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Russian Travel

by Anonymous

All the Year Round, A Weekly Journal, vol. 7, issue 1 (1862)

Pages 15-22

A sample page from Russian Travel by Anonymous
From “Russian Travel.” Used by permission, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.

NOTE: This entry is in draft form; it is currently undergoing the VSFP editorial process.

Introductory Note: This story is one in a series of disconnected travel sketches all bearing the same name, “Russian Travel.” They appeared in Dickens’ All the Year Round sporadically as they were sent to the editor, Henry Morely, by an anonymous friend.1Morely, Henry, Ed., Sketches of Russian Life Before and During the Emancipation of the Serfs, London: Chapman and Hall, 1866. “Russian Travel” shares characteristics associated with nonfiction, and masquerades briefly as an informational article before fully diving into its narrative. It also features bilingual dialogue, mingling English with Scots, a language indigenous to Scotland.


THE Yeamscheek is a great Russian institution. He is not to be confounded, as is sometimes done by strangers, with the extortionate ruffian drosky, lanska, and britska drivers, in the streets of towns and cities, nor with the coachmen of the gentry and aristocracy. He is a distinct animal; the interior swarms with him; he “works” every macadamised and unmacadamised road in Russia, from the shores of the White to the shores of the Black Sea; and all roads are alike to him. Whether I make a bargain with one to take me to Siberia, or to the next town, it is all the same to him. He goes off to his gang, puts me into a hat, and I am drawn for. The fortunate drawer gets me for his job, and is responsible to the rest for his performance of the duty. I am quite safe with him; he will carry out his part of the bargain, if he can. The traveller, entirely at his mercy, over endless tracks and plains, through dismal forests, frost and snow, among wolves and bears, never distrusts the poor yeamscheek. He is neither a ruffian nor a robber, but simply a peasant, who commenced driving troikas at six years of age, and who will drive them till he dies. He has one failing, the need of vodki: give it him the traveller must, but let the traveller give it sparingly; and if you hit the right mean between parsimony and indiscretion as to this point, he will do anything for his charge short of keeping awake when he is sleepy, merely because he drives. Considering the immensity of the country, the number length and character of the roads, and that the yeamscheek is the only reliable land-carrier for passengers and goods (excepting the few railways), the number of these men must be immense. They played no unimportant part in the Napoleon invasion, and in the transport of troops and material of war to the Crimea, and to write anything about interior travelling in Russia, without giving a few lines to the yeamscheeks, would be leaving Hamlet out of his own play.

Let no man imagine that he has tried Russian travel if he have merely visited Moscow and Petersburg, and run a few hundred versts on any of the few main well-kept roads. Wide of these, lies on both sides the interior life of this immense country, and to see it we must penetrate through forests seventy miles long, jolt over wave-like undulations of endless barren or poorly-cultivated land, and bid farewell to every vestige of macadam. In my case the deviation from the main road took place at no indicated point. No finger-post pointed the way, no road led to it. 

“I want to go to Evanofsky.”

“Well,” said the yeamscheek, “that is the road.”

“Where? I see no road.”

“Ah, yes! but I’ll find one.” And with that he turned the horses’ heads at right angles to the straight broad road we were on, lashed, screamed, and succeeded in plunging us across a deep wide ditch, into what appeared to me to be an endless pathless expanse of stubbled and unstubbled ground; tree, shrub, fence, post-house, or hut, there was none, to mark the route as far as the eye could reach. The frost tinged the expanse with white, and the wintry sun, as it shone with a cool light over the long sweeping undulations of the ground, made the surface of the land glisten like water. Some of us, indeed, could scarcely be persuaded that we were not about to plunge into some trackless pool, without compass, pilot, or chart. The inexperienced will always bid a regretful farewell to the beaten road, as to an old friend, and will face the trackless ground with uncomfortable notions about grizzly bears, wolves, ditches, precipices, and snow-storms. I confess that I lost sight of the black-and-white striped mile-post with some regret. Hitherto we had travelled with these posts and the telegraphic wires, constantly on our right and left, as mute friends and companions. We could read the number of versts on each post when we had nothing else to do, and we could think of human messages going and coming on the wires; but now they are gone on far to the south, keeping company with travellers on the one good broad road that leads to Odessa.2A verst is a measure of length in Russia. It equates to 0.66 of a mile or about 1.1 km. As for us, we were over the ditch, and off through the fields.

