Popular Science Monthly/Volume 86/January 1915/Geography in Russian History
|GEOGRAPHY IN RUSSIAN HISTORY|
THE history of Russia affords a striking example, not only of the influence of geography on history, but of the fact that man’s place in the scale of civilization is in large measure determined by his environment. In speaking of the contrasts in the development of Russia as compared with England, a recent writer says:
The empire of the plain! The very phrase suggests what Professor Kluchevsky calls the most characteristic feature of Russian history, namely, a spreading out or expansion over contiguous territory, a colonization.
It is not, however, only when comparison is made with England that geography appears so conspicuously as a factor in shaping the fundamental character of Russian development. Thus eastern Europe is organized into one single political unit, while western Europe, that is the smaller half of the continent, is divided into nineteen separate and independent states. The causes are manifest if we glance at the map. The surface of western Europe is broken and diversified, there are plains surrounded by mountains and uplands, there are transverse ranges making climatic divisions, and the sea penetrating deeply into the heart of the continent serves further to create physical or geographic units which invite the growth of separate states in response to boundaries set by mountain and sea. In eastern Europe, on the other hand, a great level plain spreads itself over an immense area. There are no divisions and no barriers and as a consequence no separate states over all of this great region.
The size of the Russian empire is therefore tremendous. European Russia is in itself larger than the other nineteen states of the continent taken together, and when we include Asiatic Russia, western Europe shrinks into insignificance. The Russian empire comprises one sixth of the total land area of the world; it is four times the size of the continent of Europe, forty-two times the size of France, nearly three times the size of the United States without Alaska, and seventy times the size of the British Isles. An English sailor knowing little about geography, and not yet caught by the propaganda of the English press in favor of things Russian once declared the "Rooshan" was everywhere. "I met him in the Baltic, then I sailed around the whole of Europe and found him on the Black Sea, and after six months around the Cape to India and China, I met him again on the Pacific." There are one hundred and seventy-five million Russians, and yet Russia is the most thinly populated of the great nations. "When you get to my country," said a young Russian nobleman from Bessarabia to me as we neared Libau on the steamer, "You will see how Russia is big, very big!"
Despite its immense extent, however, the land under the scepter of the Tsar constitutes a geographic unit. Even geologically it possesses a degree of uniformity found nowhere else over so large an area. From the Arctic to the Black Sea and from Poland to the Urals, and even farther Siberia, the strata are horizontal. The last of European land to emerge from the glacial drift, it has not been lifted, broken or forced out of place by the great upheavals which caused the diversified surface of western Europe.
Even as to its boundaries or frontiers, it is exceptionally clearly defined and the political state conforms on nearly all sides to the natural or physical. I say nearly, because towards Austria the Carpathians constitute a natural boundary which the Russian state has not yet reached, and which Petersburg confidently hopes to attain through the present war. Then too there are no geographic limits at two important points. Reference to the map shows that there is no physical boundary on the middle west where Russia merges into the German plain. Although nature forgot to form a natural frontier in this region, the ethnic factor entered in and the presence of the Teuton, for the time being at least, staked out a frontier against the Slav. But as usually happens when the ethnic frontier is unsupported by an adequate geographic boundary, confusion and friction arose. Even in times of peace the mothers of East Prussia are wont to silence their children with the ominous warning "Hush, the Rus is coming!" In Poland the absence of a natural boundary is dramatically reflected in political history, not only in the sad tragedy of the destruction of that kingdom in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but in the frequent struggles for the mastery of the borderland, so poignantly driven home, even to us at this distance, by the conflict now waging on the banks of the Vistula.
The other point where the natural frontiers are absent is in the southwest, towards the Danube. There the fact that the Carpathians do not reach to the Black Sea but double back on themselves, leaves an open and inviting road to the rich lands of the lower Danube, while the Black Sea itself offers an even more attractive outlet by way of the Bosphorus and Constantinople as the gateway to the Mediterranean and one of the world's great trade routes. And how many diplomatic intrigues, wars, conventions and treaties have had their origin in this simple geographic condition.
According to the latest investigations by Russian historians, the Slavic race was, about the second century after Christ, swept by the surging currents of racial migration into the region of the lower and middle Danube. But they were not allowed to remain, for it was they who received that terrible thrashing by Trajan's Romans. As a result of this, a large portion of them turned back, retraced their steps across the Carpathians into the Russian plain, and there on the banks of the lower Dnieper at Kiev slowly organized into a state. Indeed it is this little principality at Kiev that marks the beginning of the Russian nation. Its growth was stimulated by two great historic events. The first was the coming of the Scandinavians under Rurik and the subsequent assimilation, infusing into the Slav, especially the upper or commercial class, some of the military spirit of the north. The second was the adoption of Christianity about the year 1000. The conversion of the Eastern Slav was a step of momentous importance, for it brought a new force into his life. It also articulated, at least partially, his religion with that of western Europe. Partially, for as might be expected, the influence of geography told here, and the proximity of Kiev to Constantinople led the Russians to adopt the Eastern or Greek form of Christianity instead of the Western or Roman. Indeed the adoption at this psychological moment of the Byzantine religion and the Slavonic liturgy may well be regarded as the most fateful moment in Russian history. Later the marriage of Ivan III. with Sophia, the niece and heir of the last of the Constantines, gave to Russia not only the emblem of Byzantium, the double-headed eagle, but a claim to Constantinople itself.
