The Russians and the War

“Russia the silent one, silent for twenty-five years and then silent for ten years more, is either speaking now, or is about to speak.”

Library of Congress


The Russian peasant soldier regards the enemy as vermin that must be destroyed. He has no doubt that he is clearing away something ugly and full of evil. He is fighting something pestilential, like the cholera or the plague.

The bodies of the Germans and the Austrians lay rotting on the fields of Poland this autumn and early winter, and infecting the air with odors. It was with difficulty that the Russian soldiers could be persuaded to bury them.

‘Bury these corpses,’ said a general to one of his servant soldiers.

‘No, your excellency,’ said the latter, ‘let them lie there like dogs; they are not fit to be buried in the good earth.’

When I told some soldiers of the sinking of the Emden and the capture of Von Müller, they could not understand our leniency toward the German admiral.

‘Such people ought to be destroyed directly they are caught,’ said one of the soldiers. ‘He ought to have been executed at once.’

In this spirit, of course, the peasant soldier goes forth to any of the Czar’s work; and whether it be war against Japan, or suppression of the Trans-Caucasian cutthroats in North Persia, or a pogrom of the Jews, he has much the same outlook. He is unswervingly loyal to the word of the Czar, or what is told him is the word of the Czar.

There has been no bandying of wit between German and Russian soldiers. For one thing the Germans do not understand Russian. For another, the Russian soldiers are carefully trained not to enter into any sort of converse of familiarity with their enemies. During the time of the revolutionary outburst in Russia it was indeed rather difficult for ordinary Russian civilians to joke or talk with Russian soldiers. One could, however, offer them cigarettes.

This necessarily adds value to the peasantry as reliable fighting material.

Then the religion of the peasant helps him to be brave. The Russian army on the offensive is something like an elemental destructive force. There is no hesitation about the Russians, little giving of quarter, little seeing of white flags, no malice, no lust, not much delight in cruelty, but on the other hand no squeamishness. The blood flowing does not turn the Russian sick; the sight of the dead does not make him pale. He is striking with the sword of the Lord.

True, the principal function and purpose of war is going to kill. And therein lies not only a denial of Christianity but of the primitive Judaic law, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ But the function of Russian war that has struck me most was that of going to be killed.

When, in the Altai Mountains, in the middle of the consecration service, I learned that it was Germany that had declared war upon Russia, I felt that the consecration was consecration unto death, that the strapping of the knapsack on the back was like the tying on of the cross.

The religion of Russia is the religion of death. As I wrote in my book on the Russian peasant-pilgrims journeying toward the Sepulchre at Jerusalem, ‘All pilgrimages are pilgrimages to the Altar, to the place of death. Protestantism reveals itself as the religion of the mystery of life; Orthodoxy as the religion of death.’ The Russians march to battle as they tramp to shrines. Death is no calamity for them. It is the thrice beautiful and thrice holy culmination of the life pilgrimage. Watch the Russian soldiers at one of the many funerals of fallen comrades. They are calm and reverent, but it is the calm and reverence that are the accompaniment of an exaltation of spirit.

When the wounded soldier is brought to the hospital and laid in his bed, his first wish is that the priest may hold the cross for him to kiss. The priest who visits every bedside every morning carries a little cross in his hand, and each poor soldier presses his lips to the centre of it and kisses it vehemently.

War to the Russian soldier is a great religious experience. ‘He liveth best who is always ready to die,’ says a holy proverb of the Russians. And readiness to die is the religious side of war. The Russian soldier kills his enemy without religious qualm, yet without hate/ he does not feel that to shoot at a fellow man, to charge at him with a bayonet, is doing an evil thing to him. The great reality that confronts him is not that he may kill others, but that he himself may suffer terrible pain or may lose the familiar and pleasant thing called life. In order to face this, the Russian has to dive down deep in himself and find a deeper self below his ordinary self; he has to find the common spirt of man below his own ego; he has to live in communion with the found of Life from which his own little stream of life is flowing. No relic of the war is more precious than the little loaf of holy bread which the soldier saves from his last communion before going to battle or going under fire for the first time.

The Russian soldiers go to war in very much the same spirit in which the Russian pilgrims go toward Jerusalem. Indeed many a man was just about to start for Jerusalem when the war broke out and he was summoned to fight against the Germans. In the fields of East Prussia and of Poland he found as veritable a Jerusalem as that he sought in Palestine. It is perhaps a shorter way thither.

The priests serving in the army and in the hospitals tell wonderful stories of religious experience, of touching peasant mysticism, of holy patriotism.

