Modern Customs and Ancient Laws of Russia :
Lecture II

Modern Customs and Ancient Laws of Russia by Maxime Kovalevsky

Lecture I Contents Lecture III
Economic Treatises

The State of the Modern Russian Family, and Particularly that of the Joint or Household Community of Great Russia

We believe that the theory of the matriarchate finds a solid basis in the past history of the Russian family. The present condition of the latter seems to prove that the next stage in its evolution was the household community, composed of persons united by descent from a common forefather and accompanied by that worship of ancestors which usually resulted from it. The complete subjection of the wife to the husband, and of the children to the father; community of goods and the common enjoyment of their produce by the relatives living under the same roof; the acknowledged superiority of old age and of direct descent from the common ancestor; the total absence of testamentary dispositions of property, and even of that mode of legal succession which supposes partition, and the exclusion of the more remote by the nearer kin; the elimination of women from participation in the family estate because marriage makes them aliens; all these features of the patriarchal family so ably illustrated in the works of Sir Henry Maine, reappear in the modern constitution of the Russian family. I mean, of course, that of the country people, the middle and higher classes having already adopted European manners and customs, and being on that account subjected to a legislation which, on more than one point, is in direct opposition to customary law.

Let us study one by one the characteristic features of this family constitution of the peasant, a constitution more like that of the early Celts and Germans than that of any of the modern nations of Europe.

The great importance still attached by the Russian peasant to agnatism, that is to relationship on the father's side, is shown by the part which ancestor worship plays even now at the celebration of a country wedding. Before becoming a member of her husband's family, the bride must sever all the ties which have hitherto bound her to the house-spirits under whose protection she has passed her youth, and must solemnly adopt the worship of those of the family into which she is about to enter. This public manifestation of a change of worship is most clearly seen in the wedding ceremonies of the Southern Slavs. It is not so distinctly preserved in those of the Eastern Slavs. Both these races being identical as to their origin and nature, I will begin by first stating the religious customs, customs of an undoubtedly pagan origin -- still in use at Bulgarian betrothals. "In Lika," says M. Bogisic, "the bride, before leaving her father's house, goes three times round the hearth, prostrating herself. each time, as if to implore forgiveness." As you are aware of the intimate connection which has existed between the worship of the hearth and that of the family ancestors, I need not tell you that the act performed by the Bulgarian bride before leaving her parent's house has no other meaning than that of a last invocation of the house-spirits whose worship she is on the point of abandoning.

The spirits are supposed to be hurt by the decision she has taken to withdraw to her husband's homestead, and to be appeased by an act of humiliation on her part. When she is once in the bridegroom's house the maiden is obliged to perform another ceremony; she must seat herself close to the hearth, in order to keep up for a short time the fire burning thereon by pieces of wood thrown on to it with her own hands. The symbolical character of this ceremony may easily be perceived. The young wife is on the point of becoming a member of the house community of her husband, and as such, a participant in its family worship. Her acquiescence must be expressed by a symbol, and her keeping up the fire on the hearth is precisely such a symbol. The custom just described exists all over Bulgaria and has been more than once alluded to by modern ethnographers, M. Bogisic, Mr. Krauss, and others.

Let us now examine the corresponding customs of the Russian peasantry. In little Russia the bride, while her father is discussing the question of her marriage with the person sent by the bridegroom, is obliged by custom to remain near the hearth, towards which she stretches out her hand. By so doing she expresses her desire still to remain under the protection of the house-spirits of her family, the so-called "domovoi." A century ago, according to the statement of Kalinovsky, the day on which the bride was taken to the house of her future husband, a great fire was lighted in the yard before it, and the young couple were obliged to cross it sitting in their carriage. This custom is still observed in certain parts of the Government of Kiev, but only in those cases in which the bride is known to have misbehaved before marriage. Heaps of straw are kindled on such occasions in the yard before the bridegroom's house, and the bride who has passed safely over these fires is considered to be purified. But this does not prevent her, as soon as she has entered the house of her husband, from seeking refuge at the hearth, where she stands for a while singing a carol, the meaning of which is that she laments her past bad conduct and promises to be a good wife.