The change was sudden and complete; but all changes are sudden and complete in Russia. Summer goes in a day, and winter comes. One may cross a river in a boat at night, and walk back on the ice in the morning. Doors and windows stand wide open in summer for a breath of cool air, but in the winter the cool air is barred out with double windows, triple doors, and heated stoves. So in regard to clothing; thin linen summer habiliments are thrown aside in a day, and the reign of furs begins. Wheels are upon all carriages of every sort one day, snow comes during the night, and the wheels all vanish; in the morning, nothing is seen but sledges. The transitions from class to class are of the same character. One class is of gentlemen and barons; the next step is to mousecheeks, peasant-serfs who live on black bread and salt, seasoned with sour cabbage and garlic, and who are covered with a dirty sheepskin instead of being clothed in ermine, sables, and fine linen. Cronstadt is reached from Petersburg by steamers in one week; in the next, the traveller runs over the same water with three horses before him. The people will leave a hot bath and plunge into a hole made in the ice; they will leave a room, heated to seventy or eighty degrees, and follow a funeral for six miles, with no covering on their heads, in a frost twenty-five degrees below zero; they will fast seven weeks on cabbage and garlic, and then guzzle themselves in a few hours into the hospital, take cholera, and die. Diseases are generally swift and fatal—to-day well, to-morrow dead. More than two-thirds of the cholera cases die. Women are interesting, plump, and marriageable, at fourteen; they are shrivelled at thirty. Despotic power works in extreme without control, religion without morality, commerce without honesty. There is land illimitable, without cultivation. There are splendid laws, and poverty of justice. Some of these contrasts are now being softened down by the wise progressive policy of Alexander the Second.

Off the beaten track it was that I first learned what yeamscheeks and horseflesh could accomplish. If our courage and confidence sank a degree, and we held on with bated breath as the tarantasses jolted over the deep ruts, ran on one wheel along the edge of a steep slope at an angle of forty-five, or plunged into a chasm with a crash, to be pulled out by the most desperate application of the whip, no such charge can be brought against the drivers; they seemed to rejoice in having quitted the monotonous road, and their spirits appeared to spring into new life with every obstacle. They had now got something to drive over—something worth being a yeamscheek for: “Go, my angels!” “Step out, my dear pigeons!” “Climb up, my sweetheart!” And at every ejaculation down came the knout with terrible force and effect.

At one o’clock in the afternoon of the second day after leaving the main road, we came in sight of the end of our wanderings, on the slope of a long hill. We were obliged to pack up. The descent was steep, and looked extremely dangerous; the yeamscheeks, for the first time, paused before taking it. I got out to reconnoitre. On each side of us lay a dense and gloomy forest of oaks, birch, and pines; the track down which we had come a certain length, had been evidently cut through the hill for nearly a mile and a half. Far below in the valley, lay a considerable number of what my servant Harry took to be peat-hills. Those were huts. I could see also the cupola of a church, the chimney of a mill, or works, and, on an adjourning eminence, a residence of some pretension. How to get down was a puzzle; the ground was slippery from ice, the descent long and precipitous, and the cattle were nearly exhausted: the last team having come twenty miles. If our men chose to go down with the usual clatter and dash (we had no drags) the result might be disastrous. The yeamscheeks, however, soon made up their minds to try the old way, and I could see no better way. They crossed themselves (their infallible resource), and were gathering up the ropes for a start, when a voice called out from the wood on the left, “Hold, hold! Do you want your necks broken, you fools?” I knew in a moment, from the manner in which the Russian was spoken, that this was the voice of an Englishman, and as he came struggling through the bushes and low underwood that lined the edge of the wood, his appearance did not belie his speech. He was short, fat, and florid; dressed in a fur coat, long boots, and fur cap; he carried a double-barrelled gun, and was followed by a man much in the same garb, but younger taller and stronger than himself. Two great shaggy cream-coloured wolf-dogs followed the second man, who carried a double-barrelled rifle, and had a large sheathed knife in his belt. While the one was collecting breath, after abusing the yeamscheeks for intending to gallop down the hill, the other came up to me, and after surveying us very deliberately, said, in the pure Doric of canny Scotland:3Doric is the language anciently spoken by the Greek Dorians; Scottish Doric is commonly used as a nickname for Scots, an indigenous language of Scotland that is largely mutually intelligible with English.

