Leonie Ida Philipovna Souiny-Seydlitz.

Russia of yesterday and to-morrow online

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Then he calls them, and they sing for him strange,
cheap music, popular and ephemeral, composed
at the table of a cafe; but they sing the motives
with all the passion of their own feelings in deep,
emotional voices and without any instrumental
accompaniment. A whole band of these Gipsies
sing, old and young, ugly women, witch-like,
neglected, di'essed in shabby clothing of all vari-
eties, and men in ragged garb, some of them in
shirtsleeves and high boots, a mixture of Rus-
sian peasant and Gipsy, rusty, strong, and dar-
ing. When they begin to sing in chorus, one of
two soloists leading the melodies, all their repul-
siveness is forgotten. Like a wave their ele-
mental singing rolls over the tense listeners.

When the Russians began to compose great
operas there was not only a revelation, but a
great hope for a new epoch in music. A Rus-
sian composer never has been misunderstood or



misinterpreted in his own country. Russia has
always received her own musicians as other coun-
tries received crowned heads, and nowhere else
have artists felt such a wonderful atmosphere of

The Russians are great artists in color, and
they know how to create a background for beauty.
The interior of the Marinsky Theater is as deli-
cate in its blue and ivory decorations as the
boudoir of a beautiful woman, and its effect is
so harmonious that it prepares for the wonders
of the Russian music. When the curtain rises
for "Boris Godunuff," sung by Russians for Rus-
sians, no compromises or changes are tolerated,
no modifying of scenes or characters. Chalia-
pine — Boris Godunoff — walks from the door of
the Kremlin, over the red carpet, over streams of
blood, to the church door, far from all the others
on the stage. Livid, lonesome, frightful, and
frightened, he strikes the tragic chords of his
wild soul, begs for absolution, cries in repen-
tance, cringes before the saints, and despises the
priests, who stretch out their mysterious claws to
drag him into their mystical depths, calling to
their aid all the bells, the terrible Great Bell



sounding like the last judgment. Boris Godun-
of , sobbing, sinks on his knees. The curtain
falls, the ringing of the bells dies away, the music
stops, and there is deep, anxious silence. The
theater remains dark for one moment, the air is
vibrant with the emotion of men and women.
Light flames again and the conversation of soft,
musical voices is subdued. Russians cannot
suddenly change their feelings. Touched
deeply, shaken, recalling sufferings, the luxury
around them seems only play life. The orches-
tra interpreted the real life in the truths, the
cruelties, and the repentance of the singer, who
desires to be good, but cannot live without power.
Music and what is in this music Chaliapine has
fathomed. Russia has been revealed in both
words and music.

On the same square with the imperial opera
was the JDrame Musicale, the democratic opera,
the opera for the young, for aspiring artists. In
the simple, cold amphitheater, which was not an
ideal temple of art, the public was rather more
ready to criticize than to enjoy. It did criticize
and it did enjoy. An entirely new tradition, a
young, fighting spirit permeated the interpreta-



tions. Here was the home of a very realistic
opera. Meanings were not conveyed subtly, but
crudely, strongly. There was a vibration like a
young storm- wind; intelligence triumphed over
artificiality. ''Carmen" was staged as never be-
fore, realistically, sincerely. This Carmen was
one of the many who lure men to the under- world,
to the tragic end. All on the stage were Car-
mens; Carmen was the expression of all.

The old star system was entirely eliminated.
It was the triumph of the ensemble. All false
opera settings had disappeared, and it seemed
natural that these people should sing their joys
and sorrows, that their voices sometimes should
become hoarse and rough from passion. All of
them were young. It was the application of the
same artistic idea that Stanislawsky embodied in
his Moscow Art Theater. It was the same dar-
ing youthfulness with which Serge Diaghileff
started his marvelous combination of ballet and
decorative art.

