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of society; it is in fact the bulk of the nation. The obrok they pay to their lord is in general a mere trifle compared with the value of the land they enjoy; and if you only give it the name of rent, you might conclude that they are the most fortunate people on the face of the earth. But the serf, unhappily, has no liberty of action or motion; if he is happy at all, it is upon compulsion. His condition depends entirely upon the character of the lord of the land. He cannot remove from o
farm to another; he cannot marry without permission ; the very amount of his obrok is fixed by the arbitrary will of his feudal chief.
This is his condition in theory, so to speak ; but if it was so in practice, nothing could prevent a political convulsion but the bayonet. The proprietors of land are, generally speaking, well educated and intelligent men, who are perfectly aware that their own interest and respectability depend upon the prosperity of their peasants. The power, therefore, either accorded to them by the laws, or inherited from their ancestors in defiance of law, is rarely used to any odious extent; and the instances of tyranny, so current in Europe, either relate to an earlier day than this, or form an exception to the rule. The author quoted above, Mr. Richardson, tells us that, when he was in Russia, “ the peasants no sooner arrived at puberty than they were compelled to marry whatever female the proprietor chose.” At the present day the proprietor gives himself very little trouble about the matter, but allows the course of true love to run rough or smooth as it will.
When on a visit to Mademoiselle B of Ismailof, I remarked one day to her amiable charge, the Princess that I was very desirous of witnessing a peasant's marriage; when the young lady turned laughingly to an heiress in the company, and begged her to get up one for me on purpose, since her estate was at no great distance. On my asking the fair tyrant-herself, I believe, about to become " a youthful blooming bride”—how she could manage this, she replied, that nothing was easier, and ridiculed very successfully the idea entertained by foreigners of the cruelty supposed to be practised on such occasions. Among other examples of this cruelty, she told me, that a few days before, a young man had come to her guardian, and, lamenting his hard fate in being without anybody to “ mend his shirts," besought him to give him a wife, and some trifle to begin the world with. The gentleman immediately looked round amongst the female peasantry, and, selecting one who in appearance, habits, &c., seemed to be his equal, asked her whether she had any objection to a husband ? Whereupon the delighted fair one, unable to speak from the suddenness of the joy, threw herself down at his feet, and knocked her forehead upon the ground; and on the very same day this interesting pair entered into the holy and indissoluble bonds of matrimony.
The third class in my arbitrary division of society, and the next in numbers to the foregoing, consists of the crown peasants. Their obrok is the property of the emperor, and assumes the form, therefore, of a tax upon their lands; while their villages may be said to be small communes governed by individuals of their own body. They are, however, the property of the crown, in the same sense as the preceding class may be said to be the property of the nobles, and with this further drawback upon their freedom, that they may be transported in whole colonies wherever the emperor chooses. But the system, like the other, is much
better in practice than in theory; and, so far as my own observation goes,
can say that the crown peasants of the barbarians are to all intents and purposes as free, as comfortable, and as happy as any peasantry in Europe.
The fourth class consists of the Corps des Bourgeois, comprehending the artisans of every description. When they choose to become sellers of the articles they have hitherto assisted to manufacture, and are able to declare themselves possessed of a suitable capital, they advance a step higher, and belong to the fifth class.
The fifth class is the merchants, subdivided into three guilds, according to the amount of capital they declare, and on which, independently of the obrok they pay to their lord, supposing them to be still serfs, a tax is charged by the government of four and three-quarters per cent. The lowest capital is 8000 roubles, or about 337.., which empowers a merchant to retail his goods in the town and arrondissement to which he belongs; the next is 20,000 roubles, or about 8421., involving the right to traffic in the whole empire ; and the third is 50,000 roubles, or about 2,1041., the merchants declaring which may import and export, and establish manufactories.
When a merchant acquires sufficient money, he generally buys his freedom, and thus relieves himself from the obrok; but if his lord does not choose to sell, the serf has no right to compel him to do so. Thus the extraordinary spectacle is sometimes seen, of a peasant serf rolling along in his own carriage, and living as expensively as any noble in the land.