A dying soldier lies on the battlefield and the visiting priest thinks him gone too far to receive the Holy Communion. So he says the otkhodnaya, the prayer for the departing soul. Suddenly the dying man opens his dim eyes and whispers just audibly, —

‘My countrymen, my dear countrymen—No, not that—Little Father—my own one—thou hast come to save me.’

He tries to get up, crosses himself widely, — that is, from shoulder to shoulder and from brow to chest, — and repeats, ‘Thou hast come to save me.’

There is a short confession, as of a child. Communion. The soldier with a great effort crosses himself once more, drops back on the wet mud of the battlefield, and slips into oblivion, with glazed eyes, set lips, but white, calm brow. The priest, bending over him, lays a cross upon him, and goes on to the next suffering or dying one on the field.

The Russian religion is the religion of suffering and death, the religion that helps you to meet suffering calmly and to be always ready to die. Many Catholics and Protestants among the Russian ranks ask the Orthodox blessing. In the moment of the ordeal they know that true religion is never divided against itself.

The war is the great wind that blows through our life so that the things that can be shaken may be shaken down and that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Religion is never shaken down by war. But strange to say, the logicians are shaken in their logic, agnosticism is shaken, materialism is shaken, atheism is shaken, positivism is shaken. The intellectual dominance is shaken and falls; the spiritual powers are allowed to take possession of men’s beings.

‘Many is the time,’ said a priest to me, ‘that an officer has called me to his side and has said, “I am an atheist: I believe in nothing”; but I have confessed him and he has emptied his life to me—to the very dregs—and I have put him in Holy Communion and left him all melted and holy.’


The Cossacks are different in their religious temperament. They are the descendants of robber tribes and mercenary bands. To realize what the the Cossacks have been you must read Gogol’s Tarass Bulba, and when you have realized what they used to be you have a notion of what they are. There is much Russian blood in them, but there is also much of the Tartar and the Mongol. They have not much in common with the gentle Slav. Their conception of Christianity is very different from that which animates the moujiks.

The Cossack is always a soldier. In Cossack villages every man has to serve in the army; only sons have no privileges. It is rarely that a Cossack is rejected on medical grounds, and rarer still is his acceptance of rejection. By his passport he is a soldier. When he is farming he is said to be ‘on leave.’ The village is not called a village but a station, a stanitsa. Almost every man in the station works in trousers that have a broad military stripe. By that stripe you may tell the Cossacks and the Cossack stations in the country.

I tramped through several hundred miles of Cossack country last summer, and I have a very bright impression of the people. They have a considerable quantity of land. The government pursues a set policy of giving the Cossacks land, space wherein to live well and multiply. The whole of Central Asia and Turkestan is preferably settled by Cossacks. The Russian government trains the men for two or three years, and when the time of training has been run through, the authorities propose to them that they settle down near the place where they have been encamped. Land will be given them free. They can bring their sweethearts and their wives. The docile Kirghiz and Chinese and other aborigines can be practically forced to build houses for them and dig out irrigation canals and plant poplars and willows. A company of Cossacks accepts the government proposal, and so a new station is marked on the map. A church is built. A horizontal bar and a wooden horse and a greasy pole are put up. A vodka shop is supplied. And that constitutes Cossack civilization. (Now the vodka shops are all closed, and there is talk of reopening them as schools.)

The talk and the songs and the life of the station are all military. The talk is of battles lately and battles long ago and the battles of the future; the songs are recruiting songs and war songs; the life is ever with the gun and on horseback.

Children ride on horseback as soon as they can walk and jump. Little boys get their elder brothers’ uniforms cut down to wear: the trousers, be they ever so ragged, have still the broad colored stripe that marks the Cossacks. Siberian Cossacks have red stripes, Don Cossacks have blue stripes. Marching songs are on the children’s lips, and one of the most frequent sights is that of a company of Cossacks riding up the main street of the stanitsa, carrying the long black pikes in their hands and singing choruses as they go. The pike is another distinction of the Cossack; it is a long black wooden lance, steel-pointed like a spear.

No woman grudges her children to the war. War is the element in which they all live, and the official manœuvres are so wild and fierce that many get killed in them, kill one another even, forgetting that they are only playing at war. The Cossacks even in remote Asia take themselves seriously as the personal bodyguards of the Czar; formerly robbers and border riders of the wildest type, they are now, thanks to tactful handling, the most loyal subjects of the Czar, and are bred—out on the Seven-Rivers-Land and the Altai Mountains, for instance—much as one might breed a type of horse, for sterling qualities. They are called Orthodox Christians, but have seldom any mystical sense of Christianity. They are baptized barbarians and are of course extraordinarily superstitions. They hand down their ikons and their battle-charms from generation to generation, and worship them almost with idolatry.

