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Russia was scarcely known as a European power till the close of the seventeenth century. No army of hers had been seen in the west till almost the middle of the eighteenth century. Her vast and thinly-peopled territory was the home of many races - European and Asiatic - who were separated by great distances, and ordinarily had no relations which were not hostile. They owned allegiance to the same monarch, and had centuries ago accepted a shadowy Christianity at the bidding of one of their kings. But they remained wholly barbarous. They had no commerce, no manufacture but the very rudest, and no softening intercourse with other nations. They had no roads, no education, no regular army, no shipping. A primitive agriculture furnished their subsistence, and their days were divided between savage indolence and the fierce delights of war.

The European history of Russia may almost be said to open in the year when the people of England finally rejected absolute monarchy, and peacefully settled themselves under a constitutional government. In 1689 a boy of seventeen ascended the Russian throne. His name was Peter, in course of years surnamed, with some reason, the Great It suited the wicked purposes of an elder step-sister to hold him under the debasement of ignorance and vice. He was wholly without education. He was encouraged to the practice of drunkenness and gluttony, and every degrading form of self-indulgence. But the energy of his nature quickly surmounted the disadvantages thus basely laid upon his youth. Peter hastened to provide himself with what education he could obtain. He shook off the fetters of vicious indulgence. He had no great wealth of years before him, for he died at fifty-three, and the task which he undertook was unparalleled in its magnitude and its difficulty. But he did with his might what his hand found to do, and his short span of life sufficed for a revolution such as the will and the efforts of one man had never accomplished before (Although animated by an enlightened love of improvement, Peter still retained much of the savage in his nature. On one occasion he not only looked on while a crowd of defeated insurgents were put to death, but even wielded the executioner's sword with his own royal hand. Habitually he applied his cane to the shoulders of his clergy and courtiers, whose actions displeased him).

A little intercourse with the people of the west revealed to Peter the immeasurable inferiority of Russia. Unaided by the wisdom, as he was unrestrained by the caution of others, Peter resolved to force upon his subjects the civilization of the west. He created an army - at first so ineffective that ten thousand Swedes under the heroic madman Charles XII. routed eighty thousand Russians. But Peter, undismayed, perfected the discipline of his troops, and raised them to an equality with the soldiers of the older European states. He had no fleet; indeed there was not in the language a word by which that idea could be expressed. He had no ship-builders. At Deptford and Amsterdam Peter worked with his own hand to acquire the art of the carpenter. He carried skilled artificers back with him to Russia, and in a few years a formidable Russian fleet commanded the Baltic. Moscow, the seat of government, was too remote from European interests. Peter determined to establish on the shores of the Baltic the new capital of his empire, from which, as "from a window, he could look out upon western Europe" He chose for its site a marshy island in the Neva. Thither came, at his despotic call, three hundred thousand men to clear forests, drain marshes, construct roads, and otherwise prepare for the new city. Inundations destroyed his works; epidemics swept away Toy thousands his crowded workmen. The undaunted czar held on his way, and in five months his capital was founded and so fortified that his enemies of Sweden could gain no advantage over it.

He introduced into Russia silk and woollen manufactures, the art of printing, and even some slight knowledge of western literature. He made roads and canals. He established police and a postal service. He framed a code of laws drawn from those of more civilized countries. By the help of a Scotch mathematician he caused arithmetic to be adopted in the government offices, where heretofore accounts had been kept by a system of balls threaded on wire. He established a council of mines, and began to develop the vast mineral wealth of the country. He founded hospitals and medical schools. He watched over and encouraged all his innumerable enterprises. And among all crafts, from the founding of cannon to rope-making, there was none with which Peter did not possess some acquaintance and to which he could not put his own hand.

He ventured to reform the church, meeting the objections of the clergy by telling them that, as he had reformed everything else, civil and military, he would be wanting in gratitude to the Most High if he did not render the same service to the church. He assumed the control of her revenues. He would have no pope, and therefore he replaced the patriarch by a synod. He forbade the adoption of a monastic life by persons under fifty, deeming that population was more valuable to Russia than monasteries.

