The Zemstvo, it is true, offered better chances of success than any of its predecessors. A large portion of the nobles had become alive to the necessity of improving the administration, and the popular interest in public affairs was much greater than at any former period. Hence there was at first a period of enthusiasm, during which great preparations were made for future activity, and not a little was actually effected. The institution had all the charm of novelty, and the members felt that the eyes of the public were upon them. For a time all went well, and the Zemstvo was so well pleased with its own activity that the satirical journals compared it to Narcissus admiring his image reflected in the pool. But when the charm of novelty had passed and the public turned its attention to other matters, the spasmodic energy evaporated, and many of the most active members looked about for more lucrative employment. Such employment was easily found, for at that time there was an unusual demand for able, energetic, educated men. Several branches of the civil service were being reorganised, and railways, banks, and joint-stock companies were being rapidly multiplied. With these the Zemstvo had great difficulty in competing. It could not, like the Imperial service, offer pensions, decorations, and prospects of promotion, nor could it pay such large salaries as the commercial and industrial enterprises. In consequence of all this, the quality of the executive bureaux deteriorated at the same time as the public interest in the institution diminished.
To be just to the Zemstvo, I must add that, with all its defects and errors, it is infinitely better than the institutions which it replaced. If we compare it with previous attempts to create local self-government, we must admit that the Russians have made great progress in their political education. What its future may be I do not venture to predict. From its infancy it has had, as we have seen, the ambition to play a great political part, and at the beginning of the recent stirring times in St. Petersburg its leading representatives in conclave assembled took upon themselves to express what they considered the national demand for liberal representative institutions. The desire, which had previously from time to time been expressed timidly and vaguely in loyal addresses to the Tsar, that a central Zemstvo Assembly, bearing the ancient title of Zemski Sobor, should be convoked in the capital and endowed with political functions, was now put forward by the representatives in plain unvarnished form. Whether this desire is destined to be realised time will show.
THE NEW LAW COURTS
Judicial Procedure in the Olden Times—Defects
Reform—The New System—Justices of the Peace and Monthly Sessions—The
Regular Tribunals—Court of Revision—Modification of the Original
Plan—How Does the System Work?—Rapid Acclimatisation—The Bench—The
Jury—Acquittal of Criminals Who Confess Their Crimes—Peasants,
Merchants, and Nobles as Jurymen—Independence and Political
Significance of the New Courts.