Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

ciations appended to it, and east and west, north and soutlı, present their own legendary colouring to the mind.

The North appeals to us characteristically in this way, and presents an imagery and landscape very distinctly its own. А peculiar scenery of regions and races rises before us, and the deep shade of an old set of legendary associations has hardly yet left the ground. Vastness is the attribute of the North ; poetry endows it with a kind of innate and super-geographical extent. The shadows spread, the forest blackens, the plains widen and expand as we go northward. Beyond the boundary which lovely Thessaly, with its Pierian range, raised to classical ground, the Greek legendary eye saw a vast space and terra incognita, to which it assigned gigantic and grotesque forms, animate and inanimate. Her seat of poetry standing midway between the world known and unknown, just conveyed intelligence from this sphere of the supernatural to that of human life and civilization. Beyond Thrace, where the region of wildness and vastness began, tracts indefinite and enormous spread, which imagination peopled with Hippogryphs and Centaurian shapes, half human, half animal, and covered with massive clouds and brooding twilight. In the vapoury air grotesque phantasmagoria flitted and hovered, and it rained feathers. There were curious tribes, the Iazyges, the Agathyrsi, the Perrhæbi, the Arimaspi, with one eye; nature darkened and became eccentric as she approached her boundary; the Hyperborean mountains, in the farthest distance, threw their awful shadows over the earth's edge; and a rolling sea of chaos and vacuity closed the view. On the Eastern side, history let in a misty light, and showed wide spread tracts and wandering hordes of Scythians and Sauromatæ. The shores of the Euxine and Caspian rustled with wild movements, and the flight and pursuit of tribes chasing one another round. A homeless houseless earth stretched out on all sides ; and the eye ascended from the scenes of restlessness and scattered nomad life that authentic geography displayed, only to dwell upon immeasurable cloudy solitudes, and lose itself in the gloom of fable and horizon of nature.

Such is the portion of the globe over which the Russian empire now extends. A tradition, reaching back to the remotest antiquity, speaks of a great race, that travelling from Media and the rising sun, turned the corner of the Euxine, and advanced by the straits of Mount Caucasus into the European border. Scythian in origin, the Sauromatæ or Sarmatians, as this race was called, claimed a consanguinity with the numerous Scythian tribes that traversed the whole extent of Northern Asia, from the Tanaïs to Mount Imaus. The rugged defile of the Caucasian straits (the Sarmatian gates, as they were afterward named) admitted these Sauromata to a district between the Euxine and the Tanaïs, where they settled and ramified, and became the parent stock whence the Sclavonian, Polish, Prussian, Muscovitish, Bohemian, and Transylvanian people and languages were severally derived. The Muscovite and the Sclavonian were the parent tribes of Russia.

Stretching its wide arms over each side of the European and Asiatic confine, Russia thus receives, from her origin and geographical situation, a peculiar mixed character and colour. She shows this in her modern empire: she is European and she is Asiatic both; she brings thetwo continents together on herground, and mingles hyperborean and oriental imagery. Spicy gales from the East meet the rude frosts from the North; the snows of Siberia and the Arctic shores unite with the paradisal beauties of the Crimea, and she has Elysium and the North Pole within her domains. We take a leap from the Baltic, and wander along the falls of the Don, with the Cossack steppes around us, wild continued meadows covered with choice plants, flowers, and herbage knee-high, picture the scenery of eastern romance. The forms of Oriental art appear; the minaret and dome decorate the old Scythian regions of cloud and fable; the Mahometan splendours of Kazan and Astrachan rise up before our minds as we see the crowns of the Tartar Khans in the Czar's Treasury; and the old names of Georgia and Circassia carry us back to the scenes in the Arabian nights. A mixture of European and Asiatic pervades the Russian manners, customs, architecture, dress: the long beard of the peasant, his salaam and prostrations, are Eastern; so is the 'gaudy fantastic splendour of the popular festival: the whole image of splendour in the national mind is an Eastern one. Moscow, with her pointed minarets and domes, towers and spires, glittering in the sun and displaying all the colours of the rainbow, is an Asiatic spectacle; and the mixture of magnificence with the wretched wooden hovels and muddy streets which, till lately at any rate, composed the main part of the city, is not less so. One might imagine,' says the traveller, all the

states of Europe and Asia had sent a building, by way of re' presentative to Moscow, and under this impression, the eye is ' presented with deputies from all countries, holding congress.