Many of the customs of his people bore traces of an eastern origin. "Women lived in oriental seclusion, and marriages were arranged by the parents of those chiefly interested. Peter forbade betrothal until the parties to such contracts had been acquainted for at least six weeks. He introduced assemblies where young persons could meet and vindicate to themselves the western privilege of choosing their own partners for life. The Russian dress was of the loose and flowing eastern type; the Russian beard was long. Peter ordained the substitution of western fashions. He commanded his masculine subjects to shave off their beards (Orthodox Russians, mourning the bereavement, preserved the beards which they had been compelled to sacrifice, to be placed by their side in the coffin Not otherwise could Se favourable regard of St. Nicholas be secured in their hour of need. With man; Russians the beard was an essential portion of religious belief). He punished by heavy fine those who ventured abroad with long beard and loose robe. With grim jocularity he hung model garments at the city gates, and his officers mercilessly shortened the apparel of those conservative citizens who perversely maintained the ancient costume.

The Russian year began in September, in which month, as it was believed, God had created the world. Having no respect to this commemoration, Peter caused the year to begin in Russia as it did in other European countries.

This sweeping reconstruction was eminently successful. The manufactures planted by the czar took root and prospered; the arts flourished under his munificent patronage; his laws were obeyed; his fashions were accepted; his new capital assumed, under his eye, metropolitan dimensions and beauty. He had prepared Russia to take rank as a great European power. She was still remote from the centres of European political life. Turkey interposed between her and the Mediterranean. Poland shut her out from the west. An extension of her frontier line was indispensable to the increase of her greatness. She was patient and sagacious; strong, united, unscrupulous. Already more powerful than her neighbours, and urgently in want of their territories, her increase southward and westward was now rendered inevitable.

When Peter ascended the throne, Russia exercised dominion over five million square miles of the earth's surface. To-day the Emperor Alexander gives law to territories which extend over nine million square miles. During the intervening period the history of Russia is a record of incessant expansion on every side. The world has no parallel to this monstrous growth. The vast acquisitions of England in the great Indian peninsula, extending as they do to one million square miles, are almost insignificant beside those of a power which, since the beginning of last century, has added to its possessions a territory equal to the whole of Europe.

Sweden was one of the earliest sufferers by the avarice of this unquiet neighbour. Livonia, Carelia, and Finland were required to supply Russia with access to the sea; and as they were wanted, they were taken. Poland stood inconveniently between her and western Europe, in whose affairs it was now her desire to take part. Russia marked for her own a large portion of Polish territory. By three gigantic acts of spoliation, the guilt and the gains of which were shared with Austria and Prussia, Poland was effaced from the map of Europe (Russia has been justly blamed for the severities which she inflicted on Poland. In judging of the relations of the two countries, it should, however, be remembered, first, That for six centuries there had been continual war between Poland and Russia; that Poland was habitually the aggressor; that, being then the stronger, she inflicted terrible evils upon Russia, and sought, by diplomacy as well as by war, to strangle the national life of her rival. "When Russia, now grown strong, shared in the final assault upon Poland, she was not attacking a harmless neighbour, she was avenging centuries of cruel wrong. Second, At the time of the dismemberment the Poles were "in the lowest state of degradation - ignorant, indolent, poor, drunken, and improvident." The recent reports of the English consuls represent the condition of Poland as most satisfactory. There is "a very remarkable progress in commerce, agriculture, and manufactures." "The country is becoming rich and prosperous beyond all expectation."). The southern march of conquest began while Peter was on the throne. Azov was yielded by the Turks in 1711. Kherson followed, and Kertch and the Crimea; Bessarabia, and certain portions of the Black Sea coast. She occupied, as her own by right, Kirghis and the Steppes, a vast region stretching northwards from the Aral Sea. All the while Russia was steadily extending her sway over fertile but thinly-settled regions in the east. Persia yielded Georgia and Tiflis. From time to time, as the century advanced, the Caucasus fell to the victorious arms of Russia.