Their homes are neither comfortable nor clean, — the homes of eagles rather than of men. The women are lazier than ordinary Russian peasant women, and eat more and sleep more.

As a fair companion of the road explained to me, —

‘It’s the women who must be blamed for the dirt in their cottages. After the dinner the women always lie down and fall asleep, and they leave all the dirty dishes on the table, and let the pigs and the chickens come in and hunt for food.’

That is true. You enter the little room that is all in all of a home, land you find fifty thousand flies buzzing over everything. Often, of an afternoon, I have entered a cottage in order to get milk and have found every one asleep, even the dog, who but opens one eye at the noise of my step. The baby lies in the swing cradle and tosses now and then and cries a little. He would be almost naked were he not black with flies. The children keep picking lifes off his body and hurting him—that is why he cries. None the less that baby will grow up to be a sturdy Cossack. And they seem none the worse for dirt and disorder, to judge from the fine young men we see: tall, agile, hawk-faced, — the rising generation no weaker than the fathers.

They are hospitable, but because of the biting flies I have found it more confortable to sleep out of doors, even in bad weather or when mosquitos are thick. They always give you full measure and running over when you buy from them. But they are altogether left behind in hospitality by their neighbors the Kirghiz or the Mongolians.

The Cossack has settled where of old the Kirghiz had his best pastures. He has harried the gentle man of the East into the bare lands and wildernesses, and over the border to China. The winter pastures that the Kirghiz has discovered for himself and marked out with stones, the Cossack has pitilessly mown for hay. Even his houses, the long village street of them, the Cossack makes the Kirghiz build, while he stands by like a barin or a master. The Kirghiz will work for lower wages than the Chinese; sometimes he can be persuaded to work for nothing.

‘You are entering Kirghiz country now; there are no Russian villages, no Cossack stations,’ said one to me. ‘No matter; you can always spend the night in a Kirghiz tent and you will always get food from them, as much as you want. Don’t ever pay them anything. They don’t expect it. They will give you the best they have, but don’t pay. You needn’t. They are that sort of people: glupovaty, stupid-like.’

The favorite adjective applied by Russians to Cossacks is othainy, which is supposed to mean ‘desperate,’ but certainly does not mean it in the ordinary sense of hopeless. It means past-praying-for, wild-beyond-all-hopes.

‘The Siberian Cossacks, they are the wildest of all,’ you will hear.

They are spoken of by ordinary Russians much as the Highlanders are spoken of by the English, and in some respects they resemble the clansmen. They are brave beyond any qualification. They are all expert horsemen and ride like the wind. Their favorite exploit is to charge the enemy lying close to their horses’ sides, even under their bellies, so that it looks to the enemy as if a drove of riderless horses were plunging toward them. And when the Cossacks arrive at the object of their charge, Heaven help the poor Uhlans or ordinary European troops who happen to be in the way! The Cossacks delight in the cutting off of heads.

It was the Siberian Cossacks who turned the scale at the first battle of Warsaw; and with them, as brothers in arms, were the Caucasian cavalry. The Caucasian tribesmen are if anything more warlike than the Cossacks; they are stronger physically, always wear arms, understand life as military gallantry, have much less regard for the value of life, and are much more given to fighting in time of peace. Murder has no moral stigma in the Caucasus; the man who has killed another man is not troubled about his crime, — not upset in his mind, not obliged to return and look at the corpse, not obliged to confess at last. Indeed, many of the pleasantest and most courteous men you may meet in the mountains have several ‘murders,’ as we should call them, to their charge. Their success in fighting gives them more confidence and more politeness.

They are not quite so brave as the Cossacks, being considerably more intelligent and a very calculating people. They are also not so loyal to the Czar; they consider themselves liberals. They are corruptible, and the Russian system of bribery has been much improved by them. They are more cruel than the Cossacks, less Christian. A fine body of people, however, — the handsomest men in Europe, the hardest.

War for them is also the most interesting thing in life, and conversation over the endless stoops of red wine always turn to battles. By the way, the prohibition of the sale of vodka and beer leaves the Caucasus just as drunken as before. The government had no monopoly there in the sale of spirits. Every one could sell who wanted to. Vodka, however, was never much drunk, owing to the fact that the Caucasus has its own good vintage and the natives despise the use of spirts as a sign of lower caste.