Timber huts from regions beyond the Arctic, plastered palaces * from Sweden and Denmark, painted walls from Tyrol, mosques ' from Constantinople, Tartar temples from Bucharia ; pagodas, * pavilions, and verandahs from China, cabarets from Spain,

dungeons, prisons, and public offices from France, architectural ‘ruins from Rome, terraces and trellises from Naples, and warehouses from Wapping. Nor is the costume less various than

6

6

6

the aspect of the buildings; Greeks, Turks, Tartars, Cossacks, • Chinese, Muscovites, English, French, Italians, Poles, Germans, • all parade the streets in the habits of their respective countries.

Numerous spires, glittering with gold amidst burnished domes and painted palaces, appear in the midst of an open plain for • several versts before you reach the gate. Having passed, you * look about, and wonder what is become of the city, or where ‘you are, and are ready to ask once more, How far is it to Mos*cow ? They will tell you, “ This is Moscow !” and you behold ‘nothing but a wide and scattered suburb, huts, gardens, pigsties, • brick walls, churches, dunghills, palaces, timber-yards, ware

houses, and a refuse, as it were, of materials sufficient to stock • an empire with miserable towns and miserable villages.' A very good description, we have no doubt, of an ancient Ecbatana, Sardis, Susa, or Bagdad, as it certainly is for a modern Constantinople. There is something peculiar in the Asiatic idea of splendour. Its most majestic demonstrations and highest triumphs are consistent with unutterable dirt; it does not attend to it, it overlooks and rides over the paltry obstacle; it kindles and glitters, it aspires and ascends, it mingles with the sky and catches the solar blaze itself, it collects all the treasures of earth and sea into a circle, diamonds, and pearls, and emeralds, and jasper, and onyx, and the supernatural brilliancy is in immediate juxtaposition with what offends both eye and nostrils. The imagination is satisfied, and the senses go to the wall. A nation's idea of the splendid, is a characteristic feature in it. The savage rejoices in trinkets, the Gothic race has produced the labyrinthal magnificence of stonework and carving; the imperial East revels in the richness of gold and the metallic glories of earth's subterranean treasury; the ore’s burnish and the crimson die empurple and emblazon her ceremonials. Gold and jewels, the very type of transcendental wealth, and the world's capital and crown, distinguished the pomp of Oriental monarchy and universal empire from the subordinate and insignificant feudalities of the rest of the world, and imparted that imaginative supremacy to the Eastern Sultan upon which he used graciously to allow all other monarchs in the world to eat, drink, and sleep, after he had.

It is to the honour of ancient Russia that she consecrated her treasury of colours, radiances, gilding, and jewels, to the Church. The Church of St. Basil, in the Kremlin, painted in glaring colours from top to bottom, with its huge pinnacles, twisted bulbs, and thistle tops, and pyramidical spire, gilded and striped red, green, and yellow, and rough and scaled in cactusstem fashion, is a specimen of the national taste. The dark Egyptian interiors of her churches only show off by contrast the same image of splendour. The shade is the back-ground, from which gilded Icons, pillars and roofing emerge. The lower part of the Iconostasis, in the Church of the Assumption, blazing with sheets of gold, contrasts vividly with the dark brown pictures above; and the four large central gilded columns, the Virgin’s jewelled crown, the silver lamps, and huge candelabrum, which the French army did not take away because they thought it must be base metal, the shrines and tombs, with their gorgeous jewelled clothes, shine mysteriously in the sacred gloom. The sarcophagus tombs, one after another in long succession, of metropolitans, and patriarchs, and princes, display a profusion of pearls that astonishes the European eye. Those of the sainted prelates are covered with them; pearls as big as beans, emeralds, each worth their thousands of roubles, appear, and the palls are one silver studded jewelled surface. The pearl was the adopted ecclesiastical jewel of Russia. The robes, mitres, and croziers of the Patriarch were covered with it. The mediæval merchant carried his pearls to Russia to get his price for them; and when the monastic lands were taken by the State, their internal treasury retained its pearls: they still remain in one monastery in sacks. The silver table in one church, the silver shrine in another, the sacred amphoræ and other treasures of the Patriarchal vestry, carry out the image of ecclesiastical splendour, and show the jewelled metallic standard of Oriental taste.

