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The innumerable questions which have been put to me since my return to America have called to my attention the fact that, in spite of all that has been written about Russia, the common incidents of everyday life are not known, or are known so imperfectly that any statement of them is a travesty. I may cite, , as an example, a book published within the past two years, and much praised in America by the indiscriminating as a truthful picture of life. The whole story hung upon the great musical talent of the youthful hero. The hero skated to church through the streets, gazed down the long aisle where the worshipers were assembled (presumably in pews), ascended to the organ gallery, sang an impromptu solo with trills and embellishments, was taken in hand by the enraptured organist who had played there for thirty years, and developed into a great composer. Omitting a mass of other absurdities scattered through the book, I will criticise this crucial point. There are no organs or organists in Russia ; there are no pews, or aisles, or galleries for the choir, and there are never any trills or embellishments in the church music. A boy could skate to church in New York more readily than in Moscow, where such a thing was never seen, and where they are not educated up to roller skates. Lastly, as the church specified, St. Vasíly, consists of a nest of small churches connected by narrow, labyrinthine corridors, and is approached from the street up two flights of low-ceiled stairs, it is an impossibility that the boy should have viewed the “aisle” and assembled congregation from his skates at the door. That is a fair specimen of the distortions of facts which I am constantly encountering.
It has seemed to me that there is room for a book which shall impart an idea of a few of the ordinary conditions of life and of the characters of the inhabitants, illustrated by apposite anecdotes from my personal experience. For this purpose, a collection of detached pictures is better than a continuous narrative of travel.
I am told that I must abuse Russia, if I wish to be popular in America. Why, is more than I or my Russian friends can understand. Perhaps it arises from the peculiar fact that people find it more interesting to hear bad things of their neighbors than good, and the person who furnishes startling tales is considered better company than the humdrum truth-teller or the charitably disposed.
The truth is, that people too frequently go to Russia with the deliberate expectation and intention of seeing queer things. That they do frequently contrive to see queer things, I admit. Countess X. Z., who in appearance and command of the language
could not have been distinguished from an Englishwoman, related to me a pertinent anecdote when we were discussing this subject. She chanced to travel from St. Petersburg to Moscow in a compartment of the railway carriage with two Ameri
The latter told her that they had been much shocked to meet a peasant on the Névsky Prospekt, holding in his hand a live chicken, from which he was taking occasional bites, feathers and all. That they saw nothing of the sort is positive; but what they did see which could bave been so ingeniously distorted was more than the combined powers of the countess and myself were equal to guessing.
The general idea of foreign visitors seems to be that they shall find the Russia of the seventeenth century. I am sure that the Russia of Ivan the Terrible's time, a century earlier, would precisely meet their views. They find the reality decidedly tame in comparison, and feel bound to supply the missing spice. A trip to the heart of Africa would, I am convinced, approach much nearer to the ideal of “adventure" generally cherished. The traveler to Africa and to Russia is equally bound to narrate marvels of his "experiences” and of the customs of the natives.
But, in order to do justice to any foreign country, the traveler must see people and customs not with the eyes of his body only, but with the eyes of his heart, if he would really understand them. Above all things, he must not deliberately buckle on blind
Of no country is this axiom more true than of Russia. A man who would see Russia clearly must strip himself of all preconceived prejudices of religion, race, and language, and study the people from their own point of view. If he goes about repeating Napoleon I.'s famous saying, “Scratch a Russian and you
will find a Tatár,” he will simply betray his own ignorance of bistory and facts.
In order to understand matters, a knowledge of the language is indispensable in any country. Naturally, very few possess this knowledge in Russia, where it is most indispensable of all. There are guides, but they are a lottery at best: Russians who know very little English, English who know very little Russian, or Germans who are impartially ignorant of both, and earn their fees by relating fables about the imperial family and things in general, when they are not candidly saying, “ I don't know.” I saw more or less of that in the case of other people’s guides; I had none of my own, though they came to me and begged the privilege of taking me about gratuitously if I would recommend them. I heard of it from Russians. An ideal cicerone, one of the attendants in the Moscow Historical Museum, complained to me on this subject, and rewarded me for sparing him the infliction by getting permission to take us to rooms which were not open to the public, where the director himself did the honors for us. Sometimes travelers dispense with the guides, as well as with a knowledge of the language, but if