Siberian Exiles

IN the sixteenth century, Russia was far from holding her present rank among the nations of Europe. Boland on the one hand, and Turkey on the other, were formidable opponents; it appeared at that time more than possible that the former would ultimately absorb what has since become the most powerful government in the world. The Mongol hordes that marched westward under Genghis-Khan readily subdued the princes of Muscovy, and met successful resistance only when they had passed through Russia and were waving their banners in Central Europe. The stream of Tartar conquest was impeded when it encountered a barrier of Polish and German breasts ; its refluent course was scarcely less rapid, though more irregular than its advance. Like the wave along the sea-shore, or the flood upon a river’s bank, it left enduring traces of its visit. The Tartar districts of many Russian cities, the minarets of mosques that rise along the great road from the Volga to the Ural Mountains, the dialects of Mongolia heard at the very gates of the Kremlin, and the various Asiatic customs in Russian daily life, perpetuate the memory of the invasion that made all Europe tremble for its safety. Three centuries ago, after a long and difficult campaign, the Czar of Russia stood victorious on the walls of Kazan, the Tartar city that had long been the mistress of the Volga, and compelled the Muscovite princes to bring annual tribute to its king.

The royal crown of Kazan, symbolizing the downfall of Tartar power in Europe, is preserved in the Imperial Treasury at Moscow not less proudly than the throne of Poland, or the standards and other trophies from the decisive field of Pultawa. The capture of Kazan was the beginning of a career of Russian conquest in the East, along the very route followed by the Tartar invaders; to-day the Russian flag is unfurled on the mountains overlooking the valley where Genghis-Khan first saw the light, and fancied he heard a voice from heaven calling him to lead the Mongol shepherds to victorious war.

Ivan the Terrible — to whom Russia owes the city which Nicholas called his third capital — did not get along very well with his subjects. After the conquest of Kazan, he was troubled with local insurrection and defiance of power in various parts of the country he claimed to control. The most turbulent of those who owed him allegiance were the Cossacks of the Don, several of their tribes or clans having openly refused to obey his orders. One of the leaders — Yermak by name — was particularly troublesome, and him Ivan prepared to chastise. Not able to resist successfully, and unwilling to be punished, Yermak very sensibly took himself out of harm’s reach, followed by three hundred men of his tribe. He crossed the Volga, and supported himself by a system of robbery and general freebooting in the country between that river and the Ural chain. Ivan sent a military force against him, and Yermak, intent upon having things his own way, crossed the mountains and entered Northern Asia. On the banks of the river Irtish he founded a fort on the ruins of the Tartar village of Sibeer; from that village the country known as Siberia received its name. Yermak and his adventure - loving followers pushed their conquest with great rapidity, and were victorious in every encounter with the natives. The territory they occupied was proffered to the Czar, who tendered full pardon to the errant Cossacks and their leader; as a mark of special favor, he presented Yermak with a coat of mail which once adorned his royal person, and accompanied the gift with an autograph letter full of complimentary phrases. Proud of his distinction, the Cossack chief donned the armor on the occasion of dining with some Tartar friends who dwelt near his fortress. Returning homeward at night, he fell, or was thrown, into the river; the heavy steel carried him beneath the waters and caused his death.

The discoverers and conquerors of Siberia were at the same time its first exiles. The government turned their conquest to good account, just as it has since profited by the labors of the men banished for political or criminal offences.

After the death of Yermak, the Cossacks, reinforced and supplied by their friends in Russia, continued to press toward the East; in less than seventy years from the date of the first incursion the authority of the Czar was extended over more than four million square miles of Asiatic territory, and the standard of Muscovy floated in the breeze on the shores of the Ohotsk Sea. The cost of the conquest was borne entirely by individuals, who found sufficient remuneration in the profits of the fur trade. The government which acquired so much was at no expense, either of men or means, and exercised no control over the movements of the adventurous Cossacks. Was there ever a nation that extended its area with greater economy, and experienced so little trouble with its filibusters ?

Considering its magnificent distances, its long winters and severe frosts, the rigor of its climate and the general attachment of the Russian people to the places of their birth, Siberia was occupied with surprising rapidity. Tobolsk was founded in 1587 ; Tomsk, in 1604 ; Yakutsk, in 1632 ; Irkutsk, in 1652 ; and Ohotsk, in 1638. The posts established throughout the country were located less with a view to agricultural advantages than for the purpose of collecting tribute from the natives. Siberia was important on account of its fur product; and, as fast as the aboriginal inhabitants became subject to Russia, they were required to pay an annual tax in furs. In return for this they received the powerful protection of the Czar,—whatever that might be, — and were privileged to trade with the Cossacks, on terms that gave handsome profits to the latter. The system then inaugurated is still in use in most parts of Siberia ; the annual tax being payable in furs, though at rates proportioned to the diminished supply and consequent advance in prices. In Kamchatka, the tax for each adult man was one sableskin ; now a skin pays the tribute of four individuals.