“I’m just thinkin’, but maybe I’m wrang, that ye’re no unlike kintramen of ours—that is, Englishmen, I mean?”

I acknowledged the proud relationship, and said, 

“I seek a village called Evanofsky, and a man called Count Pomerin; can you help a countryman to find them?”

“Surely; the village is yonder in the glen, and the man is not far off. May I ask if ye are the party he wull be expecting from St. Petersburg. If sae, he wull be right glad to see you, but at the present moment it is impossible to get speech of him. We’ve a bit hunting on hand, you see, and Pomerin is at his post, as we were when you cam’ betwixt us and our line of fire.”

“God bless me!” I said, rather quickly; “are we betwixt the game and the rifles?”

“That’s just precesely the position we have all the honour o’ occupying at this present moment, and in half an hour after this it might not be unco’ pleasant, but for that time, I think, we’re safe, unless for a stray beastie or sae.4Unco is similar in meaning to the English word, uncouth. Now, if you like to join the hunt, you and the other gent-le-man, I would advise you to send on the conveyances and contents to wait you at Pomerin’s; they will get a rayal welcome, and I shall send an escort with them.” This being agreed on, he said to his friend, “Pins, whistle on that Dugal crature o’ yours.”5Dugal is a Gaelic name.

Mr. Pins put a whistle to his mouth and gave a shrill call, when presently a figure emerged from the wood, no inapt representative of the famous Dugal creature in Rob Roy. He had bandy legs, a great mass of tangled red hair on his head and face, red ferret eyes, and he dressed in a felt coat which reached only to the knees, a wolf-skin cape, and large boots, a world too wide for him; and a short-handed axe struck in his belt. Mr. Saunderson had made some sign which I did not observe, that brought his henchman, a man of like sort, also to the spot. These having received their orders, proceed to drag the wheels. In few minutes two young trees were cut down, and, having been chopped into the right length, were thrust between the spokes and across the hind-wheels of the carriages. Having thus effectually put on a safety-drag, the two ‘Dugal creatures,’ large and small, mounted beside the drivers, but Harry and I remained behind with the ammunition, guns, and pistols, and then the vehicles began sliding down the hill without us, in a very comfortable manner.


I had often heard of a hunt in the interior, and was glad, although fatigued, to join one. The plan is something akin to the ancient practice of deer-hunting in the Scottish Highlands. In the present case, however, the game was different: not deer, but wolves, bears, foxes, and other vermin, which had been found very destructive and troublesome for some time past. The greater number of the men of several villages, including every man who could handle a gun, had turned out. I attached myself to Mr. Saunderson, Harry joined Mr. Pins, and we followed our new acquaintances into the wood from which they had come upon us. On entering, I could see that preparations had been made on a large scale. Just inside the wood, and extending a long way—perhaps to near the bottom of the hill to the left, and for a less distance to the right—men armed with guns, rifles, pistols, knives, old scythes, and other such weapons, were stationed thirty yards or less apart from one another, while, behind each, a horse was picketed to a tree. Many of the principal rifle and armed men, like my friends Pins and Saunderson, had ‘Dugal creatures,’ or peasant-serfs attached to them, having in charge dogs, horses, and other accessories. The whole party formed two lines, probably a mile and a half long; the first line armed; behind it, the unarmed and the horses. On the opposite side of the road, and on the trees in front, was a strong net, ten or twelve feet high extending up and down hill, as far as I could see, parallel with the road, leaving the road itself convenient for the work of slaughter, while the men might fire into the net at pleasure from the cover, advance into the open, or mount and run in case of danger. How the net was secured, or what resistance it might make against a large infuriated animal, I had no means of knowing; but I imagined that through it might hinder or entangle, it could not stop, or offer any effectual bar to a bear, or even a strong maddened wolf.

My companion enlightened me on sundry points: How, I asked, did they get the game into the net?

