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immense sheet of parchment, visible from the outermost
distance at which any of this vast crowd could stand ;
the total number amounted to 80,000 ; all saw, and many

30 heard. They were told of the oppressions of Russia ;
of her pride and haughty disdain, evidenced toward them
by a thousand acts ; of her contempt for their religion ;
of her determination to reduce them to absolute slavery ;
of the preliminary measures she had already taken by


erecting forts upon many of the great rivers of their neigh-
borhood ; of the ulterior intentions she thus announced
to circumscribe their pastoral lands, until they would all
be obliged to renounce their flocks, and to collect in
towns like Sarepta, there to pursue mechanical and servile 5
trades of shoemaker, tailor, and weaver, such as the free-
born Tartar had always disdained. " Then again," said
the subtle prince, " she increases her military levies upon
our population every year. We pour out our blood as
young men in her defence, or, more often, in support of 10
her insolent aggressions ; and, as old men, we reap noth-
ing from our sufferings nor benefit by our survivorship
where so many are sacrificed." At this point of his
harangue Zebek produced several papers (forged, as it is
generally believed, by himself and the Lama), containing 15
projects of the Russian Court for a general transfer of
the eldest sons, taken en masse from the greatest Kalmuck
families, to the Imperial Court. " Now, let this be once
accomplished," he argued, " and there is an end of all
useful resistance from that day forwards. Petitions we 20
might make, or even remonstrances ; as men of words,
we might play a bold part ; but for deeds ; for that sort
of language by which our ancestors were used to speak
holding us by such a chain, Russia would make a jest of
our wishes, knowing full well that we should not dare to 25
make any effectual movement.

Having thus sufficiently roused the angry passions of
his vast audience, and having alarmed their fears by this
pretended scheme against their firstborn (an artifice
which was indispensable to his purpose, because it met 30
beforehand every form of amendment to his proposal
coming from the more moderate nobles, who would not
otherwise have failed to insist upon trying the effect of
bold addresses to the Empress before resorting to any


desperate extremity), Zebek-Dorchi opened his scheme of
revolt, and, if so, of instant revolt ; since any preparations
reported at St. Petersburg would be a signal for the
armies of Russia to cross into such positions from all
5 parts of Asia as would effectually intercept their march.
It is remarkable, however, that with all his audacity and
his reliance upon the momentary excitement of the Kal-
mucks, the subtle prince did not venture, at this stage of
his seduction, to make so startling a proposal as that of

10 a flight to China. All that he held out for the present
was a rapid march to the Temba or some other great
river, which they were to cross, and to take up a strong
position on the farther bank, from which, as from a post
of conscious security, they could hold a bolder language

15 to the Czarina, and one which would have a better chance
of winning a favorable audience.

These things, in the irritated condition of the simple
Tartars, passed by acclamation ; and all returned home-
ward to push forward with the most furious speed the

20 preparations for their awful undertaking. Rapid and
energetic these of necessity were ; and in that degree
they became noticeable and manifest to the Russians who
happened to be intermingled with the different hordes,
either on commercial errands, or as agents officially from

25 the Russian Government, some in a financial, others in a
diplomatic character.

Among these last (indeed, at the head of them) was a
Russian of some distinction, by name Kichinskoi a man
memorable for his vanity, and memorable also as one of

30 the many victims to the Tartar revolution. This Kichin-
skoi had been sent by the Empress as her envoy to over-
look the conduct of the Kalmucks. He was styled the
Grand Pristaw, or Great Commissioner, and was univer-
sally known amongst the Tartar tribes by this title. His


