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A few years ago, so great was the drought and heat in this neighbourhood, that the grass was scorched, the earth smoked if turned up, and the forests in many places took fire from the dryness of the trees.
The first impression produced by the merriment of the peasants at their village fête, may be a conviction • of the happiness of the people, and of their readiness to be pleased and amused.
It does not follow, however, because the Russian dances and sings, that he is to be considered happy for his station. On the contrary, it surely is a melancholy spectacle, and even degrading to human nature, to see bearded men scrambling like monkeys for gingerbread, and delighting in the sports of children.
These people undoubtedly were not oppressed; they were under a kind and considerate master, and they wanted for none of the necessaries of life: they, therefore, as individuals, were not to be pitied, and knowing no better, were probably contented with their lot: but the chain of slavery was on their minds, as it is on the minds of the Russian peasantry at large. They know that they can do nothing to change or improve their condition, and therefore they have no stimulus or excitement to energy. They have no habit of acting or deciding for themselves, and are in fact mere grown-up children, equally thoughtless and improvident: as such, indeed, are they treated by law and custom.
little in the world to hope or fear, since to rise is out of the question, and to sink impossible, and with a naturally easy, and cheerful disposition, they sing, and dance, and play like children on a holiday, with a light-hearted merriment, which is not happiness; the reckless hilarity of intoxication, forgetful of yesterday and careless of to-morrow, not the sober satisfaction of rational contentment.
While the vast extent of Russia, and her thinly scattered population continues to render food, shelter, and clothing cheap and abundant, the peasant may continue to laugh and dance in his fetters, careless or unconscious of his degraded position; but should the pressing evils of want or scarcity arise to disturb his thoughtless gaiety and empty merriment, he will become a morose and discontented slave; his eyes will be opened to a sense of his condition, and woe to that generation, both of lord and serf, in which the light shall break forth; for unless the country is far more generally civilized and enlightened than at present, a revolution must commence in bloodshed and end in anarchy: the elements of true liberty are not to be found as yet in Russia.
A man was lately brought back here by the police, who had run away from his wife seven years ago. When he was asked his reason for absconding, he said, that he had been compelled by his family to marry when very young, that he thought it wicked to have a wife, and that his greatest desire was to
become a monk. Since his return, he has thrown himself at the feet of the young ladies whenever he could meet with them, intreating them to intercede with their father to permit him to enter a convent. This, however, will not be allowed, for fear of the example being followed. This man has been to the monastery of Solovetskoi, which is situated on a small island in the White Sea, in a dreadful climate, and frequently cut off from all communication with the main land. Here this poor man wished to have remained, and to have entered the order, the rules of which are most severe; but as he had no passport or permission from his master to show, the monks were prohibited by law from admitting him. When he arrived here he was examined, and it was found that he had on an iron belt next to his skin around his breast, supported by iron straps over his shoulders, and with two iron plates hanging from it one before and the other behind; the whole apparatus weighing between seven and eight pounds; it was rivetted on, and had in some places eaten into the flesh. He had put it on by way of penance for having deserted his family, and he begged earnestly that it might not be taken off; this, however, was done, and when he was afterwards asked, if he should wish it to be given back to him, he said, “ No; that there would be no merit in wearing it now, since every body knew of it.” As he was not permitted to become a monk, his next request was, that he might be ap
pointed to attend the cattle and sheep in the field, in order that he might not be shocked by the language and profanè songs of the other peasants. This request was complied with, but I cannot say whether he has become reconciled to his situation. He is a singular but at the same time evidently a very sincere enthusiast.
The conversation about this poor man has naturally produced a variety of stories bearing a resemblance more or less to his case. The following is one of these anecdotes. Some years ago a peasant, named Peter, ran away from Krasnoe, and was not heard of for three years, when one day a man was brought by the police as the runaway. Some doubt was expressed by various people as to the identity of the new comer, but he insisted that he was Peter; the fact was confirmed by his wife and father, as well as others who had known him formerly, and the point was at last admitted. The man lived at home with his wife for about a fortnight, but he behaved so ill, that it was determined to make a soldier of him,-a most severe punishment to a Russian peasant. Before, however, the threat could be carried into effect, the man again absconded, and was not seen for about a month, when he had the impudence to appear at Krasnoe at a village feast, to share in the amusements of the day. In the mean time his real character had been discovered, namely, that he was a deserter from the army, and had become acquainted with a brother
of the runaway peasant in prison, where he had learned some particulars of his history; and also that he was in person somewhat like himself; on the strength of which information he had grounded his imposture. When, therefore, he appeared at the feast he was immediately apprehended, and the next morning sent off to prison. He, however, said he had escaped out of gaol a dozen times before, and should do so again. Whether he kept his word I do not know; but it is a singular fact, that the true Peter returned home the same night that the impostor went to prison : how far he was pleased to hear of the temporary usurpation of his conjugal and domestic rights is somewhat doubtful.