A MERE neck of earth separates the Russian capital from the great inland sea of Ládoga, and through more than forty intervening versts of forest land, green and wavy with the trembling aspen, the birch, the alder, and the silver pine, the Neva moves majestically down its deep channel, by villages and clearings, past scattered communes and straggling huts, between sounding wood-yards and busy factories, till at last, gliding along the famed granite quays of the imperial city, it pours by five broad mouths and narrow outlets innumerable into the Gulf of Finland.
No Russian river has the beauty, the purity, the picturesqueness, which are the attributes of this northern watercourse ; yet to fully appreciate the nobleness of its aspect in the warm season, one must be familiar with its wintry appearance, and above all witness its vernal emancipation from the fetters of frost by ukase of the “ father of warmth,” the Slav Apollo, Dazh-Bog himself. For nearly six months a ringing highway for man and beast, the Neva grows unsafe for travel late in the month of April, and has usually resumed its freedom by the beginning of May; yet the opening of the attack on the crystalline mass precedes the moment of its melting by weeks. A month sometimes elapses before the solar rays have begun to sensibly thin the ice crust, and for a month of seeming defiance of the forces of renaissance droskies pursue their chosen paths over the congealed river, pedestrians continue to traverse it in chair slides or on foot, the heavy wagons of merchant and trader go rumbling over in the same endless procession, and the Samoyeds, those gypsies of the north, cling with their reindeers to the camping ground of their winter exile on the frozen stream, which is soon to bear them back to their homes in the Arctic circle.
The metamorphosis then follows with a swiftness truly Russian. The last screws and clasps of molecular cohesion are drawn in a single night ; the thickest ice-plate then opens to its solar enemy a thousand lines of march. In the morning, with firm, quick steps, you may safely traverse the Neva, still ice-covered ; at noon, your return is barred by a clear, swelling stream, whose whilom bonds have turned to dancing liquid facets, from which the sun laughs back its light and its triumph. True, the ice is not yet wholly gone, but it meets the eye henceforth purely as a spectacle, — the offering not of a river, but of a lake. This new ice is the product of more northern waters, the snowy blocks and bergs of Ládoga, glittering débris of an unequal combat that every spring renews. For some days after the breakup along the Neva, in the interval between the beginning of open and that of safe navigation, the river channel is thronged with broken strata, cleft blocks, truncated pillars, shivered columns ; with spires and spears and shafts ; nay, with all shapeful and shapeless masses, that half undergo and half escape degelation in the annual return of heat to the far north. Slowly the rank and file of this shining host glide past, driving back to shelter a fleet of venturesome ferryboats, battering the bridge piers with dangerous force and frequency, scraping the quays with a sonorous attrition, and emitting throughout the duration of their passage a strange rustling, crunching sound. By day striking, by night solemn and weird, this scene passes in its turn, and for six months the Neva presents the aspect which I have described in the opening paragraph.
I recall these preliminaries of a Neva spring all the more vividly because I once awaited their close in an attitude that bordered too closely on impatience not to imprint them somewhat deeply on my mind. Amongst the fellow-passengers of my voyage to Russia was an English resident of Schlüsselburg, whose invitation to make his house my home for the summer, and to come " as early as possible,” had reached me some weeks before the time of open navigation. It was, therefore, with a pleasurable eagerness, increased not a little by unavoidable moments of delay, that I at last found myself on the route to the “ Key City.”
The trip to Schlüsselburg, in prosaic language simply four hours’ steaming in a paddle-boat, went far to transcend all my previous experiences of travel on Russian rivers. The steamer may be small, but its occupants are sociable and, to say the least, interesting. Military officers on their way to the fort at the head of the Neva; officials proceeding to the headquarters of some country mayor ; professional men bound for their rural rendezvous ; a Chinaman from the embassy out for an airing; a Kirghiz soldier gathering holiday impressions ; some university students, a governess, and half a dozen peasants, — these form one’s fellow-travelers in the earlier trips of the season “ up-stream.” It is these who join each other quite democratically in the cabin, and it is these who, amid the popping of champagne corks and the more expensive flow of Bass’s pale ale, — for to be English on the Neva is vastly more expensive than to be merely cosmopolitan, — tell each other many a story of the times in Russia when the Germans were rarer, and the rouble stood higher in European estimation, and native commerce rested on a stabler footing.
