Page images
PDF
EPUB

a people. The fate of nations has frequently been decided by the slow operation of long acting causes, unthought of and unestimated by the historian, till these causes had gradually changed their constitution, their characters, and their capabilities, while their names and local homes remained still the same.

We must here close our illustrations. The chemical study of the means and appliances of life makes known to us many more adjustments and adaptations, such as those we have pointed out. In the composition, structure, and chemical functions of the several parts of the body, — in the process of breathing and the purposes served by it, - in that of digestion and the many pre

arranged contrivances by means of which it is completed, – in the odours and miasmata which fill the air, and either increase our comforts or endanger our lives, — in every part either of our internal economy or of external material nature with which we come into contact in daily life, - examples of chemical adjustment are met with, not less interesting or worthy of attention than any of those we have quoted in the present Article. For these the reader will consult with advantage the very pleasing work before us.

[ocr errors]

Art. VIII. — 1. Antiquités Russes, d'après les Monuments His

toriques des Islandais et des Anciens Scandinaves. Editées par la Société Royale des Antiquaires du Nord. 2 vols. fol.

Copenhagen : 1850. 2. The Travels of Macarius, Patriarch of Antioch. Oriental

Translation Fund. 3. Mémoires Secrets pour servir a l'histoire de la Cour de Russie

sous les règnes de Pierre-le-Grand et de Catherine I". Rédigés et publiés pour la première fois d'après les Manuscrits originaux du SIEUR DE VILLEBOIS. Par M. THÉOPHILE

HALLEZ. Paris: 1853. . 4. Secret History of the Court and Government of Russia under

Alexander the First and the Emperor Nicholas. By J. H. SCHNITZLER. Two vols. London: 1854.

AMID the various speculations on the origin, conduct, and

probable consequences of the present war with Russia, it has been often said that our quarrel is not so much with the Russians as with their ruler. We comfort ourselves by the conviction that we were driven into this contest, not by the

enmity of the sixty or seventy million of our fellow-Christians, who compose the Russian nation, but by the ambition or fanaticism of the late Czar, whose will, as it were sixty million strong, determined the whole policy of his Empire. How comes it, then, that in Russia one man has this power? How comes it to pass that the Czar is to his subjects the personification of Fate and the sole arbiter of the destinies of Russia in the world? It has sometimes been said, in explanation of this problem, that the Russians are Sclavonians, and that the Sclavonian races are of a grovelling, slavish disposition, offering their backs to the rod of power. To this the reply at once is, - Look at the Poles; they, too, are Sclavonians of a kindred race with the Russians, but while the Russian Boyards were kissing the feet of their Czars, the Polish nobles -- not the magnates only, but the whole noble class, that is, some hundreds of thousands of landowners — were asserting a liberty which amounted to lawlessness, and an independence of authority which resulted in the disorganisation of the state. For centuries the Sclavonians on the right bank of the Dnieper called themselves, what they in truth were, a Republic, their king being in reality but an elected president; it cannot, therefore, be to the characteristics of race that the Sclavonians on the left bank owe their servility to a despot. Look, again, at the Bohemians, a people of the purest Sclavonic blood and language, foremost in public liberty under George of Podiebrad, foremost in religious reformation under John Huss, and foremost in the cause of self-government and independence, until they fell by the Thirty Years War under the persecuting authority of the House of Austria.

If it is not, then, because the Russians are Sclavonians that they are slaves, --is it because they are Orientals ? Is it that they are Asiatics rather than Europeans, and that Asia has been the doomed dwelling of despotism, from the Empire of the Assyrians to the Empire of Japan ? Their Oriental origin is at best an hypothesis; and one of our most learned ethnologists has just started the counter-hypothesis that the old Hindoos, the Sanskrit-talkers, were emigrants from the West, from the borders of Poland and Russia.* But even allowing the fact, what would it prove? Not that Christian Europeans must live under an autocrat because they came originally from Asia, since the Magyars are an Oriental people, with evidence of their origin still apparent in their modes of thought and living;

The Native Races of the Russian Empire. By R. G. Latham, M.D. VOL. CI. NO, CCVI.

LL

a

and yet with a love of liberty ardent as our own, and with local institutions of the most popular character.

There is yet another explanation of the propensity of the Russian nation to absolute government. The religion of a people, in forming its character, defines its liberty. The religion of the Russians is that of the Greek Church - the compromise of Christianity with the degenerate civilisation and decaying despotism of that miserable mimicry of old Rome, the Byzantine Empire. Here, again, the premises of the argument may be disputed, -as they have been, for instance, in the able defence of the Greek Empire by Mr. Finlay. The impress

. which the Court of Constantinople stamped on the Church of Moscow has doubtless affected the actual condition of Muscovite polity; but that it has not altogether caused it, we have again practical proof in the present position and character of the Greeks proper. The subjects of King Otho and the Greek population of Turkey are by far the most intelligent portion of the natives of Eastern countries; and no one has ever charged them with an excess of submission to authority, or with an irrepressible eagerness to be enslaved, though they are fanatically attached to the Eastern Church.

