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60

ORSKA.

tion of land and water is the most powerful agent in producing a change of climate in the same place under different circumstances; and if, on the retreating of the sea, a considerable elevation of the lowlands took place, this would also be another strong reason for supposing that the temperature of this part of Siberia, and indeed of the whole of it, was formerly much higher than it now is. Much of the difficulty in accounting for the deposits of bones of animals, only known to have habitually frequented countries of a high, or at least moderate temperature, being found here, is thus got over.

We were thirty-one hours in going from Orenburg to Orska, a distance of less than four hundred versts, which is not very expeditious travelling, but the stages were occasionally very long, and the horses found a great difference between dragging a light teléga, or a Moscow travelling carriage. This little town is, like most of the others on the frontier, composed of one long straight street. All the houses are of wood; there are, as usual in Russia, several churches, a large market-place, and a small barrack for artillery. We slept here in very clean and comfortable quarters; in cold countries of this sort, we infinitely prefer wooden houses, there is no comparison how much warmer they are than houses built of brick. The walls are often two and three feet thick, composed of two large fir trees placed dos à dos, without being sawed square into boards.

The interstices are very

closely filled up with moss and tow, and they are so hermetically sealed as it were, that not a particle of the external air can penetrate them. Double doors

THE STEPPES.

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and windows, and stoves of which the fires are hardly ever suffered to go out night or day for months together, render these extremely comfortable habi

tations.

The following day we proceeded towards Troitska, the next place on our road dignified by the name of a fortress, but in reality a large village where the military are stationed. Our rate of travelling was again not very rapid, the distance, about six hundred versts, occupied us fifty-five hours*. The greater part of this journey lay through a more desert country than any we had yet passed. The want of cultivation, however, does not proceed from the soil being of such a nature, as not to make it worth while to till it, but from the want of population, and a market for the surplus production. Should this part of Russia become thickly populated, perhaps, after a lapse of centuries, the whole of these Steppes may be inclosed, and will doubtless supply the necessities of the inhabitants, however multiplied: they are even now productive without the assistance of man. A great quantity of long grass grows over the whole surface, which is cut in the summer, and made up into large cocks, and left on the spot for the support of the cattle and sheep in the

* The old road was considerably longer, being much more circuitous and inland as it were. The one we followed, though less interesting, has the advantage of making a great saving of time. It is called the line of the Cossacks, and is one of the encroachments that the Russians have made from time to time on the territory of the Kirghis, and between Orska and Troitska they have now made this tract, so filched from their neighbours, a part of their own dominions. By these apparently unimportant advances southward, they gradually establish themselves nearer to the frontier of Khiva and Thibet.

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CAMELS.

deep snows of winter. These little ricks serve also as places of shelter for the sheep, who thus find warmth and nourishment at the same time.

It may well seem to the reader that theso vast open plains, the monotony of which is hardly ever relieved by a stunted shrub, or tempest-stricken trunk barely rising above their level surface, must present a most dreary and melancholy appearance to the traveller. But there is a something in the very idea of their vastness, which gives them a character of sublimity. The horizon in every direction is tho samo Steppes, they seem interminable as space, and could the eye scan as far, it would find little or no variety from the foot of the Caucasus, to the frontier of China. They are the personification of solitude on the largest scale, and convey some faint idea, in the long hours of darkness, of what Chaos was. Ever and anon, it is true, a long line of stately camels appears in the distance, and with the large flocks of uncouth, misshapen sheep, troops of half-wild horses, and numerous herds of cattle, recall one to the agreeable sensation, that we are not the only living creatures in this vast wilderness. These rows of camels might here almost be called picturesque.

The camel has an air of majesty in his gait, and his manner of carrying his head and neck impress one with an idea that he must be a proud animal. He is truly an useful and much-enduring one, and, ill as he is often treated, but rarely shows a disposition to exert against the tyrant man the powers which nature has furnished him with. It is well for us that animal instinct is insufficient to teach them how to exercise

SIBERIAN FRONTIER.