In the judgment of a few, the time is spent more pleasantly on deck. In an hour the city has disappeared ; the churches have glided past, one by one. The noise of the wood-yards is no longer distracting, and the river banks alone present their changing panorama of light and shade. The great northern forest zone has some of its finest battalions along the line of the Neva, so that the spectacle offered to the eye is never entirely treeless. The green of leaves and grass, moreover, is here brighter than the hue characteristic of most vegetation in Russia. Yet there is monotony, if only in the continual presentation of the same sequences. Ploughed glebe follows woodland, and forest again takes the place of the long patches of newly turned soil. The flash of an axe in a clearing reminds one of human life, or far off the eye just glimpses the hut of some peasant agriculturist, a mere smudge of brown on a landscape of ochre. These cabins of the Russian north are little more than so many roofs, set at an acute angle in order to provide for the descent of snow during the long winter.
For nearly half the distance to Schlüsselburg the line of the Neva points to the southeast, its course thereafter being generally northeast. Maps give the river an almost direct progress through each of the angles described, yet in detail the stream is a perplexing zigzag, forcing a new deviation of the steamer to right or left every few moments. Frequent stoppages, moreover, are necessary. The banks are dotted with landing-places. These are mostly too insignificant to be easily visible from the steamer, yet the captain never misses one of them, and knows, it is said, how to steer for a plank miles away. Every few hundred yards the steamer is headed for shore, and almost before one can say there is a pier the boat has been temporarily moored to a wooden stage, for the reception or discharge of passengers. Transfers of this kind are often numerous, but the movement thus provided for is due to no activity, commercial or otherwise, of the peasant population. The pleasantest spots along the Schlüsselburg route have been selected for the dachi, or country houses of well-to-do and wealthy residents of St. Petersburg, who pass the whole of the summer in these places of relaxation. The return of warm weather is thus the signal for a prompt exodus from the dust and heat of the capital, and it is the process of “going into dacha” that furnishes the Neva steamers with their passenger traffic in spring and summer.
Whole families pass in this way four months of every year in an environment of delightful contrast with city surroundings. The classes possessing leisure do not return to the capital until the close of the season; the man of moderate resources, who contrives to spend the evening with his family in dacha after transaction of his day’s business in St. Petersburg, takes the Neva steamer twice a day. The landing-place thus presents a busy as well as an interesting scene. Parties of ladies, wearing the lightest summer costume, trip down from their rural retreats to await the arrival of relative or friend ; in lonelier spots some dusky village beauty, airily enveloped in robe of purest white, stands at the head of the pier to watch the passage of the boat, to exchange a word with the captain, perchance to flash upon him from beneath her broad-brimmed hat a coquettish glance, brighter than any which the sun has for the toiler in northern waters.
The Neva broadens as we go northward ; the wooded banks grow continually in picturesqueness ; and by the frequent intrusion of tongues of land, the stream assumes in places the aspect of a series of elongated lakes joined together at their narrowing ends. Higher still, far-extending vistas begin to open up, until the changing contour of both shores foretells the early close of our trip. Finally, to the eye on the alert, bursts into sight the bright red roof of Schlüsselburg factory; near by arises the glittering spear of a church ; in the rear glisten the broad and shining waters of Ládoga.
Ten minutes after landing I had met my English friend, and was being driven with him through the streets of a town to whose complex civilization three races have made their contributions. Here the Chud fisherman drew his daily nutriment from the waters ; hither came the Novgorod merchant, a rover, if not a “ beggar,” of the sea ; in this spot the Swedes, under King Magnus, made the fame and gained the victory of Nöteborg. It was at the same meeting of lake and river that the Russians, twice triumphant, like the Scandinavians, conquered last and ever after held Schlüsselburg by the name which the place received from Peter in 1702. To-day, Finnish in its fluvial industries, Swedish in its street commerce and petty shop-keeping, prevailingly Russian in its official artisan-agricultural elements, the Key City seems to hover doubtfully, as if in an attitude of impending selection, between the aspect of a town left unfinished by its builders and that of an old urban centre half devastated by time. The place has a sluggish life in summer, and were it not for the ubiquity of wood might recall one of those sleepy old towns of the classic German south. Alas ! the warmer nations live in the earth, if above ground ; for they scoop out of stone or clay the shells into which they creep. The wiser races of the north and east take the tree, their old habitation, and having split it deftly, so expand and artistically treat the unfolding layers that the once solid trunk is at last wide and hollow enough to surround them and shelter them alike from heat and cold.
