleustes, whose conclusions as to the dimensions of the earth, founded on the form of Moses' tabernacle, were undoubtingly accepted, and whose teaching, a mixture of the Apocrypha, Ptolemy, Aristotle, and the dreams of the Manichæans and Gnostics, disseminated conceptions of the most preposterous nature. In philosophy, students held by John the Damascene and his theory of the reduction of science to the love of God. But the book of all, read, up till the eighteenth century, with the works of the contemplative school, of Basil the Great and Denis the Areopagite, was the 'Bee,' an incoherent compilation of Scripture quotations, extracts from the Fathers of the Church, and a medley of detached thoughts from Aristotle, Socrates, Epicurus, Diodorus, and Cato—a literary omnium gatherum.
Under the influence of the notions thus acquired, the prediction of an eclipse was held to be sorcery; books on mathematics—and arithmetic and astronomy, geography and music, were all confused together under this title—were proscribed as impious, and the knijnik was shut up within a narrow horizon, above which the light of European science could not rise, and forced to trample the same ground, ever and always, far from the current on which his Western neighbours were being borne onward.
During the sixteenth century, indeed, a beam of light, a breath of air, entered this dungeon. Maximus the Greek, an Albanian monk who had studied in Greece and Italy, was in some sense a European. Though his literary activity was confined to religious. and mare questions, he brought to Russia, on the soles of his shoes, a little of the dust gathered at Milan, Florence, Venice, Ferrara, and especially at Padua, where the mighty struggle between the partisans of Plato and Aristotle, the current which had impelled intellectual circles to copy pagan customs and attack the theology of the Middle Ages, had not failed to affect him. At Venice he had known the famous typographer, Alde Manuce; at Florence he had stirred the still smoking ashes of the pile on which Savonarola had met his fate; he had realized something of the great scientific importance of Paris. None of which prevented him from being absolutely devoid of that critical instinct which is the great lever of the Western world of intellect, and deeply tinctured with an absolute scepticism as to profane learning, which led him to condemn a Russian translation, then just appearing, of the celebrated Lucidarius,—a twelfth-century work, ascribed to St. Anselm of Canterbury, or to Honoré d'Autun—and wherein certain problems in cosmography and physics were treated in a comparatively sensible spirit. He forbade its inclusion in the libraries, from which the Greek and Latin classics were banished.
A legend has grown up around a collection of these same classics, supposed to have existed, with a great number of other profane works and some Hebrew manuscripts, at the Moscow Kremlin, as early as the fifteenth century. The presumed existence of this library, revealed by the researches of two foreign savants, Klossius (1834) and Tremer (1891), has provoked, in more recent times (1894), a controversy in the press, and even a search in the subterranean chambers of the ancient palace. This has brought no result. Whether it was that the Livonian chronicler Nyenstaedt, who wrote the first book in which the library is mentioned, and Professor Dubiélov, of the University of Derpt, who, in the year 1820, invented a catalogue which nobody has ever been able to discover since, were imposed on themselves, or imposed on others, the story, it seems pretty certain, has no foundation in fact. At a much earlier period, indeed, a similar legend had ascribed the possession of a quantity of Byzantine manuscripts—made over to their safe keeping, by the Emperor John, just before the Siege of Constantinople—to the Muscovite Sovereigns. Wherefore, in the year 1600, Cardinal San Giorgio sent Peter Arcudius the Greek in the train of a Polish Embassy to verify the story, which he discovered to be false—a pure invention. Ivan IV. and his predecessors did certainly own some books and manuscripts; but up till the close of the fourteenth century, we only hear of the authentic existence of one single work in a foreign language, a German herbal, in the whole of their collection of liturgical books, instructions, chronicles, and astrological treatises.
Under the twofold influence of the original Byzantinism and the inherent materialism pervading every class of society, intellectual life, still in the earliest phases of its development, was destined to waver, for long years yet, between two opposite tendencies, which, nevertheless, occasionally combined, as we shall see, after a very curious fashion. These, an asceticism void of all ideal and a coarse sensuality, were the twin roads that led to general nothingness.
From the elementary and barren independence—the independence of savagery—in which it had lived till Christianity was introduced, the country had suddenly fallen under the yoke of an austere morality—as savage after its own fashion—which forbade liberty to know, liberty to create, and even to exist, in every quarter. Under this rule, all those living forces which have ennobled the human race were condemned, and even accursed. The world of free knowledge was accursed, as a centre of heresy and corruption; the world of free creation was accursed, as an element of corruption; and accursed, too, as an element of scandal, was free life, with its joys, its merriment, its profane delights. The bards have disappeared from the courts of Princes; the lively tone and poetic turn of thought of the chroniclers of the eleventh and twelfth centuries give place to dry didactic narrative, that disfigures and even proscribes the very documents on which it is founded; even an conversation that does not turn on religious subjects is anathema. Abstinence in every form has become the essential rule of life. In certain families, the very young children are made to do without milk, and by the time they are two years old they are expected to observe all the fasts. Meat is only allowed three times a week, and conjugal relations are likewise forbidden on three days in each week, on feast days, and during the whole of Lent. The Russian compilers from Byzantine writers were well acquainted with Cato's dictum, 'We rule the world, and the women rule us.' It occupied a prominent position in the 'Bee,' as also did the saying of Democritus, married to a tiny wife, 'I have chosen the smallest evil.' The Church, guided by these principles, looked on woman as the devil's chief instrument in his work of destruction, and therefore woman, too, was accursed, and accursed, with her, all forms of art, of which she has everywhere and always been the chief inspirer.
In the religious life, this tendency led directly to the stupid formalism of the ecclesiastical doctors, who perceived eternal truths and immutable doctrines in the trimming of a beard or the cut of a garment. After the Florentine Union and the erection of the national Church into the sole guardian of the sacred traditions, form became the tabernacle, the holy ark which sheltered the true faith. Outside it, nothing save rationalism, Latin, Catholic or Protestant—all sources of heresy and impiety. Argument, reasoning, were forbidden, and by this elimination of the essential leaven of all progress Moscow placed itself on a lower intellectual basis than that of Byzantium, where the right of dogmatic controversy was always preserved. Here, from the twelfth century onwards, the only problems discussed are such as these: 'Can a priest who has not slept since he has eaten food celebrate the holy sacrifice? Can he do so if he finds a woman's handkerchief sewed to his garment? …' The very sermons, such as are preached, only deal with ritual questions: 'Must the celebrant move with or against the sun? Should the sign of the cross be made with two or three fingers?' The first Concile called by Ivan IV. considered this question, and pronounced sentence of excommunication on those who crossed themselves with two fingers.
The identification of faith with rite reduced piety to the accomplishment of certain external practices, the keeping of fasts, long prayers in church. Confession, which implied an act of internal religion, was relegated to the second rank. The most devout did not present themselves at the tribunal of repentance oftener than once a year; the most scrupulous did not make it a case of conscience to keep back none of their sins. Ceremonial took the place of everything else. It grew more and more extensive, and was attended by a more and more theatrical display. On Palm Sunday the Metropolitan, riding upon an ass, went in procession to all the churches, bestowing his blessing on the crowd that cast its garments under the hoofs of his symbolic steed; and on the feast in memory of the three Hebrews cast into the fiery furnace, the place of the pulpit was filled by a huge stove, into which three white-robed youths were thrust with many a complicated rite. The performance stopped short here, and they were not actually burned.
