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ABSURD PUNISHMENT OF SCHOOLBOYS.
which the railroad train set us down is about two versts from the palace, to which we went in an omnibus, and returned in the same manner. After a very merry dinner, in spite of our number, which was thirteen, we embarked again on the railroad and steamed rapidly back to Petersburg, a distance of about sixteen miles. *
* At Tzarsko Celo there is a public institution, under the authority of Government, for the education of boys and very young men. An order was lately issued that none of the pupils should wear their hair long. One of them disobeyed this order, and, as he persisted in disobedience, after repeated cautions, he was placed under arrest. Upon this a number of the young men, seventeen or eighteen years old, assembled round the President's house, breaking windows, and committing a great riot. This insubordination obviously required severe repression, but, instead of expelling the offenders, or inflicting such other punishment as our ideas would suggest, the authorities have treated the affair as a political demonstration; and some twenty of these unfortunate lads, all sons of gentlemen of good family, have been sentenced to the ranks of the army as common soldiers. Our Russian friends do not venture to comment on the cruelty and tyranny of such a punishment, but they do not scruple to express their opinion of its absurdity under the circumstances, and they hope that the Emperor may be induced to pardon these foolish boys.
CONCLUDING REMARKS ON RUSSIA.
Acknowledgment of Russian kindness and hospitality. SYSTEM OF
EDUCATING BOYS In public institutions - At home -- Nature of their studies — Foreign preceptors — Amusements Treatment of children
Military discipline – Village quarters — The young ladies — Results of early marriages — Servants. - THE GREEK CHURCH — The clergy – The fasts — Religious tolerance Children must always be Greeks if either parent is of that church. - PETERSBURG NOT RUSSIA — Character of the peasant — Of the tradesman Commercial spirit pervading all classes. - PROSPECTS OF RUSSIA Probable effects of a political change - Want of independent classes Light in which the Emperor is viewed by his subjects - Public functionaries — Their motives of action - Suspicions of Government - Tend to deter Russia from foreign aggression – Opinions of four distinguished generals on the power of Russia, offensive and defensive - Reasons why disturbances should be apprehended in Russia — Elements of revolution — The conscription - Natural results of a revolution - Bloodshed and violence - Domestic servants The revolt of the military colonies — Intrepid behaviour of the Emperor — The present system bad — A change likely to be worse - Character of the Emperor.
In adding to the preceding series of Letters a few general remarks on Russia, I feel reluctant to censure in any degree a country which, were I to describe it merely as it presented itself to me, and according to the treatment which I everywhere experienced from its inhabitants, would certainly be depicted by me under the influence of most favourable impressions. I should be extremely ungrateful were I not to acknowledge the very great kindness and hospitality which were shown to us by those whom it was the immediate object of our journey to visit, and which I often felt exceeded our natural claim upon them as relatives and foreigners. We also everywhere met with much attention and civility from those strangers with whom we became acquainted.
In the following remarks I shall endeavour carefully to avoid all points which might affect private feelings, should this book ever fall into the hands of any Russian friend.
To begin with the subject of education. Nothing, according to my ideas, can be much worse than the system usually pursued with Russian boys. The commencement of their education is often so long deferred, that their minds are unopened from want of employment; and the boys generally remain much too long under female government, often until they are thirteen, or even fifteen years old; the whole system of management tending to check the gradual growth of manly ideas.
The discipline at all the public institutions or academies is military, whether the pupils are intended for the army or for civil professions; while, if the boy is brought up at home, the usual system in Russia with those who can afford the expense of private tutors, he is not sufficiently thrown on his own resources or accustomed to act for himself.
As to the acquirements which a Russian education professes to bestow, a knowledge of French, and, to a certain extent, of German, and a little history, geography, and arithmetic, form pretty nearly the sum total. French, indeed, is learned and spoken from the cradle, and children often know it as well as their mother tongue : the knowledge, however, of these languages is seldom followed up by much acquaintance with their literature. To French and German, English is sometimes added. The preceptors who are engaged in the houses of Russian gentlemen are almost invariably foreigners, and their time is chiefly occupied in teaching modern languages; a classical education being nearly unheard of.
