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Russia.


Modern History. (a.d. 1492-1898). Europe from 1815 to 1898.
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One of the chief notes of political history in the 19th century is the great advance of the Russian empire in European and Asiatic influence, a result partly due to natural growth in population, the raw material of military force in these days of vast standing armies, and partly to the exercise of a diplomacy remarkable for combined persistence, audacity, and craft. Leaving aside for the moment Russian affairs as connected with Turkey and the "Eastern Question," we deal with the internal events of the empire and her territorial acquisitions. Under Alexander I. (1801-1825), after the new settlement of Europe in 1815, the earlier promise of the reign regarding the establishment of a more liberal system of rule was succeeded by a reactionary policy due to the influence of Metternich. Severe measures of repression were thus adopted by a monarch, a man of somewhat unstable and emotional character, who had at one time been credited with almost Republican principles. He showed no sympathy with the efforts of the Greeks for freedom, and died unlamented in December, 1825. Having no legitimate heirs of his own body, Alexander I. was succeeded, through the renunciation of the throne by the Grand-duke Constantine, by his youngest brother as Nicholas I., a man of determined character, who had to begin his reign by crushing, with the utmost cruelty and vigour, a revolt planned by members of the higher classes and supported by many army-officers. The new ruler, temperate, frugal, intensely Russian, and a devotee of Panslavism, adopted the system of absolutism based upon military force, and was the steady opponent of political and intellectual progress, restraining education within the practical limits of preparation for the public service, and exercising a severe censorship of the press. Along with this general bureaucratic tyranny, the emperor sought to Russianise all his subjects, and to bring Roman Catholics and Protestants within the "orthodox" fold of the Russo-Greek Church of which, as tsar, he was the head.

In war with Persia, Nicholas forced the cession of Erivan and other territory, but his chief addition to the empire by conquest was in the Caucasus. Russian attacks on the independence of the mountaineers in that region began in 1813, and the determined resistance made to aggression for more than half a century drew the admiring attention of all free peoples. One of the great patriotic heroes of modern days was the chief named Shamyl, leader of the Lesghians in the south-east of the great range, a man of infinite courage and resource, a marvel of "luck " in his many escapes from positions of the utmost peril, and after capture by his foes. In 1824, in the prime of early manhood, this renowned warrior took up arms against Russia, and, as a priest or "mollah" of the Sufite Mohammedans among the tribes, he strove to combine all the manhood of the Caucasus against their common enemy, the infidel Russians. Severely wounded in 1831, he became, on his complete recovery three years later, "imam" or head of the sect, and then devoted some years to the organisation of military force under a theocratic system of rule by which he was absolute spiritual and temporal head of a number of tribes. A guerilla-warfare of surprises and ambuscades was carried on with great success, and many severe defeats were inflicted on the Russian forces. In 1839 Shamyl's enemies surrounded a fortress where he was known to be, took it by storm, and put all the defenders to death, in order to be rid of their most dangerous foe, whose person was unknown to them. In a short time, however, having made his escape in some mysterious way, the fanatical hero was again preaching the "holy war" and the Russians were not only repulsed again and again with severe loss in attacks on his strongholds, but found their own territory invaded. It was, however, impossible to contend for ever against the military power of a foe that could, and did, employ hundreds of thousands of men in the struggle, by slow degrees seizing and maintaining strategic points, and making roads to the heart of the Caucasian fastnesses. In 1852 exhaustion began to be felt by the gallant mountaineers, and Shamyl, reduced more and more to the defensive, became a prisoner in September, 1859, after being hunted in the mountains for several months, and a final struggle in which his last little band of 400 followers was reduced to about one-ninth of the number. Russian admiration for a most valorous opponent assigned Shamyl a residence in the interior of the country, with an ample pension. The great Caucasian warrior closed his life at Medina, in Arabia, in 1871. It was only in the previous year that the Russian conquest of the Caucasus had been completed, and the last defenders of freedom slain, captured, or expelled.