Religious feeling continued very intense; it wandered into muddy paths, and floundered into sloughs. While the Domostroï enjoined the repetition, six hundred times every day, of a certain prayer, the effect of which, after a perseverance of three years in the process, was to be a triple incarnation of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost in the person of the individual using it, the question whether it was not a sin to cross the threshold of the house inhabited by a woman lately brought to bed, or whether the milk of a cow that had just calved was unclean or not, was much debated. While sensualism thus lay in wait for pious souls and overtook them at the corners of bye-ways, superstition laid other snares for them. The Finnish element, still half pagan, came to the front in the constantly-increasing ceremonial of the Church, openly ruled by the pagan spirit. In the north, up till the eighteenth century, the beliefs and customs, and all the structure of the ancient worship, were to preserve their authority over a population which its ethnographical peculiarities rendered less amenable to the Slav conquest, and less easily influenced by Christianity. In this zone, for many ears, the progress of the two powers was only marked by islets here and there, colonies scattered hither and thither over the huge territory. Even quite recently, Keppen's map has shown us how the characteristic traits of the Tchoud race predominate in the case of quite half the population; and this race was superstitious above all others. In this part of the world Nature has always laid a heavy hand on man. Trackless forests, rocks that pierce the clouds, deserts heaped with stones, an endless succession of lakes and bogs—there is something terrifying about the landscape. Our ears are deafened by the roaring of cataracts or the perpetual howl of the angry winds; aurora borealis cast their lurid light around; Will-o'-the-wisps, flickering over the faces of the stagnant pools, startle the imagination; fierce or venomous creatures, bears and vipers, threaten man with death at every step. Out of all these the Finn had built himself up a religion that was nothing but one long shuddering terror. His gods were the sons of Ahriman, rather than of Ormuzd. Every stone, every tree, was the home of some evil spirit. And only one weapon availed against them—sorcery. His priest was priest and sorcerer in one. An artificial imitation of the noises of hostile Nature calmed the spirits' never-ceasing irritation. This was the very essence of the faith spread over the huge continent that stretches from the Ural Mountains to the seas of China and Japan, from the dreary shores of the Frozen Sea to the lonely heights of the Himalaya, and it is the secret of a liturgy which, within those geographical limits, was a mere tempest of unchained elements, of noise and movement. The sorcerer-priest, the Chamane of the Ostiaks, danced round the fire beating a drum, and his audience did their best to drown his noise with that they made themselves, till the pontiff, faint and giddy, was seized by two men and half-strangled by the cord they twisted round his neck. The deafening noise, the leaping flames, the convulsions of the priest's body, and the compression of his throttle, threw him into a trance, in the course of which the spirit was supposed to reveal itself to the medium.
No doubt these rites, the unconscious aim of which was dominating power over Nature, had something to do with the great tide of freedom on which the human instinct, everywhere, has swept to claim its just superiority, and conquer its noblest privileges; but in this time and place the process of evolution was in its earliest phase, and Northern Russia was content for many a year to stammer its religious feeling, to con the alphabet of freedom, to practise with it in the most rudimentary of forms. In the middle of the sixteenth century the Finnish tribes of the Vodskaïa-Piatina—the present Government of St. Petersburg—worshipped trees and stones, and made their offerings to them. To these folk the world was still peopled with fantastic beings: a winged viper with a bird's head and a proboscis that could blow destruction over the face of the whole earth; a ten-headed dragon; a plant that looked like a—and produced lambs. The Russians of that period showed caps trimmed with the fur of these monsters to their foreign visitors.
The orthodox clergy, while generally opposing these superstitions, favoured them occasionally. Some of its members themselves composed books of spells, contrived to introduce them into the ecclesiastical literature, and made a great deal out of them. Men who called up spirits were to be found in the very monasteries. Ivan the Terrible, at the close of this century, had sorcerers in his household. In the most pious Christian families, certain pagan deities still held their ground—the rod and the rojanitsy, amongst others, which presided over birth and death, must receive offerings; and amongst these offerings was the koutia, the funeral dish, adopted by the Church.
Under the influence of these’ superstitious beliefs, the most trifling incidents of life took on mysterious and prophetic meanings. The cracking of a wall, a buzzing in the ears, an itching finger, presaged a journey; the quacking of ducks, a quiver of the eyelashes, betokened the approach of fire. The generic name of Rafli was given to a whole literature devoted to the interpretation of these portents and to the meanings of dreams, which were considered of great importance. Pregnant women gave bread to the bears led about in troops by wandering jugglers (skomorokhy), and judged the sex of the unborn child according to the creatures' growls. These skomorokhy, generally sorcerers themselves, and magicians, too,—priests of the half-Christian, half-pagan faith held by the inhabitants of the country—enjoyed a prestige which all the thunders of the Church could not destroy. They armed a man against his Sovereign's displeasure by making him carry an eagle’s eye wrapped in a handkerchief under his left armpit. They took up a little earth under the feet of one who was to be got rid of, and the man was surely doomed to death. For when that same earth was cast into the fire, he dried up with it. This did not involve any oblivion of the angels, who were invoked at the beginning of every piece of work, and St. Nikita had a special power of driving the demons out of a house where his help was sought. Paganism and Christianity, religion and superstition, were all mingled and confused together. At the midnight festivals held on certain feasts, on St. John's Eve, Christmas Eve, Twelfth Night, and St. Basil's Day, both God and the devil had their dues. On the Saturday before Pentecost, the people danced in the graveyards, howling dolorously. On Holy Thursday they burnt straw to call up the dead, and going to the churches, fetched, from behind the altar, a pinch of salt, an infallible cure for certain ailments.
In the sixteenth century remnants of superstition lingered in the best-managed Courts all over Europe, and even at the Vatican. Apart from the astrologers whom Paul II. consulted on every important occasion—but these were held to represent a science—was it not the settling of an owl that warned Alexander VI. of his approaching end? But in Russia the same century witnessed the fullest blossoming of such beliefs, the sole basis of an intellectual life which possessed no other substantial aliment. On it, till the very threshold of the modern epoch, literature largely subsisted, and what remained was not calculated to stay its readers' appetites.
The writers of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries confined themselves, as a rule, to mechanical works of compilation. Stillborn works, these! Not a living touch concerning manners and customs, even in the lives of the native saints; mere chronicles, with the style and contents of an official journal. The most remarkable of these collections—the Stiépiénnaïa-Kniga, or 'Book of Degrees,' written by the Metropolitan Macarius, only rises a little above the average, because its author has endeavoured to establish some agreement between the acts and genealogies of the various Sovereigns. It is a work with a political tendency, and, as such, less commonplace than its fellows. It inspired the Terrible with the idea of tracing his descent from Cæsar Augustus! A work of religious edification, too, which strove to show the Divine intervention in all things. Yet the Churchman who composed it, as we shall soon perceive, was nothing but a compiler in the broader sense.
