Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 86.djvu/19

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15
GEOGRAPHY IN RUSSIAN HISTORY

Moscow, Kiev, Petersburg and other places still have the appearance of ecclesiastical cities.

But there is another important factor underlying the slow development of Russia, It is the tremendous size of the Russian plain when considered in connection with the sparseness of the population. The average density of population for the Russian Empire is about 8 persons per square verst. In comparison with western Europe it is 20 times less than in England, 15 times less than in Germany and 10 times less than in France. This adds local isolation to national isolation for even to-day only about 14 per cent, of the population live in towns or near enough to be seriously influenced by the civilizing agencies of modern city life. At least four fifths of Russia is untouched by those powerful engines for progress in the western world, the public press and education. What this means especially during the long Russian winter with its enforced change of employment and relaxation of effort is manifest. There is sound geographic basis for the joy so constantly found in Russian literature at the return of spring after the prolonged winter:

Spring, beautiful Spring! Come O Spring with joy!
With great goodness, With tall flax,
With deep roots, With abundant corn.

These lines have an element of strength that is born of the soil. Indeed they recall the fact that the immense size of the Russian plain reveals its influence in quite another and subtler way; in a certain largeness of character and outlook that can not be judged by the standard test of illiteracy. One feels it in one's associations, not only with the educated but with the people at large. Nor need one go to Russia for this; no one can read the Russian novel and not be impressed by a quality that is the very essence of the country's immensity. Gogol's Homeric romance of Russian history, "Taras Bulba," is crammed with it. It is a story of the old Cossacks in all their barbarous love of fighting, eating and drinking, their giant physical strength and vitality, their intense patriotism, and as W. L. Phelps puts it,

their blazing devotion to their religious faith. . . . These Cossacks are veritable children of the steppes, and their vast passions, their Homeric laughter, their absolute recklessness in battle, are simply an expression of the boundless range of the mighty landscape.

Turgeniev's "Sketches of a Huntsman" though in a setting nearer Moscow and therefore totally different, has it just as does "War and Peace" by the greatest of all Russians, Leo Tolstoi. There is plenty of local color, of boundless steppes and forest, broad rivers, illimitable snow and long winter nights, but it all has an atmosphere of vastness that is wide as the world in its reach. The characters are cast in a large mould and the problems, though national in setting, are worldwide in their appeal. There is in Tolstoi a quality that is bred of the vicissi-