Leonie Ida Philipovna Souiny-Seydlitz.

Russia of yesterday and to-morrow online

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lost, and the boy would lie on the ground to sleep
his last sleep. The next morning, perhaps, an
over-anxious father or mother would go out to
seek a son, and would find him frozen. Some-
times they would find him only when the snow
had melted away, or they would find him de-
voured by wolves. The barons forgot these lit-
tle incidents, but they were deeply engraved in
the hearts of the people.

The Esthonians and Letts waited patiently for
their hour to come, and the hour struck. In the
midst of the confusion of the Russo-Japanese
War, in the midst of raging internal revolution,
the Esthonians and the Letts slunk up like wild
beasts, a conununity of revolutionists of their







own. It was a peasant war, cruel and frightful,
not less barbaric than those of the Middle Ages,
where knights were speared on pitchforks, where
castles were burned and pillaged, and before the
eyes of their mothers children were thrown into
the flames. It was a terrible avenging of humil-
iation against haughtiness. This people had
been thwarted in their ambition to take part as
human beings in the progress of the world. If
one spoke of a man who asked for some distinc-
tion, the Baltics always said: **He is only an
Esthonian or a Lett. He does n't count."

While the Esthonians and the Letts hated
equally the German and the Russian, they pre-
ferred the Russian's compromising character to
the knouting discipline of the German barons;
and when the crater of hatred opened, it spit fire
and poison over the German masters who had to
be protected by Russian soldiers from a people
that nominally belonged to provinces they had
dominated not only materially, but morally and
in spirit. The proud castles, strongholds of cul-
ture in primitive Russia, were razed to the

The Esthonians and the Letts are the sworn



enemies of the Baltics and always will be. In
this the original population of the Baltic Prov-
inces is not absolutely wrong. The Esthonians
and the Letts never had justice. They were
dependent on the good-will of their enslavers,
who humiliated them, arousing their bad instincts
instead of teaching them to conquer their base
quahties. Even for their devotion the noblemen
had only a cruel contempt, and an incident in the
peasant revolts will always remain in the memory
of the Letts. One of the high aristocrats had to
flee through night and fog to save his life and his
family. The servants, all Letts, generously
helped those who had been their masters to escape
from the infuriated peasants who stormed
through the country from estate to estate, killing,
murdering, and robbing. When the noble

family left the estates. Count K promised

the old butler, who guarded the abandoned castle,
the greatest reward if it should not be demohshed
by the hordes. The old man did his best, but he
could not prevent the wing containing the
precious library from being destroyed by fire.

After the revolt Count K returned under

the protection of the Government, and when he



discovered the loss of his books he became
enraged. Instead of being grateful to the ser-
vant who had helped to save the other part of the
castle, his first act was to execute his old butler
by hanging him to a tree in the courtyard.

In the Baltic race is a strange mixture of the
highest moral sense, the loftiest ideals, and the
firmest will power, an intellectuality more cre-
ative than in other Germanic races, an individu-
ality untouched by Prussianism, a wildness of
temperament, a sharpness of wit, and the haugh-
tiness of a race that has always been masters.

In the Baltics the Lutheran spirit had domi-
nated, suffocating beauty and charm, and seclud-
ing woman in the dull insignificance of the
German chatelaine of the Middle Ages. The
women Hved for housewifely duties, practising
the strictest economy for themselves, while the
men enjoyed separate existences. Nowhere was
the natural difference between the male and the fe-
male so obviously expressed as among the Baltics.
They brought to mind the proud-plumaged male
and the gray- feathered female among the birds.
The women were not attractive, with their thin,
flat bodies clothed in self -woven coarse material



of an offending simplicity and ugliness, pressed
into bodices with innumerable buttons in the
front; with their colorless hair drawn back from
foreheads always too high and too square; and
with the little lace bonnets that brides as well as
matrons had to wear to express the dignity of the
married state. Intolerant of everything that
was graceful and free-minded in womanly spirit,
they persecuted charm wherever it could be
found, while they forgave the immoralities their
own men committed as masters on the big estates,
With a heroic self-mastery the Baltic noble-
women bore the escapades their men indulged
in outside their castles; but their dominion was
sacred ground, and the strictest decorum had to
be observed when once inside the gates.