The rise, progress, and fortunes of the Church in those large and wild regions of the North, furnish a subject of great interest to the reader of ecclesiastical history. Over and above the interest which attaches to the spread of Christianity, as such ; in the present instance, there is the additional one of seeing her progress upon a different ground, in many respects, from the European one. There is an interest in seeing the way in which the Church accommodates herself to different circumstances and spheres of action; penetrates into the temper of the people she is thrown amongst, and, in turn, imparts to her population a character, and imbibes one from them. It is a remark which every reader of history will make,-how the Church of Rome has imbibed the characteristics of the Italian mind, its subtlety, polish, penetration, and diplomatic skill. This may have been à natural development of the Church's character, though often an abused one, in one particular part of her territory. But the ecclesiastical mind admits of a variety; and different portions of the Church display it differently. A rougher and more simple character pervades the religious energies of the Russian Church. She gains her objects more by the power which simple hearty enthusiasm of itself gives. Her history does not show deficiency of power in her; by no means; but it is the more simple

The same

straightforward kind of power, and has less of the diplomatic appendages to it than the Roman Church exhibits. difference marks her great men. Her metropolitans and patriarchs have not the refinement, the internal command, the profundity and masterliness which the great Roman Ecclesiastics show. A vigorous ascetic spirit, a simple-minded enthusiasm, a confidence in their own position and sacerdotal and episcopal power, carries them along; and they are the idols of rude admiring crowds who flock around them. They have skill enough for their situation, and show it when it is wanted; but, as a general rule, they carry their point by heartiness and will. They sway the primitive Sclavonian and Muscovitish hearts by apostolic fervour; and the multitudes, from age to age, bow simply to the men of God, to good strong characters, elevated and invigorated by an ascetic religion.

The work of M. Mouravieff's before us, gives a condensed history of the Russian Church from the time of the first conversion of the country, up to the reign of Peter the Great. It is too condensed, and too much of an historical abstract, to offer much pleasure to ordinary readers. Condensation necessarily squeezes the materials it grasps, and must squeeze them more or less dry; it lets fall those juicy and rich particles of the circumstantial and descriptive, which, more than anything else, make history solid and living. This is not the fault of the author, but an evil resulting from the nature of the work. He relieves it by the liveliness of his style, the warmth and genuineness of his feeling, and the real poetry of heart which is ever breaking out from him. He is a fond affectionate son of his Church, and delights in the task of reviewing her past glories and achievements. A real lover of ecclesiastical power, he takes an evident pleasure in displaying the parental relation of the Russian Church to the empire, and the movements, spiritual and political, in which she was originator and guide. Here and there he dilates a little, and becomes circumstantial, and he always creates interest when he does so, and shows a graphic power that could easily have been brought out more generally, had the nature of the work admitted of it. We shall only hint one thing in the shape of complaint, and that is, that, as he approaches modern times, and enters upon the struggles between Church and State in Russia, he obviously feels himself on tender ground, and does not say all that he would like to say. The majesty of the empire, and the weight of the arm secular, press unconsciously upon him, and he is afraid of exalting the great ecclesiastic who figured at that crisis, at the expense of that political power which he opposed. Without attempting to follow M. Mouravieff through all the links in his chain of annals, a rough review of

« AnteriorContinuar »