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can read and write. The standard of education varies enormously in different parts of the Empire. In European Russia-in Archangel, Astrachan, and Bessarabia—not 2 per cent. can read and write. Against that in Courland nearly all can read and write ; and the same holds good in Esthonia. In the Don Cossacks region about 10 per cent. are literate. In Ekaterinoslav, Kaluga, Kostroma, Penza, Perm, Padolia, and Ryazan 90 per cent. are illiterate. In Ufa, Tver, Tula, and Tambov the percentage is about the same. In Vitebsk and Yaroslav there are some 8 per cent. who can read and write. In Poland and Finland the educational standard is far higher, the illiterates not amounting to 20 per cent. Against this in Northern Caucasia, omitting Baku and the Black Sea littoral, not 1 per cent. are educated. In Asiatic Russia the percentage of literates is very small, perhaps 2 per cent.
The Russian recruit is as stupid as he is illiterate ; but he is taught his first lesson when he joins the army. He learns it like a parrot, repeating the words after his instructor laboriously.
'Whom do you serve ?' he is asked.
The recruit does not know, and he is made to repeat the titles of the Tsar until he has them by heart
•Evo Imperatorskoe Velitchestvo Gosudar Imperator Nicholai Alexandrovitch, Samoderjets Vserossieskie.'
The words convey about as much to him as they do to the British reader who has not studied Russian. But that is only the first part of his lesson. There are the name and titles of the Tsaritsa to follow, and of various other members of the Imperial Family. It is quite possible that, in the intervals of his retirements' before the Japanese armies in Manchuria, he is being taught by what names and titles he is to speak of the infant Tsarevitch. But his education is not completed when he has made himself familiar with the members of the House of Romanov; there are the generals and officers under whom he serves, who also have names and titles, and he must learn them all down to the sergeant of his section. The time spent in teaching him these purely ceremonial details might with more advantage be applied to instructing him in the elements of tactics; but since he is never allowed to think for himself, or to know the reason of the various manouvres which he is ordered to carry out, it would be useless waste of time to explain such things to him. But he has long hours of drill in the barrack square under instructors who maltreat him if he is more than usually stupid, and often when he is not. He is also taught the care of arms and musketry practice. The sighting of his rifle is a great stumbling-block to him, for the little figures on the back sight convey nothing to his mind, and the trajectory of the bullet is quite beyond his comprehension.
The barracks in which he is housed may be superior in capacity and ventilation to the hovel which he once called his home, but bis life in them is made unbearable by the non-commissioned officers, who are imbued with a full measure of Russian officialism, and who, therefore, think it necessary to make the lot of their subordinates as unpleasant as possible.
It has been pointed out to me by an enlightened critic that I must be mistaken in describing the lot of the Russian soldier as an unhappy one. “Russian regiments always sing on the march,' he explains, and therefore, of course, the men must be happy. He is perfectly right about the singing. Russian soldiers are always singing ; they sing on the march, they sing in the train, they síng whilst they are eating their black bread and kapusta (sour cabbage), they sing in the kharchevna (public-house). I have also seen a gang of over four hundred prisoners in chains on their way to Siberia, and they too sang as they marched to the station, and afterwards in the train. I suppose, therefore, that they must have been quite happy and contented !
An American humourist has told us that a certain amount of fleas is good for a dog; he passes the day in scratching himself, and so forgets to brood over the misery of being a dog. Ask the Russian soldier why he is always singing, and he will give you much the same reason. He passes the day in singing, and so forgets to brood over the misery of being a soldier.
The songs which the soldiers sing are remarkable compositions, and the origin of them is worth recording. Every company in a regiment has a clown. He is selected by the captain of the company on account of his accomplishments. Before he became a soldier he probably lived by his wits in a city, and possessing a humour of his own and a ready tongue he soon makes for himself the reputation of & wag in the regiment. He is, therefore, appointed clown to his company, and in that capacity he marches in front singing and dancing for the entertainment of his comrades. He is exempted from carrying arms, so that he may be able to perform the uncouth Russian dances which have become familiar to the British public on the music-hall stage. Then he will strike up a verse of a song, and the whole company will join in the refrain, and for the time they forget their swollen feet and the weight of the knapsack which galls their shoulders. If he is a clown of genius he composes songs for his company when he is in barracks, and sings them on the march. Sometimes he will make a great ‘hit’ with one of his compositions. It spreads from company to company, and from regiment to regiment, until it becomes a national song.
When the slopes of Plevna were thickly strewn with fallen Russians a mere handful of men, the remnant of a regiment, swept back from the assault, staggered out of action with the clown
at their head. refrain :
Back to Skobeleff he led them, shouting the
Hai, Turkio duraki,
Eh, foolish Turks,
That was a song inspired by the reek of battle on a stricken field. I have given the Russian words (Anglicised), because both the metre and the alliterative guttural are suggestive. Here is another which I lately heard sung in Russia by troops on the march. It was evidently inspired by the piping times of peace, and I give only the translation :
A rooster sat on & steeple
O holy, holy rooster, ha! ha! ha!
