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accounts of the Ceded Western Districts recently passed through our hands, from which it appeared that the rate of taxation was not more than one shilling and three pence
ahead ! We cannot attempt to reconcile or explain so enormous a diffe
Probably the data of the calculations are different. But these are precisely the points on which we looked to an accomplished writer like Mr. Wallace for information; and if his book had any claim to completeness, he ought to have given us at least as full an account of the finances of Russia, as has recently been clone by Mr. Leroy-Beaulieu in the • Revue des deux Mondes,' and he ought especially to have shown the effects of the financial system on the people. At the present moment Russia is burdened with a debt of 300 millions sterling, bearing interest at five per cent., two-thirds of which are held abroad, and the interest must be paid in gold, whilst the entire monetary transactions of the Empire are carried on in a depreciated paper currency. These facts alone are of the gravest significance, but Mr. Wallace says nothing about them.
One of the oddest things in Russia is that the very Ministers who govern upon the present system are the men most alive to its defects and evil consequences. The Minister of Finance is, we are informed, a very able and intelligent man, and a strong free-trader : the Minister of War has also been remarkable in the last few months for his strenuous and consistent resistance. to the party who clamour for war. The heart knoweth its own bitterness. A poll-tax, a brandy-shop-tax, and exorbitant customs duties are the three worst forms of taxation; and it would be interesting to trace the effects of these fiscal expedients on Russia. The more we learn of that country, the more it seems to us to be governed on principles of public economy and administration diametrically opposite to those which are generally accepted and practised in Western Europe. Russia would increase her strength, wealth, and well-being far more by the introduction of a few sound ideas of government, than by raising immense armies to threaten or invade adjacent provinces, scarcely more barbarous than a great portion of her own dominions. If she laid aside her aggressive weapons, she would find nothing more easy than to enter into a cordiał alliance with this country for instance. It is her army and diplomacy that keep her at arm's length from civilised Europe, and inake her an object of not unmerited suspicion, No conquests and no successful intrigues in foreign countries can compensate her for the loss of the confidence and esteem of the world.
VOL. CXLV. NO. CCXCVIII.
Even for the purposes of diplomacy and war the present standard of statesmen and commanders in Russia cannot be reckoned very high. Although nobody doubts that the present century has witnessed a constant and continual increase in the bulk of the Russian Empire--the extent of its territory, the numbers of its subjects and its soldiers, and the nominal amount of its revenue and its debt, we question whether Russia in the nineteenth century occupies a position of as great relative importance in the affairs of Europe as the Russia of Peter the Great and of Catherine II. Those were sovereigns of genius, in spite of their profligacy and their crimes; they attracted to their service a long array of able statesmen and successful generals; their reigns were a series of victories and conquests over the Swedes, the Poles, and the Turks. They established and consolidated an Empire. The Russians, always an imitative people, borrowed or reflected the taste, the culture, and the liberal philosophy of France. It was Falconet who placed the statue of Peter on his rock; it was another Frenchman, Montferrand, who raised the sumptuous dome of the Isaac Church. During the reign of Catherine, especially, Russia exercised a direct and powerful influence on the politics of Europe: there was not a Power which did not court her alliance or dread her hostility. The wars of the French Revolution broke the French political and social con. nexion, though the use of the French language in Russia still remains. But the alliances and sympathies of the Court became German. The gallant national defence of Russia in 1812, and the part she took in the campaigns of 1813 and 1814, effaced the humiliation of Austerlitz, and raised the Emperor Alexander to a great position in Europe. That indeed was the culminating height of power and influence ever attained by a Russian sovereign. But the long reign of his brother Nicholas is now, by common consent, regarded as a disastrous and disgraceful failure. His policy was altogether based on an insolent and brutal system of compression at home and abroad : and when the day of trial came, and the vast military preparations of his life were brought to the test of war, they speedily collapsed and buried the Czar himself under their ruins. The reign of his son has been rendered illustrious by his attachment to the cause of peace and by the emancipation of the serfs. The Empire has made considerable internal progress. There has even been some growth of a national literature and symptoms of popular life. But we see no indications whatever of greatness. There is no Russian in existence who can be said to enjoy or to deserve a first-class European fame. Two or three intriguers of low calibre in the Foreign Office at Petersburg pass for their greatest statesmen. Count Moltke relates in his amusing letters written from Moscow at the time of the coronation, that there are 8,000 generals in Russia, and that the Emperor has about 180 of them attached to his person. But at this moment, no Russian general is known to exist capable of inspiring confidence to a great army or to direct the intricate strategical movements of 300,000 men.
A grand duke, notoriously incapable, was placed at the head of the army of Bessarabia. The chief command was even offered to a Prussian! In the war of 1854, the Russian army produced one very able engineer, Todtleben; but that was all. It may be inferred from these facts that although the bulk of the Russian establishments has increased, the intellectual power to direct them to the great ends of politics and war falls very far short of what it was a hundred years ago.
The reforms and improvements which have been introduced in Russia from the days of Peter the Great to the days of Alexander II. have, in fact, all originated with the supreme power of the Court. Mr. Wallace says truly :
• The political (he means social) history of Russia during the last two centuries may be briefly described as a series of revolutions effected peaceably by the autocratic power. Each young energetic sovereign has attempted to inaugurate a new epoch by thoroughly remodelling the administration according to the most approved foreign political philosophy of the time. Institutions have not been allowed to grow spontaneously out of popular wants, but have been invented by bureaucratic theorists to satisfy wants of which the people were still unconscious. The administrative machine has therefore derived little or no motive force from the people, and has always been kept in motion by the unaided energy of the central Government. Under these circumstances it is not surprising that the repeated attempts of the Government to lighten the burdens of centralised administration by creating organs of local self-government should have been eminently unsuccessful.' (Wallace's Russia, vol. i. p. 344.)
