Tuesday, August 30, 2011

An atmosphere of cleanliness and civilization

During my stay in Russia at the time of the Crimean War, I had been interested in the Finnish peasants whom I saw serving on the gunboats. There was a sturdiness, heartiness, and loyalty about them which could not fail to elicit good-will; but during this second stay in Russia my sympathies with them were more especially enlisted. During the hot weather of the first summer
my family were at the Finnish capital, Helsingfors, at the point where the Gulf of Finland opens into the Baltic. The whole people deeply interested me. Here was one of the most important universities of Europe, a noble public library, beautiful buildings, and throughout the whole town an atmosphere of cleanliness and civilization far superior to that which one finds in any Russian city. Having been added to Russia by Alexander I under his most solemn pledges that it should retain its own constitutional government, it had done so up to the time of my stay; and the results were evident throughout the entire grand duchy. While in Russia there had been from time immemorial a debased currency, the currency of Finland was as good as gold; while in Russia all public matters bore the marks of arbitrary repression, in Finland one could see the results of enlightened discussion; while in Russia the peasant is but little, if any, above Asiatic barbarism, the Finnish peasant--simple, genuine--is clearly far better developed both morally and religiously. It is a grief to me in these latter days to see that the measures which were then feared have since been taken. There seems a determination to grind down Finland to a level with Russia in general.

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