W HILE China was fighting against progress and Japan was hermetically sealed, the vast north of the Asiatic continent of Siberia was a little explored region, without communication with the outer world.
The growth of the Russian Empire is one of the most remarkable facts of modern history. We have already seen
its first awakening under Peter the Great.
In the dark cathedral at Petersburg, "amid surrendered keys and captured flags," sleeps that great king, whose
monument is the Russian nation
"Peter was born and Russia was formed," Voltaire had once truly said. It would take too long to tell of the old
hero Yermak, in the sixteenth century, who first crossed the Ural mountains, conquered the savage tribes in the
desolate regions beyond, seized the capital Sibir, from which
Siberia takes its name, and gave five million square miles to Russia in Asia. The wealth of fur, in this lonely
region, drew on Russian explorers, at the same time that the Hudson's Bay Company
were building forts in North America. The vast distances, the awful climate, the strange people, required
heroism, of which these pioneers might justly be proud. Starvation and
With the acquisition of Kamchatka, early in the eighteenth century, the Russian flag waved all over the northern territories of Asia, from the Ural Mountains to the sea. Only conflict with the Chinese Empire stopped further expansion for a time.
How Russia's efforts to obtain a "window towards Europe" were thwarted by England and France in the Crimea,
has already been told. The story of the Afghan frontier is also told. Now we are concerned with Siberia, for,
"Siberia is Russia," says a Russian traveller;
The exiles of Siberia conjure up a vision of all that is saddest in the world's history. The first exiles were Swedish prisoners of war sent to Kamchatka, after Pultowa, by Peter the Great, most of whom died before ever they reached their gloomy goal. Not only prisoners of war, but those accused of civil offences in Russia, were next banished, until masses of political offenders—for there is no freedom of thought in Russia—were exiled too.
Men, women, children, bound in chains, had to make their way on foot from Moscow to the Ural Mountains. At a
famous boundary post, they bade farewell for ever to their native country, and stage by stage tramped wearily
eastwards, begging their way from village to village.
This was the refrain of their begging
Hundreds died before they reached the gloomy
prison-houses of Tomsk and Irkutsk, which they should never leave
again. There were scenes of
terrible cruelty, and death was a welcome relief
To-day such scenes are impossible. Exiles there still are and exiles there will be, until Russia's manhood awakens and demands freedom of thought.
Across the vast roadless country once trodden by long lines of hopeless exiles, runs the great iron railroad
from Moscow to
Such has been the development of Russia. Centuries of growth have given her an extent of territory superior to
any other nation in the
world. She is a nation among nations, and being a
But, turning to her internal life, we find that this great, this important country is living some centuries behind the rest of western Europe and America. Her Tsar is an autocratic ruler, and not one of her hundred and fifty million population has the slightest voice in her government. "Autocracy, orthodoxy, and militarism—these are the three pillars of the Russian State," says Tolstoi, a Russian social reformer. "We should all live according to the law of love, as the condition of bringing real brotherhood into a world torn by strife."
Tolstoi lives as he teaches others to live. Instead of ease and luxury, this man has chosen rather to live among the Russian peasants. With them he has ploughed the land and tilled the soil, with them he has reaped and sown: through the long winter, he has made boots, while he still teaches the law of love, the brotherhood of man.
It was in the spirit of Tolstoi that the Tsar summoned his great Peace Conference at the Hague in 1899. For a moment, men wondered if the vision of the poet might at last be realised:
But the traditions of the past were too strong for Europe to accept such a condition then. It is this same
tradition, that has prevented the Tsar of all the Russias from helping his country to throw off her old-world
fetters. If the Poles have been forbidden their language, the Little Russians their literature, the Baltic
Germans their religion, and the Finns their beloved constitution, it is because the government methods of the
Tsar are not his own. They are the outcome of the soil and of the autocratic system of past generations, which