The petty merchants of Russia are liars, cheats, and swindlers, almost to a man. This is owing to the arbitrary nature of the obrok, and their other burthens as feudal tenants. From their very infancy, they were accustomed to petty trickery, in order to deceive their lord or his steward ; and it is not surprising that they carry about with them into the world the lessons which they received almost in the cradle. At the same time it must be confessed the system is carried on too long. Even after they become freemen, and acquire some very tolerable notions of their own dignity as men and citizens, they continue to cheat in their business as before—to call their god (who hangs up in the shop, with a lamp burning before him) to witness the lie—and when detected, to own the perjury with the blandest smile in the world. This is not so much the fault of their education, as of the ignorance, stupidity, and corruption existing in the administration of the laws. The injury it does to their trade is incalculable; people are afraid to go into a Russian shop, and prefer trusting therefore to foreign competitors, who, when naturalized, enjoy all the privileges of natives. The greater merchants, the military officers who have risen from the ranks, and the nobility in general, are as honourable people as can be found in Europe. Dishonesty, therefore, is not, as some writers have imagined, a part of the national character. The radical cure would be, to get rid of the system of servage; but as this cannot be managed in a day, something else should be tried : if the dishonesty of the shopkeepers cannot by fair means be brought at least within the bounds of moderation, let it be torn out of their backs with the knout!
I am at some loss whether or not to class the above among the vices of barbarians! What say ye to the question, O ye stock-selling-off tradesmen of London !-0 ye prix-fixe shopkeepers of Paris !-ye who teach your assistants to cheat as a part of their business, and who hang them, when taught, if they practise the accomplishment upon yourselves! As for that fixed national character, which seems born in the blood, look for it among the Turks, who have hardly advanced a single step in civilization since their establishment in Europe-look for it in the Indians of America, who are to this day wild men of the woodslook for it (but here I speak doubtfully) among the negroes of Africa; but look for it not among the Russians. Russia has sustained a greater change in the course of one century than any other nation of Europe in the course of eight. There is more difference between Russia of today and Russia of forty years ago, than between England of the Tudors and England of the Guelphs.
One day, when in conversation on this subject with Mr. Wilkins, the American ambassador at the court of St. Petersburg, he told me an Indian anecdote, which has probably not before been in print. With this I shall for the present conclude ; with the intention of endeavouring next month to present a nearer view of the Barbarians of the North, in their huts, their walks, their occupations, and their pastimes.
The son of a Delaware chief was brought up from infancy as the playmate and friend of Mr. Wilkins. No difference whatever was made between the two boys; their dress, their meals, their beds, their education—all were alike; and the lads themselves regarded one another as brothers. When young Wilkins arrived at the years when it was necessary for him to go to college, his companion was in every respect—in appearance, in language, in feelings—an Anglo-American boy; and the two friends parted in the hope of meeting again, unchanged except in the addition of four years to their age, and a corresponding number of inches to their stature.
In four years, young Wilkins returned to the parental home; and while crossing the threshold of the house, his tumultuous thoughts were perhaps fully as much occupied by the friend into whose arms he was about to rush, as by any member of his father's family. He caught the eye, however, of a naked Indian sitting on the bench before the door, and paused as he was about to enter. The object, though picturesque, was common, and he turned his head, without knowing why, to look again at the face of the savage. The red youth then smiled; and his question Do
you not know me?” explained all. After his friend went to college, and when he was thus thrown back, as it were, upon his own mind, the Delaware boy, as he said himself, was beset by strange wild thoughts, which he could neither understand nor describe. He felt an unconquerable longing for the liberty of the woods-a thirsting after the air of the desert; and, after struggling long and fiercely against a propensity which his habits of civilization persuaded him to be evil, and for the existence of which he could not in any manner account, he at length tore off his European dress, and fled into the wilderness. I cannot call to mind the name of this Indian ; but he became a distinguished chief in the wars with the English, and was celebrated not only for bravery but for cunning. He was at length suspected of playing false on both sides; and Mr. Wilkins, in riding through a wood, saw accidentally the body of his early friend lying dead, and horribly mangled, at the foot of a tree. The Delaware had been murdered by his own countrymen.
THE VOW OF THE PEACOCK *. The picturesque is to the Gothic what the classical was to the Grecian —the characteristic of their creations. Each age has left its taste in its remains. The Greek era was impressed with its most sunny and spiritual climate. The great poet, the wonderful philosopher, gave the mind's immortality to their language. Their works were the temple of faultless proportion—the statue of unequalled beauty-the urn, the vase, and the lamp of the most perfect outline. Everything was simple, but of a grace still unequalled. The natural influences of their lovely country were in all their imaginations. The stately column of the cypress—the flowing fall of the acanthus--the soft lines of their azure hills melting in the transparent air—these were the inspiration. These were the materials out of which was framed the most consummate system of beauty. The beautiful was the ideal of Greece. The Gothic, on the contrary, admitted other elements—the wild and the grotesque were in its earliest inventions. The dark forests—the fierce seas, from whence came the first adventurers, gave their own likeness. In the cold climate, too, originated the fantastic. The invention inspired by the clear sunshine, or the silver moonlight, takes a more ethereal form than that whose birthplace is by the kindled hearth, whose red uncertain gleams fling quaint shadows on the scarcely-lighted walls. Sculpture was the art which embodied the spirit of the Grecian age; while architecture embodied that of the Gothic. One left the statue severe in its marble simplicity—the other left the cathedral stately as a whole, but embellished with strange combinations. Such is the picturesque as opposed to the classical. The picturesque was the characteristic of the age of chivalry—it marked its buildings, its institutions, and its poetry. The conception of a true knight-he sans peur et sans reproche, is a fine one.
