Imágenes de páginas

spots, owing to accidental causes, and not as tending to confirm the idea that there has been any gradual depression of its level.

The cold during our traveller's stay at Stockholm was more intense than any that had been experienced for sixty years, and all the striking appearances which attend the severity of winter in the northern regions are most accurately described—the compactness with which the smoke rises, like a dense cloud, from the chimney tops; the heavy aspect which the atmosphere assumes, particularly at the rising and setting of the sun; the hasty salutations of those who are traversing the streets; and the dead white patch which might be observed on the cheek, the ears, or the noses of the lower orders who are not provided with the necessary guards against the effects of the frost.

Grisleham is a small town on the Swedish coast, from which travellers generally take their departure on the opposite coast of Finland. Mr. James was indebted to the extreme severity of the season for the singular spectacle which awaited him on hisarrival at this place.

It was,” says he, an extraordinary sight: although the straits Jying between the islands and the coast of Finland are frozen every year and made passable to travellers, yet this grand channel of the Häf, that separates the Aland group from Sweden on the west, is very seldom completely covered: being upward of forty miles (English) in breadth, and of a great depth, it is not probable that such a circumstance should often occur except by chance from the accumulation of masses of ice floating down from the north ; this year, however, in consequence of the severity of a single night, the whole surface at once became fixed, and was congealed, a phenomenon that had hardly ever happened before in the memory of the oldest man living. Being spread over by the falling weather that succeeded, it was now to appearance a smooth immeasurable desert of snow, gradually changing its hues froin the sparkling white beneath the feet, till it faded on the horizon with tints of azure exquisitely delicate. One spot only appeared on this spacious waste ; it was a caravan of peasants bound with their cargoes of wood for Stockholm, whom, on our meeting afterwards, we discovered to our surprise to be near thirty in number. We enjoyed a still, quiet day, without a breath of wind, and felt the ray of a bright sun that raised the thermometer* some few degrees above the point of congelation. The line of our road, from the tracks of former travellers, remained visible in almost every part, nor were we at any time obliged to have recourse to our compass for the sake of ascertaining our bearings. These circumstances amply compensated in pleasurable sensations for whatever the scene wanted in more romantic accompaniments, and made a strong contrast with the strange accounts we had previously heard relating to this part of our journey.'--pp. 197, 193.

* Of Celsius thermometer 5° + in the sun, 5. - in the shade. The population or Signilscar consists of about 9 souls.

There is something which approaches to the sublime in traversing the face of the deep, while in this state of repose and tranquillity, to see it arrested as it were by that invisible Hand, which at another season bids its waves to roll and swell in uncontrolled majesty; and to witness the mountains of ice which have been stopped in their progress to warmer seas by the icy hand of winter!

It would be matter of surprise, if those who are constantly subject to the rigours of such a climate had made any considerable improvement in habit and manners, since the earliest accounts of these frigid regions which have been handed down to us. The Fins, however, are considerably more civilized than the Laplanders or the Samoyedes, and we are glad to find from the work before us, that the annexation of this country to the Russian dominions is considered by the better class as an improvement of their condition. A greater freedom is allowed to their trade and commerce ; they are delivered from the constant dread of seeing their country become the seat of war; and they participate in all the advantages of the Russian subject, with some peculiar immunities, such as being exempted from furnishing recruits for the army, a tempora, ry freedom from taxation, &c. &c.

It is stated by Mr. James, that it was not the original intention of Peter the Great to fix the imperial residence in its present situa

and that this is proyed beyond a doubt by a plan which is preserved in the archives of the empire, which details a scheme for building a great city at Nisni Novgorod, as the future seat of empire. Many commercial advantages would have arisen from the selection of that spot, which St. Petersburg never can enjoy : it would have been less removed from Moscow, which is, without doubt, for all the purposes of government, the fittest abode for the Czar of Muscovy; and the Swedes would not have been able (as has more than once been the case) to alarm the capital by a sudden movement. But one great object of Peter's ambition was to estaba lish himself as an European sovereign, and hence the pertinacity with which he persisted in the determination to overcome all the difficulties which nature had thrown in the way of the establishment of a town on the banks of the Neva.

Though the statesman may find fault with his decision, the traveller, after journeying for some days through the uninteresting woods of Finland, will not, we apprehend, be disposed to do so. The rapidity of the transition from nature in her wildest moods, to the life and splendour of civilization, is particularly striking, on the approach to the Russian capital from this quarter.

"A wild uncultivated tract was now traversed for about twelve versts, when on a sudden we found ourselves ushered into the fauxbourgs of the


town, and again enjoyed a glimpse of Russian grandeur. Here all that we saw was on a great scale indeed ; and on passing to the banks of the Neva we came at once in sight of the glory of the fairest city of the world. It was a scene at once gay, lively, and sublime ; replete with every

fancied ornament that taste and wealth could bestow, it united in the same view all the elegant symmetries of Grecian and Roman art, with the gorgeous pride of the East.

• The Marble Palace, the Imperial Winter Residence, the Adiniralty, the Isaac Church, the Academy, the Fortress, and a thousand other sumptuous edifices, rose on either side over the quays of granite, and lined the long perspective till it was almost lost in the distance. Their colours were varied but harmonious, and the white surface of the river lying between them was spotted with a thousand figures, which fitted in rapid succession before our eyes. To add to the pleasure arising from this spectacle, we were fortunate in the state of the weather; it was a serene and tranquil sunset, the departing ray glancing through the avenue of a lofty colonnade that rose in our front, shed a blaze on the gilt spires and domes around us, and brightened with fresh lustre the gloomy splendour of a winter evening.'-(pp. 226, 227.)