In Russia dancing and dancers have never
been the frivolous hors d'oeuvres of the operas;
they have given another expression to amours
and tragedies, gaiety and romance. Dancing



was a form of culture, a flower which had to be
planted in its own earth. The dancers of the
Russian fantasias were trained spiritually as well
as bodily in the school which an imperial gen-
erosity started and maintained. It was a high
school, and the young men and women who were
sent to the rows of the imperial ballets were
young ladies and young gentlemen of education.

It was not only the splendor of the settings and
costumes, it was the spiritualized art, that amazed
the world, that taught what high and sacred
meaning could be attached to the ballet. The
Russian invented character dances, substituting
gestures for words that would have been sup-
pressed; but the people who understood unspoken
words passionately loved the ballet, asking more
and more of the dancers. Dancing was never a
mechanical art to them, but was significant of
something subtle and exalted. Nowhere were
the Pierrots and Pierrettes more vivacious or the
Petroushkas more tragic.

Diaghileff's extraordinary Ballet Russe had,
whether one would admit it or not, a great in-
fluence on the artistic progress of the epoch.
Who would deny the importance of the art of



decoration embracing the work of such painters
as Ruskin, Bihbine, Repine, Bakst and Alexan-
der Benoit? Of the marvelous mise-en-scene of
"Coq d'Or" by Rymsky Korsakoff, with Lar-
iono w and Gontschanowa ? Who would deny the
audacious victories of the modern musicians,
Moussorgsky, Rymsky Korsakoff, Balaghireff,
Borodine, and the amazing Igor Stravinsky,
whose first representation of the "Sacre du Prin-
temps" in Paris marked a date in the history of
music? Who would deny the sacred fire brought
to the people by the dancers, Nijinsky, Bolm, the
Fokines, the Karsavinas, and Pavlowa?

It was the intelligent classes which took part
in the rich development of modern art in Russia
rather than the blase great boyars. One of the
great merchants of Russia, a Moscow Croesus,
Nicholas Riabouschinsky, undertook the publica-
tion of a hterary and art review such as only a
Russian would understand how to produce.
Never was there more sumptuous printing.
Unique in form, it was filled with splendid illus-
trations, worked out in minute detail, everj^ en-
graving protected by tissue paper specially fiU-
greed for the subject it covered. To direct the



French part of the review, Alexander Mercereau
came from Paris. To encourage young Russian
painters, Riabouschinsky arranged the most mar-
velous exhibitions. To choose the pictures he
himself went to Paris. Once in the studio of the
famous young artist, Henry Doucet, since killed
at the front, he selected a picture for the ex-
hibition in Russia. When the young artist ex-
plained that he could not give that picture be-
cause it was nearly sold to another person, Ria-
bouschinsky, without saying a word, paid twice
the price asked for it, so that he might not lose
it from his collection.

The Russian is more generous to the artist
than to the art dealer. He must know the artist;
he goes to the studios to find the best, even though
the fame of the artist has not yet come. He un-
derstands art ; he feels it, and is never a collector
from any snobbish ambition. The canvases rep-
resenting the newest movements, the most prog-
ressive painters, — Cezanne, Van Gogh, Seruzier,
Odilon, Redon, Metzinger, Gleizes, Picabbia and
others were taken to the young artists of Russia,
so that they could see how far the French artists
were going in their intentions. Riabouschinsky,



instead of being supported in his great artistic
ambitions by the imperial Government, had to
fight for his ideas. The censor watched at the
frontier, and in the name of the state rehgion
held up the pictures of Girieud, the iconoclast, be-
cause he thought they might have an influence on
the liberal spirit.

Riabouschinsky really gave the elan. Many
others followed, and the new art entered all the
larger cities of Russia, thanks to the enterprising
generosity of men who belonged neither to the
great nobility nor to the officials, but to the
bourgeoisie, which in Russia is so different from
the bourgeoisie of other countries.