Both in matter and in form, the literature of this period is inferior to that of Kiev. All poetry, all naturalness and simplicity, all freshness and charm, have disappeared. No spontaneity is left. Inspiration is replaced by calculation, and the search after the beautiful, when it occurs—and this is very rare—fails to reach art, and only attains to artifice. Not a line revealing a touch of emotion, or that depth of feeling which might atone for superficiality of thought. No poem at all—and yet this is the epoch of Chaucer and Villon, of Petrarch and Boccaccio. Not an attempt at scientific or philosophical inquiry, though in Italy the birth of Galileo is near, and the coming of Bacon, in England, of Montaigne, in France. And the epoch of Shakespeare and Cervantes, of Giordano Bruno and Descartes, of Robert Estienne and Du Cange, is just about to open. Even close by, in Poland—though that neighbour country is nearing the downward slope of an irreparable decadence—the sixteenth century can show a pleiad of artists and thinkers. a political literature which is prodigiously fertile, at all events, and one writer of genius, Rej. The language is formed, style is shortly to reach perfection in the sermons of Skarga. Batory is soon to carry about his printing-press even on his campaigns in the heart of Muscovy. In Russia the art of typography, like every other art, is as yet unborn. Printing in the Russian language does exist, indeed, or shortly will, but the printers are at Cracow, at Venice, at Cettigné, at Tübingen, at Prague, at Vilna. When they come to Moscow the people will try to kill them, and their house will be burnt down. And what could they print if they were here? Books of hours, psalters, Bibles. Up to the end of the sixteenth century there will scarcely be any change in the repertory; the only works proving some independent thought will be called 'The Articles of the True Faith' (Tübingen, 1562), 'Short Tales for Sundays and Feast-days' (Tübingen, 1562), 'Of the Justification of Man before God' (Niéswiéz, in Lithuania, 1562).
There is the popular poetry, indeed, but except in the field of history, soon to reflect the mighty personality of the Terrible, and bear witness to the new impulse the national genius received from him, even this poetry subsists on the legacy of the ancient Russia of the days of Kiev.
Literary activity posterior to the destruction of the old Russian Empire was manifested, in the first half of the sixteenth century, in two works, which between them summed up all the acquired knowledge and current ideas of the nation, the whole of its intellectual possessions. One of these, finished in 1552, but begun in 1529, is an encyclopedia; the other, which, by its conception and its composition, hails from an already remote past, takes the form of a household book. This is the celebrated Domostroï, which is balanced, on the other side, by the 'Tchetï-Minei' of the Metropolitan Macarius. These 'TchetïMineï,' or readings for every month (from μήν, month, and tchitat, to read), are a collection of instructions, a sort of composition very common in the fifteenth century, but which in this case takes a singularly extended form. As a rule, these instructions only aimed at supplying edifying reading for every day in the month, appropriate to the memory of the saint mentioned in the calendar for that day. Macarius set himself the task of gathering the whole literature of his country into twelve huge volumes. Sacred books, with the commentaries on them, lives of the Russian saints (pateriki) and of the Greek saints (sinaksary), the works of the Fathers of the Church, earlier encyclopedic works, such as the 'Bee,' travels—he used them all. He did not exhaust the whole of his material. Either by deliberate omission or by a copyist's error, several books of the Bible are not present. In the case of the Song of Solomon, the former conjecture seems the most probable. The work, as it stands, is an unrivalled authority on the intellectual history of that period, and the hagiographic portions of the book bear curious testimony to the process then in course of accomplishment in the national mind. The saints of the ancient instructions had been local heroes and wonder-workers. Those of Novgorod were unknown at Moscow, and vice versâ. Macarius shows them all united in a glory and a worship shared by every corner of the Empire. Here we have the triumph of the Moscow policy, asserted in the Christian Olympus which invaded the churches of the Kremlin, and shared the secular glories of the united monarchy.
The Metropolitan, as may be imagined, was not able to do more than oversee the preparation of his work. Surrounding himself with a carefully chosen band of fellow-workers, he founded the first literary circle ever known in Russia, and gave the initial impulse to a movement which grew around him and survived him. He ascribed great importance to style, and insured the predominance of his own tongue—the ecclesiastical Slavonic—in the national literature, instead of that popular form of speech in which the lives of the saints had been originally written. But the critical spirit must not be looked for in his works, any more than in those of Maximus the Greek. He never troubled himself to verify the authenticity of the texts he piled up in his book, and side by side with the most silly inventions he introduced biographies of absolutely imaginary saints, including those of forty canonized, all in a lump, at the Conciles of 1547 and 1549. But in this matter, again, the Moscow policy gave the law; it must have a heaven to suit itself, blazing with a glory suddenly widened by the huge area of the provinces lately added to the common stock.
Macarius, in his own person, was a writer of many books. Besides the Stépiénnaïa-Kniga, which I have already mentioned, and a great number of epistles and instructions, the authorship of the Kormtchaïa Kniga (kormtchyi, pilot)—a collection of Russian canons, of all canonical or reputedly canonical works, a book of monastic regulations, another compilation, in fact, is attributed to him. But the writer was an orator too. He unsealed the lips of the Church, which had been silent so long, and two or three of the sermons which have come down to us—well composed, and written with a simplicity at war with every literary precedent of that time, so much so as to lead one to think they must have been extemporary—usher in the coming of a new literary world. His third sermon, preached in the presence of Ivan the Terrible after the taking of Kazan, is the most laborious and least successful of them all—a regrettable return to the worst practices of the past. His general lack of culture forbade any attempt at art, properly so-called, on the part of this really gifted man, and on this occasion, when, in his desire to be worthy of the great historical event he was to celebrate, he aimed too high, he missed sublimity, and his fall was heavy and clumsy.
The Domostroï has been likened to many other and apparently similar works in Italian, French, and even Hindu. I am inclined to assert that it escapes all comparison. It is unique. In the first place, the book possesses this peculiarity that—it does not correspond with any precise epoch or settled sphere. It is, as I have already indicated, a work of compilation and a work of retrospection, and this is what makes it so widely representative. Its groundwork was probably borrowed by Pope Sylvester from yet older works, composed at Novgorod, the habits of which place the book pretty faithfully reflects. The domestic life it reproduces is just that of the local aristocracy, a little world of boïars, half-landowners, half-merchants. To this secular portion of the work is added an appendix devoted to religion and morals, and there, amongst other borrowings from ecclesiastical literature, and from a didactic literature held in high honour in the monasteries—which comprised, notably, a set of Lenten bills of fare—the Moscow spirit inspires and rules the whole the contents. The last chapter only—an instruction addressed by the Pope of the Church of the Intercession of the Blessed Virgin to his son Anselm—is believed, and rightly, to have been Sylvester's personal work. And even in it, the author only sums up the teachings contained in the preceding chapters. These teachings deal with a good Christian's duties to God and to his neighbour, his Sovereign and his servants. Some, such as that of holding the breath when kissing the sacred pictures, are rather quaint; and others cast a peculiar light on the part played by the female sex in the Muscovite household—the woman is not to go to church unless her avocations permit it.
