Perhaps, after having spoken so much about the past history of the Noblesse, I ought to endeavour to cast its horoscope, or at least to say something of its probable future. Though predictions are always hazardous, it is sometimes possible, by tracing the great lines of history in the past, to follow them for a little distance into the future. If it be allowable to apply this method of prediction in the present matter, I should say that the Russian Dvoryanstvo will assimilate with the other classes, rather than form itself into an exclusive corporation. Hereditary aristocracies may be preserved—or at least their decomposition may be retarded—where they happen to exist, but it seems that they can no longer be created. In Western Europe there is a large amount of aristocratic sentiment, both in the nobles and in the people; but it exists in spite of, rather than in consequence of, actual social conditions. It is not a product of modern society, but an heirloom that has come down to us from feudal times, when power, wealth, and culture were in the hands of a privileged few. If there ever was in Russia a period corresponding to the feudal times in Western Europe, it has long since been forgotten. There is very little aristocratic sentiment either in the people or in the nobles, and it is difficult to imagine any source from which it could now be derived. More than this, the nobles do not desire to make such an acquisition. In so far as they have any political aspirations, they aim at securing the political liberty of the people as a whole, and not at acquiring exclusive rights and privileges for their own class.
In that section which I have called a social aristocracy there are a few individuals who desire to gain exclusive political influence for the class to which they belong, but there is very little chance of their succeeding. If their desires were ever by chance realised, we should probably have a repetition of the scene which occurred in 1730. When in that year some of the great families raised the Duchess of Courland to the throne on condition of her ceding part of her power to a supreme council, the lower ranks of the Noblesse compelled her to tear up the constitution which she had signed! Those who dislike the autocratic power dislike the idea of an aristocratic oligarchy infinitely more. Nobles and people alike seem to hold instinctively the creed of the French philosopher, who thought it better to be governed by a lion of good family than by a hundred rats of his own species.
Of the present condition of the Noblesse I shall again have occasion to speak when I come to consider the consequences of the Emancipation.
LANDED PROPRIETORS OF THE OLD SCHOOL
Russian Hospitality—A Country-House—Its
Owner Described—His Life,
Past and Present—Winter Evenings—Books—–Connection with the Outer
World—The Crimean War and the Emancipation—A Drunken, Dissolute
Proprietor—An Old General and his Wife—“Name Days”—A Legendary
Monster—A Retired Judge—A Clever Scribe—Social Leniency—Cause of