Oh, the domestic tragedies when a Baltic took
home a wife from another country, a woman with
another spirit, with artistic or modern education !
Her brilhant feathers were plucked out by the
jealous gray hens, and before she was aware of
it she was squeezed into the coarse, moth-colored
clothes, the emblem of her dignity. If she tried
to fly away, she was lost forever, and her name
was erased from the family chronicles.



The Baltic noblewoman has held high the
banner of female virtues, extinguishing the best
in herself and the best in her men — ^humanity and
the kind tolerance which are much more than the
cold sense of duty.

The Baltics are about to die out. They live
outside their estates, being German subjects,
which means to be no longer individual men but
uniformed. They are the low and high officials
in the Russian Government. They are in the
army. They are the most chauvinistic Russians
and the most dangerous, their acquired Russian
characteristics not being excusable because of
Slavic origin. It seemed less a sacrifice for the
Baltics to be under Russian sovereignty than to
submit their haughty manners to German discip-
line: and their methods of treating subordinates
were much easier to exercise with the servile Rus-
sian than with the socialistic German.

The race has naturally suffered from inter-
marriage with the Russian. This crossing was
not an improvement for the moral qualities, and
in the last few years the Baltics have shown more
degeneration among the nobles than for the
preceding seven centuries. Among them have



been gentlemen murderers, gentlemen traitors,
and many of the descendants of the proud
famihes are moral victims of racial mistakes.

It is a mistaken idea that the German influence
could ever overwhelm the world. It was not the
fault of the individual German that so many mis-
takes in tact were made. It was the fault of a
German Government which was too young, too
ambitious not to show off wherever Germans* set-
tled aftei the fatherland had become an Empire.
Their growing power went to the Germans' head
as young wine ; and beside this, they had the idea
of defending their young nobility as the parvenu
always does. And also, like parvenus, they used
too much of their elbow power, too much space ;
spoke too loudly and they appeared always as a
compact mass. It was, as the Russian said sar-
castically: "If two Germans come together,
they immediately form a quartette; if four, they
found a Gesangs Verein; and if eight, they
unite in the Sanger Bund, Wherever a Ger-
man lives and sees his advantages, if condi-
tions are favorable to him, he is incUned to accept
the habits of the country, the language and the
traditions. Wherever he settles the German



will be to a certain extent an educator, but he will
never be either feared or loved. At his best he
will be accepted and respected. Germans
among other races are like teachers with their
pupils. The boys anxiously wait for the oppor-
tunity to play tricks, and as teachers rarely have
sufficient sense of humor to smile on school-boy
pranks, the Germans make the mistake of whip-

The German language was a habit to the Rus-
sians, a comfortable institution; but it has been
used only as a commercial means of communica-
tion. The Russian aristocrat spoke French,
wrote his letters in French, and even introduced
French words now and then when speaking Rus-
sian. When the war broke out signs were dis-
played everywhere forbidding the use of the Ger-
man language on penalty of terrible punishment.
At the Russian frontier travelers beheld these
signs before they were permitted to leave the
cars, but the first words they heard on Russian
soil from the lips of the lugubrious-looking cus-
toms official was the question, "Hahen sie nichts
zu verzollen?" ("Have you nothing to declare?")
A Norwegian traveling in Russia took the train