We shall see they left her very little leisure! The head of the family is expected to show greater assiduity, but the recital of his duties and functions unpleasantly recalls the national legislation. It reads like another penal code. The husband, father, master, is commanded to use discernment in the matter of punishment, but without any undue weakness. He must avoid striking guilty persons on the head or 'beneath the heart'; he must not use his feet nor any instrument likely to break the skin. Certain contradictions appear amidst these precepts. Thus, in one place the use of the stick is forbidden, while in another we are told, 'If thou strikest thine unruly son with a stick, it will not kill him.' This is the drawback to all compilations. The family relations between the beater and the beaten seem to have been limited, in any case, to an allotment of the blows to be inflicted or endured. Some consideration is allowed in the wife's case. The husband is to take her apart, far from curious eyes, and, having stripped her of her shift—this point is insisted on, and is of capital importance, indeed, in a book in which the idea of order and economy holds so large a place—without any anger, holding her hands kindly, but using all the requisite strength, he is to toy upon her shoulders with his whip, and is bound, the correction once administered, to behave affably and affectionately, so that conjugal relations may not suffer by these interludes!
Their tolerably frequent recurrence seems highly probable. For if the functions of the man who beat the woman seem to have been practically restricted to performances of this kind, those of the woman he trounced were numerous and sufficiently severe. Having risen earlier than anybody else, she was bound, after her morning devotions were accomplished, to assign and overlook the tasks of all the servants, and set them a good example by being constantly at work herself. She must be skilful in all manual occupations, an expert dressmaker, laundress, and cook. Neither her husband nor her visitors must ever find her sitting with her hands before her. She must not joke with the women about her, nor exchange idle talk with them, and she must never open her door to the gossips of the neighbourhood, to fortune-tellers, nor even to female pedlars.
This is but an ideal rule, evidently, a picture turned upside down, as it were, which must be twisted round again if we are to obtain any clear view of the realities corresponding to it. This remark applies to more than one page of the book, to the paragraph which counsels women to drink nothing but kvass, and to that which enjoins that servants shall be treated with humanity and gentleness, well dressed and well fed. But at the same time the outline of the servant sent out to deliver a message rises up before us like a cinematographic picture. This model messenger, when he reaches the door of the house to which he has been sent, wipes his feet, blows his nose—most probably with his fingers—coughs, spits, and finally observes 'May our Saviour be praised!' If nobody says 'Amen,' he will repeat 'the remark thrice, raising his voice each time, and will then knock gently. Once inside, he will deliver his message, without blowing his nose, coughing, or putting his fingers in his nose, and then hie him home as quickly as he may.
The most salient feature of all these pictures, as of the commentaries attached to them, is the materialism pervading the domestic and social life they represent. The education of children is restricted to teaching them to dread their God and to perform manual tasks, and an extraordinary importance is attached to small household details, to the making of garments, the using up of scraps of material, the arrangement of trusses of hay and straw mats. The same tone marks every reference to social intercourse. Guests invited to a banquet must be careful not to drink too much, or sit too long at table. These are the essential points to be observed.
The book improves at the end, on which Sylvester has set his personal seal. But even here its radical dualism—asceticism on one side, sensualism on the other—comes to the front. Is the son to whom the author suggests a model of Christian existence a worldly man, a layman? At first sight one might be deceived. Not to sleep over the time for matins, never to forget the hour for going to Mass, to sing matins, complines, and nones every day, and never get drunk when he ought to be going to vespers—these are all things which may be very properly expected of a monk, as monks were in the sixteenth century. But no! The man of whom these things are asked has a house of his own, to which he is desired to bring priests who will celebrate molebni (services); he goes to market, and is admonished to give abundant alms there, not forgetting his own interests meanwhile. And this mixture of the Divine and the profane, of a virtue carried to extreme austerity and a practical wisdom verging on the cynical, runs from one end of the book to the other. To love one's fellow-creatures sincerely; to judge no man; not to do to others what we would not have them do to us; to open the door of one's house wide to the poor, the sick, and all who are distressed; to bear ill-treatment uncomplainingly; to succour one's very enemies; and to keep one's body pure by dint of necessary mortifications—all this, indeed! But also, if disputes arise, to lay the blame on one's own servants, though they are in the right, and strike them, even, to avoid a quarrel; to try to please everybody; and above all things, not to neglect recipes for good Lenten dishes.
The author of this book understood nothing, it is quite clear, of the spirit of Christianity, devoted as he was to its forms. His great idea was to compose a manual of opportunist philosophy, and with all his assiduous study of the Scriptures he got no further, in some matters, than the Old Testament. There was more of the Pharisee than of a disciple of Christ about him, for the Christian life he suggests as an example is his own. And this is not merely hinted. He takes care it shall be known that he has freed his serfs and brought up many orphans, and that the well-merited floggings he has inflicted on his servants have won him their universal love and esteem. This chapter, in Sylvester's own hand, is an Imitation of Sylvester. We shall see its author did not invariably succeed in pleasing everybody.
Taking the book as a whole, it combines the evangelical ideal, that of humility and love, with the Biblical ideal, that of the power of the family, which it makes the motive principle of every relation, social or domestic. And in this respect the Domostroï gives us an exact conception of a society in which the family is not the centre only, but the sole rallying-point of social life, ruled by a head in whose person that family is summed up and absorbed. The head of the family is not only the master, to whom everyone owes obedience, but the being to whom everything is referred and on whom everything depends. And this was precisely the state of things existing, not only at Novgorod, but at Moscow, in the sixteenth century. The Domostroï, though partly an exposition of manners and customs, is also a code of laws. It imposes certain restrictions on the all-powerful will of paterfamilias. We have seen, alas! how frail and inconsistent these restrictions were. The absolutist spirit of Moscow made short work of them.
The book, in spite of its Novgorodian origin, is essentially Muscovite. Similar features may have been noted in Vladimir Monomachus' 'Instruction' (twelfth century); in the Dottrine dello Schiavo di Bari (thirteenth century); in the Treatise drawn up by Egidio Colonna for Philippe le Bel, in Francesco Barberini's Regimento delle Donne' (fourteenth century); in the Paris Ménagier (circa 1393); in certain Tchek writings of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries; and even in the Indische Hausregeln published by Fr. Stengler. The human race is very much the same through all the ages, whatever the degree of its civilization or the latitudes it inhabits. But all this notwithstanding, we are in presence, here, of a society of a very special kind, in which we look in vain for the delicate and sentimental relations between husband and wife depicted by the Italian writers, or the luxurious living so fully described by the French chronicler. Baldassare Castiglione's Cortegiano, which stands nearest, chronologically speaking, to the Domostroï, introduces us to a society in which life, even among artisans, and in the close quarters of the workshop, takes on a certain elegance and artistic distinction; and an abyss instantly yawns between the two pictures on which we gaze. As Monsieur Pypine has justly observed ('Hist. of Russian Literature,' ii., p. 211), one direct link only is discoverable between the Muscovite work and the literary productions of other countries, and this connects it with that Greek literature which has left its mark on all the Russian thought of that period, and which supplied most of the writers who were Sylvester's contemporaries and fellow-countrymen with materials, or inspired them.