I found the house of my friend in a picturesque and somewhat isolated spot in the suburbs, partially surrounded by a narrow branch of the Neva, shaded by a grove of trees, yet permitting a view over both river and lake. Ivan Yakovlevich — for I shall apply to him the name by which he was known to his Russian acquaintances — had paid for the structure out of his own savings, and owned the plot of land on which it stood, as well as the stables and outhouses which formed part of his establishment. Holding an important and responsible position in one of the principal manufactories of Schlüsselburg, he belonged to that class of foreigners who, by their scientific knowledge and technical training, have amassed honorably won fortunes in presiding at the birth and watching over the childhood of Russian industry. Eighteen years’ exile from his native Manchester, which he left at the age of nineteen, found him indispensable to the processes in which he had gained such unquestionable distinction. Schlusselburg had seen companies succeed companies in the management of its great factory; Swedish directors had followed English,and Germans had ousted Swedes from the proprietorship : yet through all vicissitudes Ivan Yakovlevich had remained at the head of his department, yearly growing more and more necessary to his employers, reaping larger and larger rewards for the skill and time he ungrudgingly gave in their service.
My friend was a robust and active man, somewhat tall, of dark complexion, and rather dignified in his manners for one who bore about with him the repute of being the most popular foreigner in the Key City. He had acquired a complete mastery of Russian, and knew it so well as to be familiar not only with the literary tongue, but with the numerous varieties of dialect that from time to time smote his fastidious ear. That he could at once place himself on the level of the humblest of his acquaintances was partly due to his own simplicity of character, but it was in a still larger measure owing to the nature of his surroundings. For the factory workers, who formed the bulk of his society, were little more than temporarily metamorphosed agriculturists, — a few of them permanently in their industrial avocation the year round, the large majority a fluctuating band of peasant-Cyclopes, oscillating periodically between plough and furnace-fire, according as the need of work drew them to country or town.
What it must have been to spend eighteen years in the society of men like these, — simple, good-natured fellows, who were far too superstitious to be altogether bad, and much too fond of alcohol to be monotonously virtuous; who stoutly held to their own explanations of natural phenomena, and cherished views concerning the activity of machines that were entirely metaphysical, — this my friend left me to consider for myself. Nor was the material for a judgment on the subject by any means wanting. Twice I heard “ the Englishman,” as new-comers were in the habit of calling him, urged to go to the aid of peasants said to have been “ bewitched ; ” numerous cases of credulity in regard to wounds and the methods of healing them came under my notice. One day, after all Schlüsselburg seemed to have surged past, noisy, quarrelsome, and not a little intoxicated, amid the waving of banners and the beating of drums, I was informed that the church dignitaries had been holding one of their annual festivals.
Yet not all the habits of the Schlüsselburg peasant-artisan are reprehensible. Amidst a pronounced astigmatism, both civil and ecclesiastical, in matters affecting the common weal, I had the satisfaction of noting in these hundreds of untutored laborers a care for their own economical welfare, as spontaneous as it was evidently deep-seated, that would do credit to the most intellectual and trained body of socialists now to be found in any part of the world. The workingmen of the Key City are united in arteli, or industrial guilds, the officers of which contribute to the well-being of their members in multifarious ways. The domestic activity of this urban commune is often the most valued of its functions. Each artisan contributes a sum for kitchen expenses ; the officials purchase food at wholesale prices ; members take turns in cooking; and the artel has its “ collective ” nutriment three times a day.