The glories of the early civilization of Russia at Kiev, which even chroniclers of the west say outshone that of Alfred or of Charles the Great, can not delay us here. About the middle of the twelfth century, it was, however, violently interrupted by a great invasion by the Tartar hordes from Asia. The "Man of Rus," the Russian, was conquered and his civilization submerged. Kiev was abandoned in 1240 and those who could retreated, "trekked," northward into the region of the Volga and the Oká. There, in central Russia, this enforced colonization or "trekking" resulted in the development of the Great Russian stock, which to-day occupies the heart of Russia and constitutes two thirds of the Russian race. Sheltered in the almost impassable forests of central Russia, the Russian retained his nationality, and slowly recovering his strength, not only threw off the Tartar yoke but also freed his kinsmen on the Dnieper. In the subsequent centuries he fought his way to the sea.
The story of the rise of Moscow as the center from which the new Russia slowly expanded till it occupied the great plain of eastern Europe and northern Asia is well known. Midway between the Russian on the Volga and the Russian on the Dnieper rose Moscow, at the meeting place of the three great roads of the region. Its beginning must have been very humble for atale of a little later period marvels much at its rise,
Under Ivan the Terrible in the sixteenth century, the mighty Volga, "Mother Volga," was conquered and its cities Kazan and Astrakhan brought under Muscovite rule. Then towards the end of the sixteenth century, the conquest of the land to the east was begun. On New Year's Day of 1581, Yermak, the trapper and giant pirate of the Volga, having been entrusted with a commission by the Tsar, set out to subdue the tribes of Sibir, whence the name Siberia, and the lands of the rich fur trade. A century later the Pacific was reached and northern Asia was added to the Tsar's dominions during the very period that marks the great colonial expansion of France and England.
With the accession of Peter the Great, an era of conquest began which gave the Russian his opportunity to expand over the plain westward. Geographically, as we have seen, it formed a part of the Muscovite territory but hostile races were in possession. During the reign of Peter the Great and later Catherine II., we see the conflict of the rival races for control of all the western provinces of present-day Russia. The victory was with the stronger ethnic group. Peter the Great got the Baltic provinces, pushing the frontier to its natural line, the sea, and in the founding of Petersburg placed "a window," as he put it, for Russia to look out upon Europe; a century later Catherine got a large portion of Poland, adding "the doormat" also. This completed the Russian advance into Europe in this direction save for the acquisition of Finland in 1809 and a further portion of Polish land including the city of Warsaw in 1815.
But the difficulties in the way of expansion to the geographic frontiers encountered in Europe were either not present at all in Asia or else were too weak to offer substantial resistance. Hence Russia has in the last 100 years pushed out to the confines of India and China and added millions of square miles to her territory beyond the Caspian and in southern Siberia. In one place, she has even gone beyond what would appear as the normal physical boundary: in the conquest of the trans-Caucasus she has begun a march that points to the Persian Gulf as her ultimate goal.
Turning now to the more intimate relation of the great Russian plain to the people who have made it their own, a number of striking facts appear. In the first place, it has produced and preserved for the whole vast central area a common physical type, a common religion and a common language. The 125 million Russians occupying this central territory of the Russian plain, as has been often pointed out, show a truly astounding uniformity of head formation when one takes into consideration the size of the territory and the number of people involved. The variation in cephalic index, according to ethnologists, is only about 5 points around 82. That is to say, the Russian not only belongs to the round-headed type, but the ratio between the length and the width of head among the 125 millions varies astonishingly little when compared with the variation in the cephalic index in races whose habits and environment show greater variety. Among the Italians, for example, it is as high as 14 instead of 5 as in Russia, and in France it is 10. Yet both the territory and the number of people involved in each case is very much smaller. A further point of some interest is the fact that Slavic skulls thirteen centuries old, found in this region, exhibit the same peculiarity. Evidently the absorption of the Varangians, and later, of the Turco-Finnish tribes of the region, has in no way affected the head formation. The power of the great plain is dominant and the uniformity and monotony of the land reflects itself in an unparalleled extension over a vast area of a uniform type of head formation.
It would be a mistake, however, to leave the impression that, since a common head formation prevails among the Russians, they are alike in other respects. Quite apart from the many alien races on the frontier, there are three main groups among the Russians themselves, differing from one another not only in dialects, habits and disposition, but physically as well.
First there are the Great Russians numbering over 82,000,000 and much the largest of the three groups. They occupy the heart of Russia with Moscow as the center. Second is the Little Russian, about 37,000,000 strong. He holds the territory south and southwest, including the Don Cossacks, and his center is at the old and first capital of the Russians, on the Dnieper at Kiev. Third is the White Russian, about 5,000,000 in number, in lands east of Poland and northward around Lithuania. The land of the White Russian is heavily wooded and in parts marshy, the soil like that of the Baltic provinces being poor and unproductive. The territory of the Little Russian, on the other hand, is flat and open, comprising the rich black earth belt and the vast grazing steppes of the south. The home of the Great Russian extends from White Russia eastward to the Volga and from Little Russia northward towards the Arctic.