The Tetriakoff, Poliakoff, and Morosoff col-
lections give vivid testimony of where the great-
est interest in art and the greatest development
of younger artists is to be expected. The feel-
ing for art is so deep in the Russian that there
is no difference between the noble and the rich
merchant and the simple man of the people.
The originality in Russian art and literature
never was influenced, and even if the Russians
have studied in the schools of France or Italy,
they go home to write their own books and paint



their own pictures. They never compose a song
that is not their own; they are too strongly in-
dividual. They cannot imitate, they are all too

So many eternal beauties grow out of old Rus-
sia's old distresses, so many flowers of art and
poetry and music sprang forth from the suffering
of the people, that the heart is filled with anxiety
and curiosity to know what new wonders will be
discovered when the jubilant hymn has been sung
in young Russia, and whether the songs and the
pictures created from the realized ideals of lib-
erty will replace the art which has been for cen-
turies the splendor of the Russian soul.





The Russian peasants always belonged to the
nobles; after their hberation they became serv-
ants instead of serfs. They suffered and yet
they did not suffer, for as long as the Russian
can hold some one responsible for his fate, he is
patient and resigned. If he is in misery, he holds
his oppressers responsible; and if he is drunk, it
is due to his misery.

Dependent on kindness and love, the Russian
peasant never revolted from punishment, and he
would die for a kind barin; but he would never
endure indignities from a superintendent, who
was no better than he himself, who committed the
same crimes, and who had base blood in his veins.
It made no difference to the peasant whether the
superintendent was in power or not. The peas-
ant never recognized him, and obeyed him with
teeth set, only waiting for the opportune moment

to attack him.



The Russian peasant was not envious of the
nobleman's riches or of his idle life. He saw no
more happiness among the nobles than he himself
could have; he would not know what to do with
all the things with which the master surrounded
himself. He has his sheep fur, and his barin had
his sables; both kept warm. The barina put
around her head the same kind of woolen scarf
that the peasant's wife wore when the wind
whistled over the steppes. The barina could lie
all day on her couch and read books and nibble
candies, but this seemed more difficult than to
scrub floors and to brush velevet chairs, because
she, first of all, had to study how to read, and the
servant knew that the barina^ when a little girl,
often had shed tears when her tutors made her
sit quiet for hours to get the letters into her head.
No, there was not such a difference. The baiin
also drank, sometimes, and the barina cried the
same as the peasant's wife cried when he^ drunk,
beat her. It was just the same, only that the
barina wanted money, and the barin sighed, and
had to get it from somewhere, and in his sorrow
he often came to the peasant, explaining and
apologizing for increasing the rent of the farm.



Poor harin! He looked grieved, and the peasant
yielded; the peasant knew that if he did not yield
voluntarily, he would be forced to pay more, and
he preferred the condescension of the noble, who
came personally to ask a favor from him.

As long as the nobles stayed on their land
everything was all right. The grandparents had
lived on the land, and the peasants' grandparents
had been the serfs of the old, old banns. There
was a tie. Oppression seldom came from the
landowners; it came from another power, which
represented the nobles, and it was against this
that the peasant revolted. As a class the Rus-
sian peasants never felt humiliated. They were
servile and humble, but that was their good
right. They did what they had seen their par-
ents do, and it would be a shame if what had been
good enough for one's parents was too low for
one's self.

The peasant loved the land even if it was not
his own. He cultivated the ground, and was
proud and happy when the wheat stood high in
the gold of the summer sun and the animals were
healthy, and the pigs were nowhere so fat as in
his pens, even if the stable belonged to his harin.