There is but a step, we have been lately told, from the sublime to the ridiculous; and he whose projects may in one age be looked upon with admiration and wonder, may in another be reduced to the common level: thus has it fared with Peter the Great. Read Voltaire's romantic History of the life of this extraordinary man,and you see before you a hero who, like the demi-gods of antiquity, broughtorder out of chaos, and, by his single efforts, did more for the civilization of his people, than all his predecessors through successive ages : turn to those who have visited Russia of late

years, and you

will find this same man described as a mere savage, though of a powerful and energetic mind, who imagined that nothing but an Imperial Ukase was requisite to place his subjects on a par with the nations of Europe ; and who by premature and abortive attempts at reformation, retarded the natural progress of improve. ment in his empire. The truth, we believe, lies here, as in most instances, between the two extremes. A nation so sunk in barbarism as Russia, at the period of Peter's accession to the throne, was not to be reclaimed by ordinary methods; his people were incapable of tasting the blessings of that liberty, without which all efforts at civilization must prove abortive; and all the compulsory measures adopted by the Czar for the attainment of this desirable object have only tended to prove that there is no royal mode of new organizing a people, any more than of learning geometry. The Reformation, which called into their highest exercise the thinking powers of man; the art of Printing, which enabled him to promulgate these sentiments ; the discovery of a new hemisphere, and of unknown paths to commerce and greatness, which have all contributed to the advanced state of refinement which the greater part of Europe has for some time enjoyed, were gradual in their effect, and nothing short of their joint operation was required to produce results so striking and beneficial. In the efforts of Peter, on the contrary, we see all the imperfections most strongly exemplified which, in some degree, attach to the greatest projects that have at different periods been conceived by the mind of man. The object he had in view was one which the lapse of years alone could realize; and he would, for its accomplishment, overleap the ignorant present time: thus a state of exhaustion has succeeded to his exertions; and thus we find in Russia at the present day, a strange combination of the refinements and vices of civilized life with those incidental to the savage state.

Whether, as Mr. James is inclined to believe, the Russian empire, by a more quiet and natural order of things,' would have in the end become a more formidable power, is a subject upon which our limits will not permit us to enter; she certainly would not, under the rule of less enterprising sovereigns, have so rapidly advanced to the pitch of greatness which she now enjoys; but an empire brought forward by a slower process would doubtless possess far greater stability, and her government would not be reduced at this early period, as, in the opinion of Mr. James, it is, to a state of political debility, from which she cannot be expected to recover, even by a total change of system, without some great convulsion. That intestine divisions will arise-that in proportion as Russia extends her already too widely extended dominions, the chance of retaining the whole under her sway will be unavoidably diminished, we are not by any means disposed to deny; but as great part of her territorics in Asia own only a sort of nominal allegiance, it is clear that whatever tends to render her empire more compact, must conduce materially to its strength; and when Mr. James states it to be his opinion that 'Russia has reached, in the present reign, the highest pinnacle of rank and power which her circumstances can ever admit her to attain, we conclude that he only means to imply his belief, that Russia will never be more formidable than she has proved herself already, We know from late experience, to what lier means are equal, in spite of all the defects inherent in her government, She should be watched with care, but not with jealousy and suspicion; and should the course of events unhappily tend to weaken the ties of amity which at present subsist between the two countries for their mutual advantage, it is right to bear in mind, as Mr. James observes, ó that the dissolution of so mighty a mass is not of itself to be viewed with unconcern,

for its fall may involve many others also in destruction, and encumber all Europe with the ruins.'

Though alive to all the defects of the Russian policy, and of the national character, we are happy to find in Mr. James a freedom from that illiberality which has too much prevailed in the writings of those English travellers who appear to have borrowed their ideas of Russia from the French.

Having here,' says be, alluded to the progress of civilization, I must add, that it is not intended to convey any undue satire upon the Russian people, who bave been already calumniated more than enough, both by English and French writers. General conclusions have been drawn from particular instances of misconduct or meanness; habits common to all the continent have been quoted as peculiar to them alone ; and manners and usages that really were their own, and from that circumstance deserved a milder judgment, have been exaggerated into heinous crimes, with the most indecent acrimony. In other instances different ranks have been confounded, and sketches of high life given by those who appear seldom to have mixed with even the better classes of society; while facts which only appeared in a bad light from the temporary irritation of the traveller's mind have been misquoted and applied as evidences of the real Russian character; although nothing could be more out of place than the idea of generalizing on the subject.

Besides this, allowances are to be made for the unintentional errors which even the most accurate observer is liable to make, in consequence of the singular spectacle which the inhabitants of this country afford. They are a people, half European, half Asiatic, who, from a state of barbarism, have been forced into immature civilization, and whose frame of society has been injudiciously reorganized on principles borrowed from nations of the highest refinement and polish. Under such circumstances, the same laws are frequently productive in their operation of a totally different, perhaps opposite effect; and their results manifested in a shape not always intelligible to the eye of a foreigner. Were they a race of savagés, one might reason on their moral condition as philosophers ; if a community perfectly refined, as politicians; but their present state baffles the usual niodes of inquiry, and is referable to no scheme of analytical rule whatsoever. Many of the laws and customs appear, at first sight, contradictory to themselves, and repug. nant to the general system of order and policy, and certainly they do not correspond to the idea we form upon such subjects ; but upon more maure observation, when even a short residence has given some little insight to the nature of things, we shall find these regulations admirably calculated for the genius and character of those to whom they are addressed, and to contain the only principles that are in fact well suited to their condition.' (pp. 235---237.)

To an Englishman's ear, the notion of slavery involves in itself every possible evil, nor will he easily be led to believe that any alleviating circumstances can soften the lot of him who is subject to

« AnteriorContinuar »