Down to the time of Peter the Great, Siberia was colonized by voluntary emigrants, including, of course, a great many individuals who found it convenient to go there, just as some of our own citizens resorted to Texas twenty years ago. The great monarch conceived the idea of making his Asiatic possessions a place of exile for political and criminal offenders, where they make themselves useful, and have little opportunity for wrong-doing. Peter never did anything by halves, and when he began the business of exiling he made no distinctions. Not content with banishing Russians, he made Siberia the home of Polish and Swedish prisoners of war. A great many captives from the battles of Pultawa were among the early exiles, and their graves are still marked and remembered in the cemeteries of the Siberian towns. Turbulent characters in Moscow and elsewhere were sent beyond the Urals ; officers and men of unruly regiments, persons suspected of plotting against the state, criminals of all grades, and numerous individuals, either bond or free, whose lives were dissolute, followed the same road. The emigrants, on reaching Siberia, were allotted to various districts, according to the character of their offences and the service required of them. Exiles under sentence of hard labor were employed in mines or upon roads; those condemned to prison were scattered among the larger towns ; while those ordered to become colonists found their destination in the districts that most required development. The control of the exiles was lodged with an imperial commission which had full power to regulate local affairs in its own way, but not to change the sentences of the men confided to it. Pardon could only come from the Emperor ; but there were frequent opportunities for the Siberian authorities to mitigate punishments and soften the asperities of exile. Everywhere in the world the condition of a prisoner depends much on the humanity, or the lack of it, in the breast of his keeper. Siberia is no exception to the rule.

Early in 1866 I planned a visit to Siberia, and in the same year my plan was carried out; I entered Asiatic Russia by one of its Pacific ports, and, after an interesting journey,—which included a sleigh-ride of thirty-six hundred miles,—crossed the Ural Mountains and entered Europe. Years earlier my interest in this far-off country had been awakened by that charming story, “The Exiles of Siberia,” written by Madame de Cottin, and adopted as a text-book for American students of the French language. The mention of Siberia generally brought to my mind the picture of Elizabeth, — the patient, loving, and devoted girl, who succeeded by her individual effort in restoring her father to his native land. My interest in Elizabeth was the first prompting of a desire to visit Northern Asia, to sec with my own eyes the men whom Russian law had banished, and to learn as much as possible of their condition. I found that the story of that heroic girl was well known, and received no less admiration in Siberia than elsewhere. Russian artists had made it the subject of illustration, as was shown by four steel engravings, bearing the imprint of a Moscow publisher, and depicting as many scenes in Elizabeth’s career.

The plan inaugurated by Peter the Great has been followed by all his successors. Crime in Russia is rarely punished with death ; many offences which in other countries would demand the execution of the offender are there followed by exile to Siberia. As Russia is but thinly inhabited, her rulers are greatly averse to taking the lives of their subjects ; the transfer of an individual from one part of the empire to another is a satisfactory mode of punishment, and gladly practised in a country that has no population to spare. Siberia, with its immense area, has barely four millions of inhabitants, and consequently possesses abundant room for all those who offend against Russian laws. Criminals of various grades become dwellers in Siberia, and very often make excellent citizens ; then there are political offenders, banished for disturbing the peace and dignity of the state, or loving other forms of government better than the Emperor’s. Outside of Russia there is a belief, as erroneous as it is general, that the great majority of exiles are politiques. Except at the close of the periodic revolutions in Poland, the criminals outnumber the political exiles in the ratio of twenty to one. For a year or more following each struggle of the Poles for their national independence the road to Siberia is travelled to an unusual extent; between the insurrections there is only the regular stream of deported criminals, with here and there a batch of those who plot against the government.

It is easy to go to Siberia ; easier, I am told, than to get away from it. Banishment is decreed for various offences, some of them of a very serious character. Many a murderer, who would have been hanged in England or America, has been sent into exile with the opportunity of becoming a free citizen after ten or twenty years of compulsory labor. On the descending scale of culpability there are burglars, street and highway robbers, petty thieves, and so on through a list of namable and nameless offenders. Before the abolition of serfdom, a master could send a serf to Siberia for no other reason than that he chose to do so. The record against the exile stated that he was banished “by the will of his master,” but it was hot necessary to declare the cause of this exercise of arbitrary power. The plan was instituted to enable land-owners to rid themselves of idle, quarrelsome, or dissolute serfs, whose absence was desirable, but who had committed no offence that the laws could touch. Doubtless it was often abused; and instances are narrated where the best men or women on an estate have been banished upon caprice of their owners, or for worse reasons. Its liability to abuse was checked by the requirement that the master must pay the outfitting and travelling expenses of the exiled serf, and also those of his wife and immature children.

