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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll

The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas

The Haunted Bookshop

Christopher Morely

The Bhagavad Gita


A survey of Russian literature

by Isabel Florence Hapgood


Thus, it will be seen, events took their ordinary course in Russia as in other countries: learning was, for a long time, confined almost exclusively to the monasteries, which were the pioneers in education and culture elements, such as they were. Naturally the bulk of the literature for a long time consisted of commentaries on the Holy Scriptures, translations from the works of the fathers of the church (Eastern Catholic), homilies, pastoral letters, and the like. But in the monasteries, also, originated the invaluable Chronicles; for not only did men speedily begin to describe in writing those phenomena of life which impressed them as worthy of note, but ecclesiastics were in a position to learn all details of importance from authoritative sources, and were even, not infrequently, employed as diplomatic agents, or acted as secretaries to the ruling princes. The earliest and most celebrated among these ancient Russian historical works is the Chronicle of Nestor, a monk of the Catacombs Monastery in Kieff (born about 1056), the reputed author of the document which bears his name. Modern scientists have proved that he did not write this Chronicle, the earliest copy of which dates from the fourteenth century, but its standing as a priceless monument of the twelfth century has never been impunged, since it is evident that the author gathered his information from contemporary eye-witnesses. The Chronicle begins by describing how Shem, Ham, and Japhet shared the earth between them after the flood, and gives a detailed list of the countries and peoples of the ancient world. It then states that, after the building of the Tower of Babel, God dispersed all the peoples into seventy-two tribes (or languages), the northern and western lands falling to the tribe of Japhet. Nestor derives the Slavonians from Japhet—describes their life, first on the banks of the Danube, then their colonization to the northeast as far as the River Ilmen (the ancient Novgorod), the Oka, in central Russia, and the tributaries of the Dniepr, delineating the manners and customs of the different Slavonic tribes, and bringing the narrative down to the year mo, in the form of brief, complete stories. The style of the Chronicle is simple and direct. For example, he relates how, in the year 945, the Drevlyans (or forest-folk) slew Igor, prince of Kieff, and his band of warriors, who were not numerous.

Then said the Drevlyans, " Here we have slain the Russian Prince; let us now take his wife, Olga, for our Prince Malo; and we will take also Svydtoslaff (his son), and will deal with him as we see fit"; and the Drevyldns dispatched their best men, twenty in number, in a boat, to Olga, and they landed their boat near Boritcheff, and Olga was told that the Drevlydns had arrived, and Olga summoned them to her. "Good guests are come, I hear"; and the Drevlydns said: "We are come, Princess." And Olga said to them, " Tell me, why are ye come hither?" Said the Drevlyans: "The land of the Drevlydns hath sent us," saying thus: 'We have slain thy husband, for thy husband was like unto a wolf, he was ever preying and robbing; but our own princes are good. Our Drevlyan land doth flourish under their sway; wherefore, marry thou our Prince, Malo'" for the Drevlyan Prince was named Malo. Olga said to them: "Your speech pleaseth me, for my husband cannot be raised from the dead; but I desire to show you honor, to-morrow, before my people; wherefore, to-day, go ye to your boat, arfld lie down in the boat, exalting yourselves; and to-morrow I will send for you, and ye must say: 'we will not ride on horses, we will not walk afoot, but do ye carry us in our boat.'" Thus did she dismiss them to the boat. Then Olga commanded a great and deep pit to be digged in the courtyard of the palace, outside the town. And the next morning, as Olga sat in her palace, she sent for the guests, and Olga's people came to them, saying: "Olga biddeth you to a great honor." But they said: "We will not ride on horses, nor on oxen, neither will we walk afoot, but do thou carry us in our boat." And the Kievlydns said: "We must, perforce, carry you; our prince is slain, and our princess desireth to wed your prince," and they bore them in the boat, and those men sat there and were filled with pride; and they carried them to the courtyard, to Olga, and flung them into the pit, together with their boat. And Olga, bending over the pit, said unto them: "Is the honor to your taste? " and they made answer: "It is worse than Igor's death; and she commanded that they be buried alive, and they were so buried."

The narrative goes on to state that Olga sent word to the Drevlyans, that if they were in earnest, their distinguished men must be sent to woo her for their prince; otherwise, the Kievlyans would not let her go. Accordingly, they assembled their best men, the rulers, and sent them for her. Olga had the bath heated and ordered them to bathe before presenting themselves to her, and when they began to wash, Olga had the bath-house set on fire, and burned them up. Then Olga sent again to the Drevlyans, demanding that they collect a vast amount of hydromel in the town where her husband had been slain, that she might celebrate the ancient funeral feast, and weep over his grave. So they got the honey together, and brewed the hydromel (or mead), and Olga, taking with her a small body-guard, in light marching order, set out on the road and came to her husband's grave and wept over it; and commanded her people to erect a high mound over it; and when that was done, she ordered the funeral feast to be celebrated on its summit. Then the Drevlyans sat down to drink, and Olga ordered her serving-boys to wait on them. And the Drevlyans asked Olga where was the guard of honor which they had sent for her? And she told them that it was following with her husband's body-guard. But when the Drevlyans were completely intoxicated, she ordered her serving-lads to drink in their honor, went aside, and commanded her men to slay the Drevlyans, which was done, five hundred dying thus. Then Olga returned to Kieff, and made ready an army against the remaining Drevlyans. Such is one of the vivid pictures of ancient manners and customs which the chronicle of Nestor furnishes.

The descendants of Prince-Saint Vladimir were not only patrons of education, but collectors of books. One of them, in particular, Vladimir Monomachus, is also noted as the author of the "Exhortation of Vladimir Monomachus" (end of the eleventh century), which he wrote for his children, in the style of a pastoral address from an ecclesiastic to his flock—a style which, in Russia, as elsewhere, was the inevitable result of the first efforts at non-religious literature, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. "Chiefest of all," he writes, among other things, "forget not the poor, and feed them according to your powers; give most of all to the orphans, and be ye yourselves the defenders of the widows, permitting not the mighty to destroy a human being. Slay ye not either the righteous or the guilty yourselves, neither command others to slay them. In discourse, whatsoever ye shall say, whether good or evil, swear ye not by God, neither cross ye yourselves; there is no need of it Reverence the aged

as your father, the young as brethren. In thy house be not slothful, but see to all thyself; put not thy trust in a steward, neither in a servant, that thy guests jeer not at

thy house, nor at thy dinner Love your wives,

but give them no power over you. Forget not the good ye know, and what ye know not, as yet, that learn ye," and so forth.

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