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according to the treatment which I every where 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 was 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 every where 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, I imagine, can be 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. I have more than once heard the opinion laid down, that no child ought to be tormented with lessons until it is seven years old. The boys generally remain much too long under female government, often until they are thirteen, or even fifteen years old; and the whole system of their management tending to check the growth of manly ideas, they remain children until they are almost men.
The discipline at all the public institutions or academies is military, whether the pupils are intended for the army or for civil professions; at these, therefore, a boy is allowed to think but little for himself; and if he is brought up at home, the usual system with those who can afford the expense of private tutors, he never feels the necessity of making his own way, or of acting for himself. A boy brought up at home runs every risk, either of being thoroughly spoiled, or of regarding his home as a school, and his parents as schoolmasters; he looks forward with impatience to the time when he will be released from domestic thraldom, and placed at liberty in the world, into which he is launched at length in the defenceless state of utter ignorance and inexperience, unprepared to guard against its temptations and seductions, heightened as they are by the dangerous charm of perfect novelty
As to the acquirements which a Russian education professes to bestow, a knowledge of French, and, to a certain extent, German, with 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 not always followed up by much acquaintance with their literature. To French and German, English is sometimes added, but perfection in it is rare. 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 is nearly unheard of.
The Russian boy is utterly unaccustomed to hardy and manly amusements; athletic games appear to be almost unknown, and he in general never 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; and he would be surprised to see many a little English lad of seven or eight years old galloping his poney, and perfectly at ease upon his back, having learned to sit fast by meeting with a harmless tumble or two at the beginning
The Russians dine early, and their children, from two or three years old,* almost invariably dine with them; the consequence is, that they are accustomed to eat of all the dishes which are handed round, many of which, of course, are highly improper for them, and the effects of the diet are generally visible in their pale and unhealthy looks. What is much worse, 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
* 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 with her master and mistress and their guests, if the party is small and private.
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.
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. Every child knows, for it is a piece of information which servants do not fail to instil into them from a very early age, how many peasants his father has, and how many of them will fall to his own share; they therefore, from their infancy, look upon themselves as beings of a superior class, born to lord it over their serfs. At the age of eighteen or nineteen the youug 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, if he wishes it, and he probably spends the best years of his life in complete banishment, quartered in a wretched country village in a peasant's house, with no society but that of a few comrades, whose thoughts do not extend beyond the pleasures of drinking and smoking. It is not wonderful, if, after a few years of such an existence, his mind becomes debased; he is inca
pable of entertaining enlightened ideas, and is almost entirely unfitted for civilized society.
The ladies in Russia are, generally speaking, very superior, both in acquirements and manners, to the men. The system of private education is suitable and proper for girls; and as they 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 better cultivated in proportion than those of the young men, and their manners more polished and 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 consulting the inclinations of the parties most concerned. A girl is sometimes married at sixteen, and often at seventeen; from this time the cares of a family begin to fall upon her, and in the generality of cases she either devotes herself to gaiety and dissipation, or she divides her whole time between the care of her children and the management of her household, giving up the practice of any accomplishment she may have already acquired, and discontinuing every pursuit which might tend to improve her mind or increase her store of information. I have already mentioned * the number and
* See the conclusion of Letter IX.