I beg you to observe that the fires are lighted in the yard of the bridegroom's house and that they are to be considered as being in direct relation with the house-community to which he belongs. Not every fire has the power of purification, only that which represents the family hearth. It is to this hearth that the young wife appeals for protection, should she have any reason to fear any ill-treatment from her husband's family, on account of her former conduct; it is before this hearth that she confesses and repents and promises to be a good and faithful wife.

In a society, in which the interests of the family constantly prevail over those of the individual (and such is certainly the case in all patriarchal societies, and amongst them the Russian), there is no room for marriages contracted by the mutual consent of the young people. I do not mean to say that Russian parents, whose duty it is to find suitable matches for their sons and daughters, never take into account the feelings of those they intend to unite. I wish only to impress on you the idea that they are not obliged to do so by custom. On more than one occasion Russian customary courts have plainly expressed the opinion that a marriage contract concluded by the bride's father with that of the future husband is a legal act, for the infringement of which amends ought to be made by the restitution to the party wronged of the loss he or she may have sustained.

The clergy very early endeavoured to put an end to the arbitrary manner in which parents disposed of their children's future, but the force of custom and the feeling that supported it were so strong that the only measure which the ecclesiastical statute of Jaroslav (XIth century) introduced for the protection of the freedom of marriageable children was the one by which a fine which went to the bishop was inflicted on the parents of a daughter who, after a marriage contracted against her will, had committed suicide.

The country people still believe that a marriage without the parent's approval will call down the wrath of Heaven on the heads of the young couple. This moral sanction, the right of parents to decide the future of their children, has received from the customary law of Russia the support of a penalty in case of disobedience; the son and daughter who conclude a marriage without consulting their parents, lose all rights to inheritance and dowry.

According to modern Russian law, marriage is a religious act; it cannot be performed without the help of the Church, and is regarded as a sacrament. But such is by no means the light in which the country people look on it, nor was it the view of the old Russian law. For many centuries the Russian clergy had to fight against the inveterate custom of our lower classes to contract unions without the sanction of the Church. The young couple saved the expense of a religious ceremony and thought their union legally established as soon as they were publicly joined to each other in the presence of the community, which was invited on the occasion to a sort of festival called the vesselic. No later than the end of the sixteenth century an assembly of Divines convened by Ivan the Cruel entered a strong protest against the custom which everywhere prevailed of omitting the religious consecration of the marriage tie, and strong measures were in consequence taken against those who did not comply with the requirements of the clergy. All, however, failed, and marriage remained in the eyes of the common people nothing more than a sort of civil contract, entered into in the presence of the community as a sign of its recognition and sanction.

That such generally was, and still is, the prevailing opinion of the Russian peasant may be seen from the following facts.

Among the Cossacks of the Don, not more than a century ago, people, as a general rule, were joined in marriage in the following way: The young couple, after previous agreement, went to the popular assembly of the village, or stanitza, this assembly being known by the name of Majdan, and declared that they had made up their minds to become husband and wife." Be my wife," said the bridegroom to the bride. "Be my husband," she answered. "So be it," chanted the assembly. "We wish you good luck and happiness."(1*)

On the Don the absence of a religious ceremony may, to a certain extent, be explained by the scarcity of priests; but such is by no means the case in those provinces which were annexed to Muscovy in the middle of the seventeenth century, after ages of political dependence on Poland. I refer to the Governments of Kiev, Tchernigov, and Poltava, which constitute what in our days is known under the name of Little Russia. It is, therefore, very interesting to find that in those provinces the religious consecration of marriage is still considered by the peasants as a superfluous ceremony. Matrimonial life begins here after the nuptial festival, the "vesselic," and weeks may pass before the couple find it necessary to be married at church. Facts of the same description have been noticed by Madame Efimenko in the extreme north of Russia, in the Government of Archangel, occupied by colonists from Great Russia.