Of political exiles there are the men, and sometimes women, concerned in the various insurrections in Poland, taken with arms in their hands, or involved in conspiracies for Polish independence. Then there are Russian revolutionists, like the Decembrists of 1825, or the restless spirits that now and then declare that the government of the Czar is not the best for their beloved country. In the scale of intelligence, the politiques are far above the criminals, and frequently include some of Russia’s ablest men.

Theoretically all persons sent into exile — with the exception of the serfs mentioned above —must be tried and convicted before a court, military commission, or some kind of judicial authority. Practically this is not always the case; but instances of arbitrary banishment are far less frequent now than under former rulers. Catharine II. exiled many of her subjects without so much as a hearing, and the Emperor Paul was accustomed to issue orders of deportation for little or no apparent reason. Nicholas, though severe, aimed to be just; and the present Emperor has the reputation of tempering justice with mercy quite as much as could be expected of a despotic monarch. Very likely it occasionally happens that a banished man has no trial, or is unfairly sentenced ; but I do not think Russia is any worse in the matter of justice than the average of European governments. Certainly the rule of Alexander is better than that of the Queen of Spain ; and, so far as I have knowledge of Austria and France, there is little to choose between them and their rugged Northern antagonist.

A criminal condemned to exile is sent away with very little ceremony; and the same is the case with the great majority of politiques. Where an officer of the army, or other person of note, has been sentenced to banishment for life, he is dressed in full uniform, and led to a scaffold in some public place. In the presence of the multitude, and of certain officials appointed to execute the sentence, he is made to kneel. His epaulets and decorations are then torn from his coat, and his sword is broken above his head, to indicate that he no longer possesses rank and title. He is declared legally dead ; his estates are confiscated to the Crown ; and his wife, if he is married, can consider herself a widow if she so chooses. From the scaffold he starts on his journey to Siberia. His wife and children, sisters or mother, can follow or accompany him, but only on the condition that they share his banishment, and cannot return to Europe. Children born to him in exile are illegitimate in the eye of the law, and technically, though not practically, are forbidden to bear their family name. They cannot leave Siberia while their father is under sentence; but this regulation is occasionally evaded by daughters’ marrying, and travelling under the name of their husbands.

Formerly St. Petersburg and Moscow were the points of departure for exiles on their way to Siberia, most of the convoys being made up at the latter city. Those from St. Petersburg generally passed through Moscow; but sometimes, when great haste was desired, they were sent by a shorter route, and reached the great road at Perm. At present the proper starting-point is at Nijne Novgorod, — the terminus of the railway, — unless the exiles happen to come from the eastern provinces, in which case they are sent to Kazan or Ekaterineburg. Distinctions have always been carefully made between political and criminal offenders. Men of noble birth were allowed to ride, and, while on the road, enjoyed certain privileges which were denied their inferiors. Sometimes, owing to the unusually large numbers going to Siberia, the facilities of transportation were unequal to the demand. It thus happened that individuals entitled to ride were compelled to go on foot, and occasionally, by mistake or the 'brutality of officials, a politique was placed among criminals. Persons of the highest rank were often treated with special deference, and went more like princes on pleasure-journeys than as men banished from their homes. When brave old Suwaroff, who covered the Russian name with glory, fell under the displeasure of his sovereign, and was ordered to Siberia, a luxurious coach with a guard of honor was assigned to his use. “No,” said the aged warrior, as he stepped from his door, and beheld the glittering equipage, “ Suwaroff goes not to parade, but to exile.” He then commanded a common wagon, like that in general use among the peasantry, and departed with none but his driver and the soldier who had him in charge.

Of late years the government has increased its facilities of transportation, and assigns vehicles to a much larger proportion than formerly of its travelling exiles. In my winter journey from Lake Baikal westward I met frequent convoys of prisoners, and think that not more than a fifth or a sixth of them were on foot. Those who rode were in the ordinary sleighs of the country, and appeared comfortably protected against the cold,— as much so as travellers in vehicles of the same class. A convoy contained from five to fifteen or twenty sleighs, and generally the first and last sleighs were occupied by the guards. If prisoners were on foot, their guards walked with them, and thus insured their charges against being pressed forward too rapidly. Women accompanying the exiles are always treated with consideration, especially if they happen to be young and pretty: gallantry to the tender sex is not wanting in the Russian breast, whatever some writers may have declared to the contrary. I remember a couple of old ladies accompanying a convoy that I happened to encounter in one of my daily halts. The officers and soldiers were as deferential and kind to them as though they were their own mothers, and attended them into and out of their sleighs with evident desire to make them comfortable. Each convoy of pedestrian prisoners was generally allowed from one to half a dozen vehicles to carry women, baggage, and such of the men as became footsore.

