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Commencement of sledging Arbozes - Projected railway — The conscription - Managed by a board — How constituted Account of the system - What being enlisted means in Russia —Standard of height How the conscripts are selected — On the estates of private individuals - On the estates of the crown - Oppressive circumstances occasionally arising — Age of conscripts — Substitutes — Penalty on the Board for enlisting an unfit man — Bribery — A sitting of the Board Description of their proceedings — Examination of a conscript from a private estate Meaning of lop and zatillac A Crown peasant Character of the scene Attachment of the Russian to his familyAnecdote - Disposal of the recruits.
Tamboff, December 16th, 1837. We have now been settled for nearly three weeks in the town of Tamboff, where we are to spend the winter, and where the families of this district are fast assembling. We have had an uninterrupted frost since the 16th of November ; but no snow, beyond a mere sprinkling, fell until Sunday last, and even then the quantity was but moderate. It was, however, sufficient to allow of the use of sledges, a few of which were in motion, to the great joy of their owners, before the ground was thoroughly white. By the following morning the droschkas and tilegas had entirely disappeared, and no wheeled vehicles were to be seen except a few gentlemen's carriages, which
be used in the streets of a town all winter. Our English ideas of a heavy fall of snow are so closely connected with the notion of stage-coaches buried in drifts, mails due but not arrived, and parties imprisoned in countryhouses, that it is a little difficult at first to enter into the feelings of the Russian, who looks forward to the same event as affording him means of traffic and communication which he could not otherwise possess. The rise of the Nile is not more interesting or important to the Egyptian than is the establishment of the trainage or snow-roads to the Russian. If this period be unduly delayed, as sometimes happens, the conse
quences are most injurious to the country, from the difficulty of transporting goods, and from the general interruption to all traffic.
The cross-roads, especially in this part of the country, where as I have already told you there is no stone, become perfectly impassable before winter, being first cut into very deep ruts and holes during the wet weather of the autumn, and then in this condition frozen hard. It may therefore be readily supposed how welcome is the snow which spreads a smooth covering over this broken surface, and enables travellers and merchandise to glide easily and swiftly to their destination, without risk or injury.
The internal commerce of Russia is carried on in a manner quite peculiar to the country. There are no bulky stagewaggons, but all goods are transported in tilègas* or sledges, according to the season, each vehicle being drawn in general by one horse. These travel in trains, which are called arbozes, and their traffic on the principal roads is very great, even in summer. During the whole journey from Moscow to Tamboff we were seldom half an hour without meeting or passing an arboze, the number of tilegas in each varying from fifteen or twenty up to a hundred. In the winter, however, the trains are much more numerous,t from the increased facility of travelling and the consequent cheapness of conveyance. The average load for each sledge drawn by one horse is, I am told, about seven hundredweight, the animals being for the most part small and weak.
Important as these arbozes are to the internal trade of Russia, they are the source of considerable inconvenience to the winter traveller. The horses are under little control, from the small proportion of drivers, so that the line which they keep is but irregular, and the sledges, being on smooth wooden runners,
* Small light waggons.
+ I am credibly informed that in the winter fifty thousand sledges come daily into Moscow, loaded with provisions and goods. The charge in the winter, for conveying goods from Tamboff to Moscow, a distance of about three hundred and sixty miles, is a rouble per pood, or one penny per three and a half pounds, nearly.
# The law requires that there should be at least one driver to every three tilègas or sledges, but it is not rigorously enforced.
are constantly sliding sideways, so that it is often difficult in passing to avoid collision. All winter carriages and sledges of a superior description have narrow irons extending under their runners, and the sharp edges, like those of a skate, preserve them from lateral motion. When the snow is deep, especially if the frost relaxes in severity, the constant passage of the arbozes wears it, as I am informed, into large holes fou: or five feet deep, which render travelling at that time mos fatiguing and laborious, and not entirely free from danger. These holes are called ouchàbas.
The project is now under discussion of a railway from Petersburg to Moscow. The expense must obviously be enormous of making and maintaining the road, and of establishing and keeping up steam-communication on a line of more than five hundred miles through a country devoid of great commercial towns. The Russians, however, value rapidity of locomotion beyond any other people, except perhaps the Americans ; and the country between Petersburg and Moscow certainly presents great facilities to the engineer from its level character. The government therefore may perhaps hereafter be tempted to undertake a work which would enable them, if necessary, to convey troops from one capital to the other in thirty hours.
