By the influence of asylums, hospitals, and similar institutions, the old conceptions of disease, as I have said, are gradually dying out, but the znakharka still finds practice. The fact that the znakharka is to be found side by side not only with the feldsher, but also with the highly trained bacteriologist, is very characteristic of Russian civilisation, which is a strange conglomeration of products belonging to very different periods. The enquirer who undertakes the study of it will sometimes be scarcely less surprised than would be the naturalist who should unexpectedly stumble upon antediluvian megatheria grazing tranquilly in the same field with prize Southdowns. He will discover the most primitive institutions side by side with the latest products of French doctrinairism, and the most childish superstitions in close proximity with the most advanced free-thinking.
A PEASANT FAMILY OF THE OLD TYPE
Ivan Petroff—His Past Life—Co-operative Associations—Constitution of a Peasant’s Household—Predominance of Economic Conceptions over those of Blood-relationship—Peasant Marriages—Advantages of Living in Large Families—Its Defects—Family Disruptions and their Consequences.
My illness had at least one good result. It brought me into contact with the feldsher, and through him, after my recovery, I made the acquaintance of several peasants living in the village. Of these by far the most interesting was an old man called Ivan Petroff.
Ivan must have been about sixty years of age, but was still robust and strong, and had the reputation of being able to mow more hay in a given time than any other peasant in the village. His head would have made a line study for a portrait-painter. Like Russian peasants in general, he wore his hair parted in the middle—a custom which perhaps owes its origin to the religious pictures. The reverend appearance given to his face by his long fair beard, slightly tinged with grey, was in part counteracted by his eyes, which had a strange twinkle in them—whether of humour or of roguery, it was difficult to say. Under all circumstances—whether in his light, nondescript summer costume, or in his warm sheep-skin, or in the long, glossy, dark-blue, double-breasted coat which he put on occasionally on Sundays and holidays—he always looked a well-fed, respectable, prosperous member of society; whilst his imperturbable composure, and the entire absence of obsequiousness or truculence in his manner, indicated plainly that he possessed no small amount of calm, deep-rooted self-respect. A stranger, on seeing him, might readily have leaped to the conclusion that he must be the Village Elder, but in reality he was a simple member of the Commune, like his neighbour, poor Zakhar Leshkof, who never let slip an opportunity of getting drunk, was always in debt, and, on the whole, possessed a more than dubious reputation.