Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 86.djvu/25

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21
GEOGRAPHY IN RUSSIAN HISTORY

of course enormous. Unfortunately the state described by Turgeniev as "remorseless laziness" is quite as prevalent with the monks as with the peasants.

One of the greatest things the clergy has done for the Russian people is the creation of a wonderful church music. The singing and intoning is all by male voices and in some of the churches, as for example, St. Isaacs at Petersburg, or the Synodal Church at Moscow, surpasses in dignity and grandeur any church music in the world. Nothing, it seems to me, can excel in exquisite beauty the singing of the gosopodoy lui, the Russian for "God have Mercy" from the moment the first notes of the boy soprano reach you, through the manifold variations to the final appeal by the full chorus to which the deep rich Russian bass gives a power almost of command. Russian music, whether it be the fine liturgical music of the church, the rhythmic and somewhat monotonous singing of the Volga boatmen, the boisterous Troika song, or an ornate opera like Boris Godunov, is permeated through and through with the spirit of the endless plain and a sense of loneliness that rarely admits of majors. The somber hues of the landscape, the atmosphere of the boundless solitudes, dominate; Russian popular music is all in the minor key.

Whether it be the result of ignorance, isolation or climate, the bane of the Russian peasant is intemperance and the amount of vodka he consumes is appalling. The manufacture and sale of the drink is a government monopoly. There are two grades, the best containing about 40 per cent, alcohol. It is a white liquor with a cognac taste vitiated however by an after taste of crude oil which the wealthy Russian overcomes by adding a little palatable sherry. To such an extent has the drink habit grown that the government's revenue from this source last year reached the enormous sum of 800,000,000 roubles or somewhat over $400,000,000.

So threatening has the drink evil become that strenuous efforts have been undertaken to check it. Since the beginning of the war the Tsar has prohibited the manufacture and sale of vodka entirely. That a deep-seated national custom will not be corrected by an edict is evident. Intelligent efforts are, however, being made to bring about the emancipation of the people in this respect. Whatever the outcome of these efforts, the drunkenness of the Russian masses in the past has been proverbial. With this has gone a brutalizing of human nature; men still beat their wives and children apparently for no other reason than to keep up the ancient tradition.

But in this respect too conditions are changing. Indeed it is becoming a commonplace that even the Great Russian is far from being quite so absolutely the master in his house as he used to be. In place of the old folk-song by the young wife: "What sort of husband are