The Russian boy is little accustomed to hardy and manly amusements. Athletic games appear to be almost unknown to him, and he seldom mounts a horse till he is grown up, or nearly so, when he learns to ride, if he learns at all, in a riding-school.
The Russians dine early, and their children, even from the age of two or three years, * almost invariably dine with them; the consequence being that they are accustomed to eat of all the dishes which are handed round, and the effects of an unsuitable diet are generally visible in their pale and unhealthy looks. What is much worse for them, however, is the conversation to which they listen at table. The parents may take care to avoid all topics which are unsuited to the ears of children, but they cannot exercise a similar control over their guests, who make remarks upon the conduct of their neighbours, and discuss the usual subjects of gossip and scandal, without much attention to the moral lessons which they may be giving to the children at table with them.
* The young children are attended by nurses, who never appear to leave them for a moment. Nothing is more common than for a nurse to dine at table with her master and mistress and their guests, if the party happens to be small and private.
In most countries every one has a general idea of his neighbour's fortune; but in Russia, where the fortunes consist in slaves, the number of which on each estate is registered, the calculations can be made with great nicety; and every child knows, from a very early age, how many peasants his father has, and how many of them will fall to his own share. At the age of eighteen or nineteen the young Russian, in the majority of cases, enters the army, and from the moment he is fairly embarked in the service he is harassed and fatigued to death with drilling and exercising from morning till night. He has scarcely a leisure moment for improving his mind, should he wish to do so, and he perhaps spends the best years of his life in the banishment of a wretched country village, with no society but that of a few comrades, whose ideas do not extend far beyond the pleasures of drinking and smoking.
The ladies in Russia are, generally speaking, very superior, both in acquirements and manners, to the gentlemen. The system of private education, so disadvantageous to boys, is suitable and proper for girls; and as the latter have no military service to put an end to improvement, and to exclude them from good society on their entrance into life, their minds are usually better cultivated than those of the young men, and their manners are more refined.
There is, however, an important event which not unfrequently operates as effectually to stop the education of the young ladies, as does the commencement of a military career in the other sex. I allude to the early marriages, which, as I have observed, are often arranged by parents without con
sulting the inclinations of the parties most concerned. A girl is sometimes married at sixteen, and often at seventeen, from which time the cares of a family naturally begin to fall upon her, and in the generality of cases to supersede the practice of her accomplishments or the improvement of her mind. It may be thought that this misfortune is not peculiar to Russia, but I have already mentioned * the number and variety of domestic duties which usually devolve on the mistress of a family in Russia ; and it must be observed that little confidence can in general be placed in the servants. Being slaves, they have only to avoid absolute punishment, and have little inducement to exert themselves. They have no places to lose by misconduct, no advantageous situations to gain by a good character. Their master is bound to support them whether they are indolent or active, sulky or obliging; and though they may be lazy, dirty, and awkward, he cannot exchange them for the better. The servants themselves well know that this is the case, and therefore the generality of them only try to perform their service with as little trouble to themselves as possible. They have not much work to do, for three or four Russian servants are employed where one would suffice in England, and they spend half their time in sleeping or in playing cards. Sleep, especially, never appears to come ainiss to them; they can enjoy it anywhere or in any position, and they would certainly join most cordially with Sancho Panza in the blessings which he invoked on its inventor. It is, nevertheless, the domestic servants who chiefly feel the weight of slavery, since they are always under the master's eye, and are necessarily subject to a more galling surveillance than the ordinary serfs; they also do not so readily obtain permission to marry, since too rapid an increase to the household numbers is by no means convenient or profitable to the master.
The priests, and still more the bishops, in Russia seem to be in a false social position ; their hands are kissed, their blessing is asked, and they are treated with a vast deal of outward ceremony, but at the same time their influence is but small, and even the highest dignitaries appear to possess little
* See the conclusion of Letter XI.