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[1721 A.D.]

them disgorge by fines and confiscations, and punished them by the knout, the halter, and the axe.

To this superintendence by the head of the state, which, subsequently to 1715, the contraction of the war within a narrower circle allowed him to exert, let us add the increase of salary to the collectors, which deprived them of all pretext for misconduct. Nor must it be forgotten that most of the stipends were paid in kind; and that, for several years, the war, being carried on out of the empire, supplied its own wants. It must be observed, too, that the cities and provinces in which the troops were afterwards quartered furnished their pay on the spot, by which the charge of discount was saved; and that the measures which they adopted for their subsistence appear to have been municipal, and consequently as little oppressive as possible. Finally, we must remark, in 1721, the substitution, in place of the Tatar house-tax, of a polltax, which was a real impost on land, assessed according to a census repeated every twenty years, the payment of which the agriculturists regulated among themselves, in proportion to the value of their produce.

At the same time, the reformer refused to foreigners the privilege of trading with each other in Russia; he even gave to his subjects exclusively the right of conveying to the frontiers of the empire the merchandise which foreigners had bought from them in the interior. Thus he ensured to his own people the profit of carriage. In 1716 he chose rather to give up an advantageous alliance with the English than to relinquish this right in their favour.

But all the causes we have enumerated will not yet account for the possibility of so many gigantic undertakings and such immense results, with a fixed revenue in specie which, in 1715, was estimated by an attentive observer at only some millions of roubles. But in the fiscal expedients of a despotic empire it is to fluctuating revenue, illegal resources, and arbitrary measures that we must direct our attention; astonishment then ceases, and then begins pity for one party, indignation against another, and surprise excited by the ignorance with respect to commercial affairs which is displayed by the high and mighty geniuses of despotism, in comparison with the unerring instinct which is manifested by the humblest community of men who are free.

It is the genius of Russian despotism, therefore, that we must question as to the means by which it produced such gigantic results; but however far it may be disposed to push its frightful candour, will it point out to us its army recruited by men whom the villages sent tied together in pairs, and at their own expense-soldiers at a penny a day, payable every four months, and often marching without pay; slaves whom it was thought quite enough to feed, and who were contented with some handfuls of rye or of oats made into gruel or into ill-baked bread; unfortunate wretches who, in spite of the blunders of their generals, were compelled to be victorious, under pain of being decimated! Or will this despotism confess that, while it gave nothing to these serfs, who were enlisted for life, it required everything from them; that, after twenty-one years of war, it compelled them to dig canals, like miserable bond-slaves? "For they ought to serve their country," said Peter, "either by defending or enriching it; that is what they are made for."

Could this autocrat pride himself on the perennial fulness of an exchequer which violated its engagements in such a manner that most of the foreigners who were in his service were anxious to quit it? What answer could he make to that hollow and lengthened groan which, even yet, seems to rise from every house in Taganrog, and in St. Petersburg, and from his forts, built by the most deadly kind of statute-labour, and peopled by requisitions? One half of the inhabitants of the villages were sent to construct them, and were

[1721 A.D.]

relieved by the other half every six months; and the weakest and the most industrious of them never more saw their homes!

These unfortunate beings, whatever might be their calling, from the common delver to the watchmaker and jeweller, were torn without mercy from their families, their ploughs, their workshops, and their counting-houses. They travelled to their protracted torture at their own expense; they worked without any pay. Some were compelled to fill up swamps, and build houses on them; others, to remove thither suddenly, and establish their trade there; and all these hapless men, one part of whom were bent to the earth with toil, and the other part in a manner lost in a new world, were so badly fed and sheltered, or breathed such a pestilential air, that the Russians of that period used to say that St. Petersburg was built upon a bed of human skeletons.

Listen to the complaints of the nobles and the richest merchants: after the gift of a hundred vessels had been required from them, they were forced to unite in this slough to build stone houses, and were also constrained to live there at a much greater expense than they would have incurred in their own homes. And when even the clergy remonstrated against the excessive taxes laid upon the priests (who were able to indemnify themselves out of their flocks) who can be astonished at the possibility of so many creations, and at the plenitude of a treasury which opened so widely to receive and so scantily to disburse?

Personal services, taxes in kind, taxes in money - these were the three main sources of the power of the czar. We have just seen what estimate we ought to form as to the manner in which the first of these was employed. As to the taxes in kind and in money, how could the insulated cries of such a multitude of tax-payers, who were scattered over so wide a space, have reached the present age, if the excess of a simultaneous and universal evil had not blended them into one vast clamour, stronger than time and space? It is from this we learn the names of the throng of taxes which were laid upon everything, and at every opportunity, for the war, the admiralty, the recruiting-service, for the horses used in the public works, for the brick and limekilns required in the building of St. Petersburg, for the post-office, the government offices, the extraordinary expenses, for the contributions in kind, for the requisitions of men and their pay and subsistence, and for the salaries of those who were in place; to which must be added innumerable other duties on mills, ponds, baths, beehives, meadows, gardens, and, in the towns, on every square fathom of land which bore the name of black, or non-free. And all this was aggravated by other exorbitant and grinding burdens, and by fleecing the artisans in proportion to their industry and their assumed wealth -the result of which was that they concealed both; the most laborious of them buried their earnings that they might hide them from the nobles; and the nobles intrusted their riches to foreign banks, that they might hide them from the czar.