That was easily managed. Six hundred men had been sent early that morning into the opposite wood, at a point four or five miles from our present position; these men had spread themselves in a line across the wood, the two flanks gradually advancing faster than the centre, so as to form a curve by the time they reached the road where the net was placed, the flanks touching the ends of the net; then the centre advancing, drove all the game which was in front of them, right into the toils to be shot down. These men carried poles and other instruments for making all kinds of hideous noises, and the number of them being large, the whole wood became a perfect Babel of dreadful sounds, which frightened and daunted the doomed animals.

“This is an inglorious system of hunting, only worthy of barbarians.”

“Oo’ I; but ye ken the Russians can only operate in the mass way—that is, when they have plenty to keep them company.6Similar to the German kennen, ken is the Scots verb for know. Besides, there is sometimes a bit hand to hand struggle, to vary the thing.”

“Where is Count Pomerin?”

The count was down the hill, on the left flank, and commanded that side, while he (Saunderson) held the like position on the right up the hill. Pomerin’s post was reckoned the more dangerous, as the chief haunts of the vermin were well known to be down the hill. Pomeranian, he continued, was a dead shot, dead shot, and always on those occasions took the post of danger. He was a gentleman every inch of him; “a wee thing ower fast, ye ken; but he’s young;7Ower means “way too much for” or “beyond the capability of.” and then his grandfather died last year, and left the laddie three millions of roubles, besides this immense estate, with the ten thousand bodies on it, two sugar manufactories, our vodki works, and the cotton-mill. When Mr. Saunderson cam’ here, some years ago, the auld man was hale and weel, and this young man—whose faither got a trip to Siberia and never cam’ back—was the grandfather’s pet. The young lad’s mother was a serf, a bonny winsome thing, it is said; she’s no ugly yet; she and her family were freed, and she was highly educated at Moscow, before and after her marriage; still this marriage was a cause of trouble. The proud aristocrats shut their doors on the pair of them. He fell into a revengeful spirit, and began writing papers on political economy, meaning to publish them abroad. Spies were in his house. Every line he wrote, and every word he said, they reported to the police, and so the end was that he vanished one night, and noo’ they just say he is dead. No expense has been spared on the son’s education; he can gabble in French, German, Italian, and all other modern languages; he has travelled in France, England, and Italy. He has a stud of horses, and keeps a table like a prince: but oh! man, I’ve been told that he was spinnin the auld man’s bawbees last winter in Petersburg in fine style!8A bawbee is a halfpenny. If ye’re a friend of his, gie him a canny advice to haud a better grup o’ the siller.9The phrase, “to haud a better grup o’ the siller,” means “to keep a better grip of the money.”  At this present time he is negotiatin’ wi’ a widow-woman, a ‘generalshee,’ to buy her bit estate.10Literally translating as “general shoe,” generalshee is a Scots idiom for ex-lover.  Her steward is a big raseal, an’ Pomerin will pay grandly if he does not mind his hand. I ken what I ken, aboot that place, and he might do waur than tak’ my coonsel aboot it.”

“Who is your friend Pins?” I asked.

“Pins,” he said; “a poor cotton-spinning, ignorant, upsetting couff, but as sly and sleekit as a fox.11Sleekit means smooth and deceitful.  He has managed to get Pomerin to quit four years of arrears of rent and his workers obrak; and he is tryin’ to persuade his landlord to build a great cotton-mill, and send him to England to buy the machinery.12Arrear means unpaid debt. Obrak is a synonym for worker.  The commission he’ll get on that, is worth ten years of his present wee place.”

“But,” I said, “that might be a good investment for the count.”