And in another place :
• It may seem strange to Englishmen that rulers should voluntarily take upon themselves the Herculean task of regulating the relative numerical force of the different social classes, when it might be much better fulfilled by the principle of supply and demand, without legislative interference; but it must be remembered that the Russian Government has always placed more confidence in bureaucratic wisdom than in the instincts and common sense of the people.' (Vol. i. p. 441.)
Strangely enough in speaking of the correction of administra
tive abuses in another part of his work, this writer says exactly the reverse.
The only effectual remedy for administrative abuses lies in placing the administration under public control. This has been abundantly proved in Russia. All the efforts of the Tsars during many generations to check the evil by means of ingenious bureaucratic devices proved utterly fruitless. Even the iron will and gigantic energy of Nicholas were insufficient for the task. But when, after the Crimean War, there was a great moral awakening and the Tsar called the people to his assistance, the stubborn, deep-rooted evils immediately disappeared. For a time venality and extortion were unknown, and since that period they have never been able to regain their old force.' (Vol.i. pp. 323–4.)
We are greatly surprised to learn that those stubborn, • deep-rooted evils immediately disappeared' under so simple a process, or that the Tzar ever called the people to his as
sistance. But the truth is, judging from Mr. Wallace's own testimony in several other places, that these statements are loose and exaggerated.
The leading characteristics of Russia are that she possesses an enormous territory, with a wretched soil, at least in the northern provinces, a rigorous climate, and a thin population. A country forty times as large as France, has only twice the number of inhabitants. In European Russia the population is about fourteen souls to the square verst; that of Great Britain would be 114 to the same area. Add to this that Russia is, for the most part, without coal-fields, the great source of artificial
power. Such a country, be its size what it may, must be poor and weak-perhaps the poorer and the weaker for its great magnitude.
To understand what Russia is we must look in the first place to the distribution of this scanty population. Of the 77,000,000 subjects of the Czar, nearly 64,000,000 belong to the rural classes. The nobles may be reckoned at about 1,000,000 ; the priests and monks at 700,000; the town classes at 7,000,000; the military classes at 4,769,000. There is, therefore, an immense preponderance of the rural classes or peasantry. But the classes included in what are called towns' must be further reduced; a great many of them are still peasants. In European Russia, excluding Finland, the Baltic Provinces, Lithuania, Poland, and the Caucasus, there are only 127 towns; of these only twenty-five contain more than 25,000 inhabitants, and only eleven more than 50,000. Petersburg, Moscow, and Odessa are the only pure Russian cities of importance. The more intelligent and cultivated urban popu
lation bears therefore a remarkably small proportion to the large mass of the nation. The merchant class in European Russia, Mr. Wallace says, numbers including wives and children) about 466,000; the burghers 4,033,000; and the artisans about 260,000. Attempts were made by Peter and by Catherine to create a bourgeoisie, and to confer upon it the privileges of municipal government.
• The truth is that the whole system had been arbitrarily imposed on the people, and had no motive power except the Imperial will. Had that motive power been withdrawn, and the burghers left to regulate their own municipal affairs, the system would immediately have collapsed. Rathhaus, burgomasters, guilds, aldermen, and all other lifeless shadows which had been called into existence by Imperial ukaze would instantly have vanished into space. In this fact we have one of the characteristic traits of Russian historial development compared with that of Western Europe. In the West, monarchy had to struggle with municipal institutions to prevent them from becoming too powerful ; in Russia, it had to struggle with them to prevent them from committing suicide or dying of' inanition.' (Vol. i. p. 263.)
He does not give the merchants a very good character.
• The two great blemishes on the character of the Russian merchants as a class are, according to general opinion, their ignorance and their dishonesty. As to the former of these there cannot possibly be any difference of opinion. The great majority of the merchants do not possess even the rudiments of education. Many of them can neither read nor write, and are forced to keep their accounts in their memory, or by means of ingenious hieroglyphics, intelligible only to the inventor. Others can decipher the calendar and the lives of the saints, can sign their names with tolerable facility, and can make the simpler arithmetical calculations with the help of a little calculating instrument called "stchety," which resembles the “ abaca ” of the old Romans, and is universally used in Russia. It is only the minority who understand the mysteries of regular book-keeping, and of these very few can make any pretensions to being educated men. Already, however, symptoms of a change for the better in this respect are noticeable. Some of the rich merchants are now giving to their children the best education which can be procured, and already a fery young inerchants may be found who can speak one or two foreign languages and may fairly be called educated men. Unfortunately many of these forsake the occupations of their forefathers and scek distinction elsewhere. In this way the mercantile class constantly loses a considerable portion of that valuable leaven which may ultimately leaven the whole lump.
• As to the dishonesty which is said to be so common among the Russian commercial classes, it is difficult to form an accurate judgment. That an enormous amount of unfair dealing does exist there can be no possible doubt, but it must be admitted that in this matter a foreigner is likely to be unduly severe. . . The dishonesty and rascality which