We turn now to deal with the fortunes of the hapless Polish subjects of Russia. The Congress of Vienna in 1815, assigning to Russia part of the original shares of Prussia and Austria, had made Poland, to the extent of over 220,500 square miles (as against 26,000 square miles in Prussian and 35,500 in Austrian Poland), a constitutional kingdom attached to Russia only by the bond of having the same sovereign, with a responsible ministry, a biennial parliament, a separate army, and a free press. This liberal system of rule was, however, soon violated by the rude, cruel, and energetic military commander the Grand-duke Con-stantine, brother of Alexander I., and in November, 1830, after the revolutionary movement in France, an insurrection began under the leadership of the military and university students at Warsaw. Joined by the Polish troops and the civilian population, the rebels, seizing the arsenal, drove out the grand-duke and his Russian supporters, and in January, 1831, established a provisional government under Prince, Adam Czartoryski, In a series of fierce. engagements with Russian troops, the Poles at first had some success, but they were soon overpowered by superior forces under Marshal Paskevitch, a veteran of the great campaigns of 1812 and 1814 against Napoleon, and a victorious commander in warfare with the Persians and the Turks. In September, 1831, Warsaw was captured, and Nicholas I. adopted the severest measures of punishment. Polish independence came to an end, and in 1832, with the annulling of the constitution, and the establishment of a strict censorship of the press, the country was declared to be a province of the Russian empire, with a separate administration under a viceroy. The cruel tsar caused the execution and flogging of many victims, with the banishment of others to Siberia, and the destruction of Polish nationality began in the suppression of the language for official purposes, and the exclusive employment of Russians in civil posts. Early in 1855 the accession of Alexander II., on the death of his father Nicholas, brought back to Poland, by an amnesty, many of the exiles, and attempts were made to conciliate the people in restoring to Poles the tenure of public offices, making Polish the official language, and granting municipal government to Warsaw and other leading towns. No fitting response was made to this humane policy, and after attempts to assassinate high Russian officials, including two successive governors, General Luders and the emperor's brother, another Grand-duke Constantine, the last effort of Poland for freedom came in the insurrection of February, 1863. This struggle was, on the part of the Poles, a mere guerilla-warfare of peasants, with some slight successes for the rebels, but no great actions, and by March, 1864, after much desultory conflict and great losses to the insurgents, the revolt was utterly crushed. The last remnant of Poland, as., a separate nationality, then vanished. In 1868 the Polish province was fully incorporated with Russia, and the ten " governments " of the territory were numbered with those of Russia in the proper sense. Education in the university and the public schools was henceforth conducted in the Russian language, and the extinction of the Polish people, as a political body, was completed.

Alexander II. (1855-1881) was a monarch whose reign must be regarded, especially in its earlier years, as forming a very memorable epoch of Russian history, one to be compared with those of Peter the Great and Catharine II. in its effect of raising Russia towards the level of west-European civilisation. Trained by a father who was little more than a military martinet, and overawed by his majestic, imposing presence, the young Alexander, showing no enthusiasm for soldiering, and displaying a kindly disposition regarded as unsuitable for one who was to become an autocratic ruler, was declared by Nicholas to be " an old woman who would do nothing great." He had not been reigning long before he gave evidence of the courage, energy, and persevering resolution that enabled him to execute reforms which his stern and strong-willed father, had he possessed the desire, would have shrunk from undertaking. Adopting the advanced utilitarian ideas of a class which probably included three-fourths of the educated people of the country, a class largely drawn from the ranks of the small landed proprietors and from the families of the village clergy, the emperor, after careful inquiry, and with a prudent restraint of extreme views, abolished in 1861 the serfdom of 23,000,000 peasants, transferring them from the position of men subject to the arbitrary rule of irresponsible masters to that of a class of independent communal proprietors. This great reform was followed by that of the judicial and administrative systems, with a new penal code, and a simpler civil and criminal procedure; local self-government in which each province and district had its elective assembly with a restricted right of taxation; a new rural and municipal police under the control of the Minister of the Interior; and new municipal institutions with some approach to modern ideas of civic equality. The establishment of trial by jury, the publicity of proceedings in the law-courts, and the abolition of legal corporal punishment (the terrible knout or whip) marked a great advance for Russia, and it was chiefly in political affairs and with regard to political offences, still left in the hands of the department of State Police, that the former odious tyranny was maintained.