The knight required all the attributes of the ancient hero, and others of modern necessity. He was to possess not only the high descent, the courage, and the personal strength, but to add to these the later requisites of courtesy, devotion, and love. In this may be traced the influence of Christianity, and woman. To defend the weak—to assist the oppressed—to disdain danger--to be gentle and generous-to speak the truth, and to be faithful to the one chosen lady of his affections, was the devoir of a good knight and true; also, according to one of the Troubadours,
“ Un chevalier n'en doubtez pas
Doit ferir hault à parler bas.” It must be allowed that such qualifications would go far towards forming a very perfect gentleman of our own time; but the spirit of those days was essentially fanciful, and on the first general and lofty outline of chivalry were ingrafted a thousand odd and wild exuberances. The absurd followed close on the elevated, like a dwarf attending on some lovely princess. Few things more marked the temper of chivalry than its vows; its love, its religion, and its tendency to exaggeration, are alike to be found in these, its professions of faith; a history of the vows of celebrated knights would, in fact, comprise the history of chivalry. These vows were taken in many different ways, but the most celebrated was that called the “Vow of the Peacock." These noble birds, for so they
* " The Vow of the Peacock,” by the author of the “ Improvisatrice,” &c. &c.
were styled, represented perfectly, by the brightness and variety of their colours, the majesty of kings, and the splendour of those dresses worn when holding what was called Tind, or full court (Cour plenière). The flesh of the peacock or pheasant was, if the old romances may be credited, the principal nourishment of knights and lords. Their plumage was considered by the ladies of Provence as the richest ornament wherewith to decorate the Troubadours. They weaved crowns of the feathers, which were given as prizes to the poetical talents then consecrated to the celebration of valour and gallantry. The day whep a solemn vow was to be taken, a peacock, or else a pheasant sometimes roasted, but always decorated with its finest plumes, was brought majestically by dames or maidens on a large dish of silver or gold, into the assembly of knights. Each or all then made the vow on the bird. But perhaps the most accurate idea of such a ceremony will be formed by the following extract from “ Mathieu,” giving an account of a festival held by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy.
“At length the day of the banquet arrived. If the magnificence of the Prince was admired in the abundance and multitude of the services, it shone still more conspicuous in the spectacles, then called interludes (entre-mets), which rendered the feast more amusing and more solemn. There appeared in the hall divers decorations, of machines, figures of men and extraordinary animals, trees, mountains, rivers, a sea and ships. All these objects, mingled with people, birds, and living animals, were in motion about the hall, and on the table, and represented actions relative to the duke's design. It was like the fêtes in the palace of Alcina. It is impossible to imagine, without surprise, what must have been the extent of this hall, which contained a table so spacious, or rather of this vast theatre, with space enough for the movement of such a crowd, and so much machinery; without reckoning the number of guests, and the multitude of spectators. All at once entered a giant, armed like a Saracen of Grenada, in the ancient style. He led an elephant bearing a castle, in which was a dishevelled lady, dressed in long mourning habits, after the fashion of a nun or a devotee. On finding herself amid the assembly in the hall, she recited a triolet, ordering the giant to stop, but he, watching her with a fixed look, continued his advance till he stopped before the table of the duke. At that moment the captive dame, who represented Religion, made a long complaint in verse of the evils she suffered from the tyranny of the infidels, and complained of the delay from those who ought to succour and deliver her. This lamentation ended, Toison d'or (King at Arms of the Order of the Fleece), preceded by a long file of officers, bearing on the wrist a live pheasant, adorned with a collar of gold, enriched with pearls and precious stones, advanced to the Duke of Burgundy, and presented to him two maidens; one was Yolande, his illegitimate daughter, and the other was Isabel of Neufchatel, daughter of the Lord of Monteign, each accompanied by a Knight of the Golden Fleece. At the same time the King at Arms offered the duke the bird which he bore, in the name of the ladies who claimed the protection of their sovereign. "In order,” says the narration, " to conform to ancient customs, according to which, in great festivals and noble assemblies, is presented unto the princes, lords, and knights a peacock, or some other noble bird, to take upon them vows of service to the dames and maidens who claim their