Leonie Ida Philipovna Souiny-Seydlitz.

Russia of yesterday and to-morrow online

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But Russian society cordially greeted them,
and was sympathetic with the woman who had
toothache and grateful that she appeared despite
the pain. The Gipsies sat in a circle. The gen-



eral offered several of them, with whom he talked,
champagne, which they took, and drank slowly
to the general's health. Then they began to
sing. It was like opium, a warm, warm melody
repeated and taken up by the chorus until the
woman with the toothache came in. Her voice
was as if heavy drops of a sweet, intoxicating
wine were changed into sounds. The ear became
drunk, the melody passing from the ear to the
mind, and singing it into complete forgetfulness.
It is the highest degree of intoxication, the most
dangerous, this drunkenness caused by human
voices, and it frequently happens that men give
up life and life's duties, family and money, to
live among the Gipsies, to sing with them, and
to have them sing their songs. Again a Russian
mystery. The foreigner takes away an impres-
sion of a terrible hypnotic force, which has a
destroying attraction for Russians.

It was dr.^ light when the general's sleeping
coachman was whistled for, and as the morning
air was chilly, the party drove to a cafe at the
point of the island from which the view of the
Baltic Sea, at the mouth of the Xeva, was
resplendent in the golden light of the warming
sun. 346


The morning hours do not count in the life of a
Russian, his activity beginning after luncheon.
Officials are rarely to be seen before noon. Even
if their nights are not passed in cabarets, they
never go to bed before two o'clock in the morn-
ing. It is the custom to receive visitors after
midnight, and many ladies never see the natural
light for a whole winter.

With great pride the general showed the for-
eigner the imperial libraiy. It was amazing that
even in summer, with the schools closed, the
library was a lively place. The Russian swal-
lows books. He is eager to instruct himself
thoroughl}^ about everything in which he is inter-
ested. He never lives on the surface of things,
and he w^ould never be satisfied to work for his
daily bread only, to have no hours in which to live
his ow^n life, his own joys. It is astonishing that
in the moment when a Russian is first able to read
he understands everything, that the faculty of
knowing existed before the mind was trained.
This is the most promising thing about the Rus-
sian people, but it is also the most perilous,
because when the Russian finds printed what he
thinks about life's incompleteness it makes him



unhappy and melancholy. Nowhere else are
people so life-denying as in Russia. The ques-
tion "Why?" is put and discussed by the most
simple persons. But nowhere else are life-
bringing ideas so wonderfully understood as in
Russia, and a Russian may live in a trance over
a new thought. A Russian never will discuss
business affairs after the few office hours neces-
sary for them ; business is a duty that he gets rid
of as soon as possible. There are so many
delightful things waiting for his mind that he
would not for the world burden his spirit with
too much work. This is the reason why negotia-
tions are either hastily closed or are drawn out
for a month or two or di^op into oblivion. The
Russian's imagination must be kept vividly alive
in all business affairs.

A decision to undertake a journey cannot be
left to the last moment, because express tickets
are not to be had at railway stations. Tickets
must be obtained in advance, for they are given
out carefully and are numbered, like American
parlor-car tickets. No Russian can endure
being crowded on a train. If he pays to travel
first-class, he must be left alone. Russian cars



have many small compartments, each one
arranged for two persons. Such a compartment
is like a little salon, and is always gay with flowers
and cushions. It is a pleasure to travel for days
in Russia. There is a feeling of comfort and
security. The trains never rush at a dizzying
speed; nowhere could it be more comfortable to
sleep than in a Russian sleeping-car.

Cosmopolitan Russia ends in Moscow. Even
the big hotels cannot be maintained at the modern
European standard of Petrograd. They can-
not be kept clean. The Russian traveler does
not concern himself with sanitary conditions; he
detests discomfort and prescribed rules. Rules
in Russia are always to be circumvented. If a
foreigner in IMoscow is not the guest of a family,
the old-fashioned Russian hotels are to be pre-
ferred to the modern ones. Bath-rooms are not
numerous, for the Russians have their famous
public baths, the steam baths, which no Russian
would fail to visit at least once a week.