mixed character of ambassador and of political surreillant,
combined with the dependent state of the Kalmucks,
gave him a real weight in the Tartar councils, and might
have given him a far greater had not his outrageous
self-conceit and his arrogant confidence in his own 5
authority, as due chiefly to his personal qualities for
command, led him into such harsh displays of power,
and menaces so odious to the Tartar pride, as very soon
made him an object of their profoundest malice. He had
publicly insulted the Khan ; and, upon making a commu- 10
nication to him to the effect that some reports began to
circulate, and even to reach the Empress, of a design in
agitation to fly from the imperial dominions, lie had ven-
tured to say, " But this you dare not attempt ; I laugh at
such rumors ; yes, Khan, I laugh at them to the Empress; 15
for you are a chained bear, and that you know." The
Khan turned away on his heel with marked disdain ; and
the Pristaw, foaming at the mouth, continued to utter,
amongst those of the Khan's attendants who stayed
behind to catch his real sentiments in a moment of un- 20
guarded passion, all that the blindest frenzy of rage could
suggest to the most presumptuous of fools. It was now
ascertained that suspicion had arisen ; but, at the same
time, it was ascertained that the Pristaw spoke no more
than the truth in representing himself to have discredited 25
these suspicions. The fact was that the mere infatuation
of vanity made him believe that nothing could go on un-
detected by his all-piercing sagacity, and that no rebellion
could prosper when rebuked by his commanding presence.
The Tartars, therefore, pursued their preparations, con- 30
fiding in the obstinate blindness of the Grand Pristaw as
in their perfect safeguard, and such it proved to his
own ruin as well as that of myriads beside.

Christmas arrived ; and, a little before that time, courier


upon courier came dropping in, one upon the very heels
of another, to St. Petersburg, assuring the Czarina that
beyond all doubt the Kalmucks were in the very crisis of
departure. These dispatches came from the Governor
5 of Astrachan, and copies were instantly forwarded to
Kichinskoi. Now, it happened that between this gov-
ernor a Russian named Beketoff and the Pristaw
had been an ancient feud. The very name of Beketoff
inflamed his resentment ; and no sooner did he see that

10 hated name attached to the dispatch than he felt himself
confirmed in his former views with tenfold bigotry, and
wrote instantly, in terms of the most pointed ridicule,
against the new alarmist, pledging his own head upon the
visionariness of his alarms. Beketoff, however, was not

15 to be put down by a few hard words, or by ridicule : he
persisted in his statements ; the Russian ministry were
confounded by the obstinacy of the disputants ; and some
were beginning even to treat the Governor of Astrachan
as a bore, and as the dupe of his own nervous terrors,

20 when the memorable day arrived, the fatal 5th of January,
which forever terminated the dispute and put a seal upon
the earthly hopes and fortunes of unnumbered myriads.
The Governor of Astrachan was the first to hear the news.
Stung by the mixed furies of jealousy, of triumphant

2 5 vengeance, and of anxious ambition, he sprang into his
sledge, and, at the rate of 300 miles a day, pursued his
route to St. Petersburg rushed into the Imperial pres-
ence announced the total realization of his worst pre-
dictions ; and, upon the confirmation of this intelligence

30 by subsequent dispatches from many different posts on
the Wolga, he received an imperial commission to seize
the person of his deluded enemy and to keep him in strict
captivity. These orders were eagerly fulfilled ; and the
unfortunate Kichinskoi soon afterwards expired of grief


and mortification in the gloomy solitude of a dungeon
a victim to his own immeasurable vanity and the blinding
self-delusions of a presumption that refused all warning.
The Governor of Astrachan had been but too faithful
a prophet. Perhaps even he was surprised at the sud- 5
denness with which the verification followed his reports.
Precisely on the 5th of January, the day so solemnly
appointed under religious sanctions by the Lama, the
Kalmucks on the east bank of the Wolga were seen at
the earliest dawn of day assembling by troops and 10
squadrons and in the tumultuous movement of some great
morning of battle. Tens of thousands continued moving
off the ground at every half hour's interval. Women
and children, to the amount of two hundred thousand and
upward, were placed upon wagons or upon camels, and 15
drew off by masses of twenty thousand at once placed
under suitable escorts, and continually swelled in numbers
by other outlying bodies of the horde, who kept falling
in at various distances upon the first and second day's
march. From sixty to eighty thousand of those who 20
were the best mounted stayed behind the rest of the
tribes, with purposes of devastation and plunder more
violent than prudence justified or the amiable character
of the Khan could be supposed to approve. But in this,
as in other instances, he was completely overruled by the 25
malignant counsels of Zebek-Dorchi. The first tempest
of the desolating fury of the Tartars discharged itself
upon their own habitations. But this, as cutting off all
infirm looking backward from the hardships of their
march, had been thought so necessary a measure by all 30
the chieftains that even Oubacha himself was the first to
authorize the act by his own example. He seized a torch
previously prepared with materials the most durable as
well as combustible, and steadily applied it to the timbers