The distinction between these groups is not fanciful but very real. The language spoken by the three groups, though basically the same, differs so much that they can not understand each other. One may be quite conversant with Muscovite and yet be unable to understand the Russian of the Ukraine. Indeed on the border territory between Great and Little Russia villages are found where the two peoples have lived side by side for generations without mixing and without understanding each other’s speech. The two groups also differ markedly in appearance. The Great Russian is blonde with chestnut or auburn hair, light complexion and beer colored eyes. In disposition he is phlegmatic, stolid and stubborn. The Little Russian, on the other hand, though possessing the head type of the eastern Slav, as I have already indicated, is dark, even swarthy, with brown eyes and dark brown hair. A further difference appears in his stature, for the Little Russian, despite his name, is big, considerably taller on the average than his brother the Great Russian. The reason for this is not easy to find, unless the greater stature of the Little Russian is but another reflection of the influence of environment. The Little Russian occupies the best land of Russia, the fertile soil of the black earth belt, and the consequent better nourishment extending over a long period of time together with some admixture of old Polish stock is doubtless responsible for his larger stature.
But it is not merely physically that the Little Russian differs from the Great Russian. He differs from him quite as much in disposition and habits of life. He is more mellow and open hearted; the sun of the southland has made him kind, hospitable and emotional. He is musical, highly imaginative and poetical, fond of pleasure, games and dancing. To him Russia owes most of her music, her poetry and her folk song. “What ecstasy, what joy has a summer day in Little Russia,” cries Gogol, in the bleak and uncongenial Petersburg, as he writes his “Evenings on a Farm in the Ukraine.” Indeed this gifted son of Little Russia, whose sketches reflect so many of the characteristics of his native land, denied to the Great Russian with his roughness, surliness and phlegmatic character, any share or claim in the Slavonic race. With the White Russian we can not linger; he is regarded by some as nearest the original type of the eastern Slav. His name is probably a result of the color of his clothes—a light-colored homespun devoid as well of the somber hues of the Great Russian's attire, as of the brightness and variegated colors of the Little Russian.
But despite these differences, the great plain dominates, and environment added to common history and a common religion, has produced a people of greater homogeneity than is known anywhere else on so large a scale.
Among the races of the frontier, the differences are more striking, not only between group and group but between each group and the Russian proper. They occupy the territory on the outer border; Poland, the Baltic provinces, Finland, the foothills of the Urals, the lower Volga, and the region of the Caucasus, and furnish almost every variety of head formation, stature, color scheme and what goes without saying, a veritable Babel of languages or dialects. The Russian Year Book for 1912 notes 101 languages or dialects, and there is excellent authority for the statement that at Tiflis 68 of these are in actual use.
First among the non-Russian peoples of the fringe are the Poles. There are between seven and eight million Poles under Russian rule, and at Warsaw one of the most tragic racial struggles of history has been in progress for well-nigh a century and a half. The Poles are Slavs but belong to the western branch of the race and are ardently devoted to the Roman Catholic instead of the Greek Catholic Church. Generally speaking the ethnic type more nearly resembles the Little Russian, both in appearance and character. But the effect of prolonged oppression involving the elimination of a large proportion of the best manhood is having its effects. This fact impresses itself more emphatically on the casual visitor because of the presence in Poland of millions of unfortunate Jews, forced into the country by the policy of Russian autocracy and necessarily living under conditions of the most cruel and grinding poverty.
To the north of the Poles and occupying the Baltic provinces, a region of birch and pine with a poor soil, are two peoples, the Letts and the Germans. The Letts with their chief center at Vilna constitute the lower class. They are at the same time the oldest remnant of the Aryan stock. There are between three and four millions of them; all belong to the peasant class and are a raw-boned race, simple in language, taste and habits. They were the last of the Aryan peoples to accept Christianity and their language is of interest because it is the most ancient form of Aryan extant. As might be expected it has scarcely any words to express abstract ideas, its vocabulary being confined to words for concrete objects. The upper class in the Baltic provinces is German. There are not a great many of them, but they are the great landed proprietors, business and commercial men. The chief cities are Riga and Libau. Riga in particular boasts of a history associated with the glories of the Hanseatic League, and to this day it impresses one as distinctly German in appearance.
Further to the north still, along the shores of the Gulf of Finland are the Finns, subjects of Sweden for many years, but conquered by Russia in 1809. Their culture is distinctly Teutonic and on coming from Russia to Finland one is at once struck by the absence of the Russian or Byzantine architecture in the churches; similarly the ubiquitous uniform of Petersburg is also absent. Altogether it is a world non-Russian, despite the fact that it has formed a part of the Russian empire for 105 years. The Finns are a non-European stock, Mongolian in origin, and physically differ considerably from the Russians. They are taller and belong to the long-headed type and the eyes are almost uniformly blue. They have had a constant struggle with a poor soil, an adverse climate and an overpowerful neighbor. Yet in Finland all can read, and very few are to be found who can not write also. One can not but be impressed with the industry and pluck of this valiant little people, and feel in sympathy with the Finnish economists who see in the geographic location and the magnificent water power of their country the basis for a great development in the future.