Life in Moscow is very stirring. No definite
office hours are observed. Business is transacted
in European-looking offices, which always belong
to foreign representatives, or in the back yards



of houses, in little rooms lighted by small lamps,
where the samovar is boihng, and where the real
merchants sit at a table drinking tea, smok-
ing, and sometimes discussing large affairs.
Then there are the big Russian restaurants,
where men sit about the whole day, closing deals
between meals, and leaving only to go to another
restaurant. Around the historic Kreml are the
principal stores, in dark houses, dark courtyards,
in dark and dirty streets. Everything that is
modern disturbs Moscow. The new department
stores are hideous and garish in comparison with
the individual, elegant shops where time and
attention is given to each buyer and where arm-
chairs invite customers to stay on for hours. A
great modiste never would keep a lady without
serving the usual glass of tea, and, to make it
easy and pleasant to buy things, milliners send to
the houses many hats from which to make a

In Moscow the private residences of the aristo-
crats and rich merchants are like realized tales
of a vanished splendor. The Russian delights
in velvets, brocades, carpets, and couches. No
one could be more conservative in his taste and



his living, no one more erratic in his spiritual life.
He has an indefatigable desire to pierce life's
mystery, its joys, and its distresses. He despises
all earthly needs in the midst of Oriental luxuries.
When new Russia is touched by the naturally
growing servant problem, there will be another
revolution. The Russian will never have his hfe
changed; that life he considers his own.

Moscow is a vivid picture of the Russian, the
visible contradiction of what he aspires to and
what he loves. In him an absolute satisfaction
with conditions is unthinkable. Even though he
may have dreamed of the change for years, the
revolution came too suddenly for him, and while
he will admire its achievements, and with it him-
self for having had the wonderful energy to bring
about what he had talked of for more than a
century — freedom, he will look around timidly
and ask himself what this freedom is. When the
many personal restrictions that freedom demands
are placed upon him, when his life is exposed as
in a mirror, he will never live up to this freedom.

When travehng from Moscow to the interior
of Russia, the modern man, used to comfort,
must absolutely resign himself to privations. If



he is fortunate, he may be sent from one family
to another, where he will be received with a hos-
pitality warming to his heart and soul ; but where
he will be dismissed after a while with the same
amount of joy that greeted him. The Russian is
afraid of foreigners and their criticisms; hosts
and servants live in a certain tension under the
eyes of strangers. Of course the hosts are so
amiable that guests would be the last to be aware
of the strain, but when a Russian says some day,
*'Dear friend, you should not spend your precious
time with us humble and boring people," then it
is high time to leave the place. Sometimes it
happens that the stranger, accepted at first with
secret sighs, but after a time regarded without
suspicion, becomes so attracted by real Russian
hfe that he would stay always. This would be
accepted by a Russian, who would never ask such
a friend, "Why are you not attending to your
business?" or say, "We can not keep you for-
ever." The stranger becomes absolutely a mem-
ber of the family, sharing wealth, joys, and griefs,
and in nearly every Russian household is to be
found such an intruder, who has entered this life
of insouciance, this life of long days and long



nights, this life of sociabihty, where friendships
are not knotted and unknotted in a few weeks.
"This is my brother," the Russian will say, and
the foreigner will find out that he, once a
stranger, has become the man's brother because
of an affinity of souls stronger than blood ties.
Or a foreigner might begin to discuss his host's
hobby, philosophy, and they would continue days
and days, then weeks, months, and years, and
it would be natural that the arguing would end
longing, but not the courage to live up to.

If the traveler in Russia would go not only
with a guide-book in his hands, but with an
awakened soul, he would discover many human
desires reahzed for which other countries have a
longing, but not the courage to live up to.

On the way to southern Russia it is worth
while to stop in the university town of Charkow,
an old town with frightful pavements and so-
called "Grand" hotels, where the doors do not
close, and one has to push trunks against them
to keep the rooms from being invaded by late-
comers with confused senses, where the water
does not run, where the bed-springs slip cogs and
drop the happy sleeper to the floor, where innum-



erable fleas and flies drive one almost to suicide,
and where, despite all these things, the traveler
enjoys the spirited people, with their eagerness
for humanity and progress.