It is remarkable that the reign of this reforming monarch was the period during which revolutionary discontent amongst an educated class, notably men and women proficient in physical science, assumed the terrible form of Nihilism. In 1866 the tsar's life was attempted, and in later years most daring plots assailed him and leading officials. In February, 1879, Prince Krapotkine, governor of Kharkoff, condemned by the secret tribunal of the Nihilists, was shot, and in April of the same year the tsar was fired at in St. Petersburg with four shots from a revolver. A state of siege was proclaimed in the capital and other great towns, and the most rigid measures of repression and precaution were vainly adopted. Two successive chiefs of the secret police, Generals Trepoff and Mesentzof, had been murdered in St. Petersburg in 1878; their successor, General Drenteln, was attacked by assassins in the following year, and many other victims of less note perished in the ranks of the army and bureaucracy. It was the avowed intention of the revolutionists to strike terror by these crimes into the hearts of their rulers, and the secret organisation became known as that of the "Terrorists." In December, 1879, their deadly hostility to the tsar adopted a new method of attack, and one of the vans of a train preceding that by which the emperor was returning from a visit to the south was blown to pieces by a mine laid under the rails and fired from a neighbouring house. On that occasion his life was saved by a mistake, but the deliberation and ferocity of this plot, followed by a revolutionary proclamation, in which the tsar was denounced as "the personification of a despicable despotism, of all that is cowardly and sanguinary," renewed the panic of the spring of the year, and caused more arrests and increased vigilance on the part of the police. No precautions were able to hinder the Terrorists from attempts of even greater audacity than any hitherto displayed, and they seemed to have the aid of treachery in the very household of the ruler when, in February, 1880, the dining-hall of the Winter Palace at St. Petersburg, with the table laid for a numerous party of guests including the tsar's son-in-law the duke of Edinburgh, was wrecked by an explosion in the cellars beneath. The lives of the whole party of guests were saved only by a combination of accidents causing a few minutes' delay in taking their seats for dinner. Several soldiers in the intervening guard-room lost their lives. The Terrorists at last attained their evil object on March 13th, 1881. In a street of the capital, on his return to the Winter Palace from a review, Alexander II. was killed by the explosion of a dynamite-bomb. Two assassins were engaged, the first of whom flung a shell which injured some of the guards preceding the carriage, and caused the emperor to alight. The second then advanced and threw his bomb at the feet of his victim, shattering his legs and the lower part of his body, and causing death in a few hours from loss of blood and shock to the system.

The murdered tsar was succeeded by his son as Alexander III., whose lot as a ruler of a great world-wide realm had "fallen on evil days." The cause of freedom in Russia was not furthered by the outrageous violence of revolutionary crime. The new emperor, naturally appalled by his father's fate, made himself a state-prisoner in the palace of Gatchina, near the capital, and adopted a reactionary system of rule. Restrictions were laid upon the self-government granted to the provinces in the last reign, and the landowning nobles had increased authority through the abolition of the "justices of the peace." Literature and education were subjected to a rigorous censorship and supervision, and an odious tyranny was displayed in the "Russification" of Finland, with the curtailment of her ancient autonomy, and in a cruel persecution of the Jews by which Russia lost, through voluntary exile, many thousands of her best subjects. An alliance between republican France and the chief autocratic European country has been attended with effusive demonstrations of friendship which have attracted the amused attention of the world. On the death of the tsar in June, 1894, he was succeeded by his son as Nicholas II.