Some day he would have his own little piece of
ground ; but that might not be such an untroubled
happiness, because then, if the storm ruined his
wheat, the damage occurred to him alone, and no
one else was unhappy. Even his pig would not
be so well off in the little pen he could provide
for it, and would be much better with all the

No, to have property was not the peasant's
dream. The sky was not divided into thousands
and thousands of pieces, and so it should not be
with the land. It should be cultivated by many
for many. Over the sky rules God, and over
many thousands of acres ruled the noble ; as long
the barin was kind and benevolent, the Russian
peasant wanted nothing changed. He had his
work, and when Sunday came it was a real Sun-
day, for there was nothing to worry about; he
and his family were content. It was his fault
and not his barings when he went to the inn with
his weekly wages to drink, to make useless
speeches about slavery — to drink until his last
copeck was thrown away; and it was his fault
when his family was poor and had nothing to
eat and his children became miserable. It was



his fault when he began the next week without
joy, grumbhng and quarrelsome, lazy and dis-
obedient, so that the barin had to whip him to
bring him back to his senses. The baiin was
sorry, but he had to use the knout. It was not
the master's fault; it was his. God also punishes
his children, and the noble, who understood the
soul of the peasant, did not despise him when he
whipped him. He spoke kind words, gave hun
a ruble, and sent him home. So he was often
cured for several weeks, and he was happy again,
and his wife was happy, and his children had

Sometimes it happened that one of the peas-
ant's children seemed unlike his brothers and sis-
ters, with different features, different ideas, al-
ways discontented and envious of things that
would not make a peasant happy. Then the
barin was kind enough to speak with his rebellious
child, and to take him from the estate to make
him work somewhere else; or he might even give
money to buy books the child wanted and to send
him to school, and one day the boy himself wrote
books, or put flowers, animals, houses, and even
the faces of his father and mother on pieces of



linen, which, as his mother sighed, would make
beautiful aprons. Then people made a fuss over
the boy and praised his art, as they called it, be-
cause his parents were only peasants. That was
what a peasant never could endure in all his hu-
mihty. Only a peasant! But that was much.
There were others who were less; for instance,
the police. The police had a certain power to
nag and to make a man's life unbearable ; but this
was not a privilege; it was a misfortune. Such
a poor creature was a policeman, who measured
his power by copecks, and was friendly or hostile
according to how much had been paid for his good
graces ! Was he not more pitiable than the peas-

And there were persons who came and wanted
to know why the peasants were not more inde-
pendent. These people would organize the peas-
ants and would persuade them to leave the soil,
to work in factories behind machines more dan-
gerous than animals ; because one can never know
the moment when a machine might turn around
to avenge itself on the human creatures who are
its slaves.

The Russian peasants will have nothing to do



with these monsters. One day the barin brought
one to the fields, where he thought the work be-
hind the plow with horses and oxen not quick
enough. There it stood menacing the men
around it, who looked like pygmies, and who put
all the little screws into its body to make it work.
And woe to the man who forgot one little part or
put in the wrong screw ! The monster treated a
man, a sacred human being of flesh and blood, as
a piece of straw, crushed him, and spit him out
a bloody bundle.

No, the Russian peasant did not like machines ;
he would not have the responsibiUty they
brought to him. He did not like the mechanical
world. There was so much more beauty in the
little flowers, the blossoming trees, and the snow
crystals. No, he preferred to fight with wolves
and bears that announced the danger; and even
if he was killed, he had fought them first. He
was helpless with the machines, and he would not
change his work under the sky, in the open air,
for work underground or in the factories, where
the ears were deafened by the terrible noise,
where danger lurked in every corner, and where
a man could command or dismiss, a man without



any mercy, a man who had become a machine him-
self. The Russian reasoned that, if there existed
men who invented such artificial thunders and
lightnings, there would be found others who
would work them, men with mechanical minds,
men who had never worked in the fields, men
who never felt masters, because they never felt

It was a misfortune for the peasants to have
a city in the neighborhood, where they were lured
to take positions as dworniks in shops or inns
particularly attractive to them on account of the
eternal tips. Even the boys were taken to the
capital as little servants, in their national cos-
tume, their only pay being the silken shirts and
nice boots and sufficient food. Some of them re-
mained illiterate, and after a while returned to
the country to be peasants again, a fate most un-
desirable, because they took back with them all
sorts of pretensions that spoiled the simplicity
of the people. Sometimes they learned to read
and to write, and then they were most ambitious
to find masters with whom they could travel.
These made good servants, obedient, intelligent,
and shrewd, and when they came to see their



peasant parents, they were sho^vn to the others
as wonders, since they had learned a Uttle Ger-
man or French and had picked up gentle man-
ners. But, as an old peasant said, they had lost
their religion and they did not believe in the rights
of the nobles.