The impression produced by this book, which had dropped into oblivion, and was only disinterred, in 1849, by one of the leaders of the Slavophil school, was most curious. Ivan Akssakov began by rising in revolt. How could a work so absolutely contrary to the national spirit have been conceived and written on Russian soil? 'I would hunt a teacher who dared to suggest such lessons to me to the other end of the world!' But, thinking it over, he recollected habits and customs he had himself noticed among the Moscow merchants. What! did the Domostroï still live on among them? And forthwith, one discovery leading to another, Akssakov remembered certain chapters of Tatichtchev's book on 'Rural Administration' (1742), and his own indignation at the idea that they constituted a proof of the influence of Germany on the national habits and customs. 'How deep it went!' he had said to himself. And then the Domostroï opened his eyes; in its pages he found, identically reproduced, the very features which had so offended him ('Works,' p. 270, etc.; 'Letters,' 1850).
I have said nothing concerning the style of Sylvester's book. There is nothing to be said about it. The author had no artistic quality at all. But was there such a thing as art in the Russia of those days?
Secular literature was scarcely known there till the writings of Ivan IV. and Kourbski appeared. And until that period, art, too, remained essentially religious in character. Its chief exemplifications were churches, the ornamentation of religious books, and ikons. What was the value of these productions, and in what measure did they constitute an expression of the national genius?
The artistic aptitudes of the Russian people cannot be denied; later years have proved them. Though I do not attach the importance ascribed by most Russian, and even many foreign writers, to local folklore and rustic handicrafts, as proofs of a special vocation in this respect, I am willing to accept them as presumptive evidence. Yet a close consideration of this popular poetry and decoration, which many would fain have us take to be original, leads us to note that their chief characteristic is a complete absence of all originality and a perpetual imitation; they are poor, if not absolutely lacking, in subjects drawn from life or from surrounding nature. We see a handkerchief embroidered by a peasant woman from the neighbourhood of Tver. A delicate design, indeed, but the design has come from Persia. We see a wooden goblet of graceful form, but we read India in the bottom of it; and Monsieur Stassov, in spite of all his opponents (Messager de l'Europe, 1868), seems to me to have triumphantly proved the exotic descent of most of the bylines. Yet art has many degrees, and even imitation is an upward step. At the present day the signs of an absolutely spontaneous inspiration are discoverable in Sylvester's native country; but do any of them date from the sixteenth century or its predecessors?
The national architecture, from the eleventh to the sixteenth century, presents two distinct types. Both proceed directly from Byzantium, but in one, that of the south, the Byzantine influence rules continuously and almost exclusively, while in the other, all over the north, from Novgorod to Vladimir and Souzdal, a Germanic or Lombardian current wars against it. And everywhere a confused medley of features, borrowed from every corner of the European and Asiatic horizon—from India and Persia chiefly, until the fifteenth century, from the Italian Renaissance, after it—are introduced into the details of these buildings, the general form and plan and construction of which are governed by these two component factors.
As to the nature and mode of propagation of these factors, the existence of which is uncontested, and their relative importance, opinions are much divided. The hypothesis of a direct importation of Oriental and Central Asiatic types has met with passionate opposition. Whether from the national or the religious point of view, the theory of an artistic initiation of Slav or Servo-Bulgarian origin has appeared far more palatable. Some German writers—Schnaase, among others, in his 'History of the Arts' (iii., p. 351)—have supported the theory of the Eastern connection, and regarded it as a sign of inferiority and almost of disgrace. One French writer, Viollet-le-Duc, has asserted it, and claimed it as a glory. The time, no doubt, is drawing near when it will be possible to discuss the problem without any regard to sentiment, but I fear it will continue insoluble. Russia has been, in a most special sense, one of those laboratories in which currents of art, flowing from the most opposite points, have met and mingled, to produce an intermediate form between those of the Western and the Eastern worlds.
Every civilization, indeed, has been the fruit of some such fusion, and circumstance has served the artistic development of this particular country better than its intellectual progress. The isolation, in this matter, has been less complete. The first church-builders, and those most generally employed from the eleventh to the thirteenth century, were Greeks. But at a later period, heartily as the Westerners were hated or scorned, their skill was often used, and even in 1150 Andrew, grandson of Monomachus, sent for Lombard architects to build the Church of the Assumption at Vladimir, while his son George, who had married a Georgian Princess, employed Armenian workmen at Souzdal. The intervention of Persian workers elsewhere, at the same epoch, seems proved by the style of certain decorations, and from the fifteenth century onwards the appearance of Italian art, with Pietro Solario, the Milanese, Aristote Fioraventi, the Florentine, Mario, Alevisio, and many more, has become a matter of history.
How these elements combined, and in what proportions, is a question which cannot now, and probably never will be, precisely answered. In architecture Byzantium, though maintaining her supremacy, was forced to yield somewhat to the advancing wave, Mongol or Scandinavian, Romanesque or Turanian. And Byzantine art, itself composite, owing tribute to the Farthest East, to Persia, Asia Minor, and even Rome, rather led its Russian imitators back to the sources of its own inspiration. The most ancient of the religious edifices in Southern Russia possess a slimness of outline and elegance of proportion which differentiates them from the purely Byzantine form, or even the architectural type adopted at the same epoch in France and Italy and Germany. They seem to have been inspired by some other model, or partly, perhaps, by some original idea. Who can tell? When St. Louis sent an envoy to the Court of the Khan, he found a Russian architect there, as well as a French goldsmith!
During the thirteenth century the influence of Indo-Tartar art makes itself clearly felt. Curves which seem to have been borrowed from Thibetan monuments, rounded columns crowned with bulging capitals, appear upon the scene. The primitive plan of the churches, as regards its chief outlines, is not changed, but to the central dome, which has existed from the earliest times, others are added, raised up like towers, and crowned with bulbous roofs covered with metal, curiously worked, and often painted or gilt, which recall the Temple of Ellora. Within, the great curves of the Byzantine vaults are broken up into sharp angles. Presently corbelled pyramids are added to the cupolas. These, quite foreign to Byzantine taste, are exceedingly frequent in Hindu architecture. The military buildings of the period follow the same lines. The towers of the Kremlin, built in a square, their ramparts crowned with narrow merlons, are a deviation from the more ancient models.