The customary law of Russia, like the old German jurisprudence, established a difference between betrothal and marriage. Both are considered to be legal acts, and both ought therefore to have distinct legal effects. Betrothal is legally concluded as soon as the two families have come to an agreement, first, as to the amount of the marriage expenses each party is to bear, and secondly, as to the time fixed for the wedding. The expenses are of different kinds: they comprise, first, the "kladka" of the bridegroom, a sort of pretium emptionis paid to the bride's father, and the dowry which the bride receives from her family. Then come the presents to be made by each party to the parents of the bride and those of the bridegroom, and the amount of expense which the bridegroom has to incur on the occasion of the nuptial feast. All these are regularly discussed and settled by a sort of verbal agreement, known among the peasantry by the name of "riad." In ancient Russia when agreements of this kind were entered into even by the higher classes, the "riad" was always put down in the form of a written contract, and this is still occasionally done in the northern Governments of Russia, especially in that of Archangel. Betrothal is considered to be legally concluded at the moment when the two parties, that of the bridegroom and that of the bride, have shaken hands. It is not without reason that i insist on the fact that it is this indefinite expression of the two parties which concludes the act of betrothal. I want to impress on your minds that the presence of the bridegroom's father is not considered necessary. An outsider, called "Svat," may be authorised by the father to speak and act for him in a contract of this sort.

As soon as the ceremony of shaking hands is over neither of the contracting parties can break the engagement without incurring the obligation of pecuniary compensation for the wrong he does to the other party by his breach of contract. This compensation is of two different kinds: the one seems to have rather a moral, the other a purely monetary or material origin. If the bride's party breaks the contract, the bridegroom and his family consider themselves injured in their honour. If, however, the breach of promise has been made by the bridegroom, the case is more serious. Then it is not only the honour of the bride that suffers, but also the material interests of the family, since a bride rejected by the man whom she was on the point of marrying, will generally experience great difficulty in finding another suitor. Such being the case, the customary court of the village usually accords to the party aggrieved the right to demand a pecuniary compensation "for the loss of honour the bride is supposed to have sustained" ("sa beschestic," say our peasants). In case security has been received for a bridegroom's performance of his promise by a pledge or by the partial payment of the money which he owes to the bride's father, the question of compensation is easily settled, as the family of the bride retain for her own use the money already received; but if no payment has been made, the court must decide the amount to be paid. It very seldom happens that the sum demanded exceeds thirty roubles, at least, in the provinces of Great Russia. No extenuating circumstances are admitted on this occasion by the Court. A father leaving once declared that he was drunk when he gave his consent to the proposed marriage of his son, received no other answer but this:

"You may be drunk, but you must be clever" (bud pyan da umen).

The breach of contract may have two different results: one, that which I have just mentioned, a compensation in money for the loss of honour; as to the other, I have already stated that the contract of betrothal contains certain engagements as to the amount of the pretium emptionis, of the dowry and of the different expenses to be incurred by each party on the occasion of the marriage. If certain of these engagements have been partly fulfilled before the breach of promise, the wronged party has the right to demand the restitution of the money which had been spent; the bridegroom receives back the presents which he has made to his bride, and the bride those given to the bridegroom. The Courts uniformly recognise the necessity for such mutual restitution, the only exception being when the money already paid serves to constitute the amount of compensation to either party for the wrong inflicted by the loss of honour.