Along the entire line of the great road through Siberia, as well as on the side roads leading to the principal districts, there are stations where exiles are lodged during their nightly halts. These stations are from ten to twentyfive miles apart, and generally just outside the villages where post-horses are changed. They consist of one or more houses surrounded with high fences, containing gateways for men and carriages. Each station is in charge of a resident guard, whose room is near the gate ; while the space assigned to prisoners is farther from the place of egress. None of the stations are inviting in point of cleanliness, and the number of fleas which they can and do harbor is not easy to compute. An exile once told me that each station would average ten resident fleas to every lodger, without counting those that belong especially to the travellers, and are carried by them to their places of destination. The stations have theoretical conveniences for cooking, but these are sometimes more imaginary than real. The rations dealt out to the exiles consist of rye bread and cabbage soup, — the national diet of the Russian Empire.

The guards are responsible for the safety of the prisoners confided to them, and are equally culpable whether their charges are lost by accident or escape. Some years ago a Polish lady, on her way into exile, fell from a boat while descending a river, and barelyescaped drowning ; when she was rescued, the soldier wept for joy, and for some minutes was unable to speak. When his tears were dried, he said to the lady : “ I am responsible for you, and shall be severely punished if you are lost; I beg of you, for my sake, not to drown yourself, or fall into the river again.”

The rapidity of travel varies according to the character and offence of the prisoner. Distinguished offenders against the state are often sent forward,— in vehicles, of course,—with orders to make no halt except for food and change of horses until they have reached their journey’s end. In 1825 the exiled Decembrists were taken from St. Petersburg to Nerchinsk, on the head-waters of the Amoor, a distance of five thousand miles, in thirtyone days. A few years earlier, several prisoners were sent from Moscow to Kamchatka, nearly ten thousand miles away, and made no unnecessary stoppage on the entire route. Ordinary prisoners transported in vehicles are generally halted at the stations at night, but as they can sleep quite comfortably while on the road, the most of them prefer to make little delay, and finish their journey as soon as possible. Exiles have told me that they petitioned the officers conducting them not to remain over night at the stations, as by constantly travelling they avoided the necessity of lodging in badly ventilated and generally repulsive rooms. The officers were quite willing to grant their request, but sometimes the distances between different convoys forbade the infringement of the general rule. Parties on foot travel two days in succession, and then rest one day, — their day’s marches being from one station to the next. If the roads are good, the travel is no more fatiguing than the ordinary march of an army, unless the prisoners happen to wear chains or fetters. The pedestrian prisoners often ask to be excused from halting every third day, as they find the open air greatly preferable to the confinement of the station, and are naturally desirous of making an early end of their travelling life. The journey on foot from Moscow to the mines of Nerchinsk, where the worst criminals are generally sent, requires from ten to fifteen and even twenty months, according to the various contingencies of delay.

The Russian people, the Siberians especially, are very kind to prisoners ; when convoys are passing through villages and towns, the inhabitants give liberally of money and provisions, and never seem weary of bestowing charity, even though their means are limited. In each party of prisoners, whatever may be its size, there is one person to receive for all, the office being changed daily. The guards do not oppose the reception of alms, but, so far as I could observe, always appeared to encourage it. When I was in Irkutsk I was lodged in a house that fronted a prison on the other side of a public square ; I used frequently to see parties carrying water from the river to the prison, — each party consisting of two men bearing a large bucket upon a pole, and guarded by two soldiers. One of the twain generally doffed his hat to every person they passed, and solicited “ charity to the unfortunate.” When anybody approached them with the evident intention of being benevolent, the guards invariably stopped, to afford opportunity for almsgiving. To satisfy myself, I tried the experiment repeatedly, and always found the soldiers halting as soon as I placed my hand to my pocket. One prisoner received the gift, but both returned thanks, and called for blessings on the head of the giver.

The Russians never apply the name of “prisoner” or “exile ” to a banished individual, except in conversation in other languages than their own. The Siberian people invariably call the exiles “ unfortunates ” ; in official documents and verbal communications they are classed as “involuntary emigrants.”

