Home Life in Russia, Volumes 1 and 2 (Dead Souls)
HOME LIFE IN RUSSIA,
A RUSSIAN NOBLE.
BY THE EDITOR OF
REVELATIONS OF SIBERIA.
IN TWO VOLUMES.
HURST AND BLACKETT, PUBLISHERS,
SUCCESSORS TO HENRY COLBURN,
13, GREAT MARLBOROUGH STREET.
In laying before English readers a Work, of which the scene isexclusively laid in Russia, and which, it is confidently anticipated,will be recognised as furnishing a most interesting and graphic accountof the manners and customs of a very extraordinary nation, the Editorconsiders it his duty to devote a few words to an explanation of thecircumstances connected with the publication of these volumes.
The Work is written by a Russian nobleman, who offered the MS. inEnglish to the publishers, and the Editor's task has been confined toaltering such verbal errors as might be expected, when we bear in mindthat the Author has written in a language which is not his own.
The story may be said to be unique. It gives us an insight into theinternal circumstances and relations of Russian society, which only aRussian could afford us. The Nosdrieffs are an exceptional class, whosetype is peculiar to a half-civilization where a blow is accounted asno disgrace, and "giving the lie" imparts no stigma. And yet men whoquietly pocket such insults, we find are tolerated in good society,and, strange to say, are not thought the worse of on that account. TheNapoleonic dictum, "grattez le Russe, et vous trouverez Tartare,"is in this instance most fully verified. But we will not spoil thereader's enjoyment by any further intimation of the persons, whoseacquaintance he will make while perusing the following pages. Theauthor affirms that the story is true, and that the main facts are wellknown in Russia. There is hardly a class of Russian life and societywhich is not introduced upon the scene, and the Author displays theirfoibles with an unsparing hand. Still he must not be regarded as anenemy to his Fatherland: he acts under a salutary impression that theexposé can do no harm, and may possibly effect some good: and ifhe have such good fortune that his book obtains access into his owncountry, we feel sure that its truth will be immediately recognized,and its severity pardoned, at least by those not in authority, onaccount of the Author's strenuous exertions to do his part manfully inameliorating the condition of his fellow sufferers in Russia.
In conclusion, we may regret that we are not at liberty to mentionthe author's name—not that the work itself requires any furtherverification, for its genuineness is avouched by almost every line—butthe truth is, that the writer is still anxious to return to his nativecountry, and is perfectly well aware that the avowal of his handiworkand such a display of his satirical powers, will not serve as a specialrecommendation, except, possibly, as a passport to the innermostregions of the Siberian wilds.
With these preliminary remarks, the Editor begs to offer "Home Lifein Russia" to the English reader, as a worthy companion to the"Revelations of Siberia," and as adding one more to our scanty list ofbooks which throw light upon the domestic life of our 'ancient allies'and present foes.
One fine summer's afternoon a few years ago, a pretty, neat-looking,but small spring-britchka, drove into the court-yard of an inn, in thegovernmental town of Smolensk. The vehicle was one of that peculiardescription to which bachelors, retired colonels, staats-capitains, andlandowners, rejoicing in the possession of about a hundred-and-fiftysouls, give the preference for travelling purposes; in short, allthose who in Russia are called "gentlemen of the middle rank."
The traveller who occupied the high seat in this convenient conveyance,was a man, who at first sight could not have been taken for handsome,yet we should do him injustice were we to affirm the contrary of him,for he was neither too stout nor too thin; it would also have beenimpossible to add that he was too old, as little as it would havebeen right to call him youthful. His arrival in the above-named towncreated no particular sensation, and, indeed, it took place withoutthe occurrence of anything unusual or even extraordinary; two Russianmouzhiks, however, who were standing before the door of a dram-shop onthe opposite side of the inn, were apparently making their stricturesand observations, but which, were confined to conjectures concerningthe britchka, not upon the gentleman occupying the carriage.
"Dost thou see it?" said the one to the other, "there is a wheel foryou! what do you think of it, would it break or not, supposing it hadto roll as far as Moscow?"
"It might stand the journey," replied the other, musingly, as hescratched himself sedulously behind the ear.
"But supposing it was on its way to Kazan, I think it could not standthe wear and tear of such a distance?" said the first speaker again.
"It will never roll into the ancient Tatar fastness," responded hisfriend somewhat affirmatively.
Thus ended their learned conversation, the scientific depth of whichwe will not venture to explore. But previous to the britchka beingstopped by its driver before the entrance door of the inn, a youngman had happened to pass; he was dressed in a pair of white, verytightly-fitting, and extremely short, twill inexpressibles, buttoned upunder a dress-coat of the most fashionable cut, and from under whicha snow-white linen shirt-front visibly displayed an elegant bronzepin of common Tula manufacture, representing a weapon in the shape ofa pistol. This young gentleman turned round, and also honoured thetravelling-carriage of our stranger with a hasty glance, at the sametime adjusting his hat upon his head, to guard it against the attack ofa sudden gust of wind, and then—turning upon his heel, he too went hisway.