But was it Asia that triumphed in all these changes? Is it to Asiatic influences that, as Viollet-le-Duc believes, the door of the fourteenth-century church at Rostov, owes its niches, with their centres formed by the arcs of a circle, and a sharp rectilinear top, and its wall-space so rich in decoration that the groundwork cannot be seen? Does not the Romanesque style delight in the multiplication of such ecclesiological details, as Father Martynax has proved? Was not Byzantium the connecting-link between Russia and Asia, just as the Slav countries of the south-west were the connecting-link between Europe and the Russian provinces that Jay nearest her? Hard by some instance of Russian foliage decoration, connected by Viollet-le-Duc with a Hindu design, Darcel has succeeded in detecting a Byzantine ornament that holds a place between the two types. But the transmission of ideas and forms may have followed other paths and other byways. A curious example of this is to be noticed in the case of a literary work. 'Bova, the King's Son' (Korolevitch Bova), a very popular Russian tale, is certainly of Hindu origin. It belongs to the cycle of Somadeva, the Kathá-sarit-sàgara, or 'Ocean of Tales.' And yet Bova is not one of Somadeva's heroes; he is the knight Beuves d'Antone, a hero of the Carlovingian period. India has thus travelled across Western Europe to reach Russia, and the Western inspiration has accidentally found its way into this other department of the national existence, isolated though it has been, and jealously guarded against external influences.
Some mention must also be made of other forms of art, though they were but slightly apparent in Russia at this time. At Souzdal, and more especially at Novgorod, iconography, influenced by one of the many Greco-Oriental schools existing in the twelfth century at Byzantium, in Italy, and in the Slav countries of the south-west, Servia and Bulgaria, reached a considerable development between the thirteenth and the fifteenth centuries. The specimens of the work of the latter town—that done at Souzdal has entirely disappeared—probably give us the exact measure of the originality attainable by the artists of the period. Observers have noticed, and very rightly, the existence of certain types quite absent from the Byzantine iconography, such as pictures of the Intercession of the Blessed Virgin (Pokrov), of St. Nicholas, called the Warrior, of St. Cyril and St. Methodius, St. Boris and St. Gleb; also a special interpretation of certain mysteries or religious subjects, and the softened expression of some other types. And this, most assuredly, is something. In form, too, these pictures differ from their Eastern models, but in the sense in which a bad copy differs from the original. Some Russian critics have endeavoured to discover, in their much simpler drawing, a tendency to a closer approach to Nature. But it strikes me as being only a lack of knowledge. There is no reason why nature should be interpreted clumsily, after the manner of schoolboys who scribble on their copybooks. The same process of simplification, even to the giving up of the gold backgrounds, probably necessitated by the poverty of the monasteries, rules manuscript decoration down to the end of the thirteenth century. But in the fourteenth a much more visible change takes place, and carries the Russian school, in this particular, far from the Byzantine tradition and its hieratic forms. We see a sudden introduction of the infinite forms of human and animal life, together with a profusion of designs recalling the scrolls and interlacing patterns carved on the wood of ancient Scandinavian churches, or, yet farther back, on the belt-plates and chiselled clasps of the Merovingian epoch, and sometimes traceable to Iranian types, by no means foreign to the Romanesque and Byzantine styles of early ages. This is like a return to the original sources, for such fantastic representations of men, animals, birds, and insects were known in Herodotus' time, among the peoples then dwelling on Russian soil. But even as regards the Iranian inspiration, it would seem as though this renaissance had come through the West, for the manuscript literature of Novgorod, in which it was more specially exemplified, and which almost entirely escaped the Tartar influence, underwent a very strong current of European influences, which travelled by way of Riga and the Hanseatic towns.
In the fifteenth century these abnormal forms of fancy made way for combinations of single lines, the symmetrical interlacements of which terminated in long cusped foliage. Then another current, to which no Oriental or Asiatic origin can be assigned, swept over the national art; and finally, in the fifteenth century, there was a backward eddy. Under the pressure, probably, of religious feeling, of the spirit of orthodoxy, alarmed by the struggle between the Papacy and the Reformation, the Byzantine tradition got the upper hand again, linked this time with a certain infusion of German and Protestant taste, to be recognised in the long, deeply-serrated leaf—that of a sort of wild fig-tree—which spreads or curls in its cold black tints in the midst of the warm Oriental colouring.
All this is thoroughly and incontestably Russian, but is it an artistic expression adequate to the genius of the nation? Is it, in other words, capable of stirring the admiration and the imitative faculties of other nations, as did the Greek and even the French and Italian art of certain periods? Did it even constitute a private fund susceptible of any independent development? If the Russian borrowers, when they turned to foreign models, had added anything to them beyond failures in executive skill—more or less successful alterations, and combinations the results of which were unsuccessful as a rule; if they had introduced anything of their own—the fauna and flora of their own country, any reflection of their own sky; if, amidst their perpetual assimilation of exotic types, they had known how to enter into direct communion with Nature, that first condition and starting-point of any original art, we might have answered, Yes! But all they did was to copy, to fit in, to disfigure. Look at the carved balcony of an isba. There you will see, so coarsely reproduced as to be almost, though not wholly, unrecognisable, faces of lions and panthers, and representations of fig-trees and palm-trees, invariably. We have to come down to the most recent exemplifications of an art that is still feeling its way, the timid effort of some ultra-modern draughtsman, before we discover, under the pencil or brush, the outline of a fir-tree, the white fur of any Northern creature.
Under what conditions, after what plan, by whose hands, these thirteenth and fourteenth century churches, the style of which is now thought worthy of praise, were built, we cannot tell. As to the buildings, secular and religious, of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, which attract the eye for the same reason—the Church of the Assumption at Moscow, the doorway of St. Nicholas at Mojaïsk, the famous 'palace of the facets' (Granovitaïa palata)—we have an historical certainty: Italian artists have left their mark upon them. Until quite lately the disconcerting and bewildering Church of the Blessed St. Basil (Vassili Blajennoï), built between 1553 and 1559 which Karamzine calls 'a masterpiece of Gothic architecture,' Father Martynov 'an evocation of the Erectheion of the Athenian Acropolis,' Theophile Gauthier 'a huge crouching dragon,' Kugler 'an enormous heap of mushrooms,' and Custine 'a jam-pot,' has also been taken to be of Italian workmanship. This mistake has now been recognised. The architects' accounts have been unearthed, and have revealed two Russian names, Barma and Postnikov. We must render the Russia of the sixteenth century the honour which is her due, and rid the philosophy of art of one of its most baffling riddles. And we must acknowledge, too, that, contrary to long-received assertion, this strange edifice was not an isolated phenomenon of its period, the 'only proof that was ever drawn.' It is connected with a whole system of architecture, the origin of which is probably to be discerned in the wooden buildings so common in this country, and the type of which may be noticed at various places within its boundaries, as at Novomoskovsk, in the present Government of Ekatièrinoslav, and at Diakovo, quite close to Moscow. The lack of other material, or, at all events, the difficulty of getting stone, which paralyzed the development both of architecture and of the statuary's art, necessitated this mode of structure, some impressions of which may have been drawn from India, and the essential characteristic of which is a grouping and confused mingling of a number of incongruous blocks of buildings. The Novomoskovsk church consists of three buildings close together, forming nine distinct compartments. The architects of the Vassili Blajennoï succeeded in producing twice as many, in a mighty jumble of styles, Byzantine, Persian, Hindu, Italian—a wild dance of cupolas and pyramids and campanile. …
It would be rash, perhaps, to judge this building according to notions of art which, though hallowed by the approval of centuries, can hardly be asserted to be an eternal and universal criterion. Gothic architecture stirred quite as bitter a criticism, at one moment, as that our present æsthetic taste might be disposed to apply to the masterpiece of Barma and Postnikov. From the artistic point of view, it may fairly be noted, the type thus originated has never been developed. The architects' eyes were not torn out, indeed, when their work was finished, as the story goes, to prevent their producing another like it. This is a mere reproduction of the legend concerning the maker of the famous Strasburg clock in this same century. But no fresh start, or hardly any, was made, and the legend, like many another, has its meaning. The inspiration of the two Russian artists, thus left to its own devices, evolved nothing but this one architectural fancy; none of their successors cared to renew so strange and barren an attempt, and the solitary proof once drawn, the plate was cast aside.