“Na, na, it’s ower far to bring the cotton, and to send the yarn to market; there’s no railways here, to every town, like England; and there’s no outlet for it in other countries, the demand is limited, and pretty well supplied now. If he count is wisely advised, or would tak’ a practical man’s advice, like mysel’, he will invest his money in safer channel. Let him cultivate his ground; our auld mother earth is a generous and fruitful lass, if she is well nourished. If he will manufacture, let him use the material his land produces. There’s flax and hemp, at the door; there’s beetroot for sugar, and rye for bread, and vodki. He’ll want machinery, nae doot, for these—corn-mills, saw-mills, and agricultural implements; but he can sell the ropes and yarn, the vodki and the sugar, without trouble or expense. These large cotton-mills about Moscow, and Petersburg, are doing well at present—not so long after the war.13“Nae doot” means “no doubt.”  But just suppose cotton was to grow scarce, or there was war with America, or amangst the Yankees themselves—not unlikely—or suppose the government was to take the duty off the imported manufactured goods, there is not one of these manufactories would be worth auld iron. It’s not a good doctrine of political economy, and it will bring its recompense some day, to rob the poor moushick bodies, who are the chief consumers of the cotton cloth, to enrich a few foreign machine-makers, capitalists, and agents.14Moushik is an alternate spelling of mousheek. The extra wages given to the workpeople is no equivalent for the enormous prices taken from them; besides, they don’t get the benefit of the extra wages. It only goes into the pockets of the greedy barons whose slaves they are, while the estates are lying uncultivated, and the serfs are as poor and miserable as ever.”

“But still,” I said, “these manufactories are good civilisers. They require intelligence and skill in the workpeople, and this is much wanted in Russia.”

“Civilisation in Russian cotton-mills! Hotbeds of vice, and corruption! Whair hae ye been to speak that gate? I could tell ye something aboot that. But,—hear to that!”

Sounds from the six hundred men in the wood had long since been heard, increasing in volume but now they had become deafening, and indicated the very near approach of the sport. Halloaing, shouting, yelling, whistling, blowing of horns, and a din of as heavy blows on iron kettles, formed a discordant chorus, and so loud that I could hardly hear the latter part of Mr. Saunderson’s lecture on Political Economy. But his “hear to that,” referred to a rifle-shot, immediately followed by a clattering of shots all down the line. I looked across the road, and could see the net vibrating, bulging, and in some places coming down, entangling heavy bodies in its meshes. Two large wolves, strong, and apparently fat, followed by a third, made their way cautiously at first from below the net, and then jumped into the road. Three or four shots went off at the same moment, but only one wolf dropped, the other two made as if for the wood on our side, but seemed to scent danger in that direction, for they turned round and tore up the hill at rattling speed. “Don’t fire,” shouted Saunderson; “let off the dogs!” And immediately four noble dogs sprang into the road, right in front of our position. One wolf was caught in a moment by the first two dogs, but the other ran into the wood, hotly followed by the other couple. Pins was reloading, when the three animals dashed amongst his legs, and upset him as they passed. I can only relate what I myself saw. A deer, or elk, with magnificent broad horns, cleared the net at a bound, right in front of us. “Now,” said the Scotchman, “that’s my quarry.” The animal had scarcely touched the ground when a bullet struck him in the brain, and down he went. This was the first shot he had fired, and he hastily reloaded, for, he said, he fully expected bears. At this time a horseman on a splendid English hunter dashed up the open steep, and the firing abated. “That’s Pomerin, what’s he after? He’ll get shot,” said Saunderson. As he approached our position, he shouted in English, “Two large bears are heading up the wood inside the net, and the men are falling back; they will escape if we don’t mind. Mount and follow who will.” Saunderson was on his horse in a moment, and after the young man up the hill. Turning to look for Pins, and Harry, I saw Pins, the picture of fear, behind a tree. As I came up he was imploring Harry to help him on his horse, that he might quit the field; his own man had not returned. “Blow me if I do,” said Harry. “But I’ll take the loan of it. And here, old cock, take my blunderbuss, and I’ll just try your rifle on a Rooshian bear.”15A blunderbuss is a short-range gun. Whereupon he coolly took Pins’s rifle out of his awkward hands, untied the horse, jumped on his back, and was after Saunderson before I could have stopped him, which I certainly did not intend to do. Had I been as well mounted and armed I should have followed: as it was, I was condemned to inactivity, and the society of Mr. Pins.