of his own palace. Nothing was saved from the general
wreck except the portable part of the domestic utensils
and that part of the woodwork which could be applied
to the manufacture of the long Tartar lances. This
5 chapter in their memorable day's work being finished,
and the whole of their villages throughout a district of
ten thousand square miles in one simultaneous blaze, the
Tartars waited for further orders.

These, it was intended, should have taken a character of

10 valedictory vengeance, and thus have left behind to the
Czarina a dreadful commentary upon the main motives
of their flight. It was the purpose of Zebek-Dorchi that
all the Russian towns, churches, and buildings of every
description should be given up to pillage and destruction,

15 and such treatment applied to the defenceless inhabi-
tants as might naturally be expected from a fierce people
already infuriated by the spectacle of their own outrages,
and by the bloody retaliations which they must necessarily
have provoked. This part of the tragedy, however, was

20 happily intercepted by a providential disappointment at
the very crisis of departure. It has been mentioned
already that the motive for selecting the depth of winter
as the season of flight (which otherwise was obviously
the very worst possible) had been the impossibility of

2 S effecting a junction sufficiently rapid with the tribes on
the west of the Wolga, in the absence of bridges, unless
by a natural bridge of ice. For this one advantage the
Kalmuck leaders had consented to aggravate by a thou-
sand-fold the calamities inevitable to a rapid flight over

30 boundless tracts of country with women, children, and
herds of cattle for this one single advantage ; and yet,
after all, it was lost. The reason never has been explained
satisfactorily, but the fact was such. Some have said
that the signals were not properly concerted for marking


the moment'of absolute departure that is, for signify-
ing whether the settled intention of the Eastern Kalmucks
might not have been suddenly interrupted by adverse
intelligence. Others have supposed that the ice might
not be equally strong on both sides of the river, and 5
might even be generally insecure for the treading of
heavy and heavily laden animals such as camels. But
the prevailing notion is that some accidental movements
on the 3d and 4th of January of Russian troops in the
neighborhood of the Western Kalmucks, though really 10
having no reference to them or their plans, had been con-
strued into certain signs that all was discovered, and that
the prudence of the Western chieftains, who, from situa-
tion, had never been exposed to those intrigues by which
Zebek-Dorchi had practised upon the pride of the Eastern 15
tribes, now stepped in to save their people from ruin.
Be the cause what it might, it is certain that the Western
Kalmucks were in some way prevented from forming the
intended junction with their brethren of^ the opposite
bank ; and the result was that at least one hundred 20
thousand of these Tartars were left behind in Russia.
This accident it was which saved their Russian neighbors
universally from the desolation which else awaited them.
One general massacre and conflagration would assuredly
have surprised them, to the utter extermination of their 25
property, their houses, and themselves, had it not been
for this disappointment. But the Eastern chieftains did
not dare to put to hazard the safety of their brethren
under the first impulse of the Czarina's vengeance for so
dreadful a tragedy ; for, as they were well aware of too many 30
circumstances by which she might discover the concurrence
of the Western people in the general scheme of revolt,
they justly feared that she would thence infer their concur-
rence also in the bloody events which marked its outset.


Little did the Western Kalmucks guess what reasons
they also had for gratitude, on account of an interposition
so unexpected, and which at the moment they so generally
deplored. Could they but have witnessed the thousandth

5 part of the sufferings which overtook their Eastern breth-
ren in the first month of their sad flight, they would have
blessed Heaven for their own narrow escape ; and yet
these sufferings of the first month were but a prelude or
foretaste comparatively slight of those which afterward

10 succeeded.