To this we have yet to add the secondary oppressions; collectors, whose annual pay was, for a long time, only six roubles; and who, nevertheless, accumulated fortunes in four years, for they converted to their own use two thirds of the sums which they extorted; executing by torture whoever was unable to pay, they made the most horrible misuse of the unlimited powers which according to the practice of absolute governments, were necessarily entrusted to them- despotism being unable to act otherwise than by delegation.

These men had the right of levying taxes on all the markets of the country, of laying whatever duties they pleased upon commodities, and of breaking

[1721 A.D.]

into houses, for the purpose of preventing or discovering infractions of their orders, so that the unfortunate people, finding that they had nought which they could call their own, and that everything, even to their industry, belonged to the czar, ceased to exert themselves for more than a mere subsistence, and lost that spirit which only a man's personal interest can inspire. Accordingly, the forests were peopled with men driven to desperation, and those who at first remained in the villages, finding that they were obliged to pay the taxes of the fugitives as well as their own, speedily joined their companions.

What can bear witness more strongly to the disordered state of those times than the facts themselves? They show us grandees, who were possessed of the highest credit, repeatedly convicted of embezzling the public money; others hanged or beheaded! and a vice-chancellor himself daring, without any authority, to give places and pensions, and, in so poor a country, contriving to purloin nearly a hundred and fifty thousand pounds. It was not, therefore, the czar alone whom the people accused of their sufferings. But such is the tenure of despotism that, in depriving the people of their will, it takes upon itself the whole responsibility. All, however, agree that, about 1715, they beheld their czar astounded at the aspect of such numerous evils; they acknowledge the efforts which he had made, and that all of them had not been fruitless.

But, at the same time, to account for the inexhaustible abundance of the autocrat's treasury, they represent him to us as monopolising everything for his own benefit, giving to the current coin of his empire the value which suited his purpose, and receiving it from foreigners at no more than its intrinsic worth. They accuse him of having engrossed the purchase or sale of numberless native and foreign productions, either by suddenly taxing various kinds of merchandise or by assuming the right of being the exclusive purchaser, at his own price, to sell again at an exorbitant price when he had become the sole possessor. They say also that, forestalling everything, their czar made himself the sole merchant trading from European Russia to China and Siberia, as well as the sole mint-master, the sole trader in tobacco, soap, talc, pitch, and tar; that having also declared himself the only publichouse keeper in an empire where drunkenness held sovereign sway, this monopoly annually brought back into his coffers all the pay that had been disbursed from them.

When, in 1716, he wished to defray the expenses of his second journey to Holland, and at the same time avoid being a loser by the rate of exchange, what was the plan which he adopted? He laid hands on all the leather intended for exportation, which he paid for at a maximum fixed by himself, and then exported it on his own account, the proceeds being made payable in Holland, where it was purchased by foreigners.

It is thus that many of his contemporaries explain the riches of a prince who was the principal manufacturer and merchant of a great empire — the creator, the superintendent of its arts. In his eyes, his subjects were nothing more than workmen, whose labours he prompted, estimated, and rewarded according to his own pleasure; he reserved to himself the sale of the produce of their industry, and the immense profits which he thus gained he employed in doubling that produce.

What a singular founder of commerce in his empire was a monarch who drew it all within his own sphere and absorbed it in himself! We may, however, be allowed to believe that he sometimes became a merchant and manufacturer, as he became a soldier and a sailor, for the sake of example, and that the obstinate repugnance of his ignorant subjects to many branches

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of industry and commerce long compelled him to retain the monopoly of them, whether he would or not. It is curious to remark how his despotism recoiled upon himself when he interfered with matters so impatient of arbitrary power as trade and credit. Soloviev is an example of this. Assisted by the privileges which Peter had granted to him, that merchant succeeded in establishing at Amsterdam the first commercial Russian factory that had ever been worthy of notice; but in 1717, when the czar visited Holland for the second time, his greedy courtiers irritated him against their fellow countryman. Soloviev had not chosen to ransom himself from the envy which his riches inspired. They therefore slandered him to their sovereign; he was arrested and sent back to Russia; his correspondents lost their advances; confidence was ruined, and the autocrat, by confiscating this source of riches, destroyed his work with his own hand. Yet he had a glimpse of something like free-trade principles. He would never impose any higher penalty on smuggling than confiscation. 'Commerce," he said, "is like a timid maiden, who is scared by rough usage, and must be won by gentle means. Smuggle who will, and welcome. The merchant who exposes himself to the chance of having his goods confiscated runs a greater risk than my treasury. If he cheats me nine times and I catch him the tenth, I shall be no loser by the game.