from St. Petersburg to Moscow. The Nor-
wegian shared the compartment with a Russian
general. The general, a talkative old man,
looked scrutinizingly at his silent traveling com-
panion, and recognizing him as a foreigner, asked
if perhaps he understood Russian. The Nor-
wegian shook his head. "Then perhaps you
speak French?" the old general continued,
uneasy at the thought that he might have to pass
many hours with a dumb vis-a-vis. The Nor-
wegian smilingly answered that he did not even
speak French, but perhaps the general could
speak English? Then the general shook his
head. No, he did not understand English.
Then with a sudden gesture the general shut the
door of the compartment, turning a terrible look
on the Norwegian as he whispered: "Sprechen
Sie Deutsch?" The Norwegian answered tim-
idly that he knew a httle German. The general
sighed as if Uberated from a great weight and
said: "Thank God! then we can have a good
chat together." Indeed, he chatted in plain
German about innumerable official and military
secrets, complaining, swearing, accusing, drink-
ing the forbidden vodka and even champagne



out of a tea-cup which the guard poured from a
teapot. At the end of the journey the general
assured the Norwegian that he had had a very
pleasant time.

In Russia there was no German influence to
destroy; there were only German interests which
were closely intertwined with the Russian. In-
dustrially and commercially, Russia suffered ter-
ribly at the beginning of the war when deprived
of German skill and help ; many factories had to
be closed, and in certain parts of Russia trade
was entirely stopped. Indeed, German interests
in Russia are destroyed forever or for many years
to come. The Hfe-work of many is gone, and
another priceless thing, the confidence between
the two nations, which, paradoxical as it may
seem, was rooted in an innermost understanding,
the German's love of Russia for her philosophy,
her art, her poetry, and her melancholy. When
the German becomes drunk he sings sad songs;
when the Russian is drunk he weeps and talks
philosophy and is deeply melanchoUc.

Russia is an immense grave for the peaceful
achievements of centuries.




To the Russian's imagination nothing is so
vivid, so exciting, as the idea of America. To
his mind it has not been the country to which one
takes a wrecked existence, a broken hf e, or where
one goes for adventure, to find gold and every-
thing that a man can buy with gold. It is not
that. For him it has been like a light, like a star
of hope, like a heaven on earth, vast, but not with
the vastness of his own country, which is fright-
ening, but with the vastness of the sky, gay and
blue, full of sunshine and brightness. Even
though the Russian never may go to America,
that it exists has made him glad in the conscious-
ness that, if his own land should make him too
unhappy, he would be welcomed in another part
of the earth as a human being, as a simple man.

In Russia many, many speak of America, the
poorest, the most desperate, those who have been
so hopeless that they have lost the strength to go



away from their own soil. This one thought
has seemed vastly comforting to them, that
America was discovered for the poor, and was not
the land of the rich only. They must preserve
this hope that America is the great mother, with
wide-stretched arms, ready to receive children,
many children, from all parts of the world.

The real, the true Russian is not an emigrant
by nature. He does not hke to move; every
change frightens him. He is not curious, and
new things do not touch him. His interests are
deep in the Russian soil. He must know who
are his friends or his enemies and he must talk
about them; otherwise, life would lose its charm
for him. Those who have emigrated from Rus-
sia have been in most cases the Jews, the Gali-
cians, students who fled for anarchistic reasons,
refugees whose families were involved in unlucky
politics, and aristocratic soldiers of fortune. It
is very seldom that the Russian peasant is to be
found among the emigrants.

And when one of the peasants, devoured by an
unappeasable longing to catch a glimpse of the
earthly paradise which America seems to be,
dares the adventurous journey, he travels thou-



sands of miles to go somewhere over the Russian
border. Then again he travels through a foreign
country, where he is completely lost, owing to his
lack of knowledge of the language. Finally, he
is passed over the gangway to the immense boat
which is to carry him across the sea ; then his heart
beats faster, and he forgets the weariness and
hardships of the journey. He sighs deeply, his
eyes are directed forward with the movement of
the boat, he clasps his hands, and his lips move
in a silent prayer. The ship cuts the high waves,
and over him is the immensity of the sky; he feels
that in this holy solitude of the elements a man is
so poor and small a thing that there are no longer
differences among those who go out to America.
Day by day he sits beside his bundle, his poor
property, staring silently into the vanishing hours
which drop into the sea. Every morning more
of space is between him and his own land, and
every day a piece of his memory disappears, until
finally his soul is filled with expectations of the
future, and the past has left him completely.
Then hours come when the sky is darkened and
the clouds are restless. An anxiety never felt
before enters his heart, a fainting weariness



before the cruel impenetrable wildness of the sea.
Deathly tired, he has no resistance, and gives up
the httle struggle before so enormous a grave.