The conscription is now in active progress here, being managed by a board, of which my brother-in-law, in his capacity of marshal of the nobility, is president. He is daily engaged for several hours in the discharge of this duty, and it naturally forms a very frequent subject of conversation, the more so as I have felt much interested in obtaining some acquaintance with the system. For this purpose I attended the other day a sitting of the board to witness their proceedings. Before, however, I begin to describe them, I must give you a short general explanation of the whole affair.
Every class of Russian subjects, except the nobles and the clergy, is required in these days of peace to furnish one recruit annually out of every four hundred males. It is found, however, in practice more convenient to make the levy upon each government or province only once in two years, when, consequently, one man is called for out of every two hundred.* This year it is the turn of Tamboff and some other governments in this part of the empire to reinforce the armies of Russia.
* See account, infrà, of a winter journey which we afterwards made, and which enabled me to speak on this point from experience.
To examine and enlist the conscripts, Boards are appointed which sit from the 1st of November till the 31st of December, in the capital of each province, and in some of the district towns. The Board in the government town is composed of the vice-governor and some other functionaries, a medical man or two, a field-officer, and a subaltern, with a secretary and a number of clerks. In the absence of the vice-governor, which happens to occur here at present, the marshal of the government, whose office I have described in a former letter, presides in his stead. The District Boards are similarly constituted under the chairmanship of the marshal of each district. An aide-de-camp of the Emperor is always sent to see that the business is properly conducted, and that the different boards discharge their duty. He fixes his head-quarters in the government town, making occasional excursions into the districts, and exercising a general superintendence over the whole proceedings. It is, moreover, the duty of the Imperial aide-de camp,
when the business of the conscription is closed, and the full complement of men has been enlisted, to inspect the whole body of recruits; to make a general report of the proceedings to the Emperor; and to select the finest looking men for service in the Guards..
To be made a soldier in Russia implies the being placed at the absolute disposal of the Emperor for military service either by sea or by land. All the sailors on board the men-of-war are soldiers, and they are equipped and exercised as such. The apparent absurdity often remarked of Russian naval captains wearing spurs as a part of their uniform is explained by the fact that during a part of the year they serve on land as field officers.
The minimum standard of height for the line is five feet * The recruit, it will be observed, must be between the ages of 20 and 35, sound in body, and at least 5 feet 3 inches in height. The 200 souls out of whom he is selected include the infant and the old man, together with all who are unfit for service. This remark will enable the reader to estimate the heavy pressure of levies such as those of 1854 and 1855.
three inches, and for the Guards five feet six inches. The recruit, when enlisted, must be between the ages of twenty and thirty-five, and he is not entitled to his discharge until he has served for twenty-five years. The wife of a soldier is free, and his children are the property of the crown, which educates the boys as soldiers, and places them in the ranks when old enough to serve.
The dread which the Russian peasant has of the conscription is not surprising, when the severity of military service and of military discipline in this country is borne in mind, and when we remember how completely in his case every tie of family or of affection is severed, and every previous hope and prospect destroyed, when once he is enrolled in the ranks of the army. In fact, to make him a soldier is the most alarming and effectual threat which a Russian master can hold out to the most vicious and refractory of his peasants, and the infliction of this dreaded punishment is reserved for the worst and the most incorrigible characters.
On the estates which belong to the crown, and which form nearly one-half of the landed property of the empire, the lot of furnishing a conscript falls upon each family in turn, according to the number of males of which it consists, the selection being made by the community of peasants themselves. The same rule holds good with regard to the traders, but their numbers are so small in proportion to the peasants, that the ranks of the army may be considered as almost entirely filled by the latter class.
When the families on the Crown estates who are to furnish recruits have been fixed upon by the community, their names are sent in to the Board which I have mentioned ; and it is the duty of the Board, and the most troublesome part of its business, to ascertain that the choice is just and proper. This is done by referring to the registers in which the names and ages of all the male peasants on the estate are inserted, and also by examining the individuals themselves, and hearing all that they have to urge on their own behalf.
It not uncommonly happens that in a numerous family the sons are all too young, and that the father alone is capable of serving, while upon him the family depend for their mainten