Nature had somewhat neglected Charkow, and
no trees gave shade for the hot months; but a
park of many thousand acres was made by the
simple method of making the school-children
plant trees twice a year, each httle boy and girl
tending his or her special tree. Then another
generation planted new trees beside the old ones
of their fathers and mothers. In the afternoon
and evening the people go to the park, really
their park, and each greets his tree or his shrub
or his flower-bed. In this simple way is shown
the Russian character, its great simplicity, its

Russians never can understand why foreigners
care to travel through Russia for pleasure,
because the Russian himself does not travel much
in his own country; he prefers to take his
pleasure-trips in other countries, where he has
more comfort for less money. But he is proud
of his railway trains, and he is right. Nothing



could be more comfortable or more beautiful
than the Caucasian Express, the White Express,
as it is called. The cars are finished in bird's-eye
maple, the seats being covered with light gray,
protected in summer with white Hnen. This train
takes the traveler first to the Caucasian watering-
resorts. Very elegant, very lively, and wonder-
fully favored by nature are these little places
among the harsh mountains. The hotels, first
class according to Russian ideas, are very expen-
sive, and the pleasures and the night hfe are
healthful for Russians who live more than three
parts of the year on remote estates. The
waters of Kislavodsk are nearly as efficacious
as those of Vichy and Saratoga; but Kislavodsk
was so gay and colorful that sick folk were made
to feel more or less like intruders who disturbed
the joyful picture. The extravagant luxury of
the ladies was most amazing and amusing.
They promenaded to their morning baths in
evening clothes and jewels, and the men danced
in raw silk suits or white flannels in the evening.
The landed aristocracy took their debutante
daughters to Kislavodsk, and after the season



many brilliant officers of the Caucasian and Don
regiments went back to their garrisons with
young brides and their debts paid.

From Kislavodsk the wonderful express
brings the traveler easily to Tiflis, that strange
city, so European and yet so Asiatic. What
Tiflis is or ever will be has nothing to do with
changes in politics or government. It is like a
little kingdom by itself; it is something of a real
kingdom, a wild kingdom where every man can be
a king. The Caucasians are the best specimens
of mankind, the men and women royally tall and
slender and seignior-like. They look like people
just from the hand of the Creator, The Cau-
casians are wild, but noble. They are naive and
strong, and they have a feeling of contempt for
ugly, stooping people. Tiflis itself, in the
nacreous light of the mountains, often appears
unreal, and to ride on horseback through the
mountains and the high plains, where all the
petty habits of culture are abandoned, and where
a fresh spring at which to wash the face and
hands is all of comfort, is wonderfully reviving,
for one feels thoroughly cleansed in the rippling
wind and the crisping air. For days one might










re i_j















live on bread and milk and cheese. Nature alone
makes one happy. If one is escorted and pro-
tected, the mountain highwaymen, who are
princes, send the traveler on from one to another,
and everj^where he is received with the hospitality
of Bible times.

From Tiilis the traveler would take the train
to the Black Sea and the Crimea, the sub-tropic
portion of Russia. In the autumn the Crimea
looks like the dreamed-of fruit gardens of
romance. The people have the languid laziness
that characterizes a country where sun and earth
are the gardeners. In spring Livadia and Yalta
have been the imperial Riviera, the seat of the
high aristocracy, and very exclusive.