The contract of marriage which follows that of betrothal, cannot at the present time be dissolved; but we should be mistaken if we inferred from this fact that this indissolubility of marriage has always been recognised by the common law of Russia. Though the peasants are now known to use the following aphorisms: "Marriage is known but not unmarriage;" "A bad pope may marry you, but even a good one cannot unmarry you," the case was quite different in the past. Not longer ago than the end of the eighteenth century the Cossacks of the Don practiced divorce. A husband and wife who did not wish to live together any longer, appeared before the popular assembly and made the following declaration. "This woman is no longer my wife;" "this man is no longer my husband." "Be it so," was the answer of the assembly, and the marriage tie ceased to exist. During the sixteenth century husbands in Great Russia were still accustomed to grant their wives full liberty to contract a new engagement, or, at least, to live apart from their legal lords. An archbishop of Novgorod , Theodosius, bitterly complained of this practice. Up to the middle of the eighteenth century the Russian clergy dissolved the marriage bond very often for no other reason than that of incompatibility of temper, this incompatibility appearing in the dissolute life of either husband or wife.

The memory of those days is still preserved among the country folk, and we can explain the part taken by the customary Courts, in direct contradiction to the law, only by the influence on them of tradition. They take part in the making of certain contracts in which husbands and wives who no longer wish to live under the same roof, waive questions of interest, and agree to interfere no more with each other's existence.

The part which the community is called on to play in the contract and dissolution of marriage is strikingly manifested in certain peculiar ceremonies still in use at a Little Russian wedding. The tokens of the damsel's virginity are exhibited in much the same way as they were exhibited unto the elders of a Jewish city, as is described in the twenty-second chapter of Deuteronomy. The whole company then begin to shout loudly, congratulating the mother of the bride, and eulogising the maiden's virtue. In case the newly married wife is no longer a virgin, and her husband makes no statement as to his previous cohabitation with her, instead of praises and cheers, the most violent abuse is poured on the parents of the bride, and the most shameful songs are sung. They often go on to insulting acts, such as the following: spirits are offered in derision to the bride's mother in a glass with a hole in the bottom; the outside walls of the house are blackened with tar; a hole is made in the stove in order to show the stain which the hearth has suffered. Sometimes, also, one of the guests climbs up to the top of the house and begins to throw water down on all sides -- a symbol of the liberality with which the new wife has distributed her favours to all those who asked for them. Very frequently, also, the parents of the bride are insulted by having yokes made of straw, previously besmeared with tar and dirt, placed by force on their necks.

The reciprocal rights and duties of husband and wife according to Russian customary law, and the position of children as regards their parents, are the next topics I intend to discuss in the present lecture.

The husband is acknowledged to be the master of the woman he has married. "The wife is in the power of her husband," so runs the common saying, and the fact of her complete subjection to his will is illustrated by certain symbolical acts performed at the time of the wedding. The bridegroom, while he is leading his bride to her future home, gives her from time to time light blows from a whip, saying at each stroke: "Forget the manners of thine own family, and learn those of mine." As soon as they have entered their bedroom, the husband says to his wife, "Take off my boots." The wife immediately obeys her husband's orders, and, taking them off, finds in one of them a whip, symbol of his authority over her person. This authority implies the right of the husband to control the behaviour of his wife, and to correct her every time he thinks fit, not only by words, but also by blows. The opinion which a Russian writer of the sixteenth century, the pope or priest Silvester (the author of The Domostroy), expressed as to the propriety of personal chastisement, and even as to its beneficial effects on the health, is still shared by the country people. In more than one popular song the wife is represented as bitterly complaining of the indifference of a husband who never on any occasion gives her a good beating. "I thrash those I love best," says a well-known Russian proverb. The customary Court seems to admit the use of such disciplinary proceedings by not interfering in the personal relations of husband and wife. "Never judge the quarrel of husband and wife," is a common saying, scrupulously observed by the village tribunals, which refuse to hear any complaint on the part of the aggrieved woman, at least so long as the punishment has not been of such a nature as to endanger life or limb. Where that is the case, the offender may be condemned to imprisonment, and the outraged victim allowed to retire for a time to the home of her parents. The customary law has, however, taken effectual measures for the protection of the wife's fortune. That husband and wife should each have entirely distinct property, with sole control over it, is still the leading principle at least in Great Russia. In the provinces which, like those of Little Russia, have been for centuries subject to the statute of Lithuania and the municipal law of Magdeburg, the system of a partial community of goods has prevailed. According to the customary law of Kiev, Poltava, and Chernigov, a widow has a right to the third part of the fortune left by her husband. in former times this third part was a sort of pledge for the security of the dowry of the wife.