So efficiently and economically, in fact, are these regulations carried to their conclusion that the participating workman finds his monthly expenses for food not substantially in excess of the amount needed to support the West European laborer during a single week. It is true that much kasha, a sort of oatmeal or buckwheat porridge, is supplied in the artel, to say nothing of cabbage soup and other generically Russian dishes, yet to these is always added a plentiful allowance of good meat. The communal arrangement usually extends to the provision of lodgings ; when practicable, each guild has its own building, in which are to be found a dining-hall and dormitories. Sleeping accommodation for their workmen is often supplied by the proprietors of the larger factories in Russia. In the small towns and country districts the members of an artel must content themselves with hired quarters in the public caravansary or the farm-house.
It is a noteworthy circumstance that outside St. Petersburg, in the population of which nearly all European nationalities are represented, no English colony has ever established itself save at Schlüsselburg. About sixty families of simple, industrious English work-people occupy a plot of land on the outskirts of the town, and are largely engaged in the technical industries of the place. Most of them came to Russia early in life, and have accumulated possessions which will be handed down to their successors. A few of these Britons were sent out by English firms, under an agreement which binds them to several years of service. All reached the dominions of the Tsar lamentably but naturally ignorant of Russian, which, owing to their neglect of systematic study, they fail to speak passably even after years of effort. I had often read that the English are the worst linguists in the world, yet I never knew the meaning of the phrase until I saw these, my poor countrymen and countrywomen, struggling painfully, sometimes ludicrously, but always patiently and courageously, with the mysteries of Russian grammar.
A more practical success awaited this colony of uncosmopolitan British than any which it could win in the field of linguistics. Its neat dwellings had for years offered a contrast with native habitations, not unlike that which smiling oases of German civilization oppose to the deserts of Slav neglect and disorder in the Russian west. The English Club at Schlüsselburg is already growing old to fame; its assembly, lecture, and billiard rooms are not discreditable to the pride with which they are shown to visitors. Strolling into these rooms, one evening, I witnessed the presentation to certain active members of the club of several pieces of silver ware, by a deputation from St. Petersburg, for “services in extinguishing fires ” ! So far as conflagrations were concerned, a new era had evidently dawned for the Key City. Under the old system of carting water in barrels to the flaming structure, a fire meant the burning down of a whole quarter, the destruction of hundreds of domiciles. The English brigade, like Molière’s physician, had changed all that. It had charged up with a brandnew fire-engine, lent by the proprietors of the factory, scattering the ancient bucket battalion to right and to left; it had drawn the Neva to its aid through bright new hose for an astonishing distance; it had sent into the flames, instead of the stout town constable, a dozen disciplined and stalwart forms, dressed like Scythians, and wearing helmets and belts ; it bad wielded pump, nozzle, and hatchet with such magical efficiency that the fire suddenly went out, to the astonishment of all artisan and agricultural Schlüsselburg. Indeed, such became the renown of the “ English conjurers,” as some of the peasants and old women called them, that it soon spread to certain interested insurance companies in the capital, who took the means I have described of acknowledging a substantial decrease in their losses by fire.
I saw little of individual members of the club, but I had an agreeable abundance of the society of Ivan Yakovlevich. We soon fell into the habit of spending our mornings in a somewhat rambling way, sallying forth without plan, and leaving our course to be suggested by the sights or events of the route. One stroll of this kind, I remember, took us some distance along the high bank of the Ládoga, within a short distance of one of the canals which unite Schlüsselburg with the town of Novaya Ládoga. Turning our backs to the Key City, we saw in a grassy hollow near the lake a group of boatmen and burlaki standing around a tripod, from which a large caldron was suspended over a newly lit fire. In this spot, or hard by, the boat population had gathered from far and near for its simple breakfast of Russian kasha. On the canal itself floated lazily downwards towards the outlet half a dozen timber-laden barges. In each of them a gray-beard had been left to guard against dead-lock or collision, — a service which he performed by means of a pole, used helm-fashion, at least forty feet in length.