It did occur that the landowner was far away
from the people who toiled in his fields and did
not know when the long winter brought no work
and no money with which to buy what was neces-
sary; when the animals died of diseases, and no
one could find out the cause, when the wife fell
ill, and the children, too. Oh, there were trying
times; but this was fate, and perhaps, if the
barin would come to see to things, all would be
much better. But in the noble's castle lived a
stranger who had no heart, who was paid to
supervise the peasants ; and when the harvest was
poor, he took from the peasant's money, so that
the harms income would not be cut down and he
would not lose his place, which gave his wife the
privilege of driving in the noble's coaches and
sitting on the harinofs splendid furniture. So
the peasant suffered because the harin was not
there to look after his children. For this the



peasant revolted now and then, but it did not
help much; it made life cruel. The police
hounded the peasant, who loved to live
in the open air, to tramp; he was jailed and
forgotten, and his family could die of starva-

This was all very sad, but it was because Rus-
sia was so vast, and the nobles had too many
estates; the barin could not have his eyes every-
where, and it served the peasant right that he
had not good sense, as his wife said to him wor-
riedly, when he first began to drink and to curse
and to take his ax to kill the superintendent. It
was not his fault that he met other men who had
the same miseiy at home and who had to drink to
forget and to gain courage to kick the cold-
blooded, fat superintendent and his wife, the
stupid, puffed-up woman, who had ear-rings, and
short-nosed, ridiculous children that no longer
spoke Russian. Russian was not fine enough!
But these sinful thoughts and actions were very
unfortunate, and brought him to the abyss. God
probably had tried him, and he had failed. He
wished only that his children, if they ever grew
up under these sad conditions, would be wiser



than he, and that they would not fall victims to
the vodka devil.

When the prison was too crowded, the peasant
was sometimes given his freedom; sometimes he
was dragged to a wagon, which wheeled slowly
many miles to a place far away from his province
where nobody knew him, where they thought him
a common criminal, where nobody understood
that he was only a misled peasant who never
would revolt again if he could go back to
his family. And his family waited at home, and
after a while he was beheved dead, and the poor
wife went to work to feed the children. The
children, bloodless and thin, began to work too
early or died of smallpox, which always attacks
the feeble more often than the well fed.

Oh, no, there had not been always joy and
happiness for the peasant, and the rich nobles
were to blame ; the nobles did not know the holy
responsibility that the ownership of property im-
plies. It was not the bad education or the lack
of education of the people that had kept Russia
back from civilization, it was the indifference
of the nobles ; it was also the vastness of the coun-















1— •


































































Often a Russian aristocrat, living in Moscow,
would say, if a remote place was mentioned:

"I believe I must own some land out there. I
found a deed among my father's papers when he

It happened that a young heir was the first
man in three generations who wanted to see an
old family estate somewhere in Simbirsk, where
the communications were difficult, and the par-
ents never took the time or suffered the incon-
veniences, to make the long trip from the capital.
It came into his head, when the "intendant" had
refused to advance money on a tract of ten thou-
sand acres of immortgaged land, to travel in-
cognito to the estates and to see what the "in-
tendant" was like. The "intendant" was thought
trustworthy, as the young man's ancestor had
liberated the serf grandfather and rewarded him
for faithful service with the post of overseer.
Sometimes a peasant, sent by all the others,
would make the long journey to present a peti-
tion to the barin. The young barin remembered

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Online LibraryLeonie Ida Philipovna Souiny-SeydlitzRussia of yesterday and to-morrow → online text (page 13 of 17)