It would be a grief to me to grieve my Russian friends, but they are beginning to ask too much. Towards the middle of last century, so their most authoritative exponents, such as Tchadaiév and Herzen, averred, they possessed nothing of their own, neither a national art nor any national literature or science. Now they claim everything at once, and even to have had it all since the twelfth century! Messrs. Tolstoi and Kondakov, two learned historians of art, felt, while they were travelling through the province of Vladimir, as though they were in one of the Lombard provinces of Italy! This is a pious illusion. In Russia nature and history alike have set their faces against any rapid progress in this path. They have denied the artist his rough materials, and assigned him, as the chief well-spring of his inspiration, Byzantium, with her dried-up or stagnant waters. The Russian genius is rooted in patience, and this the apologists of the national art seem to forget. At the period now under consideration Russian art is beginning to drink at other springs; the living stream will soon flow fast, no doubt, but the rise of the river is not yet, and we are at the very beginning of things.
In the bosom of the Orthodox Church, too, within which, until a recent epoch, every form of intellectual activity has been circumscribed, the national art has felt the action of the twofold current, ascetic and sensualist. A dark medley of monkish cells, blossoming out into a profligate luxuriance of form—that is the Church of the Blessed Basil, and the true image of the Russian spirit of the sixteenth century.
Yet it was in this ecclesiastical and specially monastic sphere that feelings and ideas destined to cast a leaven of revival into the stagnation of a people on which age was laying a cold hand, even in the heyday of its youth, first sprang to life.
V.—The Renovating Movement.
The Russia of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries had a reform of its own. Isolated though the country was, and closed against any action from foreign sources, it could not remain absolutely unaffected; and, besides, it was itself, though in a different way and in a much more limited degree, passing through certain revolutionary phases, and consequently undergoing a certain process of upheaval. A renovating movement, either spontaneously developed in the national mind or induced by some foreign influence, began to show itself as early as in the fourteenth century, chiefly in the province of Novgorod, the cradle and the last refuge of the traditions of freedom. The original date of this movement may be assigned to the year 1376. At that period three heretics, founders of the sect of the strigolniki, or cloth-shearers (one of the leaders thus put to death belonged to this trade), were cast from the summit of the bridge in that republican city. This sect repudiated all idea of an ecclesiastical hierarchy, as being based on simony. The Church, whose supremacy extended at Novgorod to the sphere of economic interests, soon put down the revolt; but even in the second half of the fifteenth century the strigolniki attracted attention, and their doctrine then found fresh food in the shape of additions to the ecclesiastical literature—fresh writings, still of Byzantine origin, but conceived in a more independent spirit, which indicated various defects in the religious life, declaimed against an excess of ascetic practices, which was animalizing faith and piety at the expense of their spiritual qualities, and denounced the corruption of the monastic rule. Meanwhile the teachings of certain Byzantine heresiarchs, Pauliciens and Bogomiles, drawn from those of the Gnostics, the Manichæans and the Messalians, began to creep into the country.
On this groundwork a mass of local heresies sprang up, and these were soon generalized under the name of 'judaizing heresies' (jidovstvouiouchtchyié), because certain of their external features were borrowed from some anti-Talmudic Jews or Caraïtes, who took refuge at Novgorod towards the year 1471. Some of these heresiarchs went so far as to adopt the Jewish Easter, the Jewish calendar, and the rite of circumcision. But the general tendency of all these sects was towards rationalism, a common denial of the Trinity, of our Lord's Divinity, of the future life, and of all the external trappings of Christianity. Their appearance certainly did the Orthodox Church a great service. It forced her, in the first place, to a certain exegetical labour, imposed by the necessity for making a fight against her adversaries, and also to some amount of self-examination and an endeavour at internal reform. Thus one religious movement stirred another. The last took two different directions. The correction of the sacred books, on which Maximus the Greek was employed, indicates a desire to parry certain doctrinal criticisms. But monastic life deserved a yet severer censure. I have already endeavoured to set forth this twofold aspect of the religious life, which is set down in letters of fire and branded with a hot iron in Ivan the Terrible's famous writings. Here is a passage from his celebrated letter to the Monastery of St. Cyril, written in 1575:
'Bred up in abstinence from your very childhood, you kill yourselves with privations: loving God, you flee from men; dwelling in solitude and silence, you put away all earthly enjoyments; you mortify your flesh with a cruel hair-shirt, you bind your loins with a harsh belt that wrings all your limbs, and thus you have weakened your very backbones; you have sent all succulent dishes far from your table, so that your dried-up skin clings to your poor bones; you have cast off every earthly thought; the lack of nourishment has dried up the marrow in your bones; your protruding ribs have strangled your stomachs; all your nights have been spent in prayer, and you have wetted your beards with your tears.'
And alongside this ironical piece of oratory we find the reverse of the medal, in one of the proposals laid by the Sovereign before the conciliable of 1551.
'Monks and nuns take the habit and the veil, not to save their souls, but to spend idle, pleasant lives, wandering hither and thither, and perpetually moving from one village to another in search of amusement. … In all the monasteries monks and abbots drink to excess. … At Moscow and in all the other towns they may be seen sharing their dwellings and their wealth with worldly men and women. … Archimandrites and abbots forsake the common board and hold revel in their own cells with their invited guests. … Women—even loose women—have free access to them; monks and hermits go about the country shamelessly, taking young boys with them. …'
The evil was not confined to the 'black' clergy. In that very conciliable of the year 1551, mention was made of priests who only celebrated Mass every six or seven years, came to church drunk, quarrelled amongst themselves, and said the prayers all wrong. Lasicius (De Russorem … Religione, 1582, p. 210) mentions popes who had been seen lying dead drunk in the public squares, and Herberstein (Commentarii, Startchevski, i. 21) saw priests publicly flogged on this account. Instead of being houses of prayer, the sacred edifices, thus profaned by their own priests, became places of meeting, clubs, markets. Men entered them. even when Mass was going on, without baring their heads, talked and laughed at the top of their voices, discussed and settled their business affairs, and often broke in upon the chanting with coarse words. Though an analogy may be traced between these features and those pointed out by Rabelais, Calvin, and Luther in the religious habits of the West, their testimony cannot detract from the example set and the work performed at that same period, by St. François de Paul and the Benedictines of St. Maur. In Russia, up till the early years of the sixteenth century, at all events, no such counterpoise existed. But at that moment the necessity for amendment forced itself on the best minds within the bosom of the monastic communities themselves. As to ways and means, opinions differed. Ivan Sanine, the son of a Lithuanian deserter—in religion Joseph, called Volotski—who founded the monastery of Volok-Lamskoii (now Volokolamsk) in 1479, thought he had found them in a return to the strict application of the old rule. By education he belonged to the old type of Russian Knijniki, with their utter lack of the critical instinct, and their absolute respect for everything that has been. But this could not suffice for everybody. From the depths of those hermitages, to the appearance and multiplication of which in the northern deserts I have already referred, another wind began to blow. Nil Sorski, born in 1433, of an ancient boiar family, the Maikov, having first spent several years at the monastery of Mount Athos, then lived near Biélooziéro and the monastery of St. Cyril, and finally founded a hermitage, the name of which he took for himself, on the banks of the little Sorka River, suddenly came forward as the representative of a new religious world. His travels and his reading, fuller and better chosen than that of his fellows, had, to a certain point, turned the knijnik in him into a theologian. He had learnt to admit and assert that 'all written things were not holy things.' He ventured to reject the authority of the document, in the sense in which it was accepted by most of his contemporaries—that is to say, apart from the origin and value of the testimony it bore. Finally, he had looked for something more than texts in the sacred writings: he had sought inspiration. On these lines, and independently of his views concerning the religious life, novel, in Russia, and occasionally very deep, he was destined to conceive a new ideal of monastic existence, to consist, not in the exact observance of external discipline, but in an internal transformation of the soul. Hence his choice of the isolated life, already adopted by a certain number of monks in that country, but destined, under his influence, to attain a much greater development.