The treatment of an exile varies according to the crime proven or alleged against him, and for which he has received sentence in Russia, d ne severest penalty is perpetual banishment, with twenty years’ compulsory labor in mines. Hard labor was formerly assigned for life ; at present, if a man survives it twenty years, he is then allowed to register himself as a resident of a specified district, and is not liable to be called upon for further service. Below this highest penalty there are sentences to compulsory labor for different terms, — all the way from one year upwards. The exiles condemned to long terms of servitude are generally sent to the district of Nerchinsk beyond Lake Baikal; technically they are required to labor underground, but practically they are employed on or below the surface, just as their superintendents may direct. Formerly all convicts sentenced to labor for life had their nostrils slit, and were branded on the forehead ; this practice was abandoned nearly twenty years ago, so that few persons thus mutilated are now seen. A great many prisoners are kept in chains, which they wear day and night, whether working or lying idle ; I could never hear the clanking of chains without a shudder, and, according to my observation, the Russians did not consider it a cheerful sound. By regulation the weight of the chain must not exceed five pounds, and the links are not less than a certain specified number. Some convicts wear chains, and others do not; the same is the case among the politiques: I was unable to learn where and why the line of fettering or non-fettering was drawn. None of the pedestrian exiles I met on the road were in chains, and I was told that the worst offenders are allowed full use of their limbs while travelling.

The exiles sentenced to forced labor (Katorga) are ordinarily but a small proportion— five or ten per cent — of the whole number; possibly the ratio is larger now than under previous emperors, as the emancipation of the serfs has done away with banishment “by the will of the master.” The lowest sentence now given is that of simple deportation, the exile having full liberty to go where he chooses, unless it be out of the country. He may live in any province or district, engage in whatever honest business he finds profitable and agreeable, and have pretty much his own way in everything. The prohibition to return is for a specified time, and, as it gives him the range of a country larger than the United States, he has plenty of room for stretching his limbs. Less happy are the exiles confined to specified provinces, districts, towns, or villages, and required to report to the police at stated intervals. Some of them must report daily, others every third day, others once a week, and so on through an increasing scale of time ; between the intervals of reporting they can absent themselves from home either with or without special permission. Some of the simple détenus can engage in any business they fancy, while others are restricted as to their employments. Many exiles are condemned to be colonists, generally in the northern parts of Siberia; they are furnished with the means for building houses, and receive allotments of land to clear and cultivate. They can employ their surplus time in hunting, fishing, or any other occupation not incompatible with the life of a backwoodsman. It is not an agreeable fate to be sentenced to become a colonist in Siberia, especially if one has been tenderly reared, and knows nothing of manual labor until the time of his banishment.

Many exiles are “ drafted into the army,” and assigned to duty as common soldiers. They receive soldiers’ pay and rations, and have the possibility of promotion, if their conduct is meritorious. They are generally assigned to regiments on the frontier of the Kirghese country, or in Circassia, where the opportunities for desertion and escape are very slight. The regulations forbid more than a certain proportion of such men in each regiment, and these are always well distributed among the faithful. In some instances revolts have occurred among the drafted men, but I never heard that they were successful. Desertions are occasional ; but as the deserters generally flee to the countries beyond the border, they find, when too late, that they have exchanged their frying-pan for a very hot fire. The Kirghese, Turcomans, and other barbarous Asiatics, have an unpleasant habit of making slaves of stray foreigners who enter their country without proper authority; to prevent escape, they insert a horse-hair into a small incision in a prisoner’s heel, and cripple him for life. He is thus secured against walking away, and they take good care that he does ,not have access to a horse.

The exiles in Asiatic Russia are far Jess numerous than the descendants of exiles, who form a considerable proportion of the population. Eastern Siberia is mainly peopled by involuntary emigrants, and their second and third generations ; while Western Siberia is very largely so. The ordinary deportation across the Ural Mountains is about ten thousand a year, nearly all of them being offenders against the civil laws. Each revolt in Poland makes a large number of exiles, who are not counted in the regular supply. From the revolution of 1863 twenty-four thousand Poles were banished beyond the Urals, — ten thousand being sent to Eastern Siberia, and the balance to the Western Provinces. Many of these men were liberated by the ukase of 1867, and others have been allowed to transfer their banishment to countries outside of Russia. Quite recently I met in New York a young Pole who went to Siberia in 1865, and was permitted in the following year to exchange that country for America. It is hardly necessary to say that he promptly embraced the opportunity, and does not regret doing so.

