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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 treated in the same way, and are 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, each 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 power of punishing and maltreating them is restrained by law; but laws which defend the weak against the strong are not always enforced, and, practically speaking, I believe that the power which
the master is able to exercise in remote parts of the empire may be looked upon as nearly uncontrolled. The slave may complain, but his master is the friend of the ispravnik or some other authority, or a few hundred roubles thrown into the scale of justice destroy its balance: and where is the unfortunate peasant to obtain redress ? When a peasant is convicted by law of an offence, he is usually flogged, or for more serious crimes made a soldier, or sent to Siberia, after in general receiving the knout.* There is a great difference according to his crime 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 ; while in others 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, however, 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 well known that there is no capital punishment in the Russian code, but the leniency of the
* The pronunciation of the k in this word is very strongly marked ; the ou is pronounced as in French.
law is sometimes evaded in practice. The knout is inflicted, excepting on nobles, for all grave offences ; in cases of murder or other heinous crimes, “ without mercy” is marked on the sentence, and in this case the punishment is often death, although more than twenty-five cuts cannot be inflicted. It is said that there are executioners so terribly skilful, that in three cuts of the knout they can destroy life.
Nothing surely can be said in defence of a system which thus inflicts a death of torture without the sanction of law, but by a subterfuge; and as if it were an accident. Such a system exactly opposes itself to the only sound principle of penal legislation, namely, that the punishment should be so contrived as to strike the greatest possible terror into others, at the expense of the smallest possible amount of suffering to the criminal himself; here, on the contrary, legal punishment is degraded into revenge.
In the martial law of Russia a similar practice exists, though I am not sure that capital punishment is altogether excluded from the 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 soldier was to be flogged to death. In ordinary cases such a punishment is inflicted at different times, the culprit being sent in
the intervals to the hospital, and a surgeon being at each time in attendance to see that his life is not endangered. The compelling a man to run the gauntlet is, I believe, not an unusual punishment in the Russian army.
The troops form a lane, up which the criminal passes, with a soldier before and another behind him to regulate his march. Each man in the line is armed with a stick, with which he is obliged to give the prisoner a blow as he passes, under penalty of severe punishment himself if he neglects to do so. When a prisoner who is not to go to the hospital can no longer walk, he is placed on a cart, and the punishment is continued till he dies, for it is hardly possible that he can survive till its completion.
A most erroneous part of the Russian penal system appears to be that of sentencing civil offenders of all kinds to serve as soldiers. If a steward cheats, or a servant robs his master, he is made a soldier; if a coachman drives over a person in the street, he is seized by the police and made a soldier;* and if his master embezzles money, or takes a bribe, and is detected, he also is made a soldier.
It is the great object of the Russian government to encourage and uphold the army; yet its ranks are
* The law in this case is most severe, and often extremely oppressive and unjust. If a carriage is driven over any person and hurts him, whatever may be the merits of the case, the horses are forfeited to the Crown, and the coachman, if a Russian peasant, is sentenced to be a soldier.
daily swelled with thieves, vagabonds and drunkards ; the soldiers can feel little respect for themselves, and their respect for their officers must be diminished, when the general who commands them todạy, may, for some breach of duty or disobedience to his superior, bear 'a musket in the ranks to
An occurrence of this sort, though naturally not very common, is by no means unheard of.
Some years ago a general who was in high favour with the Emperor, and who held an office of importance, received an
Ukase or Imperial order which nearly affected an intimate friend. From a regard to his friend, instead of executing the Ukase, he put it in his pocket, and allowed a month to pass without taking the steps which his duty required. For this offence he was tried and found guilty, and the following sentence was pronounced and executed :-he was brought in full uniform, with his stars and other decorations, into a room where the ordinary business (as I described it in my
last letter) of receiving conscripts was going on. He was then stripped; put, according to the usual form, under the standard; his height noted down ; his forehead ordered to be shaved, and he was taken out of the room a common soldier, and I believe sent to Siberia.
Those who are thus condemned to serve as soldiers are not altogether placed on the same footing as the ordinary conscripts; they are not entitled to their