Imágenes de páginas

brought on Germany; it could only be compared to those Mongol inundations which, under Zengis Khan, changed the flourishing lands of Central Asia into a desert, and scattered the ruins of once prosperous cities over a wilderness. Down to this present day the numbers of the population of Livland have not again reached the height at which they stood previous to Ivan's invasion, and at the close of the sixteenth century not a fourth part of the cities which once enriched and adorned the provinces were left in existence. At the same time, the forces of Sweden and Poland threatened to take advantage of the Russian invasion; and as no help could be obtained from the Emperor and Diet of Germany, the only question for the different parts of the confederation was, to which of the aggressors they should submit. Esthland, the most northern territory, surrendered to the King of Sweden; Curland, the most southern part, became a Polish vassal-dukedom, whose wise Prince, Gotthard Kettler, formerly Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, was able to protect his subjects from Polish encroachments, and to maintain with rare skill a comparative independence; the country remained in this condition more than two hundred years, and enjoyed during this time, at least, a much happier lot than its sister provinces. Livland, by a solemn treaty-the famous Privilegium Sigismundi, which was to guarantee for all time her Lutheran faith, the German language, and internal self-government — acknowledged the King of Poland as her master. But if the unfortunate province had hoped to buy a happier fate at the price of its independence that hope was cruelly disappointed ; no sooner was the treaty of 1561 signed than it was violated in nearly every particular. The Jesuits, who were then all-powerful at the Court of Poland, introduced the Catholic religion, established Catholic bishoprics, and degraded the privileged Protestant faith into a tolerated sect; rights and customs were trampled to the carth by hostile generals and Polish officials. For thirty years Livland had to endure the lawless and unjust rule of Poland ; and that period was marked by universal ruin and decay ; trade and industry were nearly destroyed; the highways which had formerly distinguished the country were broken up and infested by robbers; the peasants were reduced to the utmost degradation of serfdom ; the nobility impoverished and decimated by the endless wars; the churches and schools were dilapidated. At length the Swedo-Polish war of succession brought about a more endurable state of things by uniting Livland to the Swedish crown, whose supremacy Esthland had already acknowledged thirty years before. Under the humane sceptre


of these Protestant kings, who carefully respected the rights and privileges of their new subjects, Livland was restored to the influence of order and civilisation. Gustavus Adolphus re-established the Protestant churches and schools, inaugurated a university at Dorpat, remodelled the administration of justice, and took effective measures for limiting the serfdom of the peasants, and settling the amount of their forced labour at a fixed proportion to the land they occupied.

Unfortunately the reign of that great and good Prince scarcely lasted long enough to allow the country to recover from the state of utter misery to which the Polish rule had reduced it. Charles XI., in his financial straits, ventured upon a measure which, under the pretext of overhauling the defective titles of the nobles, confiscated nearly five-sixths of all the Livonian estates to the Swedish exchequer. The resistance of the Livonian nobility against this arbitrary proceeding was desperate, and when oppressed beyond endurance, its chief, Reinhold Patkul, fled to Peter the Great, and directed the Czar's attention to the importance which an extension of his boundaries to the Baltic would have for his new empire. Again Livland became the battle-field of two hostile nations in the great Northern war, until at last, by the Peace of Nystadt (1710), Sweden yielded this province and Esthland to its more powerful neighbour; but by that same treaty Peter renewed for himself and his successors the engagement which he had taken some years before by a formal capitulation with the Baltic Estates, to acknowledge and respect in these provinces the ascendency of the Lutheran Church, of German law and language, and of the hereditary institutions of the land.

In spite of the goodwill which the Czar manifested towards his new German subjects, mistakes and misunderstandings occurred from ignorance of the customs and institutions, which the provinces prized as the dearly-bought result of their long history and of their ancient civilisation ; and more than one generation passed away before the Russian Government had learnt to understand the claims and wishes of its Baltic coast lands. The Swedish interference with the existing tenure of land was immediately cancelled by Peter, and the nobility were again acknowledged as proprietors; but the war had reduced the country to utter destitution, from which it slowly emerged in the second half of the eighteenth century. Catherine II. endeavoured to evade the engagements which her ancestors had taken by the Peace of Nystadt, and to supplant the old constitution by an autocratic bureaucracy; but her son Paul restored the rights of the provinces under that treaty. When,



after the final division of Poland, the maintenance of the quasiindependent position of Curland had become impossible, this dukedom, after a separation of 231 years, was once more reunited to the two other provinces, and thus the old Baltic Confederation, inaugurated by the restoration of the University of Dorpat, was again re-established under the sceptre of Alexander I., with whose reign a new and hopeful epoch for the Baltic provinces began. Their history from 1795 to 1845 is not marked by any striking event; but during that long epoch of peace the country rose gradually to a well-being unknown since the middle ages; serfdom was abolished; the cities flourished again with all the activity of commerce; the clergy, roused by the influence of evangelical enthusiasm and subsequently of rationalism, took up the cause of popular education ; the higher classes participated eagerly in the literary movement of Germany; the university rose to importance; a provincial press sprang up, and the liberal ideas of the age struck root abundantly in so favourable a soil. Yet nowhere in his vast dominions could the Czar boast of more faithful subjects, so long as the Russian Government respected the acknowledged rights of the provinces. Their nobility furnished the Russian army and diplomacy with the ablest of their generals and ambassadors. The names of the Lievens, Rosens, Pahlens, Brunnows, Krüdners, Budbergs, Stackelbergs, are inseparable from modern Russian history. These excellent relations between the Government and the people, this peaceful development of the resources of the country, have unfortunately been deeply disturbed by the Panslavist propaganda, which towards the close of the Emperor Nicolas's reign began to attack the peculiar institutions of the Baltic provinces of Finland and Poland. But before we enter upon the contest which the present generation has to sustain for their national civilisation, we must try to give a sketch of the country itself. Its external appearance has not much changed since the graphic description Lady Eastlake gave us of it in her charming · Letters from the • Baltic,' we are afraid to say how many years ago.