For now began to unroll the most awful series of
calamities, and the most extensive, which is anywhere
recorded to have visited the sons and daughters of men.
It is possible that the sudden inroads of destroying

15 nations, such as the Huns, or the Avars, or the Mongol
Tartars, may have inflicted misery as extensive ; but there
the misery and the desolation would be sudden, like the
flight of volleying lightning. Those who were spared at
first would generally be spared to the end ; those who

20 perished would perish instantly. It is possible that the
French retreat from Moscow may have made some nearer
approach to this calamity in duration, though still a feeble
and miniature approach ; for the French sufferings did
not commence in good earnest until about one month

25 from the time of leaving Moscow ; and though it is true
that afterward the vials of wrath were emptied upon the
devoted army for six or seven weeks in succession, yet
what is that to this Kalmuck tragedy, which lasted for
more than as many months ? But the main feature of

30 horror, by which the Tartar march was distinguished from
the French, lies in the accompaniment of women l and

1 Singular it is, and not generally known, that Grecian women
accompanied the anabasis of the younger Cyrus and the subsequent
retreat of the Ten Thousand. Xenophon affirms that there were


children. There were both, it is true, with the French
army, but so few as to bear no visible proportion to the
total numbers concerned. The French, in short, were
merely an army a host of professional destroyers, whose
regular trade was bloodshed, and whose regular element 5
was danger and suffering. But the Tartars were a nation
carrying along with them more than two hundred and
fifty thousand women and children, utterly unequal, for
the most part, to any contest with the calamities before
them. The Children of Israel were in the same circum- 10
stances as to the accompaniment of their families ; but
they were released from the pursuit of their enemies in a
very early stage of their flight; and their subsequent resi-
dence in the Desert was not a march, but a continued halt
and under a continued interposition of Heaven for their 15
comfortable support. Earthquakes, again, however com-
prehensive in their ravages, are shocks of a moment's
duration. . A much nearer approach made to the wide
range and the long duration of the Kalmuck tragedy may
have been in a pestilence such as that which visited 20
Athens in the Peloponnesian war, or London in the reign
of Charles II. There, also, the martyrs were counted by
myriads, and the period of the desolation was counted
by months. But, after all, the total amount of destruction
was on a smaller scale ; and there was this feature of 25
alleviation to the conscious pressure of the calamity that
the misery was withdrawn from public notice into private
chambers and hospitals. The siege of Jerusalem by
Vespasian and his son, taken in its entire circumstances,
comes nearest of all for breadth and depth of suffering, 30
for duration, for the exasperation of the suffering from

" many " women in the Greek army iroXXat ^<rav eratpai tv r$
ffTparetituiTi. ; and in a late stage of that trying expedition it is evident
that women were amongst the survivors.


without by internal feuds, and, finally, for that last most
appalling expression of the furnace heat of the anguish in
its power to extinguish the natural affections even of
maternal love. But, after all, each case had circumstances

5 of romantic misery peculiar to itself circumstances
without precedent, and (wherever human nature is enno-
bled by Christianity), it may be confidently hoped, never
to be repeated.

The first point to be reached, before any hope of repose

10 could be encouraged, was the River Jaik. This was not
above 300 miles from the main point of departure on the
Wolga ; and, if the march thither was to be a forced one
and a severe one, it was alleged, on the other hand, that
the suffering would be the more brief and transient;

15 one summary exertion, not to be repeated, and all was

achieved. Forced the march was, and severe beyond

example: there the forewarning proved correct; but the

promised rest proved a mere phantom of the wilderness

a visionary rainbow, which fled before their hope-sick

20 eyes, across these interminable solitudes, for seven months
of hardship and calamity, without a pause. These suffer-
ings, by their very nature and the circumstances under
which they arose, were (like the scenery of the steppes)
somewhat monotonous in their coloring and external

25 features ; what variety, however, there was, will be most
naturally exhibited by tracing historically the successive
stages of the general misery exactly as it unfolded itself
under the double agency of weakness still increasing from
within and hostile pressure from without. Viewed in this