Once a year the soldier gets a holiday and quits the barracks for a few days. The occasion is the week before Easter, and the purpose of the holiday is to collect eggs for the Easter festival. Every man who is sent out carries two empty baskets on his arm, and he is told to go into the country and beg eggs from the farmers. Needless to say the soldier is delighted to escape from the iron discipline of barrack life and be, for a few days, a free man. As usual he sings on the road as he tramps with a few comrades round the district, taking toll of the farmers' eggs and begging a meal or shelter for the night in their barns. He ingratiates himself with his host and makes love to his daughter; and in return for their hospitality he will do all kinds of odd jobs about the farm. Finally he takes his departure, with his baskets full of eggs, and tramps back to barracks.
I once met a party of soldiers, with empty baskets, making for a farmhouse where I had been staying for some time. Now the soldier has not an open field for his egg-collecting at Easter, for that is also the season when the travelling popes are going their rounds of the country, with the ostensible purpose of begging for the poor. I happened to know that there were several popes at the farm to which the soldiers were going, and I stopped and told them so. Their faces fell immediately. They knew that when it came to begging they were no match for the priests, and they turned back reluctantly.
* The devil take the cursed popes!' one of them muttered; and as I too had been driven out of the house by their arrival, to seek a breath of pure air, I was in thorough sympathy with his sentiments.
The spring of the year brings another form of employment for the soldier in Russia, which enables him to earn a small wage. As soon as the ice has broken up in the rivers the pontoon bridges which were taken off at the beginning of the winter have to be constructed again. For this purpose soldiers are frequently employed, and they are paid a small sum for their labour.
Such are the brighter aspects of the Russian soldier's life; he is encouraged to sing on the march; he is given a few days’ freedom at Easter to beg; he is allowed to earn a few kopeks at bridge-building in the spring. Against these advantages there is a very considerable balance on the other side. The systematic brutality with which he is treated by his officers I have already mentioned in ‘Russia as It Really Is,' and I gave one or two examples. Here is another for the benefit of those who are sceptical.
I happened one day to be in a tea house in Kaluga, where there were several soldiers sitting round their samovar, chatting in an orderly manner. Two of them attracted my attention, as I could overhear snatches of their conversation. One mentioned that his wife had come to live in Kaluga whilst he was serving, so that she might be near him. The other congratulated his friend on his good fortune in possessing a wife so devoted to him. And so for a few minutes they chatted on; and then, having finished their tea, one of them left the shop whilst the other paid the account. I also had finished my tea, and walked out into the street. I had not gone more than a few steps when the soldier who had stayed behind to pay the reckoning overtook me. At the same moment an officer, coming from the opposite direction, passed, and the soldier saluted him. The officer apparently did not see the soldier's pot kazerok, for he turned back, and overtaking him demanded why he had not saluted. I was only a few paces from them, and I could see the soldier trembling like a leaf as he protested that he had saluted. His explanation had no effect upon the officer, who seized the unfortunate man by the collar of his great-coat with his left hand, whilst he pummelled his face with his clenched right fist. The soldier was like a rabbit in his hands, and the blood was streaming from his nose and mouth. Several people passed without taking the slightest notice of the incident, and at the door of the shop on the opposite side of the street were assembled the customers and employés of the establishment, watching the brutal scene, but making no attempt to interfere.
There was nothing for it but active intervention on my part; and going up to the officer I grabbed his right wrist just as he was on the point of dealing another blow on the soldier's face. Still holding the man by the collar, the officer struggled to free the arm which I held, hurling opprobrious abuse at my head, and calling me by a name which is frequently used by all Russians to their inferiors, but which constitutes the direst insult. I hit him full in the face with my left fist, and he let go his hold of the soldier's collar and turned his whole attention to me. In the mêlée which followed the officer drew his sword, but dropped it before he could make any use of it, and the outcome was that I broke it over his head. By that time a couple of gorodovois had come upon the scene ; but, to my surprise, I was not arrested. I gave my card to one of them, whilst the other called a droshka, in which the officer drove off, slightly disfigured, and with the pieces of his broken sword in his hand. When he had gone I looked in vain for the soldier; he had disappeared. I had not escaped from the fray without damage, and I limped off down the street with a very sore shin, where my adversary had kicked me, determined, if there were any possible means of effecting it, to bring the scoundrel to justice.
I presume that the reason why I was not arrested by the gorodovois was due to the fact that I was known to them to be the guest of the politzmaister. To him I went with the whole story; but he strongly advised me to drop the matter. So I thought it over, and came to the conclusion that if the officer were satisfied there was no reason why I should pursue the subject further. I never saw or heard of the officer again whilst I was in Kaluga, but whenever I chanced to meet either of the gorodovois he always regarded me with a friendly smile.
There is one class of soldiers which has no particular cause to sing, because marching forms a very small part of its duties. These are the soldiers who work day and night in the tailors, carpenters', and smiths' shops in barracks. They are frequently Jews, and that is another reason why their officers maltreat them.
'You have made the sleeves of my uniform too long,' a younker shouted to a wretched little Jewish tailor in my presence.
'I am sorry, high-born. They shall be altered.'
“They should have been right to begin with, Judas Iscariot,' the officer rejoined, and with a blow in the face of the poor tailor he walked out of the shop.
I did not hear that Jewish soldier sing after the officer had gone; I only heard the sewing machine going like a mill.
I abstain from mentioning the term by which the officer usually addresses his men. Enough to say that it is a word which casts reflections upon the parents of the soldier, and is, therefore, of a particularly offensive nature; but it is so universally used in Russia by all classes that it is the commonest word in the whole language.