Curland, Livland, and Esthland form, with the islands belongiug to them, a flat territory of about 7,000 English square miles, broken up by no mountain range, but intersected by numerous little rivers and two large ones, the Dûna and the Windau. The climate is in the south that of North Germany, in the north that of the corresponding parts of Russia, but tempered by the vast extent of the forests and by the neighbourhood of the sea. The population, amounting to about 1,850,000, is divided into three parts--the Germans and two


primeval races, of which the Esths are a Finnish tribe, the Letts a Lithuanian race, whose language has more affinity with Sanscrit than any other spoken in Europe. These aboriginal inhabitants of the country were in former times undoubtedly heavily oppressed by their German masters, but the common sufferings which both endured under a foreign yoke, and the voluntary emancipation of the peasants, which the nobles began even before serfdom was extinguished in Germany, did much to blend the various strata of the population into one people. Everything that does not belong to the peasant class is German in its character. The peasants, indeed, still retain their language, but the Baltic provinces present a striking example of the truth that language is only one of the constituent elements of nationality. In everything but language the Letts and Esths are Germans: they are as thorough Lutherans as their former masters; they know none but German ideas of law; they regard the introduction of the German forms of culture and improvement as the only track which leads to a higher position on the social scale. The well-to-do Lettish farmer still speaks the provincial language of his ancestors, but he sends his son to the German University of Dorpat; the former serf's daughter passes as a German into the service of a noble lady ; the clever sad who has been taught by his clergyman, and makes his way in business as apprentice or clerk, is essentially German. The social gulf which formerly separated masters and servants is thus filled up day by day, and the common interest of resisting the encroachments of the Greek Orthodox Church and the Russification of the country effectually unites both races. Undoubtedly the Lettish and Esthish population are still numerically in the majority, but that majority is fast dwindling away, and it is impossible to state what is the exact proportion of the pure German population and of the aboriginals.

Of the three provinces, Curland, the southernmost, is also the most fertile and wealthy, for it has suffered less from wars and civil disturbances than the adjacent districts. The traveller proceeds from the Prussian frontier to the southern slopes of the Dûna, through carefully cultivated plains ; cornfields alternate with rich meadows stocked with cattle and sheep, well-kept roads connect the manorial seats and little market-towns; the churches, parsonages, and schools look comfortable; the inns are clean, the people courteous and contented, and everything seems to breathe prosperity. There are no villages ; the land is held in large separate farms which are often miles distant from each other. The nobility is a real aristocracy, generally rich, proud of their ancient descent, but not so narrow minded and pretentious as many of their German cousins. The Curland nobleman is an enthusiastic sportsman, yet he highly prizes intellectual culture, and has always bestowed particular care on the education of the people. The gentry have supported for the last twenty-seven years a training or normal school for teachers, and it would not be easy to find a lad of fourteen who is not acquainted with the rudiments

a of arithmetic and geography, besides reading, writing, and a thorough knowledge of his Lutheran catechism. The misfortune of the country is the want of an independent middle class; there are but two cities of some importance, Mitau, the seat of the governor, and Libau. In the small markettowns the Jews predominate, but the whole political power and influence is in the hands of the gentry; their delegates alone form the diet, and elect the judges and country magistrates. A state of things utterly unknown in other parts of Russia, and not common in Germany, where bureaucratic administration by the petty servants of the State has for the most part swept away the very springs of self-government.

When the Dûna is passed, which forms the boundary between Curland and Livland, the scene changes; endless dark pine forests remind the traveller that he is going northward ; the farms are more thinly scattered and look less prosperous ; the thatched roof is becoming general; wheat, which was predominant in Curland, yields the place to rye and barley, and north of Riga begin the flax-fields, which form the peculiar wealth of the country. A general survey shows at once that the soil is less productive, and that the inhabitants have suffered more than their southern neighbours by frequent change of rule, and by wars and confiscations. The nobility are

. much poorer, and the younger sons nearly all go into the military or civil service of the Government. On the other hand, we find here a powerful middle class, which from the middle ages until now has ever played a conspicuous part in the principal and more independent cities. Riga, the ancient and the proud, with its 103,000 inhabitants, is the centre of Baltic commerce and the seat of the governor-general, who still inhabits the old castle founded by the grandmasters of the Order. This city retains completely the character of an old German town, with those narrow angular streets of gabled houses, granaries, and brick churches which we meet with in Lubeck, Wismar, or Dantzic; whilst in the more modern suburbs, the dwelling houses of the wealthier merchants have sprung up, who carry on a lively commerce in the timber, fax, hemp, tallow, linseed and corn, which come in never

« AnteriorContinuar »