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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 soldier was to be flogged to death. In ordinary cases such a punishment is inflicted by successive instalments, the culprit being sent in the interims 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 no 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 the penalty of being severely punished himself if he evades doing 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 whether he lives or dies, for it is said that in the latter case the full tale of blows awarded by the sentence is completed on the senseless corpse.
* The pronunciation of the k in this word is very strongly marked ; the ou is pronounced as oo in boot.
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 his employer, or a servant robs his master, the culprit 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 his master himself, if he embezzles money, or takes a bribe and is detected, is equally made a soldier.
It is the great object of the Russian government to encourage and uphold the army; and yet its ranks are daily swelled with thieves, vagabonds, and drunkards. The private soldiers can hardly feel much respect for an uniform thus tarnished; while their respect for their officers must be diminished at seeing the General who commanded them yesterday, sentenced, for some breach of duty or some act of disobedience to his superior, to bear a musket in the ranks to-day. Occurrences of this sort, though naturally not very common, yet are by no means unknown.
Some years ago, a General who was in high favour with the Emperor, and who held an office of importance, received an
* The law in this case is most severe, and often extremely oppressive and unjust. If a carriage is accidentally driven over any person so as to hurt 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.
Ukase or Imperial order which nearly affected the interests of 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 of receiving conscripts was going on, as described in my last letter. The General was stripped; he was put, according to the usual form, under the standard; his height was noted down; his forehead was ordered to be shaved, and he was taken out of the room a common soldier, and sent to Siberia.
Those who are thus condemned to serve as soldiers are not altogether placed on the same footing as the ordinary recruits. They are not entitled to their discharge at the end of twentyfive years, and they are, if their offences have been serious, sent into a penal corps. Still they are soldiers, and to be made a soldier has thus become connected with the idea of disgrace and punishment; by which the moral tone and esprit de corps of the army must be greatly lowered.
The great national disgrace of the Russian character is undoubtedly the universal corruption which pervades every department in the state. This charge can hardly be denied; for every Russian will tell you, “ There is nothing to be done in our country without a bribe.” The only difference appears to be in the amount, which is proportioned to the rank of the receiver. At the foot of the scale three or four roubles may suffice, while as many thousands may be requisite for the important personage at the head.
No one will be unjust enough to suppose that honest men are not to be found here as well as in other countries, and I should be sorry so far to calumniate Russia as even to suggest that they were rare. Still, from all that I have heard in various quarters, I cannot doubt of the lamentable prevalence of gross corruption. The fact of a person in a high and dignified position receiving a bribe to secure his good offices does not cause a serious scandal here, or seem to be regarded with that degree of contempt and indignation which would mark a
nice sense of national honour and a high standard of public opinion.
As an instance, the salary of a governor of a province is twelve thousand roubles a-year, or about five hundred pounds; a sum which is quite insufficient to cover the expenses of his establishment. Yet I am told that a late governor of Saratoff, on the Volga, one of the richest provinces in Russia, retired, after holding the office for six years only, with a capital, note riously realized during that period, of three millions roubles, about a hundred and twenty thousand pounds. I inquired how this was possible, and the following is, in substance, the explanation which I received.
This Governor usually abstained from any direct acts of private injustice or oppression; but for value received he consented to shut his eyes and not to interfere with the misdoings of his inferiors. He, in fact, sold his protection wholesale to his subordinates, leaving them to dispose of their good offices by retail for their own profit according to the demand.
In each of the twelve districts of every government is an ispravnik, an officer whom I have already mentioned as a rural magistrate or master of police. Each ispravnik paid his Excellency the Governor five thousand roubles a-year, a douceur which obliterated any little peccadilloes of the officer, or any mistakes into which he might fall in administering justice.
The Bashkirs, and other wild tribes who dwell in the Steppes beyond the Volga, wished to remain in undisturbed possession of lands claimed by the Crown. The Governor threatened them with forcible ejectment, but his annual revenue was increased by thirty or forty thousand roubles, and the Bashkirs were left in repose.
The province, again, abounded in heretics, of a sect regarded with much jealousy by government, and much persecuted for their political rather than for their religious opinions. These sectarians longed for peace and quiet, and the price of the Governor's toleration was from one to two hundred thousand roubles a-year.
Certain salt-works at Saratoff, which supply all Russia with that article, contributed more than a mite to the pocket of his
Excellency; and his purse was replenished from numerous other sources not included in this catalogue.
It is not every one who is so successful in enriching himself as was this Governor. He was not, however, held up as an extraordinary instance of rapacity, but was rather admired for his cleverness in turning to account the opportunities which he enjoyed. I was assured that he left an excellent gharacter behind him, and that he was much regretted in the province.
The Emperor, I believe, does all in his power to check and discourage this disgraceful system of corruption, by visiting offenders with the ntmost severity. Few of the great culprits, however, are detected, and it is impossible that such malpractices should be eradicated so long as the sources exist out of which they naturally arise. These appear chiefly to be, first, the utter inadequacy of the legitimate emoluments attached to every office and employment, and, secondly, the total absence of a sound and healthy state of public opinion in Russia.
The former of these causes renders a man needy and liable to temptation, and the latter secures him from the disgrace which ought to be the severest punishment of his misconduct.