Unchanged for centuries flows the broad,
majestic Volga in her many-hundred-miles-long
course, sending big boats from the south of Rus-
sia to the north. It is a many-weeks' trip, and
the uniformity of the tranquil days submerges
nervousness in the unbroken grandeur. The
boat life is contemplative, with no rush, no hurry,
no impatience. No one in haste would put his
foot on a Volga boat, and no business man in
Russia is ever in a hurry; he will be in time for



the annual fair at Nijni-Novgorod, and hidden
in the hold are the treasures he will exhibit there.
They come from afar, those merchants; they
come from the Persian border; they come from
Manchuria. It is a solemn hour, the morning
hour on the boat; the men pray, the Russian
sailors sing their folk songs. It is another holy
hour when the sun sets, when the boat moves
toward the night, dividing the calm water with
the rhythmic motion of its wheels. The days are
enchanting in their monotony. Life on the boat
is subdued. Many languages are spoken, but,
with a kindly tact, voices never become loud or
disturbing. Cities are passed, and travelers
come and go without haste. Sometimes a boat
lies at a pier for several hours, and the traveler is
able to go on shore to catch glimpses of places
entirely Russian. The stranger may have a
letter to a hospitable family that may be waiting
for the unknown foreigner who will be recognized
immediately as a non-Russian. Samara is one of
the largest cities that the boat passes. There the
Transsiberian train brings Siberian merchants to
the steamer. Samara is a vast place in a vast
plain. Enormous Russian bazaars, which are



built in quadi^angles, with all sorts of shops out-
side as well as inside, have an Oriental touch with-
out the Oriental noisiness. The Russians move
with a silent poise, wait patiently, make their
selections, and buy. Extremely interesting are
the gold and silver shops, with their masses of
silver and gold icons, the marvelously worked
tea-glasses, and the enormous diamonds. It is
the Russian's pride to buy for his wife the largest
stones possible and many of them, and to have
her travel with immense diamond ear-rings,
chains, and bracelets. In the typical Russian
restaurants, where the prosperous merchants eat
and sit comfortably in their national blouses with
their stout, be jeweled wives, contented with life,
they pass hours over their meals, never speaking
when consuming with great appetite masses of
food that would satisfy other men for a week.

On the plains about Samara are raised the
famous mares which supply the milk for the
kumiss cure. Special estabhshments give oppor-
tunity for the treatment of tuberculosis and
anemia. Samara was a regimental town. It
will be emptied now, and what name will they
give to the proud hussars of Alexandra Feodor-



ovna, the black and silver uniformed regiment
of the czarina?

At the time of the fair Nijni-Novgorod looks
as if there were no original inhabitants at all.
Private houses as well as the gastinices lodge the
merchants. Russian hospitality never lets a
foreigner suffer if he has been recommended by
a friend. Rooms are reserved in the Convent of
the Sisters of Saint Afrossinia. At the station
small, high-wheeled istvoschiks are hired ; on one
trunks are fastened, on another, the traveler.
That means that a cover of leather is strapped
over the lap even when the weather is not rainy,
to prevent the traveler from being lost en route,
owing to the speed of the horse. The little car-
riage rocks behind the hurrying horse as it passes
over sticks and stones, rolling from one side to
another as if it were drunk; and despite the
leather cover, the passenger must hold on with
both hands not to be thrown from the seat. The
little horse leaves the town behind and speeds
over a road that looks like hardened waves. The
air is freshened by a fine cooling breeze from the
hills, over which the beams of evening red shine
upon the golden cross of the monastery.



Nijni-Novgorod is so filled with life through
the six weeks of the big fair that, exhausted, it
falls deeply asleep for the rest of the year, when
the courtyards where the enormous quantities
of goods have been shown are closed. In the
innumerable little booths all the wonders of earth
are assembled, from grains to Oriental pearls,
from house-woven materials to Persian gold
brocades, from the skin of calves to the noble furs
of sable and silver fox, from the httle nail to the
pine wood, everything that mankind needs to
live in or to be buried in. But the center of all
this Oriental, cosmopohtan life is the Russian
merchant, with his kindly poise, his patience, and
his broad-minded dealing. He has no pettiness,
he likes to hve and to let live.

Nijni-Novgorod is another thing that will
never be touched by politics or government. It
will remain as it always has been, the unique mer-
cantile center of Russia, which is a Russia of yes-
terday. And this Russia of yesterday should be
the Russia of to-morrow, for it should not become
the banal road of idle travelers, but always
endure as the land which has to be discovered.