A few words will suffice to give a general idea of the dependence in which the children are placed as regards their parents, and more especially their father. The patriarchal character of the Russian family plainly appears in the fact that no amount of bad treatment on the part of the parents justifies an appeal to the village tribunal, unless it involves danger to life or limb. In such cases, the nature of which makes it difficult to establish the facts before a Court of Law, the further maintenance of the child is generally committed to some near relative.

The complete dependence of the children upon their parents in respect to fortune is proved by the fact that neither son nor daughter can claim any portion of the family estate. The father can, as he pleases, give or refuse a dowry to his daughter. Should she marry against his wish no dowry is given, and she enters penniless into her husband's family. It equally depends upon the father's pleasure whether he shall transfer a portion of his property to a grown-up son, or maintain it intact in spite of his son's manifest wishes. An act of insubordination on the part of the son, as for instance, his marrying without permission, may become the occasion for his complete disinheritance by the father, at least so far as the father's fortune is concerned. I make this exception, inasmuch as, besides his share in the father's fortune, the son may be enabled to inherit from his mother's estate, or may possess property' the gift of some relative Or friend. Such property must be scrupulously guarded by the father whose rights over it are only those of the natural guardian of his son's fortune.

Hitherto we have spoken of the Russian family as of a kind of natural society, created by marriage and continued by the birth of children; but side by side with this form of family organisation, differing only in detail from that of Western Europe, there exists in Russia a peculiar mode of family communism. In various parts of the country numerous persons, sometimes amounting to fifty and rarely to less than ten, are to be found united in a common household, living under the same roof and taking their meals at the same table. A family constituted after this fashion is known to English scholars under the name of "The Joint Family" or "House Community." Sir Henry Maine has made the notion of it generally familiar through his marvellous investigations in the early law of Ireland and the modern customs of Northern India. He has also correctly settled the question of its origin by appealing to natural increase and non-division as the real sources of its growth. He has even made an attempt to show that it was not limited to distinct peoples or races, but that, notwithstanding the immense distance which separates the Eastern or Hindoo branch of the Aryan race from the European branches, notwithstanding, also, the difference in the historical development which may be traced between its Celtic and Slavonic ramifications, joint households are as likely to be met with in the defiles of the Himalayas as in the plains of old Erin or of modern Servia. Taking advantage of the recent investigations made by Professor Bogisic in the customary law of the Southern Slavs, Sir Henry Maine has presented a lively picture of the interior organisation of the famous Servian "Zadrouga," which, as he shows, has more than one feature in common with the House Community of the Rajpoots. The barrier of language, of which he so often complains, prevented this master in the field of comparative jurisprudence from completing his studies of the patriarchal system of House Communities by investigating the Undivided Household of Great Russia. This Undivided Household has been recently the subject of numerous and serious inquiries on the part of Russian ethnographers; and the results of their investigations I desire now to lay before you.