The latter half of the 19th century has seen a rapid extension of Russian dominion in central Asia, and an advance to the borders of Afghanistan, with the marking of a definite frontier, in the interests of peace between Russia and Great Britain, between the territories of the tsar and the Afghan ruler. The region called Turkestan ("the country of the Turks") stretches eastward from the Caspian Sea to beyond 110 east longitude, and from Siberia southwards to Persia, Afghanistan, and Tibet. It is divided into western and eastern portions by the lofty tableland called Pamir ("roof of the world"), with a mean height of 13,000 feet above sea-level, uniting the western ends of the Himalayas and the Tian-Shan Mountains, and both with the Hindu-Kush. We have here to deal mainly with western Turkestan, consisting of the great hollow plain of the Caspian and Aral Seas, and of the hilly and well-watered regions among the branches of the Tian-Shan and Hindu-Kush. Deserts of loose shifting sand contain oases with a clay subsoil; there are strips of fertile land along the rivers, the chief of which are the Syr-Daria (the ancient Jaxartes) and the Amu-Daria (Oxus), and there are some very fertile valleys in the eastern districts. The people, mainly composed of Uzbegs (Turco-Tartars) and Turkomans, of kindred race, are chiefly Mohammedans in religion, and live by tillage and pastoral industry, with some manufactures of cotton, silk, woollen, and linen goods. There may be 5,000,000 in all, dwelling in a territory exceeding 500,000 square miles in area. We have seen in part of this region the ancient Persians, the founders of the chief cities; then the Macedonian Greeks led by Alexander; and finally the Parthians. It was then overrun in succession by Turkish tribes; by Arabs, in the 8th century of the Christian era; and by the Mongol hordes under Genghis Khan. Turkestan became the centre of the vast empire of Timour the Tartar (Tamerlane) in the i4th century, a dominion stretching from the Hellespont to China, and from Moscow to the Ganges. That time was for Turkestan a golden age of imported civilisation, but under Tamerlane's successors the empire was broken up, and in the 17th and 18th centuries we find independent khanates or kingdoms at Khiva, Bokhara, and Khokand. In the first half of the 19th century there was much warfare between the khanates, and of marauding Turkomans, who were great brigands and man-stealers,. with Persia and Afghanistan. In 1860 these people severely repulsed a large Persian force, capturing 30 guns and 15,000 men. In 1839 the tsar Nicholas I. vainly attempted to conquer Khiva, and further Russian attempts were postponed for many years. In 1865 Russian forces took Tashkend and Khokand, and three years later, after warfare in which the emir of Bokhara was severely defeated, the important city of Samarkand fell to Russian rule. In 1869 and 1871 Russia erected forts on the south-eastern shores of the Caspian, and renewed her attacks on Turkestan from this fresh base of operations. In June, 1873, Khiva was occupied after a most arduous march of troops in five columns across the desert, and a large part of the khan's territory on the right bank of the Amu-Daria was incorporated with the Russian empire. In 1875 and 1876 the rest of the Khivan land was absorbed, and Russian ambition turned next to the Tekke- Turkomans of the Akhal oasis, a 300-mile strip of well-watered garden-ground rich in corn and maize, cotton and wool, containing the finest horses of all Turkestan, and great herds and flocks of cattle, camels, and sheep. The inhabitants exceeded 120,000, under the lordship of the khan of Merv. The men were warriors of a high class, raiding the Russian and Persian borders, and victorious, in 1855 and 1861, over Khivan and Persian hosts. In 1878 a Russian expedition utterly failed from heat, fatigue, and disease and in the following year, under like difficulties, and after severe conflict with the Turkomans, a much larger force was compelled to retire in disgrace from the fortress called Geok Tepe, pursued by Tekke horsemen even to the shores of the Caspian. The dashing General Skobeleff, a famous soldier of the recent Russo-Turkish war, was appointed commander of the troops sent to retrieve this disaster. With careful preparation, this brave and able man, assisted by a new railway, advanced into the Akhal country, and, after a regular siege of "parallels" and bombardment, took Geok Tepe by storm, with great loss to the Turkomans, in January, 1881. Merv became Russian in 1883, and the conquerors have since strengthened their hold on their central Asian possessions by the construction of a railway-line from the Caspian to the Oxus, and thence to Samarkand.


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Pictures for Russia.


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