The Finns appear further as the principal people over the entire area of northern Russia, excepting the stunted and wandering Lapps with their reindeer, and the Samoyads—a heathen fisher folk of the northeast. Indeed this region was theirs till the Great Russian conquered it. Petersburg itself is set down in the midst of a Finnish country; a land of marsh and forest occupied by Finnish peasants, Teutonic in culture. Indeed from the ethnic standpoint the old name of the Russian capital is more in accord with historic and even actual conditions than its present one of Petrograd, which is of course the Russian instead of German for the city of Peter. The conquest of northern Russia by the Muscovites did not bring with it any war of annihilation or wholesale migration. Slav and Finn have existed side by side for generations, the latter being subjected to a gradual process of absorption by the Great Russian. The Finns in their little villages hold out stubbornly against it, women being particularly tenacious in retaining the old customs.
MacKenzie Wallace says.
The fact that toward the east the Russian has pushed across Asia to the Pacific does not mean that he has absorbed and Russianized what lies between. Indeed from Nijni-Novgorod where the Volga turns southward, that river, to the elbow at Tsaritsin, constitutes, in a sense, an ethnic boundary. Here non-slavic races—fag-ends of peoples—are found, preserving not only their own speech and habits but costumes as well. As a result a voyage on the Volga affords unique and fascinating points of interest, quite apart from its scenic and geographic features. A bewildering confusion of racial types appear. Asia and Europe seem to meet and intermingle, but not to coalesce. The focal point is at Kazan where the intermingling of strains of blood, of religions, of customs and of languages, is at its maximum. It is Russia's "melting pot." But thus far the heat has not been sufficient to effect a coalescence of the many racial ingredients it contains.
Turning from the discussion of the ethnic elements of European Russia to the conditions of life prevalent among them, geographic influences and environment appear in an equally striking manner as dominating factors; and nowhere more than in the ignorance and poverty so general among the great mass of the Russians. We are told that the mothers of Vladimir's day bewailed as dead the little ones taken from them to be taught the alphabet. To-day over seventy-five per cent, of the population is illiterate. Nor is this at all surprising. Only a hundred years ago, Russians were sold in the open market at Moscow. "To be sold: three coachmen, well-trained and handsome:—two girls, the one eighteen, and the other fifteen years of age, both of them good looking," etc., is one of many advertisements of the kind in the Moscow Gazette early in the nineteenth century. Serfs and cattle were intentionally put in the same category, as appears in such announcements as "In this house one can buy a coachman and a Dutch cow."
Not until 1861, the year made memorable in the United States by the beginning of the great war that liberated the negro, was the barter in Russian souls stopped by the emancipation edict of Alexander II. This barter appeared not only in the actual exchange of Russian subjects between one landlord and the other, but also in the unpardonable control exercised by the proprietor over the moral welfare of his serfs. The story told by Prince Kropotkin is familiar to many:
Many will remember Pushkin's exclamation as he listened with growing seriousness to Gogol's reading of "Dead Souls," "God! what a sad country is Russia!" or his comment later, "Gogol invented nothing, he tells the simple truth, the terrible truth."
First among the geographic influences underlying such conditions has undoubtedly been the remoteness of Russia from the main currents of European civilization on the one hand and her close proximity to, and contact with Asia on the other. When the Russian state revived in the fifteenth century around Moscow, it was not only isolated, but overshadowed and stifled by Asia. Evidences of this may be seen in many ways; one still hears the saying, "Scratch a Russian and find a Tartar." The art and architecture of Russia show unmistakable proofs of the necessity the nation was under so many years of bearing the brunt of the Asiatic onslaught. The contact with western civilization, on the other hand, was for a long period remote and attenuated, and the influence of the west upon the Russian masses imperceptible.
Another great difficulty arose from the fact that Russia did not lie on the way to any other part of the world. She has not been on any of the great trade routes or channels of human intercourse. To better understand the significance of this simple geographic fact, we have only to consider its influence in other parts of the world, as for example in the case of the prosperity and progress of the towns along the medieval trade routes, or the conspicuous decline of Renaissance Italy after the discovery of the western hemisphere. Following upon the voyages of Columbus, Vasco da Gama and Magellan, the trade routes left the Mediterranean for the Atlantic and coincident with this came the decay of the Florence of the Medici and the Rome of Julius II. On the other hand, the increased importance of Italy, and for that matter the Balkans, since the opening of the Suez Canal, reflects the return in part at least of the Mediterranean to its former place.
As if to emphasize the geographic isolation still further, infant Russia, following the suggestion of geographic propinquity, went to Byzantium for its religion. This fact was fraught with tremendous consequence, for to her geographic isolation Russia thus added religious isolation. She divorced herself from the religion, thought and culture created in western Europe by the medieval church. She did not share in the civilization in which the church and later the protestant revolt served as basic factors. Political and social institutions developed in ecclesiastical moulds. The very physiognomy of the cities was determined by it, so that even with the development of modern industrialism. Moscow, Kiev, Petersburg and other places still have the appearance of ecclesiastical cities.
But there is another important factor underlying the slow development of Russia, It is the tremendous size of the Russian plain when considered in connection with the sparseness of the population. The average density of population for the Russian Empire is about 8 persons per square verst. In comparison with western Europe it is 20 times less than in England, 15 times less than in Germany and 10 times less than in France. This adds local isolation to national isolation for even to-day only about 14 per cent, of the population live in towns or near enough to be seriously influenced by the civilizing agencies of modern city life. At least four fifths of Russia is untouched by those powerful engines for progress in the western world, the public press and education. What this means especially during the long Russian winter with its enforced change of employment and relaxation of effort is manifest. There is sound geographic basis for the joy so constantly found in Russian literature at the return of spring after the prolonged winter:
Spring, beautiful Spring! Come O Spring with joy!