We continued our course until the sun had risen high in the heavens and the day had become oppressively warm. Reaching a rocky shelter, we threw ourselves, as by a common impulse, upon the green bottom, gaining an outlook thence over the surface of the lake as far as its dim water line, amid a silence deep as death. It was in this spot that my friend told me the story of his life at Schlüsselburg. For fourteen years of his voluntary exile he had truly known what it is to be “ buried alive.’ It was a mere accident that completed his existence, and by completing it made it tolerable. He recalled to me in some detail the winter day he and a few friends once spent in the woods hunting a dangerous Bruin, whose depredations had alarmed the people of the environs. On the return of the party triumphant, its members were invited to a repast at the residence of an official whom I shall call the mayor. It was this single night, spent under the roof of the newly appointed Ulrik Nikolaevich, that quite changed the current of my friend’s lonely existence ; directed it, in fact, into warmer, calmer, more hopeful channels. And it was for this night, at least, that sleep came not to Ivan Yakovlevich, for it was banished by the bright eyes of the burgomaster’s daughter.
Four years had hastened by since their quiet wedding, and ray friend had lived to hear the paternal appellation conferred upon him by two healthy boys, one of whom was already old enough to call “father” in English, Swedish, and Russian. For mother the lads turned to a woman of the true Scandinavian type, of medium stature, active in her movements, of untiring energy. Lotta Ulrikovna was, nevertheless, something more than a model of industrious domesticity. Her personality exhaled a charm to which few who came within the sphere of its influence could long remain insensible. In her cheek was the light rosy hue of the northern face, that felicitous mimicry of the faint red of sunrise seen through frosty air. Her steel-blue eyes had that slow motion and steady gaze that are amongst the surest marks of character and intellectuality. But she was still more remarkable in the mild equableness of her temper, in her rare grace of manner, above all in the unconscious simplicity that impressed its stamp upon everything she said or did. She spoke three languages fluently, and her Russian was the most mellifluous I ever heard; hearing it,and knowing the ordinary native bourgeois speech, one would be reminded straightway of the difference between the splashing sound of South German and the clear-ringing tongue of Hanover. Lotta had received her education in Sweden and Germany, but her social triumphs were won wholly on Russian soil. Welcomed back from western Europe with open arms, she had for years done her best to repay to naive Schlüsselburg the glory with which it persisted in investing her ; and had not her new domestic preoccupation justified a change of attitude, she might have gone on discharging with her old success the unwritten duties of a position in which neither private vanity nor public opinion had ever essayed to provide her with a rival. Her mother had been long dead; upon her father she lavished a particular affection, paying him attentions that not even the sternest business exigencies of his official rank could adequately regulate.
Among the pleasantest of my experiences in Schlüsselburg were the evenings spent at the residence of this Swedish mayor of a Russian city, especially the half hour’s stroll which always preceded our arrival at that hospitable mansion. The party made up on these occasions usually included Lotta’s married sister, who came attired in one of those Scandinavian costumes worn in the high north. Lotta herself appeared in her favorite Little-Russian dress, an artistic mingling of light blue and tender rose, four or five strings of lustrous pearl beads pendent from the neck, an archlike head-piece crowning the brow with diamond flashes. Otherwise bare-headed and quite unmantled, the women led our little procession, in the fashion of the place, Lotta looking and moving every inch a queen. The first part of our walk took in the single avenue of the single garden which ministers to the recreation of the inhabitants of the Key City, a place in which all Schlüsselburg is said to meet nightly for the exchange of gossip. Beyond this alley of a thousand pauses lay paths through the growing crops ; farther still, the route descended to the river at a point where a boat and a ferry-man awaited our arrival ; across the waters came glimpses of a country-house half hidden by trees.
The mayor’s wife lay in the Swedish burying place, within sound of the plashing Neva. Since her death Ulrik Nikolaevich had clung unflinchingly to his bachelorhood. Nor, lonely as his life had become, had any of the old cheerfulness deserted him. When I met him he was still alert and robust, though almost wholly gray with advancing years. A perpetual holiday complacency expressed itself in his manner, and was the only warning his leisure gave of the zeal he displayed as a story-teller. Full of the reminiscences of a military career, — for the old man had seen service in the army of the Tsar, — he could talk for hours without, apparent effort, and was listened to as an authority even by the book-trained officers of Schlüsselburg garrison. Sociable as a companion, tireless as an entertainer, he was immoderately generous in his hospitality, and had long held, expensive as was the luxury, a place of honor in the records of the peripatetic poor.