The Russian sighs and thinks. Every one must
pass through a test to reach America, and he
makes himself ready for his entry; he prepares
himself for the solemn hour when his foot will
step ashore. It is night again. The big boat
is suddenly quiet, its tireless machinery stopped.
But no sleep touches the eyes of the Russian, who
looks in deepest bewilderment into the clear, sum-
mer night, from which stands forth the statue of
a woman, not an icon, not the Holy Little
Mother, but a woman great and triumphant, kind
and serious and protecting — Liberty, America!
And behind the statue there hes an enchanted
city, with buildings soaring into the sky.

With the dawn the Russian goes back to the
place where he can make himself clean. He has
the idea that it is Sunday, and it will be Uke
entering a church. People will look at him; his
hair must be brushed, his face washed, and his
high boots shining. There, at the first view of
America, he feels like a human being, equal to
all who are on the boat with him. He can not



speak to them, but they all have the same expres-
sion in the eyes as they look forward to the won-
ders to come.

Then a veil covers all the wonders of the new
world. The Russian rubs his eyes; the veil
remains. He sees persons, gay and happy,
leisurely walk over the gangway, and he sees
others who are not permitted to leave the ship.
A rope is drawn between the favored ones and
many poor men and women who, hke himself,
are waiting impatiently to go on land. His eyes
question. Why are some free to land and why
not all? He gets his answer when he and the
others from the steerage are pushed like sheep
into a hall at Ellis Island. With head bent he
enters America. The wonderful expectation is
killed in him ; a dull, submissive expression comes
into his face.

It is only a world of illusion, this new, redeem-
ing world; it does not exist in reality. Reality
is the same as in Russia, the difference between
those who have money and those who have not.
The poor are examined to find out whether they
carry diseases from the Old World, and the rich,
who perhaps do carry them, are allowed to spread


them in the New World as in the Old. As he is
a Russian, he understands and is sad. The next
day, when he is free to leave the island and to
enter the real new world. New York, his hopeful-
ness has shrunk, and his eyes, which were so
eager, are tired. He walks through the long
stretch of streets with another man who shows
him where the Russians live. This Russian quar-
ter is poor; it is the same as in Russia, only it is
confusing. The Russians have to learn English,
and so they mix together. They do not look
happy, but they all hope to be happy when they
can go back home with what they can earn in the
new country — money, as much as they want.
They will buy land and houses for the children.

The Russian sees that there is a will and an
energy that were not in Russia. He goes about,
asks and asks, and nobody can understand him.
Those who might understand him have forgotten
the language of the Russian soul; they have no
time to answer. A Russian who no longer has
time to answer questions of the heart, who hur-
ries away in the morning and who comes back in
the evening tired, looking out only for his food
and his bed, is no longer a Russian. The new-



comer finds himself alone, and a great homesick-
ness takes possession of him and paralyzes him.
There is no beauty, no rest, no happiness. There
is a uniform, nervous rush, and what is from the
old home-country seems no longer to interest
them. They smile pityingly when he speaks of
what he thought America would be — the para-
dise. He knows better now. There is more of
paradise at home, where they have their little
places, and sometimes think that the ground
belongs to them as well as to their masters.
They tramp along the country roads, and the
doors of the houses are opened for them; every-
body talks, everywhere a cabbage soup is ready
for them, and Russia is like a big, big home. He
looks at his rubles, which he has brought with
him. They are melting like his expectations;
almost nothing is left.