Nil Sorski had soon gathered several hundreds of followers round him, and to these the generic title of 'monks from beyond the Volga' (Zavolojskiié startsy) was given. Their example and teaching were to play an important part in the religious life of the sixteenth century. They had no rule, so to speak; they enjoyed an almost complete independence; they were free to choose their own material conditions and means of existence; one principle only ruled these—poverty. Here was where the split came with Joseph Volotski and his school, and the clamour of the quarrel thus begun filled the first years of the reign of the Terrible, and lasted.on after he himself was dead.
The problem of monastic proprietorship divided the two camps. Nil Sorski's solution of it will be easily guessed, and it brought the niéstiajatiéli and the lioubostiajatiéli, the adversaries and partisans of the property in question (stiajatiel, an acquirer; lioubit, to love), face to face. Nil, though condemned by the conciliable of 1503, was allowed to go back to his desert. But the question continued to fill the literature of the day, and the hermit’s ideas were adopted and brilliantly set forth by another monk, the least qualified of all his comrades, seemingly, for such a task. Even under his klobouk, Vassiane Kossoï, otherwise Prince Vassili Ivanovitch Patrikiév-Kossoï, who traced his descent from Guedymin, a near kinsman of the reigning house, continued a man of the world. A statesman and diplomatist, it was only after a most brilliant career, and even then by force majeure, and in consequence of a sudden loss of favour, that he assumed the monkish garb in 1499. Old ties bound him to a circle in which freedom of thought prevailed, almost to the point of heresy, and his forced stay at Biélooziéro brought him into contact with Nil Sorski. Summoned to Moscow for the conciliable of 1503, he boldly espoused the cause of the niéstjatiéli, placing at its service a skill and energy which the hermit of Volok lacked, and a literary talent which, though he was no more than a popularizer of other men’s ideas, gave him a high rank among the few writers Russia then possessed. After Sorski's death, Vassiane found a fighting comrade in the person of Maximus the Greek, whose labours as a corrector had led him to seek out other elements of moral corruption, and who, in the heat of his discussions with local and foreign heretics, had gone so far as to echo the Hussite view as to Church property. Joseph Volotski had followed Nil to the grave in 1515, but his partizans, the Iosiflianié, as they were called, still held firm, and at the conciliable of 1523 Maximus, in his turn, received a sentence, the imposition of which was rendered easier by some translating blunders due to the weakness of his scientific methods and his ignorance of the Russian language. Then it was that he met Vassiane Patrikiév, himself exiled and under sentence, at the monastery of Volok (1531), and the rest of his life was dragged out in prison cloisters. 'We kiss your bonds, but we can do nothing for you,' wrote the Metropolitan Macarius, a more wily diplomatist than even Vassaine himself, whose skill enabled him to play a dubious part between the two camps.
But the struggle continued and its borders widened. Among the men sentenced by the concilable of 1531 there was a prior of the Troïtsa called Artemi, who, like all professors of the doctrine of the Iosiflianié, objected to the putting to death of heretics, and in this resembled the 'monks from beyond the Volga,' who held the same view. 'We have no right to judge these unhappy beings,' wrote one of these hermits; 'all we can do is to pray for them.' A development of liberal thought, surprising at such a period, occurred in this circle, and Artemi and his disciples simultaneously came into contact with the anti-Catholic movement, which reached them through Poland, where Protestantism was then in full progress, while other opponents of the official Church, soon to be smitten by her thunderbolts, though accepting certain features of the teaching of the hermit of Volok, followed a line of thought that ran parallel with the rationalist movement of the day.
Thus the Russian reforms spread out in several directions, the Zavolojskiié startsy and the Iosiflianie only differing as to the means to be employed for the reconstruction of the religious edifice, while the sectarians of Artemi's type pursued an altogether revolutionary and destructive work. A political element also intervened in the quarrel. Volotski was conservative even in his conception of the proper relations between Church and State—the State to serve the interests of the Church, and the Church, in return, to yield the State full obedience. According to this organization, the monastery, the material existence of which was based on a privileged land tenure, took on the character of a State institution, the centre and nursery of an ecclesiastical aristocracy, and the triumphant assertion of this doctrine certainly contributed to the establishment of autocratic power at Moscow. The views of the Zavolojskiié startsy on this subject were very different. Nil Sorski put the question aside altogether. It possessed no interest for him, and, from his essentially Christian point of view, had no existence at all. The moral principles he extolled were compatible with every form of political life. But Vassiane Patrikiév was affected in a different way. He could not forget his own origin and parentage, and his patrician soul recoiled from submission to any unlimited and uncontrolled political power. Thus he spent all his personal authority and all the prestige of his party to strengthen an opposition with which Moscow had to wrestle till its professors were crushed under the iron hand of Ivan the Terrible.
All the elements I have indicated had their share in this struggle, and for that reason I have dwelt somewhat fully on their precise nature. The noble seed, the existence of which, in a dim corner of the national history, is revealed to us through the dark and painful fate of some scarce known heroes, was trodden into the soil and drowned in blood by the victory of the official Church and the absolute power. That seed lies in the earth yet, and even now is scarcely rising above the ground. The harvest is still a long way off. But grains of wheat have slumbered in Egyptian tombs for centuries without mouldering away, and it is good to know, it is a consoling thought, that in Russia, too, beneath the dust of centuries, the past has sown such fruitful atoms, which yet bide their time.
I have still to elucidate the conditions under which the great drama to which I have just referred was played out—a drama which will constitute the greater part of the subject of this work—by an evocation of a part of the national life on which the preceding pages have frequently touched, but which must now be more completely sketched.