The shots were still rattling off down the hill, several horsemen had passed in pursuit of the bears immediately after Harry left, and in a short time the rest of the huntsmen advanced into the open road to get to closer quarters with the game in and behind the net. I also left the cover, saw them fire several volleys ingloriously at the prostrate and entangled animals, and was about to examine the effects of their firing by going close up to the net, when a low growl, then a loud savage howl, issued from behind, and immediately a bear burst through an opening into the road among the men; as if disdaining to touch them, he turned again and faced the wood whence he had come, and where he knew his pursuers to be. The rifles on our side were all unloaded, so that he deliberately sat for a short time in the middle of the road untouched. I was just on the point of trying the effect of revolver shot, and had made a few steps to get a proper and sure aim, when Saunderson rode from the wood, and drew up not twenty feet from the poor surrounded beast. He raised his rifle and fired, and the bear fell. The men, who had been all scampering off, returned to finish him with their knives, but Saunderson cried out, “Keep back, he’s not dead; he will comb some of your hair if you don’t mind!” He spoke too late. One man, more daring than the others, had stooped down to run his knife into the bear’s through, when, with astonishing swiftness, bruin raised himself to a sitting position, and darting his great paw, armed with those formidable talons, at the man’s head, tore down cap, hair, skin, and flesh to the elbow.16Bruin is an antiquated term for bear often used in fables. The man fell forward on the bear—in fact, into his arms—and was about to experience one of those deadly hugs, or embraces, which would have put him out of all pain, but a bullet from the same hand that first struck him put an end to the bear’s power of mischief. The wounded man sprang up, and with a piercing shriek ran down the hill. He was ultimately carried home, and survived, but was for life frightfully disfigured.

The six hundred men who had been making the noises, and driving the game into the net, began to assemble in the road, and gather together the spoil. The dogs came wagging their tails, some with their fangs dripping and bloody, and their sides and heads showing rather severe wounds. 

“Ah, Barbose, Burlak, my lads, you’ve done your part nae doot. But, God help us! where’s Pomerin, and that body Pins, and that great big Englishman of yours?”

“As for Pins,” I said, “I left him in the wood, but I must inquire of you where the other two are.”

“Me! I ken whaur I left them, but it’s no easy saying whaur they may be now. Come on and search; ye see, the bears divided us as we headed them. I and two other men kept close on this one as he skirted the edge of the wood; twice he turned to offer battle, but took the rue. The other two men fired at him, and missed; at the last fire he bolted into the road, then I got a clear shot, and had my nag not moved, that shot would have finished him. Pomerin and your man Harry have followed the other bear. I hope they are all safe.”

He had left his horse, and we penetrated a good way into the forest, accompanied by a few men, Saunderson leading. So we came to a glade almost bare of trees. In the centre of this, he said, there was a large deep dell half a mile across, the sides sloping into the centre and dense with trees all over. “Here it is; and as I live here’s the horses tied to a tree. Living or dead they are here.”

Although the foliage had fallen, the place looked dark and dismal, and just as we reached it two shots were heard in the hollow, the one a moment or two after the other. Down we rushed sliding among the damp old leaves, and holding on by tree-trunks and branches. At length, in answer to our shouts, we heard a halloa repeated. This led us to the very bottom of the immense pit, and there stood Harry, fast in the embrace of the young Russian. Their guns were on the ground, and the bear lying dead beside them. As soon as Pomerin saw me, he sprang forward, embraced, and kissed me with emotion. He was much excited, and in answer to our questions, told us that, not thinking what he was about, he followed the bear down into this awful hole:

“I had fired twice at him, and hit him once, but not fatally. The villain seemed to know that both barrels were empty, for he turned at bay on this spot, a fine place for a game at hide-and-seek with a bear. I dodged him round and round the trees a good while, and having no time to load, threw my gun down. At last he got me in a corner, from which I could not move but in one direction, and that was into his arms. You see this tree; behind it is, you perceive, sheer cliff, on both sides a gulley. Well, I got behind the tree; the bear advanced, sure of his prey, no doubt. I stared him steadily in the face as he came on, but on he came; he was within five yards of me. I drew my knife; I had no hope of success; for, see, he is an enormous grizzly. Ah, the horror of that moment! I was just waiting his next step, and my eyes were dancing with fire-sparks, when I heard a voice from the cliff behind me, ‘Lie down on yer belly, flat—quick; and I’ll give the buffer to somethink to eat harder nor gentlemen’s flesh.’ Ah! God bless my grandfather for teaching me the English language! These words were the sweetest I ever heard in my life. Down I went, flat on the ground; the bear had taken a step or two forward, and was looking up to the cliff, for I kept my eyes on him. I could now almost feel his breath on my face, when, in a moment, ping, whirr, then in another moment, ping, whirr, went the bullets, ripping over me, right into the bear’s head. Over he went, rolling down the steep. Down jumped my preserver to my side, and I’ve been hugging him like a bear ever since.”