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The Church and the Aristocracy

Peter had never been at any pains to conceal his indifference or contempt for the national church; but it was not until that culminating point in his history at which we are now arrived that he ventured to accomplish his design of abolishing the office of patriarch. He had left it unfilled for one-andtwenty years, and he formally suppressed it after the conclusion of the Peace of Nystad; when heaven had declared in his favour, as it seemed to the multitude, who always believe the Deity to be on the strongest side. In the following year, however, the synod, in spite of Theophanes, its president, whom we may consider as his minister for religious affairs, dared to desire that a patriarch might be appointed. But bursting into a sudden passion Peter started up, struck his breast violently with his hand and the table with his cutlass, and exclaimed, “Here, here is your patriarch!" He then hastily quitted the room, casting, as he departed, a stern look upon the panicstruck prelates.

Of the two conquests which Peter consummated about the same time that over Sweden and that by which he annihilated the independence of the Russian clergy-it is hard to say which was the more gratifying to his pride. Someone having communicated to him the substance of a paper in the English Spectator, in which a comparison was made between himself and Louis XIV, entirely to his own advantage, he disclaimed the superiority accorded to him by the essayist, save in one particular: "Louis XIV," said he, "was greater than I, except that I have been able to reduce my clergy to obedience, while he allowed his clergy to rule him."

Soon after the abolition of the patriarchate, Peter celebrated the marriage of Buturlin, the second kniaz papa of his creation, with the widow of Sotov, his predecessor in that mock dignity. The bridegroom was in his eightyfifth year, and the bride nearly of the same age. The messengers who invited the wedding guests were four stutterers; some decrepit old men attended the bride; the running footmen were four of the most corpulent fellows that could be found; the orchestra was placed on a sledge drawn by bears, which

[1721 A.D.] being goaded with iron spikes made with their horrid roarings an accompaniment suitable to the tunes played on the sledge. The nuptial benediction was given in the cathedral by a blind and deaf priest with spectacles on. The procession, the marriage, the wedding feast, the undressing of the bride and bridegroom, the ceremony of putting them to bed were all in the same style of repulsive buffoonery. Among the coarse-minded courtiers this passed for an ingenious derision of the clergy.

The nobles were another order in the state whose resistance, though more passive than that of the clergy, was equally insufferable to the czar. His hand had always been heavy against that stiff-necked race. He had no mercy upon their indolence and superstition, no toleration for their pride of birth or wealth. As landed proprietors he regarded them merely as the possessors of fiefs, who held them by the tenure of being serviceable to the state. Such was the spirit of the law of 1715 relative to inheritances, which till then had been equally divided; but from that date the real estate was to descend to one of the males, the choice of whom was left to the father, while only the personal property was to pass to the other children. In this respect the law was favourable to paternal authority and aristocracy; but its real purpose was rendered obvious by other clauses. It decreed that the inheritors of personal property should not be permitted to convert it into real estate until after seven years of military service, ten years of civil service, or fifteen years' profession of some kind of art or of commerce. Nay, more, we may rely on the authority of Perry, every heir of property to the amount of five hundred roubles, who had not learned the rudiments of his native language or of some ancient or foreign language, was to forfeit his inheritance.

The great nobles had ere this been shorn of their train of boyar followers, or noble domestics, by whom they were perpetually attended, and these were transformed into soldiers, disciplined in the European manner. At the same time several thousand cavalry were formed out of the sons of the priests, who were free men, but not less ignorant and superstitious than their fathers. Against the inertness of the nobles, too, Peter made war even in the sanctuary of their families. Every one of them between the ages of ten and thirty, who evaded an enlistment which was termed voluntary, was to have his property confiscated to the use of the person by whom he was denounced. The sons of the nobles were arbitrarily wrested from them; some were placed in military schools; others were sent to unlearn their barbarian manners and acquire new habits and knowledge among polished nations; many of them were obliged to keep up a correspondence with the czar on the subject of what they were learning; on their return, he himself questioned them, and if they were found not to have benefited by their travels, disgrace and ridicule were their punishment. Given up to the czar's buffoon, they became the laughing-stocks of the court, and were compelled to perform the most degrading offices in the palace. These were the tyrannical punishments of a reformer who imagined that he might succeed in doing violence to nature by beginning education at an age when it ought to be completed, and by subjecting grown-up men to chastisements which would scarcely be bearable for children.

It is with reason that Mannstein reproaches Peter with having expected to transform, by travels in polished countries, men who were already confirmed in their habits, and who were steeped to the core in ignorance, sloth, and barbarism. "The greatest part of them," he says, "acquired nothing but vices." This it was which drew upon Peter a lesson from his sage; for such was the appellation which he gave to Dolgoruki. That senator

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