63

their forces to our detriment, or we should speedily lose the lordship over them, which our abuse of it makes us deserve to forfeit. The foremost camel in the string is ridden by the driver, who guides him by means of a large iron ring which is put through his nose, and to which a cord is fastened-a real "bridle in the nose," of a very disagreeable description, by which the neck may almost be jerked out of the position which nature has given it. The other camels follow their leader without the interference of a driver, and when they come to water their burdens are taken off, and we often saw them grazing at liberty like domestic animals.

In the environs of Troitska, the country becomes more wooded, and forests are seen here and there, but of no great extent. The little river Ural which had been our companion almost all the way from Orenburg, here disappears. There. seemed to be a great deal of trade going on with the Kirghis at Troitska, and much more bustle and movement than in any other place hitherto on this side of Orenburg; otherwise nothing to distinguish it from the other fortresses, but its increased size and population.

Immediately on leaving the town we crossed another little tributary stream, the Oï, which we followed from time to time as far as Petro-Paulofski, the next fortress of considerable size that we passed through. At about two hundred versts from Troitska we entered Siberia. There was nothing to show that we had passed the frontier, but the most marked difference in the moral and social condition of the inhabitants. Increased comfort and cleanliness in the

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SIBERIAN HOSPITALITY.

houses, with an evident improvement in the finances of the peasants, amounting almost to riches among the Cossacks, was immediately noticeable. The horses, from being better fed, were of course stronger and better able to perform their tasks, so that the rate of travelling increased in proportion. We had no longer any escort, and were told there was no need of guards in Siberia. On the whole we commenced under favourable auspices, and began to suspect we should return to Europe with different ideas from those with which we had left it. Dobell noticed the same difference in his day, and says that he found in the Siberian peasants a sympathy and disinterestedness, He mentions that he nowhere else experienced.

having met a carrier conveying goods from Tumen to Tomsk, a distance of fifteen hundred versts, at two roubles and a half the pud, or after our manner of reckoning, thirty-six pounds a thousand miles for less than half-a-crown. On questioning him how he could afford to do it so cheaply, he replied that the people were so kind and hospitable, that the keep of a man and horse per day was not above fifteen kopéks, or about seven farthings. He also mentions the case of a soldier who had travelled on foot from Petersburg to Siberia to see his family, who told him that all the money he spent was between Petersburg and Ekaterinburg; that once fairly in Siberia no one would accept a kopék for his food or lodging. We can add our own testimony to the probable truth of these statements, so creditable to the character of the peasantry, and indeed of all classes.

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CHAPTER III.

Siberia. Similar Language and Religion.-Ancient History of the Country.-Conquest by the Russians.-Tatars.-Khazars.— Yermak Timoféef.-His Death.-Fire of Tobolsk.-Ancient Remains found.-Different Inhabitants.-Naine whence derived.-Old Inhabitants of Perm.-Latitude and Longitude of Siberia.-Area-Treaty with the Chinese.-Amur.-Albasyne. -Russian Embassy at Peking.-Soil and Climate.-Divisions. -Mines.-Agriculture.-Rivers. --Possible Communication between the Pacific and Baltic by Water.--Land Communication.-Cold more severe the farther East.

SIBERIA is perhaps the least known, though the largest inhabited country in the world under one sceptre, in which the inhabitants speak for the most part the same language, and profess the same religion. To consolidate and keep together so vast an empire as that which owns allegiance to the Emperor Nicholas, nothing contributes so much as a similarity of language and religion. The Emperor appears fully impressed with this truth, and might almost be thought to have adopted that policy from a remark of Gibbon in speaking of the ancient Romans: "So sensible," says he, "were the Romans of the influence of language over national manners, that it was their most serious care to extend, with the progress of their arms, the use of the Latin tongue." From Petersburg to Kamtschatka, a distance of more than thirteen thousand versts, there is no perceptible difference in the language. The Russian, an old Schlavonic dialect, has less patois than any living language; the only difference is in a slight provincial pronunciation of some words peculiar to the

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