With great goodness, With tall flax,
With deep roots, With abundant corn.
These lines have an element of strength that is born of the soil. Indeed they recall the fact that the immense size of the Russian plain reveals its influence in quite another and subtler way; in a certain largeness of character and outlook that can not be judged by the standard test of illiteracy. One feels it in one's associations, not only with the educated but with the people at large. Nor need one go to Russia for this; no one can read the Russian novel and not be impressed by a quality that is the very essence of the country's immensity. Gogol's Homeric romance of Russian history, "Taras Bulba," is crammed with it. It is a story of the old Cossacks in all their barbarous love of fighting, eating and drinking, their giant physical strength and vitality, their intense patriotism, and as W. L. Phelps puts it,
Turgeniev's "Sketches of a Huntsman" though in a setting nearer Moscow and therefore totally different, has it just as does "War and Peace" by the greatest of all Russians, Leo Tolstoi. There is plenty of local color, of boundless steppes and forest, broad rivers, illimitable snow and long winter nights, but it all has an atmosphere of vastness that is wide as the world in its reach. The characters are cast in a large mould and the problems, though national in setting, are worldwide in their appeal. There is in Tolstoi a quality that is bred of the vicissitudes of life on the Russian plain, of its contact with nature, its aloofness from artificiality, and its call upon the people for suffering and passive resistance.
Though again and again led by autocracy into wars of aggression, the Russians have shown an inaptitude for positive aggressive strategy. They have lacked the punch. Apparently invincible, as Napoleon, Frederick the Great and Charles XII. discovered, when resisting attack, they have so far failed in the offensive. Whether this is due to inferior military organization or to a national characteristic induced by environment, and described by Turgeniev, as a weakness of the will among individuals, is hard to determine. Both factors doubtless play their part. It took over an hour to add an extra coach to the night express on which I was traveling from Moscow to Nijni last July, and then a score of people were without accommodation and had to wait till the following day. And that was at Moscow, the principal railroad center of the country.
Another important fact in Russian development has been the predominance of agriculture over every other occupation. There has not been sufficient seaboard for a great commerce, and as yet, industrial development though fraught with great promise, is for the same reason in its beginnings. Of the 175,000,000 Russians, 125,000,000 are engaged in agriculture. A population of peasants! Indeed one is tempted to say an empire of peasants. The soil of the country as well as the climate varies so greatly that almost anything can be raised in Russia from the furs of the government of Archangel to the teas of the Crimea and the cotton of the Trans-Caucasus. In Russia's report for the Glasgow Exposition some years ago occurs the sentence:
Across the northern portion of the country tundra prevails, but it is not for that reason worthless, for it contains some of the most valuable peat bogs in Europe, second only to those of the central provinces. South of the tundra lies a broad forest belt of pine and birch, with clearings on which flax, rye and oats are grown. Further south still is oak, beech and lime with large clearings for wheat and hemp. Next to this forest zone with its untold wealth in timber is the wide strip of rich vegetable soil which has given to the region the name of the Black Earth Belt. It stretches from the Carpathians to the Urals and even beyond into Asia. The area is covered with a rich deposit of black soil, varying in depth from 12 inches to 12 feet, which rivals the black loam of the Mississippi in its natural fertility, despite the fact that it has produced its crops since the days of Pericles. It awaits only the introduction of more intensive farming and up-to-date machinery to increase its productivity still more.
To the south of the Black Earth Belt lie rich grazing lands affording pasturage for millions of sheep, horses and cattle. In Bessarabia, on the shores of the Black Sea and the Crimea, are vineyards and fruit farms of great beauty and value. But even this by no means exhausts the unparalleled resources of even European Russia. The great variety of minerals in the Urals, the vast deposits of iron and coal in Poland, the coal and graphite of the Donetz Valley, I can only mention in passing. In the region between the Don and the Caspian Sea is the great saline desert, with its inexhaustible supply of salt and fertilizer. According to recent experiments, the soil can be easily adapted to the growth of the sugar beet. Further to the south are the rich oil beds. The output of petroleum in 1913 for the Baku region alone was 420,000,000 poods from over 4,000 wells, and the importance of this in the economic development of the country is inestimable. All Volga steamers now use mazout or crude oil as fuel.