Young Russia has a tremendous task to
justify her proud name of a democracy. Only
with a clean conscience will she win the power to
establish in Russia's heart faith in herself. She
made her first steps into a world of blood and
tears, and she must protect the early days of her
childhood from the contradictions that brought
about the death-sentence for old Russia. But
while young Russia proclaimed freedom, she
apparently continued and tolerated the policy of
old Russia. She continued war, which is not the
initial demand of a democracy. Democracy in
Russia should have made her entrance as a con-
structive, and not as a destructive, power. This
was not the fault of young Russia; it was the
fault of old Russia, and to maintain her existence
young Russia will be compelled to make promises
the fulfilment of which will exhaust her tender



With a sparkling generosity the five granted
all kinds of new wonders to the people, who
looked bewildered on events so adventurous, so
incredible, and could not comprehend why at the
same time young Russia rushed her children into
battles, into new miseries. If the five were so
strong, so mighty; if they were to replace all that
was yesterday imperative to the simple Russian
mind ; if they had the sincere conviction that old
Russia was not the reahty, that land and people
had been held in the spell of a century-long
dream, a dream of terrible nightmares; if the
morning red of a great truth was so flaming as to
awaken the last poor ilhterate, why should the
people open their eyes to see only a continuation
of the dream?

The people had to be avenged. This was the
first great idea, and it would have been a strong
idea if, after the first intoxication of revolt there
could have followed the supreme redeeming act of

The great sensation in the Russian spring
festival, beginning with the arrest and the dis-
missal of the czar and with the arrest of the czar's
creatures,— exceUencies having been treated as



common criminals, — the exciting holiday of the
brief elementary revolution is past. The people
have interred the victims of young Russia with
the most impressive pomp. The first trains from
Siberia have come in, and all the emotions that
accompanied the men and women when they
marched away chained have been revived by their
return. The people, now dull, are expecting
other things to happen. They have bread and
clothing. They have been given money and
many promises. But the people, stirred up, have
lost their ancient patience, which was like a halo
around their heads. They are eager and
demanding; they are beginning to reflect; they
enjoy the new right to draw conclusions.

The czar, they reason, was sent away, and all
of us have freedom to do as we like. What is
freedom which is bestowed on the last muzhik and
taken away from the czar? Perhaps the czar
had too much freedom. And the men who freed
us, have they also the right to dictate to us?
What really has changed? Those who ruled
Russia for hundreds of years, and who, despite
all the maledictions, made a great Russia and
brought out all the immense resources of men and



earth, were they not Russian? Was not the czar
a Russian? Those who punished the czar, who
still fill the fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul, the
lugubrious memorial of darkest Russia, are they
the Russians of to-morrow?

It was perhaps right that the people should
show the czar that God has given them the power
to disgrace a sovereign who did not march toward
the light, but are those five, the rulers of Russia,
marching toward the hght? Why are they the
rulers of to-morrow when still afraid of the Rus-
sia of yesterday ? Otherwise the czar would have
freedom to go wherever he wants to go.

The Russian people slept. From time to
time they rubbed their sleepy eyes, blinked into
the world, and noticed something different to
them. Yes, one day they had more than their
grandfathers ; they were free to work or to starve.
They were grateful. Not all of them suffered
from the suppression of free speech ; there were
many among them who could not read and write.
They knew only that they lived in a world of
limitations. They knew that there are strict
laws in nature for animals, and that a man should
not revolt against rules that God has dictated



and that men have only interpreted. And when
they were unhappy or discontented they could
accuse the man who interpreted God's laws for
them. They could accuse the czar, and they
could hope that some day God would inspire the
czar to goodness. So they lived between hope
and fear.

Provisional government is what the people will
not understand. It is vague to them ; democracy
is vague to them. They will go about discussing
democracy, and will try to find out what that
great word really means. Some of them have
been in America; some of them are still there.
Democracy is the expression of the power the

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Online LibraryLeonie Ida Philipovna Souiny-SeydlitzRussia of yesterday and to-morrow → online text (page 16 of 17)