They are a poor people as money goes. It is marvelous that they retain their physique, considering the poorness of the food they eat and the quantity of wine they drink. Many villages subsist on black bread and wine. They are always hungry. They could live much better than they do. They love clothes, love rich carpets and elegant ornaments. They would put jewels on their wives, would be princes not only in title but in estate, and would hold court and go out hunting or to battle with retainers in the good old way.


One of the phenomena which show how popular the war is in Russia is the participation of the children in the conflict. There is scarcely a town school in Russia from which boys have not run away to war. Hundreds of girls have gone off in boys’ clothes, and tried to pass themselves off as boys and enlist as volunteers; and several have got through, since the medical examination is only a negligible formality, required in one place, forgotten in another, — the Russians are so fit as a whole. So among the wounded in the battle of the Niemen was a broad-shouldered, vigorous girl from Zlato-Ust, only sixteen; nobody had dreamed that she was other than the man for whom she was passing herself off. But not only boys and girls of sixteen and seventeen, but children of eleven and twelve, have contrived to have a hand either in the fighting or in the nursing.

Whilst I was in Wilna there was a touching case. A little girl of twelve years, Marusia Charushina, turned up. She had run away from her home in Viatka, some thousand miles away, and had got on the train ‘as a hare,’ that is, without a ticket. The conductor had smiled on her and let her go on. At Wilna, she was a little bewildered by the traffic of the great Polish city, but she asked a passing soldier the way to a hospital; he took her to one, and she explained to him that she had come to nurse the wounded. At the hospital, a Red Cross nurse questioned her, and she gave the same answer. The nurse telegraphed to the little girl’s father and asked his permission for her to remain in the hospital nursing the wounded soldiers. The father gave permission, so little Marusia was allowed to remain. A uniform was made for her, and now, as the smallest Sister of Mercy of all, she tends the soldiers and is very popular.

There was Stefan Krafchenko, a boy of ten, who said he wanted to fight the Germans and so was taken along by the indulgent soldiers. He was attached to the artillery, and handed up shells out of the shell-boxes during three battles, and came out of all unscathed and glorious and happy. Then Victor Katchalof, a boy of thirteen, had his horse shot under him and was himself wounded in the leg during the fight against the Austrians below Lfof. Bonstantim Usof, a boy of thirteen, was wounded by shrapnel at Avgustof.

Perhaps the greatest schoolboy hero of Russia is a boy named Orlof, from Zhitomir town school. He fought in eleven battles, and was eventually decorated by the Czar with the Order of St. George. While reconnoitring he came into collision with a great force of the enemy. He lay in a trench with his fellows and fought all day. But ammunition ran very low. Orlof saved his corps by creeping out in the dark and finding his way through heaps of corpses to the main Russian force. He was under gun and artillery fire all the time, but he succeeded in getting across, and so saved his friends.

These are but random instances. The Imperial Academy of Science is collecting, and will probably edit and publish, all manner of printed and unprinted impressions of the war, — diaries, minor dispatches, or authenticated stories of deeds of derring do. When these are issued it will be seen tow hat an extent the children of Russia have been fighting this war. Ten years ago, war was unpopular in the playgrounds. The war with Japan did not fire the minds of the young ones, who were all agog then with the idea of revolution, so precocious are the young in Russia.

Now Russia is pulling all together, — not only school-children and students and police and soldiery, but all the various tribes and races, — Russians, Cossacks, Georgians, Finns, Poles, Jews.


While I was at Petrograd, I had a pleasant talk with M. Sazonof, the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs, and learned something of his opinion and the future of the Empire. I was very glad to see the Minister for Foreign Affairs face to face, and to come in personal contact with a man whose voice counts for so much in the councils of Russia and the Allies. He seems a hard man, yet kindly, brisk, alert, European. You would not say you were in the presence of a Russian except for the conversational vivacity of the Minister and a certain Slavonic impulsiveness which lurks only half suppressed, half masked in the eyes of this strong and determined man. He has an English manner, an English way of living, and evidently has a strong personal liking for English things and English ways. He has lived eight years in England in his time and so knows the English pretty well. He, as much as any one on either side, realizes the value of mutual friendship, — not only now, when we can coöperate with soldiers and cannon and sailors and ships, but afterwards, for the working out together of the problems of peace.