If, then, the ethnographic, the geographic, and the religious -solutions of this problem fail, does History furnish no other? To find out whether it does or not, we must ask our readers to follow us among its more distant recesses, to which we think we can trace the traditional autocracy of the Russian Czars. Russia is about one thousand years old. It was in the middle of the ninth century that the Northmen chiefs Rurik and his two brothers, sailing probably from a port near Stockholm, and possibly entering the Neva, landed on some such marsh as that which is now St. Petersburgh to lay the foundation of the Russian empire. So far as we can discover, these Scandinavians took the name of Russia with them, causing the country which they occupied to be named after them; for the first Russian chronicler, the monk Nestor, writing from his cloister in Kief about 1100, calls them the Russian Varangians' as distinguished from the other Varangians,' the Swedes, North

. men, English, and Goths.* Varangians was the name by which the Norse body-guard of their Emperors,--and through them all Northmen, — were known to the Greeks; and these special Northmen had probably got the name of Russians (Ruri), because coming from the opposite coast of Swedish Upland, a

* Schlötzer's Nestor, i. cap. xix. :

i

part of which the German antiquarian Schlötzer tells us, is still known by its own country folk as the Ros-country.

The ninth century was the age that marks the birth not only of Russia, but of most of the present European kingdoms. The power of the Papacy was then almost at its lowest point. In 854 the influence of the Bishop of Rome made itself so little felt, that after-legends have fixed upon that year as the date of the election of Pope Joan. Few could then have foreseen the days of Hildebrand, but had his efforts to set the chair of St. Peter higher than the throne of the Cæsars been undertaken when old classic Europe was in its death-struggle, and modern feudal Europe in its birth-travail, his success might have been complete; as it was, the weakness of Rome enabled the present states of modern Europe to take their rise. Charlemagne was buried at Aix-la-Chapelle while Rurik was a boy; when Rurik became a man, our own Alfred was a child. Before the death of Rurik the traders of Novgorod, returning from Constantinople with the silks and spices of the East, may have told him with dread of the Hunnish hordes, who were soon to swarm across the Dnieper, and after ravaging a large portion of Europe, plant the Magyars in one of its most fertile provinces ; or perhaps some Scald, while singing to him of a Viking voyage to the rich South, may have excited his sympathy on behalf of the few kindred Goths who were founding, among the mountains of Biscay, the monarchy of Spain. This very Rurik may have been a kinsman of the fierce Easterlings, Halfden and Guthrun, with whom our_Alfred waged his life-long struggle. Probably Russia and England knew more of one another in this childhood of their history, than at any period till the times of the Tudors. The never-resting Sea-Kings kept up a constant communication between the mother-country of Scandinavia and its offspring in Russia, Normandy, Iceland, Orkney, and Danish England, and also with their kipsmen in Italy and at the Byzantine capital. In the Chronicles of the Sea-Kings' we find mention in one chapter of a foray upon the coasts of Northumberland and Norfolk, and, in the next, of a visit to the friendly Court of Novgorod.

This intercourse, however, between young Russia and young England,- this early resemblance in many of the circumstances

* See Schlötzer generally for arguments, to our mind convincing, in proof of this derivation of the word Russian. It was, indeed, only after many years' settlement that these Rusi succeeded in stamping their name on their new country. In the early Icelandic sagas we find, instead of Russia, the word Gardarik.

of the two nations, inasmuch as they were ruled by men of the same blood and speaking the same language, would seem to be the very reverse of an explanation of our problem. We know that these hardy Northern heroes, to whom we are wont to trace so much of our love and possession of liberty, conquered, colonised, and ruled Russia in much the same manner as they did England; whence, then, the contrast between the English kings, barons, and yeomen, on the one hand, and the enslaving Czar, or enslaved boyards, on the other? The invaders being in both cases the same, we must seek for the germs of the future contrast in a difference in the condition of the invaded people.

The successive bands of Northmen who landed on our shores, from Hengist and Ella with their Schleswig-Holsteiners to Canute with his Danes, found a people in possession of much wealth, material, intellectual, and spiritual, which they themselves had not. Britain was already a cultivated country, exporting corn to the continent, intersected by the Roman roads, and with not a few towns built by the aid of Roman institutions, and bearing the impress of Roman civilisation. The iron legions as they traversed Britain defined the rights of property, and left behind them the principles of law. The Northmen found, then, in Britain civilisation and wealth, intellectual culture, and an organised polity; above all, they either found or were quickly followed by Christianity. What did they find on the banks of the Dwina and the Dnieper ?

In some respects the Sclavonic tribes appear to have resembled the Teutonic tribes described by Tacitus; they were a people partly pastoral, partly hunting, fond of war, unused to the arts or luxuries of peace; but there were other points in which they greatly differed.

Nestor describes the ancient Sclavonians as herding together like wild beasts,' with no marriage

rites, but carrying off their women by force,' having each of them two or three wives.'* Karamsin alleges, as a proof of the slavery of the women, the custom of burning them Hindoo-fashion on the biers of their husbands, in order that they might serve them in the next world as they had done in this. Above all, the Northmen, who embraced in Western and in Southern Europe a religion far nobler and purer than their own, found in the Sclavonic marshes a dreary superstition little better than Fetish-worship.

From these facts it may be inferred that the Scandinavian chiefs who were the first rulers of Russia, who welded their swords into the sceptre which the Czar now wields, were

[ocr errors]

• Schlötzer's Nestor, vol. i. cap. xii.

« PreviousContinue »