Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 86.djvu/15

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11
GEOGRAPHY IN RUSSIAN HISTORY

as well of the somber hues of the Great Russian's attire, as of the brightness and variegated colors of the Little Russian.

But despite these differences, the great plain dominates, and environment added to common history and a common religion, has produced a people of greater homogeneity than is known anywhere else on so large a scale.

Among the races of the frontier, the differences are more striking, not only between group and group but between each group and the Russian proper. They occupy the territory on the outer border; Poland, the Baltic provinces, Finland, the foothills of the Urals, the lower Volga, and the region of the Caucasus, and furnish almost every variety of head formation, stature, color scheme and what goes without saying, a veritable Babel of languages or dialects. The Russian Year Book for 1912 notes 101 languages or dialects, and there is excellent authority for the statement that at Tiflis 68 of these are in actual use.

First among the non-Russian peoples of the fringe are the Poles. There are between seven and eight million Poles under Russian rule, and at Warsaw one of the most tragic racial struggles of history has been in progress for well-nigh a century and a half. The Poles are Slavs but belong to the western branch of the race and are ardently devoted to the Roman Catholic instead of the Greek Catholic Church. Generally speaking the ethnic type more nearly resembles the Little Russian, both in appearance and character. But the effect of prolonged oppression involving the elimination of a large proportion of the best manhood is having its effects. This fact impresses itself more emphatically on the casual visitor because of the presence in Poland of millions of unfortunate Jews, forced into the country by the policy of Russian autocracy and necessarily living under conditions of the most cruel and grinding poverty.

To the north of the Poles and occupying the Baltic provinces, a region of birch and pine with a poor soil, are two peoples, the Letts and the Germans. The Letts with their chief center at Vilna constitute the lower class. They are at the same time the oldest remnant of the Aryan stock. There are between three and four millions of them; all belong to the peasant class and are a raw-boned race, simple in language, taste and habits. They were the last of the Aryan peoples to accept Christianity and their language is of interest because it is the most ancient form of Aryan extant. As might be expected it has scarcely any words to express abstract ideas, its vocabulary being confined to words for concrete objects. The upper class in the Baltic provinces is German. There are not a great many of them, but they are the great landed proprietors, business and commercial men. The chief cities are Riga and Libau. Riga in particular boasts of a history as-