Exiles are found in so many occupations in Siberia, that it would be hard to mention anything in which they are not engaged, unless it be holding high official position. Many subordinate offices are filled by them, and I believe they do their duty quite as well as the average of the rest of mankind. It was not unusual in my journey to find them in charge of post-stations, and I was told that many exiles were in service as government clerks, messengers, and employees of various grades. During a month’s stay at Irkutsk, the capital of Eastern Siberia, I encountered a fair number of men I knew to be exiles, and probably a great many more of the same class whose condition was not mentioned to me. The clerk of the principal hotel was an exile, and so was one of the waiters ; an officer who dined there with me said the clerk was his schoolmate, and graduated in his class. A merchant, of whom I used to buy my cigarettes, was an involuntary emigrant; and I believe that the man who fabricatel them, and whose shop was near my lodgings, journeyed to Siberia against his will. My fur clothing was made by an exiled tailor; my boots were repaired by a banished cobbler, and my morning beefsteak and potatoes were prepared by a cook who left St. Petersburg with the aid of the police. A gentleman of my acquaintance frequently placed his carriage at my service, and with it a driver who pleased me with his skill and dash. One night this driver was a little intoxicated, and amused me and a friend at my side by his somewhat reckless driving. We commented in French upon his condition, and laughed a little at the situation ; when he set us down at our door, he protested that he was perfectly sober, and hoped we would not say to his master what we had talked between ourselves. He happened to be an exile from St. Petersburg, where he had been coachman to a French family, and learned something of the French language.

I met at Irkutsk a Polish gentleman who was exiled for taking part in the revolution of 1863; he was formerly connected with the University at Warsaw, spoke French with ease and correctness, and, at the time I saw him, was in charge of the Museum of the Siberian Geographical Society. As a taxidermist, he possessed unusual skill, and was then engaged in making a collection of Siberian birds. Two Polish physicians were practising at Irkutsk ; one of them was in high repute, and I was told that his services were more in demand than those of any Russian competitor in the city.

I reached the Trans-Baikal district of Siberia too late in the season to visit the mines where convicts are employed, and am therefore unable to speak of their condition from personal observation. I passed through the town of Nerchinsk, which lies two hundred miles north of Nerchinsk Zavod, the centre of the mining works of that region. English and German travellers who have visited the Zavod do not agree as to the treatment of the prisoners,— one averring that he found many evidences of cruelty on the part of keepers, and another declaring that everything appeared satisfactory. I presume the management had changed between the visits of these gentlemen, — a harsh and unpifying keeper having made way for a lenient one. From all I could learn, I infer that the truthful history of the Nerchinsk mines would contain many accounts of oppression on the part of unscrupulous managers, who cared less for the sufferings of prisoners than for the gold to be wrung from their labor. The only persons from whom I obtained Information of the present condition of the mines were interested parties, and their testimony would go for nothing in a court of law. As the present Governor-General of Eastern Siberia is a man of tender heart, and very earnest in promoting the comfort of his subjects, I conclude that the prisoners in the mines are treated no worse than the average of hard-labor convicts elsewhere. I saw and heard many evidences of his enlightened and generous spirit, and believe he would not permit the oppression of unfortunates, or confide them to men less merciful than himself.

Most of the exiles condemned to be colonists are sent to the provinces of Yakutsk and Yeneseisk, where they are little likely to be seen by strangers. I saw very few of those now colonizing Siberia by involuntary emigration, not enough to enable me to form an opinion from my own knowledge. I think, however, that my comment and conclusion regarding the convicts in the mines will apply very fairly to this other class of laborers.

We come now to the exiles, pure and simple. If a man can forget that he is deprived of liberty, he is not under ordinary circumstances very badly off in Siberia. He leads a more independent life — unless under the special eye of the police — than in European Russia, and has a better prospect of wealth and social advancement. If a laboring man, he can generally be more certain of employment than in the region whence he came, and, except in times of special scarcity, can purchase food quite as cheaply as where the population is more dense. Everybody around him is oblivious of the fault that led to his exile, and he is afforded full opportunity for reformation. If a farmer, he cultivates his land, sells his surplus crops, and sits in his own house, with no fear that he will be disturbed for past offences. If he brought no family with him, he is permitted and encouraged to marry, though not required to do so. The authorities know very well that he who has wife and children is more a fixture in the country than one who has not; and hence their readiness to permit an exile to take his family to Siberia, and their encouragement for him to commit matrimony if he goes there unmarried.