First of all let me tell you that the undivided household of the Eastern Slavs is a very ancient institution. In the so-called Chronicle of Nestor, mention is made of the "gens" organisation of the Polians, a Slavonic tribe, dwelling as I have already said, on the banks of the Dnieper. The Polians are stated to live (I translate literally) "each ruling his own kindred or gens (rod svoi) and occupying distinct localities." This rather obscure text authorises the supposition that the Polians were divided into independent house-communities, each of which possessed its own piece of land. Another reference is made to these Undivided Households in one of the paragraphs of the Pravda of Jaroslav, (2*) a sort of Mirror of Justice compiled in the middle of the eleventh century, by order of the Grand Duke Jaroslav, son of that Vladimir who introduced Christianity into Russia. The frequent occurrence of South Slavonic terms in this the oldest Russian code, such, for instance, as that of "bratouchada" (the son of the brother, the nephew) confirms the hypothesis first put forth, so far as I know, by the well-known professor of Russian history at Moscow, Mr Kluchevsky, that the work of codification had been entrusted to some southern Slav. This is the more likely as owing to the recent introduction of Christianity and learning into Russia, there was a lack of well-educated natives, so that the Byzantine Church had frequently to have recourse to priests of South Slavonic origin, in order to propagate the Gospel and the elements of learning among their eastern and northern brethren. Old Russian being much more like the language into which the Holy Scriptures had been translated, and the Slavonic dialect of the translation being that of the Southern Slavs, priests of Bulgarian or Servian origin were the fittest persons in Russia to be employed in this work. The translation of Greek texts, the transcription and composition of Slavonic and Russian MSS., as also the first attempts at a written exposition of Russian customary law would equally fall into their hands. The share of. a Southern Slav in the work of codification would explain the presence in the Pravda of Jaroslav of a term which has led to much comment. The word in question is verv. Various guesses had been made as to its meaning, when at last Professor Leontovitch had the good fortune to find it used in an old South Slavonic customary, the statute of Politza, and that in the sense of Undivided Household or House Community. The sense agrees with the context of the two paragraphs in which the word is used in the Pravda. In one of them mention is made of a case where the body of a man belonging to the "following" of the duke has been found within the limits of a verv; and the other says that in such a case the whole verv must pay in common a fine similar to that which was inflicted in England in such cases during the reigns of William the Conqueror and the early Plantagenets.

A "verv," paying in common a sort of pecuniary composition for a crime supposed to have been committed by one of its members; a "verv" possessing its own proper limits, and therefore its own territorial possession, exactly corresponds to a house-community, in which several persons, living under the same roof and owning land in common, are jointly answerable for the crimes and misdemeanours committed within the limits of their possessions.

If from the eleventh and twelfth centuries, during which the different versions of the Pravda were drawn up, we pass to the end of the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth centuries, we find the same village community mentioned, as well in the North Western principalities of Russia -- that of Pscov, for example, as in those of the South West which were ruled by the Statute of Lithuania. The name under which the members of these communities are known to the Russian law is that of "siabri." This term is employed both by the judicial charter of Pscov (1397-1467) and by the before-mentioned Statute of Lithuania (1529). This word siabri is also to be found among the Southern Slavs. The code of Servian laws, published by King Stefan Douschan in the year 1349, makes frequent use of it when speaking of the peasants.(3*) The peasants of Servia, having always lived, and still living, in undivided households, the term meaning co-partners in the enjoyment of an undivided property, was very naturally applied to them and it is this meaning that the word still keeps in the judicial charter of Pscov, and also in the Statute of Lithuania. The latter was the chief source of the customary law of Little Russia, and the term "siabri" and the institution it calls to mind, are often mentioned in the Little Russian documents of the last three centuries. A recent survey of these sources, made by Professor Louchitzky, has quite settled the question of the existence of House Communities even in those provinces of Little Russia where in our time division of property most prevails. Here as elsewhere individualism seems to have been preceded by a sort of family communism like that of India, ireland and the South Slavonian principalities.

The term siabri is not the only one used by Old Russian writers to designate the members of such a household. They are often spoken of in the financial surveys of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries under the characteristic name of hearth, pechische. The so-called piszoviia knigi, a kind of survey very like the poll-tax rolls still preserved in the Record Office, speak of the hearth as the unit of taxation. The pechische of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries corresponds to the feu of Burgundy and is even known by that name in some of the northern provinces of Russia. The private charters, which are still preserved by more than one family in the Government of Archangel, some of which were drawn up in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when speaking of the house community always make use of the term ognische, a word which means the hearthfire, thus showing that what constituted the tie between members of the same household was their cooking food at the same hearth.

Thus far we have shown the high antiquity of the institution which we are engaged in examining. Let us now proceed to the study of its characteristic features.

