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Effects of charcoal vapour The Russian stove Warmth of houses
Fire-places — Death from charcoal vapour — Convicts on their way to Siberia Rural police — Punishment of a peasant -- Of a noble The knout — Martial law — Running the gauntlet - Erroneous penal system – A General degraded to the ranks - Prevalence of bribery A lucrative post — Want of public opinion — Inadequacy of legitimate emoluments.
Tamboff, December 23rd, 1837. In my last letter I told you that the Emperor always sent one of his aides-de-camp into each province at the period of the recruitment. The officer * who is at present charged with this duty at Tamboff, and who has the good fortune to have attained the rank of Colonel at the age of thirty-two, nearly lost his life the other day in a most ignoble manner, namely, from the effects of charcoal vapour in his lodgings. Fatal accidents of this kind are not very uncommon in this country, arising either from ill-constructed stoves or from carelessness in those who have the charge of them.
The Russian stove is a sort of oven, with a flue which can be opened or closed at pleasure, and with apertures to admit the warm air into the room. The fire is made entirely with wood, and when it is lighted the flue is opened and the valves are closed. The fuel, as it burns out, is beaten small, and when it is entirely reduced to ashes and the flame and smoke have quite disappeared, the flue is stopped, a handful of salt being first thrown on the remains of the fire. In a couple of hours afterwards the valves may be opened and the hot air allowed
* (Note, second edstion.) The Emperor's aide-de-camp, Colonel Boutourlin,
of the regiment of Chevaliers-Gardes, was an admirable specimen of the Russian officer of the best class. He combined the bearing of a soldier with the address and accomplishments of a finished gentleman, and his presence at Tamboff added during his stay a great attraction to the very agreeable society of the place. He died as he had lived-a soldier. General Boutourlin fell in Wallachia, in action, in 1854.
to circulate. If, however, the smallest piece of wood remains smouldering after the chimney has been closed, the poisonous vapour from the charcoal penetrates into the rooms. Its presence is easily detected from its smell, especially by those who enter from the open air; but sometimes the first intimation which those who are in the apartments have of the existence of vapour is given by a sudden and racking headache, which is followed in time by stupor and inability to move. If the vapour
has been breathed for some time before it is detected, its effects are often felt for several days afterwards, if not followed by a fatal result.
Colonel Boutourlin, the aide-de-camp, had lain down to sleep on a sofa in the afternoon, and his servant awoke him, according to orders, at five o'clock. He got up and at once fell flat on the floor, feeling a strange confusion in his head, and, as he says, hardly knowing where he was. He managed to get on his legs, but he immediately fell again, and, rising up a second time and endeavouring to make his way to the door, his servant fortunately heard him and came to his master's assistance; not, however, until he had fallen down a third time and cut his face severely against the sharp comer of the door. A doctor was immediately sent for, who at once discovered the cause of the attack in the presence of charcoal vapour. He bathed his patient's head with spirits of wine and eau de Cologne, and as soon as he was sufficiently recovered, he sent him out in an open carriage and ordered him to drive about for a considerable time for the sake of air. He continued very unwell for some days from the effect of the vapour, and his face is considerably marked by the bruises he sustained in his fall.
As soon as the poisonous vapour is detected, the windows are thrown open, however severe the cold may be, and the rooms are fumigated with burnt vinegar, the flue of the stove being at the same time unclosed.
When the stove, or peech as it is called, is badly constructed, no care can entirely preserve the rooms from vapour; since in this case the hot air, which, for some time after stopping the flue, is always pernicious, will find a way to escape from the stove even before the valves are opened. If it were not for the danger attending them, which indeed
is confined almost entirely to the case of inferior houses, where small pains are taken in the construction of the stove, these Russian peeches would be most excellent inventions, as they consume but little fuel. They only require a fire to be kept up for about an hour every day, while the heat which they produce lasts for twenty-four hours, and can be regulated at pleasure. The rooms are free from draughts, and all parts of the house are equally well warmed. There are no cold entrances or passages, and since the heat is retained all night, there is no cold room to dress in on getting up in the morning.
The houses are in general thoroughly warm all winter; that is to say, from the beginning of October till April or May; because the stoves are regularly heated, and the double windows exclude entirely the outward air—a single pane, called a forteshka, being left to open for the purposes of ventilation.