These economic and geographic areas of Russia are in no case separated by physical barriers as is our Pacific slope from the states east of the Rocky Mountains, or even the Atlantic seaboard from the territory beyond the Alleghenies. Russia is without high relief; the watersheds are almost imperceptible elevations. Indeed European Russia is so flat that the Baltic-Black Sea Canal is to be made available for large ocean going vessels by the construction of only two locks. Naturally therefore the rivers and waterways of Russia have been of unusual importance, especially before the days of the railroad, in binding the different economic areas together, affording magnificent arteries for the movement of internal trade both in winter and summer. The rivers are large and sluggish, owing to their great length and slight fall. The Volga is the longest river in Europe. It is 2,300 miles in length, that is, three times as long as the Rhine, yet its total fall is only a little over 800 feet. The peat bogs in the Valdai Hills where it takes its rise are only 750 feet above sea level, while Astrakhan at the mouth is 65 feet below the level of the sea. The Russian fondly speaks and sings of it as "Matushka Volga" or "Little Mother Volga" in gratitude no doubt for the bounteous supply of fish, caviar and game, as well as comforts and pleasures afforded by this historic stream which plays so important a part in the economic life of the nation. The products of Asia and of Europe are carried on its waters; the 2,000 odd river steamers are always busy, and the huge rafts consisting often of thousands of logs, being floated or pulled down the stream, represent a small portion of the riches of Russia's inexhaustible forest lands.
Equally conspicuous at almost every part of the river are the scenes connected with the fishing industry, ranging from the small boy and the old man with the primitive rod and bait at the landing place, to the groups of queer boats with long nets which dot the bosom of the stream from Tver to Astrakhan. Scientific laboratories maintained by the government for the study of the zoological and biological life of the river have been established at the principal fishing centers. Even in winter fishing is kept up. The fish bury their heads in the mud, their bodies rising upwards in the water. Holes are cut in the ice and the fish are speared, a catch averaging from 6 to 12 fish per spear. The caviar, of which there is the red and black variety, also comes chiefly from this region. The roe is separated from the tissue, beaten through a sieve, and salted for export or home consumption.
In its lower course the Volga enters the great depression once covered by the waters of the Caspian sea. It flows sluggishly past Tsaritsin through the great saline basin and finally loses itself in the Caspian at Astrakhan. This great inland sea, despite the fact that it is only a relic of its former self, is still the largest inland sea in the world, Notwithstanding the fact that it has no outlet, and receives the inflow of the Volga and the Ural, it is constantly declining in level. It is already over 90 feet below the level of the Black Sea. Nor is this all. Sudden and irregular fluctuations in the level have occurred so frequently in recent years that geographers have the theory that there are volcanic disturbances in the sea bed itself.
But despite the wealth of the Volga, the Baku and other regions, the Black Earth Belt is still much the most important. Upon the success or failure of its crops depends in a large measure the prosperity of the nation. Unfortunately the methods of agriculture, in most cases, are still very primitive, but in this as in other matters of Russian economic history rapid progress is being made and generalizations are dangerous. A visit to the fields of the sickle agriculture shows the small narrow strips of medieval times separated not by fences, wood is too scarce in the steppe region for that, but by a furrow or two left clear. A great many of these side by side give the impression of large, very large, fields of wheat, but the grain on each strip, small though it be, has a different owner. Land tenure in many parts of Russia since the emancipation of the serf by Alexander II. has been communal. The title to all rural land belonging to the peasantry was vested in the village community. Hence the Russian peasant was bound to his village which he could not leave save with the consent of the elders; he could not get his land in his own right and farm it as he would; he could not even get his land together in one piece. Instead it was scattered about in different parts of the communal land making him waste much time going from one strip to another. The village community was the absolute master and in its assembly of elders it allotted the strips of land each member was to have as his for cultivation. The result was inevitable. Not only did indifferent farming follow, but with the increase in the population the land had to be constantly re-divided, the strips becoming always smaller, for the mir, as the village community is called, had no means of expanding and taking in new lands. The picture of the Russian peasantry drawn by Tolstoi, Tchekov and others reveals a pathetic state of suffering, misery and discouragement in the wake of what was planned to be a great economic and social reform. Stagnation in the economic life of the people was thus added to political and intellectual stagnation.
Even to-day millions of the Russian peasants are not only too poor to employ any but the simplest instruments of agriculture, but the smallness of their acres make the machinery we are accustomed to out of the question. On the other hand, there are large estates with the finest modern machinery, while the peasant proprietor is gradually overcoming the difficulty by cooperative buying. Six million households were associated with cooperative associations in 1911, and 310 out of the 370 Zemstvos were last year engaged in the sale of agricultural machinery. Long years of experience in the semi-communal dealings of the "mir" have trained the Russian peasants in the qualities necessary for cooperative enterprise.
In the meantime the Zemstvos and the government technical schools are doing all in their power to develop more scientific agriculture and the prospects are good for a thorough reform in agricultural methods in Russia in the near future. Fortunately, a reform inaugurated by the late premier Stolypin in 1905 and now being slowly forced upon a reluctant and conservative peasantry is working a deep and far reaching agrarian revolution. By the application of the Stolypin measure, the Russian peasant can now withdraw from the village community and obtain the consolidation of his holdings, to which he gets the individual title. The larger consequences, aside from better agriculture, are many. The enterprising and thrifty peasant will get on and prosper, while the shiftless will lose what land he has. There will be created in Russia a new class of small but independent farmers on the one hand, and an agricultural proletariat on the other. That the latter will sooner or later find its way to the cities and supply the much needed labor for the steadily growing industrial Russia is also clear. This however is the very reason for the violent opposition to Stolypin's reform by many leading statesmen and economists, who point with pride to the fact that up to the present Russia has not had a class corresponding to the industrial proletariat of western Europe.