When the carriage had entered the court-yard, and stopped before theprincipal entrance of the inn, the traveller was welcomed by thehead-waiter, or saloon-walker, as this class are commonly called inRussian hotels,—so lively, and spin-about a fellow, that it wasactually impossible to look him in the face, or, in consequence of hismercurial evolutions, to recognise even the outlines of his features.He now came running out breathlessly with a napkin over his arm. Hewas all one length, without symmetry or the slightest appearance ofproportion, and wore a long demi-cotton jacket, which nearly fittedhis back instead of his waist; he shook his head, and made his longhair, which was cut à la mouzhik, fly in all directions, and led thestranger quickly up-stairs through the long range of wooden galleriesof the inn, and showed the fatigued traveller into the apartment,which, by the decrees of the hotel authorities, he was to occupy.
The room was much the same as such rooms usually are, because the innwas of a similar character, i.e., such an inn as is to be found inall provincial towns of the vast Russian Empire; where, for the sum oftwo or three roubles, during the course of twenty-four hours, the wearytraveller is accommodated with a comfortable room full of beetles,which, like blackberries, peep out from every corner; another door ledinto an adjoining bed-room, always barricaded with a chest of drawers,or a washing-stand, and occupied by a peaceable and silent neighbour,whose predominant propensity is a lively and irrepressible curiosityto ascertain all he possibly can about the private and public affairsof the new comer. The exterior of the building was in strict harmonywith its interior: it was extremely long, and two stories high; thelower portion was not whitewashed, but was permitted to display itsbrownish red bricks, that had grown dark with years, and looked gloomyand dirty, not only from the sudden changes of wind and weather, butbecause they had no doubt been originally of a peculiar dirty tint. Theupper story was painted all over with the eternal yellow, a colour sofancied and admired in Russia; on the ground-floor there were severalsmall shops, in which harness, leather, cords, crockery, and cake ofall description were displayed to the best possible advantage.
In one of these above-named shops, in the corner one, or rather at thewindow belonging to it, a dealer in heated mead-water, was standingclose to his samovar made of bright copper, and it so happened, that hehad a face as red as his samovar, so that at a distance, one might haveeasily fancied there were two self-boilers standing at the window, hadit not been for the feet of one of the samovars being ornamented by ajet-black, long, flowing beard.
Whilst our gentleman traveller was examining the room allotted tohim, his luggage and other effects were brought in. First of all, hisportmanteau, originally made of white leather, but now looking somewhatold, and testifying to the fact that it had been more than once on theroad. This portmanteau was carried in by the coachman Selifan, a man ofmiddle stature, dad in a toulup, and the servant Petruschka, a brisk,handy fellow of about thirty, dressed in an ample, shabby-genteel coat,evidently cast off from the the shoulders of his master. He also was aman of middle size, apparently of a sulky nature at first sight, withvery broad lips and a large nose.
After they had deposited the portmanteau, they brought in a smallmahogany travelling box, inlaid with ebony and other ornamentalwoods, a pair of boot-legs, and a cold fowl, carefully wrapped in apiece of brown paper. When all these effects were properly located intheir respective places, the coachman Selifan left the room with theintention of looking after his horses, whilst the servant Petruschkabegan to make his arrangements in a small adjoining antechamber, verydark and much like a dog-kennel, into which he had already succeeded inconveying with him his travelling cloak, together with a peculiar odourof his own which was also common to a large bag of his, containing avariety of articles, forming the indispensable toilet of a travellingservant. In this same dark dog-kennel he fixed against the wall as wellas he possibly could, a shaky, three-legged bedstead, and stretchedupon it something not unlike a mattress, but as meagre and flat as apancake, and perhaps not less greasy. This mattress, however, he hadobtained not without some difficulty, from the landlord of the inn.
During the time that these servants were thus busily engaged in makingthemselves and their master comfortable, the latter had himselfdescended into the reception saloon.
What character these so called reception-rooms bear—many of myreaders, who have travelled in Russia, will know perfectly well—everywhere the same walls, painted in oil-colours, darkened by thesmoke of stoves and tobacco in the upper parts, and greasy from thebacks of visitors and travellers in the more accessible regions below;the walls are principally thus disfigured by the resident tradesmen ofthe town, who, on a market-day will gather together in friendly groups,to take their usual quantum of tea, and talk over business and thingsin general. There are the same grimy ceiling and glass-lustres withtheir numerous prismatic ornaments dangling around them, shaking andringing whenever the head waiter runs across the room over the worn-outcarpet, whilst swinging about his tray fearlessly and in the mostacrobatic manner imaginable, though it be covered with cups and saucerslike the ocean shore with sea-gulls—the same pictures all around thewall, painted, of course, in oil; in a word all was here similar towhat it is elsewhere, the only striking difference worthy of notice wasperhaps a painting representing a nymph with such an enormous bosom asundoubtedly my reader has never seen. Similar fancy portraitures ofnature's bestowings, however, make their appearance in many historicalpictures, which, heaven knows, at what period, from whence and by whom,have been brought to us into Russia, and exposed to our view. Sometimesindeed, we have to thank our aristocracy for them, who as admirersand patrons of the fine arts, commission their travelling couriers topurchase them in Italy and elsewhere, according to their taste andjudgment.
Our hero took off his travelling cap and liberated his neck from theclose embrace of a woollen rainbow-coloured neckcloth, resembling thosewhich a dutiful wife will knit with her own fair hands for her belovedhusband, and present it to him with the necessary instructions howto tie it and untie it; as for bachelors, I really cannot say whosekind hands knit such ties for them, but for my own part, I never hadthe fortune to wear such neck-wrappers in my life. After having freedhimself of