30 manner, under the real order of development, it is remark-
able that these sufferings of the Tartars, though under
the moulding hands of accident, arrange themselves
almost with a scenical propriety. They seem combined
as with the skill of an artist; the intensity of the misery


advancing regularly with the advances of the march, and
the stages of the calamity corresponding to the stages
of the route ; so that, upon raising the curtain which
veils the great catastrophe, we behold one vast climax of
anguish, towering upward by regular gradations as if con- 5
structed artificially for picturesque effect a result which
might not have been surprising had it been reasonable to
anticipate the same rate of speed, and even an accelerated
rate, as prevailing -through the latter stages of the expedi-
tion. But it seemed, on the contrary, most reasonable to 10
calculate upon a continual decrement in the rate of motion
according to the increasing distance from the headquarters
of the pursuing enemy. This calculation, however, was
defeated by the extraordinary circumstance that the Rus-
sian armies did not begin to close in very fiercely upon 15
the Kalmucks until after they had accomplished a distance
of full 2000 miles: 1000 miles farther on the assaults
became even more tumultuous and murderous: and already
the great shadows of the Chinese Wall were dimly descried,
when the frenzy and acharnement of the pursuers and the 20
bloody desperation of the miserable fugitives had reached
its uttermost extremity. Let us briefly rehearse the main
stages of the misery and trace the ascending steps of the
tragedy, according to the great divisions of the route
marked out by the central rivers of Asia. 25.

The first stage, we have already said, was from the
Wolga to the Jaik; the distance about 300 miles; the time
allowed seven days. For the first week, therefore, the
rate of marching averaged about 43 English miles a day.
The weather was cold, but bracing; and, at a more 30
moderate pace, this part of the journey might have been
accomplished without much distress by a people as hardy
as the Kalmucks : as it was, the cattle suffered greatly
from overdriving; milk began to fail even for the children;


the sheep perished by wholesale ; and the children them-
selves were saved only by the innumerable camels.

The Cossacks who dwelt upon the banks of the Jaik
were the first among the subjects of Russia to come into
5 collision with the Kalmucks. Great was their surprise at
the suddenness of the irruption, and great also their con-
sternation ; for, according to their settled custom, by far
the greater part of their number was absent during the
winter months at the fisheries upon the Caspian. Some

10 who were liable to surprise at the most exposed points
fled in crowds to the fortress of Koulagina, which was
immediately invested and summoned by Oubacha. He
had, however, in his train only a few light pieces of
artillery; and the Russian commandant at Koulagina,

15 being aware of the hurried circumstances in which the
Khan was placed, and that he stood upon the very edge,
as it were, of a renewed flight, felt encouraged by these
considerations to a more obstinate resistance than might
else have been advisable with an enemy so little disposed

20 to observe the usages of civilized warfare. The period of
his anxiety was not long. On the fifth day of the siege
he descried from the walls a succession of Tartar
couriers, mounted upon fleet Bactrian camels, crossing
the vast plains around the fortress at a furious pace and

25 riding into the Kalmuck encampment at various points.
Great agitation appeared immediately to follow: orders
were soon after dispatched in all directions; and it became
speedily known that upon a distant flank of the Kalmuck
movement a bloody and exterminating battle had been

3 fought the day before, in which one entire tribe of the
Khan's dependents, numbering not less than 9000 fight-
ing men, had perished to the last man. This was the
ouloss, or clan, called Feka-Zechorr, between whom and
the Cossacks there was a feud of ancient standing. In


selecting, therefore, the points of attack, on occasion of
the present hasty inroad,, the Cossack chiefs were natu-
rally eager so to direct their efforts as to combine with
the service of the Empress some gratification to their own
party hatreds, more especially as the present was likely 5
to be their final opportunity for revenge if the Kalmuck
evasion should prosper. Having, therefore, concentrated
as large a body of Cossack cavalry as circumstances
allowed, they attacked the hostile ouloss with a precipita-
tion which denied to it all means for communicating with 10
Oubacha; for the necessity of commanding an ample range
of pasturage, to meet the necessities of their vast flocks
and herds, had separated this onloss from the Khan's
headquarters by an interval of 80 miles ; and thus it was,
and not from oversight, that it came to be thrown entirely 15
upon its own resources. These had proved insufficient :

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Online LibraryThomas De QuinceyRevolt of the Tartars → online text (page 4 of 9)