Exiles to Siberia, especially those who marry there, and are not cursed by fortune, frequently become as much attached to the country as the men who visit California or the West intending to stay but a few years, and never finding a suitable time to return. Many exiles remain in Siberia after their terms of banishment are ended, especially if they have been long in the country, and hesitate to return to Russia and find themselves forgotten. Some men consider their banishment a piece of good - fortune, as it enabled them to accomplish what they never could have done in the old country. Especially is this the case among the serfs, banished “at the will of their masters.” Every exiled serf became a free peasant as soon as he entered Siberia, and no law existed whereby he could be re-enslaved. His children were free, and enjoyed a condition far superior to that of the serf, under the system prevalent before 1859. Many descendants of exiles have become wealthy through gold-mining, commerce, and agriculture, and occupy high civil positions. I know a merchant whose fortune is counted by millions, and who is famous through Siberia for his enterprise and generosity ; he is the son of an exiled serf, and has risen by his own ability. Since I left Siberia, I learn with pleasure that the Emperor has honored him with a decoration,—the boon so priceless to every Russian heart. Many prominent merchants and proprietary miners were mentioned to me as examples of the prosperity of the second and third generations from banished men. I was told of a wealthy gold-miner, whose evening of life is cheered by an ample fortune and two well-educated children. Forty years ago his master gave him a start in life by capriciously sending him to Siberia; bad the man remained in Europe, the chances are more than even that he would have died unnoticed and unknown.

Some of the political exiles — Poles and Russians —who remain voluntarily in Siberia say they were drawn unwillingly into the acts that caused their banishment, and may suffer again in the same way if they go home. In Siberia they arc removed from all disturbing influences, while at home they are at the mercy of uneasy revolutionists, and are often led to commit acts they do not really approve. All the Poles now in Asiatic Russia, from the insurrection of 1831, are at liberty to return ; I was told that less than half the prisoners liberated by the pardon ukase at the coronation of Alexander II. availed themselves of its privileges. Long absence from their old homes, and attachment to the new, caused them to give preference to the latter.

“ Are you endeavoring to prove,” some one may ask, “that exile is desirable, and the intended punishment really a benefit to the offender ?” Not a bit of it; don't understand me to say anything of the kind. I only wish to show that banishment to Siberia is less terrible than generally supposed. While some choose to remain in that country when their terms of exile are ended, a great many others embrace the earliest opportunity to quit it, and are careful not to risk going there again. It depends very much upon a man’s association, fortune, and the treatment he receives, whether he will think well or ill of any place that he visits or resides in. While Siberia is cheerless, desolate, and every way disagreeable to one man, it is fertile, prosperous, and happy in theopinion of another; every country in the world could produce witnesses to testify in all sincerity that it was the best — or the worst —inhabited by mankind.

A traveller in Northern Asia hears frequent mention of the unfortunates of the 14th of December, and their influence upon the country. The attempted revolution on that memorable day in 1825 was caused by a variety of evils, some of them real, and others imaginary. In the early part of the present century Russia was by no means happy. The Emperor Paul, called to the throne at the death of Catharine II., displayed anything but ability; what his mother had done for the country he was inclined to undo, regardless of the results, He displayed a tyrannical disposition, and issued many orders as arbitrary as they were unjust; not content with these, he put forth manifestoes of a whimsical character, one of which was directed against round hats, and another against shoe-strings. The glaring colors now used upon bridges, sentry-boxes, and other imperial property were of his selection, and so numerous were his eccentricities that he was declared of unsound mind. In March, 1801, he was smothered in the palace he had just completed. It is said that, within an hour after the fact of his death was known, round hats appeared on the streets in considerable numbers.

Alexander I. endeavored to repair some of the evils of his father’s reign. He recalled many exiles from Siberia, abolished the secret inquisition, and restored many rights that had been taken from the people. In the wars with France he displayed his greatest abilities, and, after the general peace, devoted himself to inspecting and developing the resources of the country. He was the first, and thus far the only, Emperor of Russia to cross the Ural Mountains and visit the mines of that region, and his death occurred during a tour in the southern provinces of the empire. Some of his reforms were based upon the principles of other European governments, which he endeavored to study. It is related that, on his return from England, he told his council that the best thing he saw there was the opposition in Parliament. He innocently thought it a part of the government machinery, and regretted it could not be introduced in Russia.

Constantine, the eldest brother of Alexander I., had relinquished his right to the crown, thus breaking the regular succession. From the time of Paul, a revolutionary party existed in Russia, and once, at least, it plotted Alexander’s assassination. There was an interregnum of three weeks between the death of Alexander and the assumption of power by his second brother, Nicholas ; the change of succession strengthened the revolutionists, and they employed the interregnum to organize a conspiracy for seizing the government. The conspiracy was widespread, and included many able men ; the army was seriously implicated, particularly the regiments nearest the person of Nicholas. The revolutionists desired a constitutional government, but they did not consider it prudent to intrust their secret to the rank and file, who supposed they were to fight for Constantine, and the regular succession to the throne. The rallying cry “ ConstituTIA ” was explained to the soldiers as the name of Constantine’s wife.