It is only in the chilly evenings or rainy days of summer that one ever feels cold in a Russian house. Open grates, in addition to the peech, are daily increasing in fashion, and there are few good houses without them. They are not, however, as yet universal, being regarded as luxuries, though they really make the greatest possible difference in the comfort and wholesomeness of the rooms where they are found. Without fire-places the houses are often damp and chilly in the summer evenings, and there are no means of lighting an impromptu fire; a peech requiring some hours before its good effects
As for the peasants' houses, these are kept nearly all the year round at the temperature of an oven; and the people are so inured from childhood to an atmosphere strongly impregnated with charcoal vapour, that in general they feel no inconvenience from it, though they are not proof against its fatal effects when in overpowering quantities. Unhappily a man and a boy, on my brother-in-law's estate, have within the last month fallen victims to this subtle poison from their own imprudence. They went, in spite of prohibition and caution, to enjoy the warmth of a stove which had been lighted to dry corn, and, soon falling asleep, they never woke.
Tamboff lies on the high road from Moscow into Siberia, and we see almost every week convicts passing through on their way thither. They travel on foot; some coupled together with handcuffs, and all with chains on their legs. They are guarded by foot-soldiers with loaded muskets, assisted by two or three mounted Cossacks armed with lances. They march about twelve miles a day; there being at that distance apart, along the road, places of security in which they are lodged at night. The party, which consists on an average of about twenty prisoners, with eight or ten soldiers, is usually followed by two or three tilègas or sledges to carry. baggage, or to convey those who may fall sick or lame
The prisoners are always well wrapped up in sheepskin coats and warm caps. The soldiers, in their dirty great-coats, with a loose collar of cloth or fur to protect their ears, look not very unlike ancient London watchmen. The female convicts travel in separate gangs in the same way as the men.
I have never seen any prisoners who appeared to be other than ordinary ruffians, but state-criminals of the highest distinction are usually compelled to travel in the same wearisome and painful manner into Siberia. As to the treatment of the convicts on the journey, it is said that they are better fed than the soldiers who guard them.
In trivial matters the police of Russia in the rural districts is chiefly maintained by the proprietors, cach keeping order on his own estate. There are, however, magistrates called ispravniks, who are elected by the nobles from among themselves, and whose authority corresponds in some measure to that of an English justice of the peace. The ispravnik has a number of subordinates, who act as constables under his orders, and he fulfils in the country the duties which in towns are discharged by the Master of Police. The authority of masters over their serfs, and their
of punishing and maltreating them, is restrained by law; but laws which defend the weak against the strong are little enforced in Russia. Practically, I believe that the power of the master, especially in remote districts, may be looked upon as nearly uncontrolled. The serf may complain, but his master is the friend of the ispravnik or of some other authority; or else perhaps a few hundred roubles thrown into the scale of justice destroy its balance : so that the unfortunate peasant can seldom obtain redress for his wrongs. When a peasant is convicted by law of an ordinary offence, he is usually flogged; for more serious crimes he is made a soldier, or is sent to Siberia, after receiving the knout.* According to his crime there is a great difference in his fate when he reaches the place of his destination in Siberia. In some cases he is in the comparatively easy position of a colonist, under the surveillance of the police. In other instances he is compelled to labour in the mines, and is treated with the utmost severity as a convict in a penal settlement.
The treatment of a noble when convicted of a crime is only different from that of a peasant in that he is exempt from corporal punishment. He is degraded from his nobility if sentenced to Siberia, or made a soldier, and he enjoys none of the privileges of his class for the future. A total forfeiture of property accompanies the loss of nobility.
It is often boasted that there is no capital punishment in the Russian code, but the professed leniency of the law is not unfrequently evaded in practice. The knout is inflicted, excepting on nobles, for all grave offences. In cases of murder or of other heinous crimes, “ without mercy
" is marked on the sentence, and in this case the punishment is often death, although more than twenty-five blows cannot be inflicted. It is said that there are executioners so terribly skilful, that with three strokes of the knout they can destroy life.
Nothing can be said in defence of a system which thus inflicts a death of torture without the sanction of law, by a subterfuge, and as though by accident. It degrades punishment into cruelty.
In the martial law of Russia a similar practice exists, though capital punishment is not, I presume, altogether excluded from the military code even in time of peace. A soldier was lately tried at a garrison in this province for running his officer through with a bayonet. The sentence was, that he should run the gauntlet four times through a thousand men, without going to the hospital. The addition of this last clause implied that
* The pronunciation of the k in this word is very strongly marked ; the ou is pronounced as oo in boot.