In 1847 began her great eastward march into central Asia. England had just possessed herself of the Punjab, and Russia feared, or pretended to fear, our growing control over the lucrative commerce of Khiva, Bokhara, and the great valley of the Jaxartes. She launched upon the Aral Sea a little fleet of warships. She advanced steadily, without hasting but without resting, towards the south, overcoming with ease the resistance offered by the scattered population. The exhaustion resulting from the Crimean war induced for a few years a pause; but with returning strength there came resumed progress. In 1864 she had seized Chemkend, and held securely the fairest portions of the rich valley of the Jaxartes. At this time Prince Gortschakoff explained to the world that these conquests had been forced upon. Russia by "an imperious necessity," and had now reached their limit. But none the less for this announcement was the career of appropriation continued. Tashkend and Kokan were seized. Khiva, despoiled of much territory, was reduced to vassalage, and Bokhara was threatened with a similar fate.

Since her career of acquisition began, Russia has carried her frontier eight hundred miles westward into Europe. She has advanced four hundred and fifty miles nearer to the Mediterranean, and three hundred miles nearer to the capital of Sweden. In Asia she has moved southward and eastward towards Afghanistan, until her outposts are now a thousand miles nearer India, and within three hundred miles of territory which is under protection of the British flag.

It was held by many persons of political sagacity that the fall of Napoleon transferred the empire of the world to Russia. Her magnificent success had raised her to a place of commanding authority in the direction of European affairs. A century before, Russia was unknown to the politics of Europe; now she was their supreme arbitress. Soon the belief was widely entertained that power so vast, guided by ambition unbounded and unscrurapulous, involved peril to all other European nations. Nowhere perhaps was this impression more firmly held than by the Russians themselves, who now indulged in arrogant contempt of the institutions and customs of their neighbours, and claimed for their own arms a supremacy which was wholly irresistible.

For forty years the national vanity suffered no abatement. The influence of Russia continued to increase, and it was centred more exclusively in the person of the emperor. During the latter years of the reign of Nicholas his despotism was absolute almost beyond example. There was no will in the state but his. He could brook no contradiction; towards the close his most trusted counsellors dared not to offer any - so terrible became the wrath of the aged tyrant. Mute submission was the attitude of the people. Education was discouraged because the universities might be nurseries of liberal tendencies. The slightest breath of political criticism in a newspaper was instantly punished by the ruin of the too daring journalist. All the interests, material and intellectual, of a great nation were fashioned according to the unrestrained pleasure of an honest but narrow and obstinate man. Nicholas learned to dislike western ideas. Progress and culture were distasteful to him. He would fain shut out all foreign influences, and to that end he put a stop to the extension of railways. He avowed his contempt for the arts of peace, and deemed it the grand work of his life to enhance the military greatness of Russia.

The Russians entered upon the contest with England and France in the rejoicing conviction that their emperor and his army were invincible. It was impossible to believe that the power which for forty years had wielded unlimited authority was now to stoop to defeat and humiliation. The nation took up arms in the fullest confidence that their emperor would lead them to victory. Nicholas perilled upon the issue of the war not only his military greatness, but the whole enormous fabric of despotism which he had builded so laboriously.

The triumph of the western powers produced a vast change on Russian opinion. Not only was the believing devotion of the people to their emperor overthrown, but the policy which he had established was utterly discredited. The ruthlessness of his despotism was lightly regarded in days of success; now that the blight of defeat had fallen upon him, its enormous evils became at once the subject of deep and universal reprobation. And when the aged monarch passed away from, among the ruins of his political system, a sense of relief was experienced. It was deemed better that Nicholas should die, for he could never have adapted himself to the changes which his own blind obstinacy had rendered inevitable.

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