He turned to repeat the dose, but Harry set off with a “No more o’ that ere.”

When we returned to the scene of the main slaughter, we found the road filled with peasants—those who had been beating up the game, those who had been shooting it, the dog and horse attendants, and a crowd of idlers from the village. The game—consisting of the two bears, four cubs, two deer or elks, five large and two small wolves, hares, rabbits, and other small animals in abundance—was given over to the peasants, except only the two bears, which were ordered to be taken to the count’s residence. I should have expected that the peasants would have made some demonstration of joy at the deliverance of their young master, which was known to them all by this time, but nothing of the kind took place. A few of them, indeed, came forward and kissed his hand, and said, “Thank God, he was safe,” but these, I could perceive, were his domestic retainers and attendants. They were better dressed and cleaner than the generality of the peasants, and looked like the pampered and favoured menials that they were. Amongst the others, I in vain looked for any expressions of interest. Here was the raw material, and in the right spot for studying it. The excitement of the sport, in which every one might be expected to share to some degree, did not seem to have ignited in these people one spark of emotion. There was nothing to remind me of the peasantry of my own happy land, even in their worst times. I saw no smiling happy faces, no sparkling glad eyes, no manly blunt fellow officiously pressing forward to to be taken notice of, no division of class into the farmers and farmers’ men, traders, and ploughmen, no evidence at all of degrees in the social scale, no appearance whatever of a thriving happy or contented ignorance, even among the serfs, no pride of clanship in the daring courage and appearance of their chief. Yet he appeared to me to have—in fact, I know he possessed—all that was requisite to call it forth had it been there. No. They showed themselves, as we moved forward and amongst them, stolid, apathetic and listless. Caps came off, certainly, and way was made for us with alacrity. But if they had any feelings at all they managed very cunningly to hide them. Their faces were in general good in contour, and their individual features regular, some of them handsome. The out-door workers were brown or swarthy, and those who attended the in-door manufactories, pale and sallow. As to height, bone and muscle, they seemed very fairly developed. The Russian peasant men are, indeed, the finest in the country, many of them models of manly shape and beauty. One thing struck me as very remarkable, the brilliant whiteness and regularity of their teeth. They were, as a rule, white as the purest ivory and perfect in form. This is ascribed, I find, to the eating of black bread. Yet, notwithstanding all these favourable points, the expression on their faces was stupid, dull, and unmeaning; what expression there was, I connect only with cunning and distrust.


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Alexandra Malouf


11 September 2021

Last modified

16 April 2022


1 Morely, Henry, Ed., Sketches of Russian Life Before and During the Emancipation of the Serfs, London: Chapman and Hall, 1866.
2 A verst is a measure of length in Russia. It equates to 0.66 of a mile or about 1.1 km.
3 Doric is the language anciently spoken by the Greek Dorians; Scottish Doric is commonly used as a nickname for Scots, an indigenous language of Scotland that is largely mutually intelligible with English.
4 Unco is similar in meaning to the English word, uncouth.
5 Dugal is a Gaelic name.
6 Similar to the German kennen, ken is the Scots verb for know.
7 Ower means “way too much for” or “beyond the capability of.”
8 A bawbee is a halfpenny.
9 The phrase, “to haud a better grup o’ the siller,” means “to keep a better grip of the money.”
10 Literally translating as “general shoe,” generalshee is a Scots idiom for ex-lover.
11 Sleekit means smooth and deceitful.
12 Arrear means unpaid debt. Obrak is a synonym for worker.
13 “Nae doot” means “no doubt.”
14 Moushik is an alternate spelling of mousheek.
15 A blunderbuss is a short-range gun.
16 Bruin is an antiquated term for bear often used in fables.

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