Of the whole number of serfs belonging to the proprietors, the domestics formed, according to the census of 1857, no less than 6 3/4 per cent. (6.79), and their numbers were evidently rapidly increasing, for in the preceding census they represented only 4.79 per cent. of the whole. This fact seems all the more significant when we observe that during this period the number of peasant serfs had diminished.
I must now bring this long chapter to an end. My aim has been to represent serfage in its normal, ordinary forms rather than in its occasional monstrous manifestations. Of these latter I have a collection containing ample materials for a whole series of sensation novels, but I refrain from quoting them, because I do not believe that the criminal annals of a country give a fair representation of its real condition. On the other hand, I do not wish to whitewash serfage or attenuate its evil consequences. No great body of men could long wield such enormous uncontrolled power without abusing it,* and no large body of men could long live under such power without suffering morally and materially from its pernicious influence. If serfage did not create that moral apathy and intellectual lethargy which formed, as it were, the atmosphere of Russian provincial life, it did much at least to preserve it. In short, serfage was the chief barrier to all material and moral progress, and in a time of moral awakening such as that which I have described in the preceding chapter, the question of Emancipation naturally came at once to the front.
* The number of deposed proprietors—or rather the number of estates placed under curators in consequence of the abuse of authority on the part of their owners—amounted in 1859 to 215. So at least I found in an official Ms. document shown to me by the late Nicholas Milutin.
THE EMANCIPATION OF THE SERFS
The Question Raised—Chief Committee—The
Nobles of the Lithuanian
Provinces—The Tsar’s Broad Hint to the Noblesse—Enthusiasm in the
Press—The Proprietors—Political Aspirations—No Opposition—The
Government—Public Opinion—Fear of the Proletariat—The Provincial
Committees—The Elaboration Commission—The Question Ripens—Provincial
Deputies—Discontent and Demonstrations—The Manifesto—Fundamental
Principles of the Law—Illusions and Disappointment of the
Serfs—Arbiters of the Peace—A Characteristic Incident—Redemption—Who
Effected the Emancipation?
It is a fundamental principle of Russian political organisation that all initiative in public affairs proceeds from the Autocratic Power. The widespread desire, therefore, for the Emancipation of the serfs did not find free expression so long as the Emperor kept silence regarding his intentions. The educated classes watched anxiously for some sign, and soon a sign was given to them. In March, 1856—a