Our own visits to the mayor formed distinct epochs in the annals of this quiet habitation on the right bank of the Neva. I say this, not because the mayor’s housekeeper had standing instructions to regale us on our arrival with every available variety from her half Swedish, half Russian cuisine, or because that clever woman never failed to help us to edibles that, as well in their quantity as in their variety, bore a tantalizing relation to the finiteness of human appetite. The hospitality of Ulrik Nikolaevich was not to be measured by the resources of his larder, nor were his social relationships determined by the rank or wealth of the men and women to whom they did honor. His friendships strongly resembled the affinities of ultimate atoms in chemistry, since self-fitness, rather than preparation in others, was their determining condition. Above all, the mayor loved to share his visitors with his friends. Hence the evenings spent under his roof brought to the participants intercourse of the widest social range.
A veritable panorama of Neva life it was that floated so often through those Swedish parlors, with their quaintly carved ceilings and tiled chimney-pieces ; and when I look back, trying to recall something tangible, characteristic, impressive, from " those Attic suppers and those vanished men,” I soon begin to glimpse the outlines of a well-known figure, as it slowly disentangles itself from the mist of time, and at last stands out in bold and clear relief, as if some magician had called it forth from the under-world of the mind. Tor Agnok would easily have passed for a Chud giant, had he lived at the beginning of the Slav incursion into Ingria. A Finn of the purest blood, he belonged to the Tavast stock of blue-eyed fatalists, towered nearly a foot and a half above the men of his own race, and had a brachycephalic head that would have delighted an anthropologist. Agnok had followed the business of pilot from his earliest boyhood, and belonged to that mysterious race of men whom Baltic skippers describe as climbing up the sides of incoming steamers outside Cronstadt at times of dead calm, and when no pilot boat or craft of any kind is in sight. It is the Finnish pilots, moreover, who seem to know every language spoken on the seas. I have heard them converse with foreigners in French, English, German, Dutch, Flemish, Italian, Spanish, and New Greek, and do this almost as fluently as if they had played with their ship acquaintances in the same village, and been taught in the same school.
Finding himself, one day, a capitalist, Agnok had relinquished piloting, invested a portion of his funds in the carrying trade, and built himself a comfortable residence on the outskirts of Schlüsselburg. At times his barges were to be seen on lake, river, and canal; it was only when they were absent in the Lower Neva that Agnok could spend his evenings with the mayor. Nor did he shake hands with his friend purely for the satisfaction of a social instinct. This whilom pilot, by much reading in Finnish and Swedish books, to say nothing of the scraps of knowledge picked up by him from ship’s captains concerning countries in the west, had become a politician, and loved nothing better than to run a friendly tilt with the mayor on the subject of affairs in the Grand Duchy. In the presence of many visitors his sense of social proprieties usually placed the giant Finn under a certain restraint, yet there were times when nothing could keep the pair silent on their favorite theme. One evening, which I distinctly recollect, it was easy to see that Agnok was stirred by thoughts and considerations of an important character, for his small eyes burned fitfully, rolling, meanwhile, from side to side, while the pipe which the mayor had handed to him went half the time, such was his excitement, unlit. Finally a moment came when Agnok could venture to query, —
“ Have you heard the news, Ulrik Nikolaevich ? Why,” continued the speaker, almost breathlessly, “in twelve months from now every candidate for an official position in Finland will be called upon to display a competent knowledge of both the Finnish and Swedish languages. Only think of that ! ” he went on, without pausing to note the effect of the information upon the mayor. “ Can you say now that our cause is a losing one ? Already our beautiful tongue is being taught to Swedish children, not only in schools, but in private families, and the time cannot be far off when its accents will be heard in Parliament itself. Have I not held, Ulrik, all along, that the Finns have a great future before them ? Who can doubt that in the government of this noble duchy of ours, — this grand possession which Russia has surrendered almost wholly to its two subject races, — Finnish blood and intellect shall, at no distant period, be admitted to an equal authority and repute with the blood and intellect of your own race ? ”
“ Truly, my dear Tor,” began the mayor’s comment, “ have the Finns a right royal future in store for them ! But it will come in its own time, — not a moment sooner. And look you, Agnok, it this new regulation does not do more harm than good, I shall be very much surprised. Don’t believe the duchy is going to become a Finnish province simply because young fellows applying for office are to know more languages than one. If you Finns have the pluck and the aspiration, remember that the culture, the wealth, ay, and the offices [here the speaker indulged in a rhetorical pause] belong to us Swedes. Only think of it, my dear Tor, what it is to have a national party and to be without caste ! The nobility of Finland is to-day nine tenths of it Swedish. Nothing, as you well know, comes nearer to ridiculing a Firm than to call him a nobleman. Take further the officials, the merchants, the bankers, of Finland, and where will you discover a drop of Finnish blood in the whole body of them ? Then think of the Swedish majority in the Diet and Senate, and proceed to ask yourself whether it is not dangerously easy to exaggerate the coming glory of the Suomen Maa.”