I spent an hour with him at the official residence in the Downing Street of Petrograd, a fine old crimson-walled mansion on the Dvortsovy Proyezd. I entered by a door parallel tot hat which leads to the Department. A lackey met me; I was put into a tiny lift, and slowly raised to a parquet-floored gallery, that led to a bright reception room warmed and illumined by an open log fire. Mme. Saznof came forward to meet me, and with her an interesting dog, her pet laika, which walked behind me and caught my instep in its teeth each time I lifted my right foot.

‘He is finding out about you,’ said Mme. Sazonof, with a smile. ‘He always makes sure of every one who comes in here. He almost frightened the Austrian Ambassador away altogether, and in the days before the war the Ambassador used to send up and have the dog taken away before he would make his appearance.’

‘He knew who was the enemy,’ said I.

‘Yes; you see now, he quite takes to you.’

The dog and I were soon on friendly terms, and he sat on his tail all through luncheon and looked up into my eyes. I was advised to give him little bits, which I did.

M. Sazonof came in and we spoke together in Russian. But when we went in to luncheon, a typically English luncheon by the way, we all spoke English. The Russians spoke so well and so charmingly that you might imagine you were listening to a party of English talking in a similar circle in London.

The Minister made light of the danger of being attacked in London by the British Russophobes. What he feared in going to England was the Channel passage, no more. He thought I might have a bad time going home, might get captured by the Germans, and he thought I had better stay in Russia. I said I thought of going by Archangel, but he assured me it was closed by ice.

We talked of the Czar. ‘I wonder if people abroad realize what a great thing the vodka prohibition is,’ said Sazonof. ‘We are sober from end to end. We look for extraordinary results when once the war is over and we have time to develop in peace.’

‘It is making the Czar very popular,’ said I. ‘Even in our country, many of those who have felt themselves out of sympathy with Russia begin to point to the Czar as to an ideal monarch.’

‘Isn’t the Czar splendid?’ said a young baroness who was present; and she told as tory of his visiting a hospital in Poland and talking with the soldiers.

‘He entered the hospital accompanied by many officials and court dignitaries, and passed with them into one of the great general rooms where lay several hundred wounded men. The chief surgeon was about to show him round when the Czar, evidently in great emotion, turned on him and the rest of the decorated officials around him, and said, “Leave me here alone.” They bowed and scarped, but did not go out. “Leave me here alone with the soldiers,” said the Czar again. “I wish to speak to them myself.” When he had said these words the surgeon and the rest slowly and, as it were, unwillingly went out, and the Czar was left alone with his poor wounded soldiers. He talked with them for a whole hour. So he got rid of that terrible old background of official Russia and was himself. Don’t you think it a beautiful picture of the Czar alone with his people?’

‘The Czar has a beautiful character,’ said Mme. Sazanof. ‘Every one who comes into touch with him personally feels his tenderness toward his fellow men, his delicate consideration for all people with whom he has to deal.’

After luncheon we adjourned to a beautiful old room warmed and lit by a log fire burning on a large hearth. Here we had coffee, and I chatted with the Minister by the fire, while the ladies sat round a table beside one of the great windows and talked. Among other things that Sazanof said were the following: —

‘I hope you English are making up your minds to have a larger army, not only now, but after the war is over. Your fleet is splendid. It is surpassing all expectations, but your army was far too weak when the war broke out, and is too week for your imperial needs. …

‘I think that as the years go on there will be even greater scope for Russian and British friendship than before. We have yet to know one another better, of course. There is really no room for jealousy between the two empires. …

‘What is the feeling in your country about the settlement? How do they look now at Constantinople? We should much prize the opinion, not only of the British government, but of the British people, for we realize that when peace is made, it will be a peace between peoples as much and even more than between governments.’

I asked about the autonomy of Poland and the position of the Jews there. I suggested that something be done to help out the Jews who wish to go to America

‘They will not go,’ said he. ‘They don’t want to go. They had much rather settle in Russia or in Siberia.’

‘Is anything likely to be done to relieve the tension caused by the Jewish problem?’

M. Sazanof thought it possible that they might be excused military service in future if they wished it. He recognized the great difficulty of dealing with the Jewish problem, but spoke enthusiastically of the coming restoration of Poland. Russia, he said, ought to have made up the quarrel with the suffering Poles long ago.

Finally we spoke of the prospect of Russo-British friendship, and of the mutual cooperation of the two great powers in Asia. He thought that with the war the old Asiatic rivalry would completely disappear. Russian civilization was a help to British civilization. The Christian churches on the north of the Himalayas were brother churches of the English on the other side.