For years the appalling losses through fire in the Russian towns and villages was a matter much commented on, but no effort at prevention was seriously undertaken. Stone is scarce throughout Russia for the geological strata are horizontal, hence the houses, barns and other buildings are of necessity constructed of wood, clay, brick and straw. The rural villages present a jumble of thick thatched roofs as inflammable in dry weather as tinder. According to the findings of a government commission appointed a few years ago to investigate the subject, the losses to the nation by fire amounted to the total destruction of rural Russia once in fifteen years. . The report was the incentive for a vigorous campaign against the thatched roof, with the result that in many villages one can now see the new roofs of wood or metal side by side with the thatched. They are less picturesque but manifestly better, and the change is going on rapidly.
The villages are usually unattractive. Where possible, they are built on low ground, probably as a protection against the cold. The streets and alleys are not paved and in rainy weather they are deep with mud which makes them not only impassable, but owing to the lack of sanitary precautions, a breeding place for disease, especially for typhoid and diphtheria. The death rate is of course appalling. Indeed the question of public health is sadly neglected. In 1909 there was only one doctor for every 11,000 people in the Empire. In the villages of some pretension, one is apt to find a house a little better than the rest that serves as the inn, hard by is the store where necessities are sold and at the end of the village street, or not infrequently back of the individual cottages, is the bathhouse in which the villagers bathe or steam themselves at least once a week.
The building of the village that one would like to find, and rarely does, is the village school, which is so conspicuous in the rural landscape of America and western Europe. Up to the present the Russian seems to have expended his energy in building churches instead of schools. Wherever you go in the land of the Tsars, the existence of an all powerful dominating church is manifest. The sky line of the great cities is dotted with the brightly gilded domes of cathedrals and monasteries, while the country landscape is likewise enriched and enlivened by the presence of the white sobor of the region. Similarly one encounters in the streets of every large city innumerable shrines. The mass of the population still makes the sign of the cross and utters a prayer when passing a church or shrine. In the hut of the peasant as in the palace of the rich, and on every vessel flying the Russian flag, the holy ikon above the little burning lamp with floating wick is always found.
The Russian church ever since the days of Peter the Great has been a state institution. Its clergy are the servants of the state, and it is therefore very closely identified with the government in its administration and policy. The clergy is sharply divided into two groups, the black and the white or grey. The former are monks; they do not marry and from their ranks come the higher clergy. While in the monasteries they occupy themselves with the complexities of the Slavonic liturgy and service, works of charity, painting of ikons, etc., the demand being of course enormous. Unfortunately the state described by Turgeniev as "remorseless laziness" is quite as prevalent with the monks as with the peasants.
One of the greatest things the clergy has done for the Russian people is the creation of a wonderful church music. The singing and intoning is all by male voices and in some of the churches, as for example, St. Isaacs at Petersburg, or the Synodal Church at Moscow, surpasses in dignity and grandeur any church music in the world. Nothing, it seems to me, can excel in exquisite beauty the singing of the gosopodoy lui, the Russian for "God have Mercy" from the moment the first notes of the boy soprano reach you, through the manifold variations to the final appeal by the full chorus to which the deep rich Russian bass gives a power almost of command. Russian music, whether it be the fine liturgical music of the church, the rhythmic and somewhat monotonous singing of the Volga boatmen, the boisterous Troika song, or an ornate opera like Boris Godunov, is permeated through and through with the spirit of the endless plain and a sense of loneliness that rarely admits of majors. The somber hues of the landscape, the atmosphere of the boundless solitudes, dominate; Russian popular music is all in the minor key.
Whether it be the result of ignorance, isolation or climate, the bane of the Russian peasant is intemperance and the amount of vodka he consumes is appalling. The manufacture and sale of the drink is a government monopoly. There are two grades, the best containing about 40 per cent, alcohol. It is a white liquor with a cognac taste vitiated however by an after taste of crude oil which the wealthy Russian overcomes by adding a little palatable sherry. To such an extent has the drink habit grown that the government's revenue from this source last year reached the enormous sum of 800,000,000 roubles or somewhat over $400,000,000.
So threatening has the drink evil become that strenuous efforts have been undertaken to check it. Since the beginning of the war the Tsar has prohibited the manufacture and sale of vodka entirely. That a deep-seated national custom will not be corrected by an edict is evident. Intelligent efforts are, however, being made to bring about the emancipation of the people in this respect. Whatever the outcome of these efforts, the drunkenness of the Russian masses in the past has been proverbial. With this has gone a brutalizing of human nature; men still beat their wives and children apparently for no other reason than to keep up the ancient tradition.
But in this respect too conditions are changing. Indeed it is becoming a commonplace that even the Great Russian is far from being quite so absolutely the master in his house as he used to be. In place of the old folk-song by the young wife: "What sort of husband are you to me? You do not pull my hair and you do not strike me," one now hears the complaint of the old-fashioned: "God only knows what is getting into our women these days: You can not lay a finger on them without their shouting and making an ado, saying they will go away and not come back." That the amelioration of the lot of woman in Russia has been so long delayed is a matter of surprise, because if Russian writers are fair to their men, the Russian woman is in every respect more practical, energetic and effective; "the incarnation of singleness of purpose" and possessed of a driving force that is only equalled by the irresolution of the male sex. In Finland she sits in the Diet of the nation, in Poland the women more than the men keep alive the fires of Polish patriotism, and in Russia proper they are an important element in the progressive movement.