“ Quite true, brother Ulrik,” retorted the Finn, laying down his pipe, “ that the Swedes have the leisure, the position, the wealth. But the numbers, at least, are ours. Think you that 293,000 Scandinavians can forever rule the roast in a country where nearly two millions of Finns are at home ? The Russ himself would not tolerate a minority rule of such proportions as that. As to culture, we hold that, however much the superiority may seem to lie on your side, the aspiration after intellectual things is far more passionate in the Finnish than in the Swedish mind. You come, remember, of an old European race ; you inherit the methods and prejudices of centuries ; your intellects are modeled on the same general pattern as those of your ancestors. We Finns, on the other hand, old as we may be in the annals of the ethnologist, stand out fresh and young upon the page of history. To one of the mightiest empires of the world we have already contributed the steadying influence of our traditions, but most of all of our blood. Even you, the cold Swedes, marry our daughters, and many more of you talk what you call your native tongue with the accent which is given by your more successful efforts to pronounce our own. Our youth, moreover, are pressing to the schools with a zeal and eagerness which your own children do not even try to imitate. The minds of our adults are, meanwhile, being amply cared for. That we have given to literature the Kalevala is a mere drop in the bucket of our intellectual life. Already we have a national library ; already a Finnish press, worthy of the race and its aspirations, is scattering our literary publications broadcast. Yet it is not the triumph of one people over another that we are aiming at. Our purpose is higher and nobler. If we seem to oppose the Swedes, it is simply in order that we may be free from that attitude of superiority, that sense of subjection, which political causes have inflicted upon us for so many years. Give us the equality we deserve before the law and before society in the administration of this our common duchy, and it will be our effort to win over to sympathy and union with our own aspirations all that is best in the Swedish character. Let us inscribe on our banners the cry, ‘ Yksi kieli, yksi mieli! ’— ‘ One tongue, one mind ! ’ — and we can thenceforward go on together in the path of progress, presenting to both foreign and domestic aggressors an unbroken front of national consciousness that cannot be invaded with impunity.”
“ Bravo, bravo ! ” shouted a dozen listeners, who had gradually drawn near during the discussion, and ere the sound of their applause could die away it was generously taken up and prolonged by the mayor himself. Everybody knew how happy Ulrik Nikolaevich was when, by seasonable opposition, he had succeeded in procuring a forcible statement of a just and honorable cause; nor did any one acknowledge with greater readiness than Tor himself how shallow the mayor was as a Swedish partisan, and how grotesquely fictitious at bottom was the personal issue which the two men resuscitated from time to time, in pure love of summer-evening dialectics. The arguments represented a real controversy, but the men who used them were not surticiently narrow to mistake a racial for an individual attitude.
It was Lotta who drew us all that night from politics to music, and thereby made a further transition possible to Swedish literature. She sang the charming ballad by Nicander, beginning, —
In summer’s leafy hall,
You hear their kiss, it is so still, —
So still in Djupadal.”