Nicholas learned of the conspiracy, the day before his accession. The imperial guard was changed during the night, and replaced by a battalion from Finland. On receiving intelligence of the assembling of the insurgents, Nicholas called his wife to the chapel of the palace, where he spent a few moments in prayer; then taking his son, the present Emperor, he led him to the soldiers of the new guard, confided him to their protection, and departed for St. Isaac’s Square to suppress the revolt. The soldiers kept the boy till the Emperor’s return, and would not even surrender him to his tutor. The conspiracy was so extended that its organizers had every hope of success ; but whole regiments backed out at the last moment, and left only a forlorn hope to begin the struggle. Nicholas rode with his officers to St. Isaac’s Square and twice commanded the assembled insurgents to surrender. They refused, and were then saluted with “the last argument of kings.” A storm of grape-shot and a charge of cavalry, the latter, continued through many streets and lanes of St. Petersburg, ended the insurrection.

A long and searching investigation followed, disclosing all the ramifications of the plot ; the conspirators declared they were led to what they undertook by the unfortunate condition of the country, and the hope of improving it. Nicholas, concealed behind a screen, heard most of the testimony and confessions, and learned therefrom a very wholesome lesson. The end of the affair was the execution of five principal conspirators, and the banishment of many others to Siberia. Within six months from the day of the insurrection most of the banished men had reached their destination ; they were sent to different districts, some to labor in mines, and others to become colonists.

The Decembrists included some of the ablest men in Russia ; they were of the best families, and, though quite young, most of them were married or betrothed. By law they were considered dead, and their wives were theoretical widows ; to the credit of Russian women be it said, not one of these exiles’ wives availed herself of the privilege of staying in Russia and marrying again. I was told that every married Decembrist was followed by his wife, and some who were single were afterwards joined by their mothers and sisters.

The sentence to hard labor in the mines was not rigorously carried out in the case of these unfortunates. For two years the letter of the law was enforced, but at the end of that time a change of keepers operated greatly to the advantage of the prisoners. They were then employed at indoor work of different kinds, much of it being more nominal than real; and as time wore on and passion subsided, they were allowed to select residences in villages. Very soon they were permitted to goto the larger towns ; and, once there, those whose wives possessed property in their own right built themselves elegant houses, and took the position to which their abilities entitled them. They became the leaders in society, and their influence upon the Siberian people was highly beneficial. I repeatedly heard the present polish of manner and general intelligence among the native Siberians ascribed to the Decembrists and their families. General Korsackoff, the present Governor-General, told me that when he first went to serve in Siberia there was a ball one evening at the house of a high official. Observing a man who danced the Mazurka to perfection, he whispered to General Mouravieff, and asked the name of tire stranger. “That,” said Mouravieff, “is a revolutionist of 1825 ; he is one of the best men of society in Irkutsk.”

After their first few years of exile the Decembrists had little to complain of, except the prohibition to return to Europe; to men whose youth was passed amid the gayeties of the capitals, Siberian life was irksome, and they earnestly desired to abandon it. Year after year passed away, and on the twenty-fifth anniversary of their exile they looked for pardon, but were disappointed. Nicholas had no forgiving disposition, and those who plotted his overthrow were little likely to obtain favor, even though a quarter of a century had elapsed since their crime. It was not until the death of Nicholas and the coronation of Alexander II. that they were fully pardoned, restored to all their political rights, and permitted to go where they wished. But when pardon came it was less a boon than they expected; some of them did not wish to return to a society from which they had been absent thirty years, and where they could hardly expect to meet acquaintances. Others who were unmarried when they went to Siberia had become heads of families, and were thus fastened to the country ; all were so near the end of life, that the hardship of the journey would quite likely outweigh the pleasure of going home. Not more than half the Decembrists who were living at the time of Alexander’s coronation availed themselves of his permission to return to Europe.

The princes Troubetskoi and Volbonskoi hesitated for some time, but at length determined to return ; both died in Europe quite recently. Their departure was greatly regretted by many persons in Irkutsk, as their absence was a considerable loss to society. Both the princes and their wives paid great attention to educating their children, and fitting them for ultimate position in St. Petersburg society. One of the princes was not in complete harmony with his wife ; and I was told that the latter, with the children and servants, occupied the large and elegant mansion, while the prince lived in a small house in the court-yard. He had a farm near town, and used to sell the various products to his wife, who conducted her household as if she had no husband at all.

While in Irkutsk I saw one of the Decembrists, who had grown wealthy as a wine-merchant; another of these exiles was living in the city, but I did not meet him. Others were residing at various points in the governments of Irkutsk and Yeneseisk, but I believe the whole number of these unfortunates then in Siberia was less than a dozen. Forty-one years had brought them to the brink of the grave ; as I write these lines, I hear that one of their number has died since my journey, and another cannot long survive. Very soon the active spirits of that unhappy revolt will have passed away, but their memory will long be cherished in the hearts of their many Siberian friends.