For several decades an industrial transformation has been in progress in Russia that has largely changed the character of the chief centers of population. While still predominantly agricultural, Russia is rapidly becoming an industrial state as well. There has been a tremendous growth of manufactures in recent years. Hand in hand with the growth of factories, especially those of the iron and textile industries in the cities, there is also a very extensive system of manufacturing on the large estates where the work is done by peasants. With this has come of late an extensive system of encouragement of domestic manufacture, or cottage industry among the peasantry, still prevalent everywhere throughout the central provinces of European Russia. In the textile industry the hand manufacture often cooperates as a direct auxiliary with the great mills of Moscow and Petersburg. An enlightened effort is also being made to perpetuate native or home industry by patriotic societies; stores and agencies are maintained for the woodwork, bric-a-brac, toys, wicker-work, leather goods, pottery, lace, embroidery, etc., made by the peasants during the long winter.
Perhaps the most important factor in this transformation of Russia is the modernization of the transportation of the country. Unfortunately too much emphasis is laid on military interest as opposed to economic needs in the construction of Russian railroads. The foremost English authority on Russia writing ten years ago said.
At the time of the Crimean War, Russia had 750 miles of railroad; in 1913 the Minister of Ways and Communications gave the total mileage as 46,839, of which 60 per cent, belongs to the state. Russia stands next to the United States in mileage. And added to this is the enormous extent of her navigable waterways aggregating 102,600 miles. On the whole Russia combines a most marvellous system of transportation, almost bewildering in its variety of medieval and modern traffic methods; caravans, motor-vans, barges, vessels with internal combustion engines and up-to-date steam railroads.
The center of the system is not Petersburg but Moscow, the city also most intimately identified historically with the rise and growth of the nation. There are only two important economic areas of Russia that Petersburg can reach without passing through Moscow, and even these are more closely allied to Moscow than to the northern capital. Geography, and by this I mean location as well as resources, has not only kept Moscow on a level with her rival, but guarantees without gainsay to raise her far above the city of Peter in the future. Theprogress of the present and even more so of the Russia of to-morrow lies not in the region of Petersburg but in the center and south, that is nearer Moscow. The industrial areas from Poland to the southeast through Tula, Ekaterinoslav to the mines of the lower Don, the largest coal-producing fields of Europe; the Baku oil fields; the Caspian and lower Volga fisheries; the Transcaspian trade; the commerce of the Black Sea and the Bosphorus; and the proximity of the Moscow government to the great agricultural area of the Black Earth Belt, all afford a sound economic basis for the supremacy of the old capital. Before her the bureaucratic city on the banks of the Neva must sooner or later surrender an ascendancy made by man in defiance of geography. Besides, the movement of population in Russia is southward. Incidentally too it is worthy of note that the development of industrialism and commercialism at Moscow has already transformed the politics of this cradle of autocratic Tsardom; Moscow is no longer reactionary but progressive and liberal.
The progress of Russia has been tremendous in the last decade. The years since the Japanese war have seen the adoption of a constitutional regime, the rapid spread of industrialism, the greatest agrarian reforms since emancipation, and a remarkably intelligent study and handling of the problems of primary education, agriculture and intemperance. Along with this has come a clear appreciation of the richness of her resources. "In the markets of the world there exists to-day a famine in meat, lumber and breadstuffs," say the Russian economists, and Russia can produce all three to an indefinite amount.
Russia has a geographic basis for a great nation such as is possessed by no other people unless it be our own. It is wanting however in one important respect, it lacks an adequate coast line. Its outlet to the commerce of the western world is through waters dominated by other powers, or by way of Archangel, which, like Petersburg, is icebound for a large part of the year. Nor are conditions better in the Far East where the premature insistence upon the possession of Port Arthur and the consequent war with Japan was largely due to the desire for an ice-free port on the Pacific. Russia's means of access to the world's commerce are too circumscribed for so large a state, and she is bound to demand a readjustment favorable to her interests from time to time. Indeed that is what she has been doing for centuries; her coastward movement has been in progress for at least four hundred years and we are witnesses to-day of another gigantic step in this direction. The Germans block the way, and ultimately, combined with them, the Swedes and Danes. That Russia with her population of 175 millions, increasing at the rate of nearly three millions a year, and with resources so vast and undeveloped that they can only be roughly estimated, will be kept permanently bottled up is not likely. Her coastward advance, however, is likely to follow lines of least resistance and the conquest of an outlet by way of Constantinople to the world's trade is as inevitable as is its geographic reasonableness. Towards the Persian Gulf the way is also open and inviting. Indeed everywhere in Asia she has the unique advantage of internal lines of development and therefore also of attack. Geographically the serious menace to British world supremacy does not lie in Germany but in Russia.
In the past great rivers and flat plains invited expansion over immense areas of forest, swamp and rich agricultural lands. To-day the lure of rich trade routes and the consequent attraction of the sea is fascinating the eastern Slav. He is building his roads, railroads and canals, and sending colonists out into unoccupied land very much as did the United States in the nineteenth century. Once this is occupied, the push to the sea will be irresistible. This youthful giant among the nations of the world is beginning to realize his great strength; the resignation and despair of the peasant empire is giving way to a New Russia full of confident assurance.