Ulrik’s eyes filled, as he listened to this, for it was the composition his wife once best loved to hear ; yet it turned his thoughts into a new channel, and in a few moments he was telling us of the beauties of Swedish literature in general and of Swedish poetry in particular. It was on this occasion that I heard, for the first time, a fragment of the Frithiof Saga declaimed by a native Swede, for after a few turns of the room Ulrik began : —
“ Oh, Frithiof, Frithiof, shall we part thus ? Hast thou not a kindly glance for the friend of thy youth, — no hand more to extend to her, unhappy, whom thou once didst love ? Thinkest thou that I stand in a bed of roses and smilingly reject the happiness of my life, plucking from my breast, as if without pain, a hope which has grown up with my existence itself? All that I felt of joy had Frithiof for its name ; all that life has of great or noble assumed thy own features before mv eyes. Darken not this image for me; meet not the weak one with severity, when she offers that which is dearest to her in the whole earth’s round, that which will remain for her the dearest in the halls of Walhalla! This sacrifice, Frithiof, is already heavy enough ; at least it should deserve a world of consolation. I know that thou lovest me, — I have known it since dawn began within my soul; and the memory of thy Ingeborg shall follow thee yet for many a year, whithersoever thou goest.”
It was late when we broke up, and still later when each guest and visitor had reached the place from which he set out. My own return journey was performed latest of all, for, separating myself from the party at a point where the road ran near the left bank of the lake,
I spent an early hour in gazing upon the waters of Ladoga. A tenuated, ghostly moon had just appeared above the horizon, with her curved back bent towards the east and her ruddy reflection smouldering in the lake. A fresh, odorous breeze came from the newly turned furrow; the wide fields exhaled an early twitter or two, the first rhythmic beat of morning ; and the Neva, in its rippling march, chanted that high note which, to the Schlüsselburg peasant, tells of fine weather to come.
From the Key City northwards extends a body of water ten times greater than the Lake of Geneva. It yields a clear horizon line as far as the eye can follow it. and is as inexplicable to the native population as it is mysterious to travelers. Though altogether inclosed by land, people rightly call it a sea, for it has fabulous depths. Lashed by the north wind, its co-wrangler, it becomes the arena of great storms ; light-houses dot its shores, and havens sheltered by its banks offer their welcome retreat to mariners in distress. Its waters are the coldest known ; taken from the surface even in July, they blister the mouth. In midwinter, should the centre of the lake remain unfrozen, Ládoga fixes its great liquid eye upon heaven, in a stare so frigid that not even the sun can relax it. In midsummer, when its blue waters form a sky of their own, the lake turns to the same heaven with something of a smile. Yet in both supreme moments Ládoga is treacherous, cruel, and cold.
Opposite Schlüsselburg a round tower, rising a little way out of the lake, casts its shadow upon the wave night and day. Walls fifty feet in thickness support its convex roof ; a moat with lifted drawbridge separates it from Ládoga, and Ládoga cuts it off from the shore and the busy world that lies beyond. Centuries, again, divide its architecture from the buildings of to-day, but between the functions which it discharges and the spirit of modern Europe there stretches a wide and bottomless gulf.
In Schlüsselburg fortress the philosopher’s conceit of a world without time has been more than realized. Here Progress has quenched her torch ; here Civilization suspends her handless dial in prison, mad-house, and grave. Without, light has entered the darkest corners of the earth ; whole races have been emancipated ; nations of the Old and the New World have recovered their liberties and asserted their independence; the very brutes have come to he shielded from wrong by the sympathies which protect men. Within, the doors are ever open for new victims, and all the footsteps point one way.
In quite other fashion, too, has the structure been spared by the common sequences of time. A mediæval dungeon better preserved from the natural assaults of passing centuries would certainly be sought in vain. One better safeguarded against the prying curiosity of historians it would be still more difficult to discover. For its solitary annals have been written in the rock by human feet, and its nameless bones have found rest, not in the smiling Golgotha of some city penitentiary, but in the cold and pitiless bosom of a northern Malebolge, whose frozen waters the sun sometimes melts, but is powerless to warm.