He meets the disapproving looks of his own
people. He who is so strong, why does he not go
to work, too? There is work in America if one
wants it, and this is the great thing here. The
more work a man has, the more he loves the coun-
try. He loves the week-days better than the
Sundays, which are dull. The working-peo-
















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pie are too tired to gather, to dance, or to

No, the new-comer is not in haste to work.
He will go about and see where the wonders lie;
he can not beheve that America has only work,
nothing but work, waiting for the children who
come from an Old World where they have no
promises, no prospects. He walks days and
days, and he sees that there are streets for the
rich and streets for the poor, and he sees that the
poor and the rich never mingle. He sees that
there are many who look neither poor nor rich,
and are not gay, but noisy. He stands and looks
at the sky-high houses and the stream of people
that rushes in and out ; he sees the faces tense and
worried; he returns to his sleeping-place. And
he has not discovered America.

One morning he has only a few copecks left,
and misery has come to him. Oh, what a misery !
It does not mean so much the hunger of the body
as hunger of the soul. Nobody asks him if he is
hungry, nobody cares if he dies, nobody has a
word of compassion ; for all this nobody has time.
He lies on his bed day after day and becomes
weak; he will never see his own country again,



and he has never seen America. And one day
he has no bed at all. He could not pay, and the
man who wanted his bed could pay. Desperate
and deserted, he takes his small bundle. He
has the one desire to be home again, away from
the merciless, rushing world, which is like the sea
itself: those who are not able to swim will be
drowned pitilessly. But to go home he must
have money, and for this he has to go to work.
As he is no longer strong and beautiful and full
of expectation, work is hard to get. He must
accept any sort of hard labor until he comes to
the work that he did in his home country. And
the day when he sits in the workshop with the
work he is used to before him he thinks that he
has found America. He concludes that every
one must discover his own America — the Amer-
ica of his ambitions. America is like the big
machine which worked at home in the fields
separating the chaff from the wheat. Now he
knows the difference between Russia and Amer-
ica. In Russia they always have time to wait.
The father waits, the children wait, and so the
generations wait, and the country and everything
else are behind.



The Russian brings his foreign skill into the
uniformity of the workshop, and this is liked by
Americans. Suddenly he is aware that he is dif-
ferent from others and that which his father and
grandfather waited for has come to him. He
discovers in himself all sorts of possibilities which
he never felt before. He is strong again,
stronger than ever before. There is something
new in his blood, which he never would have felt
in his own country, neither he nor his childi'en,
because it is not demanded, because they could
live without any effort. They could have their
tea and their soup and their bread, and they had
time to talk about religion. Everything remained
just as it was when his fathers were serfs.
America opens his eyes, and with doubled energy
he works to make money so that he may go back
to teach his children what progress a man may
make. And then it is true that there are no
class distinctions in America, because the poor of
yesterday can be rich to-morrow, and the illit-
erates can become the teachers if they study.
No matter what he has been or from what he
comes, a man may rise.

The Russian writes home, if he can write, or a



neighbor writes for him, and tells about the won-
ders of America and how much he has in the
savings-bank. Ellis Island is not the invention
of a cruel Government, and America cannot be
plucked like a bird.

America is the model school for Russia in
which to learn everything that the Russians lack.
Into the remotest parts of Russia the idea of
America has penetrated — an idea of a new
encouragement for a stronger expression of life.

America is so strong that it pulverizes nation-
alities. As nationally strong as Russians are in
their country, where no room is left for the influx
of another people, in America they are scarcely
noticeable. But what is noticed strangely
interests the American. A Russian is to the
American like a book with seven seals, and if the
book is opened, the American cannot read the
mysterious signs; he cannot read in the Russian
what he reads in other people. Russian charac-
teristics are not comprehensible to him. He
calls the Russian inscrutable. The American
does not like contradictions ; his mind is straight-
forward. The food for his soul as well as for his
body must have the simple wholesomeness under-



stood and consumed by the masses. This is the

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Online LibraryLeonie Ida Philipovna Souiny-SeydlitzRussia of yesterday and to-morrow → online text (page 10 of 17)