A rather amusing thing happened to me the day after I had seen Sazanof. A secret agent took me apart and said, —

‘You saw Sazanof yesterday. What did you think of him? Is he a strong man?’

‘Yes; a strong man I should say, with plenty of common sense. Of course he knows where to look to take his cue.’

The agent lowered his voice and said in a hushed whisper, ‘Where would you say he looked? To Baron ——?’

He mentioned a certain influential German Russian, supposed to be carrying on an intrigue in favor of peace with Germany.

‘Why no,’ said I, ‘I meant to the Czar, of course.’

I felt like a person speaking in some novel of diplomatic life!


I have now just returned to London after a year in Russia, — after three months of Russia in wartime; and I am surprised at the difference in atmosphere. There is an unmistakable depression in London. Among those who have no personal stake in the war, no one fighting in the trenches, no one drilling, no one serving on special duty, there is a certain amount of apathy and pessimism. But in Russia there is no apathy. There the whole atmosphere is one of eagerness and optimism. They are full of thankfulness for the things the war has brought to Russia: national enthusiasm, national tenderness, national temperance, and moral unanimity. The war has closed the vodka shop; it has healed the age-long fratricidal strife with Poland; it has shown to the world and to themselves the simple strength and bravery of the Russian soldiers and the new sobriety and efficiency of their officers. It has in fact given a real future to Russia to think about; it has shed, as from a great lamp, light on the great road of Russian destiny. Russians have always dimly divined that they were a young nation of genius; they have held faith in themselves despite dark hours; but now they feel confirmed and certain of their destiny, of their progress from being an ill-cemented patchwork of countries to being a single body feeling in all limbs the beat of a single heart; of their progress from quietness and vast illiteracy to being confident possessors of a strong voice in the counsels of nations; of their progress from denial and anarchism and individual obstinacy to affirmation, coöperation, and readiness to serve.

As nations go, Great Britain is like a man of forty-five, Germany like a man of thirty, but Russia like a genus who is just eighteen. It is the young man that you find in Russia; virginal, full of mystery, looking out at a world full of color and holiness and passion and sordidness.

Despite the beauty and self-sufficiency of the old life, Russia is definitely committing herself to the new. She is going to have a puritan intolerance for sin; she is beginning to manifest that passion for solid education that has marked Puritan Scotland America, Germany. More and more people are going to take up with materialism and ethics and agnosticism. Not that Russian pilgrimaging or asceticism or religious observance can ever cease, or that the mystical outlook will be lost. But Westernism and success and national facetiousness and lightheartedness will be more clamorous.

I am a great admirer of the popular saint, Father Seraphim. He is the Russian St. Francis: he tamed the bears and the wolves and the birds of the forest of Sarof. He was so hotly that bears, so far form hurting him, actually inconvenienced him a little by their officious helpfulness. But his chief claim to holiness lies in his mystical denial of life. He lived alone in the forest, wore a heavy cross on his back, and prayed a thousand days and a thousand nights, still kneeling on the same stone; he made a vow of silence and did not open his mouth to speak for twenty-five years, and when the end of the twenty-five years came, he remained silent for ten years more. Such an act of denial is called a podvig.

I spoke of the podvig this autumn to Loosha, a woman friend of mine of whom I wrote in Changing Russia. I was working out the essential idea of Russia’s religion.

‘I like to think that even now, in all this noise of the war, you have, in the background of Russia, men and women who have taken like Father Seraphim this oath of silence, who will never utter a word whether Russia wins or seems to be in danger. It is an astonishing fact that he was silent throughout the whole times of the great Napoleonic campaigns, and did not utter a word even in the culminating distress of the capture of Moscow in 1812.’

So said I to Loosha.

Loosha replied, —

‘That is old-fashioned. Seraphim’s greater feat and that which did indeed make him a holy man, was when at last he renounced silence, and, after thirty-five years, opened his mouth once more to converse, not oracularly, but kindly and cheerfully and wisely, with his fellow beings. I think spring is a greater victory than autumn. It is a victory over death, whereas autumn is a victory over life.’

To this, Western minds will readily give assent. It is a purely Western idea. But it is a new feeling in Russia. A few years ago, Loosha was of opinion that she herself was really dead and that the woman who spoke to me was but a shadow, a ghost, something without warmth, without heart, without hope. She was glad to have conquered life. Now she wants to conquer death and win again.

Russia the silent one, silent for twenty-five years and then silent for ten years more, is either speaking now, or is about to speak. The spirit moves mysteriously in her. She begins to know that her time is at hand.