All over Russia, but particularly within the boundaries of the old Muscovite empire, communities of persons belonging to the same kindred and living under the same roof are still in existence. The number of persons belonging to these communities varies from ten, or even less, to fifty and upwards. In the government of Koursk, a community composed of about sixty persons has recently been noticed by Professor Samokvasov. But such cases are rare, and the number of persons living in common does not, as a rule, exceed twenty or thirty. Among them we find the grandfather and grandmother, the father and mother, sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, with such other persons as may be united to them by ties of marriage, as daughters-in-law in right of their husbands, and sons-in-law in right of their wives. Persons incorporated into the family, working for the common good, and having shares in the family profits are often mentioned by writers on Russian folk-lore. Besides these others may perchance have become members, as for instance persons adopted into it, or the children of a widow contracting a new marriage with a member of the community, who, on account of her unwillingness to be separated from them, come to live with her under the roof of her new husband.

From this we see how various may have been the origin of those who were members of the Undivided Family. Blood-relationship, in the proper sense of the word, is not always required, it suffices that the members be considered as relatives; adoption takes the place of actual descent, and the fact of sharing the daily work very often gives a stranger the rights of a relative.

Undivided households are, as a rule, governed by the oldest members of the community, but in case of prolonged illness or want of mental power the oldest member may be superseded by another, sometimes elected by the whole community. The name given to the house-elder is bolschack, which means the greatest in power. His authority and functions perfectly correspond to those belonging, in a Servian zadruga, to the so-called "domachin." Like the domachin, he is assisted in the difficult task of governing the female part of the house community by some aged woman, known by the name of "bolschoucha" (the greatest woman), who is not always his wife.

It would be a gross error to look upon the house-elder of a Russian undivided family as holding the same position as the Roman paterfamilias. The house-elder has neither the authority nor the amount of independence enjoyed by the paterfamilias in the administration of the family fortune. The Russian house-elder, like the Servian domachin, is but primus inter pares. All the grown-up members of the community constitute a sort of family council, whose advice must be regularly asked in matters of importance. The domachin has no right to dispose of the family possessions without the unanimous consent of all the persons for whom he acts. When I say all, I mean of course only the grown-up members, women as well as men. The women's opinion, though of less importance than the men's, is not to be disregarded, the more so on account of the influence which they exercise on their husbands.

The functions of the house-elder are of very various kinds. We must mention first of all his exclusive right to represent the community before the executive and judicial authorities of the village and district (selo i volost). It is he who regularly appears in the courts, either to answer the complaints against the community, or to insist on the recognition of rights which have been violated. It is to him also that the Government officials address their demand for the speedy payment of the taxes. It is his duty to attend to the execution of the law concerning military service, and to the carrying out of the different orders issued by the local and provincial authorities.

As to the duties which the domachin has to perform in connection with the interior administration of the household, they are of two different kinds: they concern either the persons who compose the house community, or the undivided property owned by them. All disputes arising between co-partners are settled by the house-elder, who is regularly assisted in such cases by the family council. His interference in the relations between husband and wife, between parents and children, sometimes exerts a highly beneficial influence, in so far as it prevents cases of gross abuse in the exercise of marital and paternal power; but it often happens on the other hand that disputes between married couples are embittered by the partiality of the house-elder for one or other party. On more than one occasion husbands have been known to inflict severe punishment on their wives because they were ordered to do so by the head of the community; instances, too, are very frequent in which the wife, encouraged by the support of the house-elder, disregards the rights of her husband, and lives in almost open adultery with the person whose chief duty ought to consist in the maintenance of a high moral standard amongst the persons over whom he exercises authority.

The house-elder has also, if not a casting vote, at least a consultative voice in such matters as the choice of a wife, or the giving of a daughter in marriage. As the amount of the dowry is always fixed by the family council, presided over by its chief, his decision very often settles the question as to the acceptance or refusal of the offer of marriage. It is also the duty of the house-elder to find occupation for the unemployed members of the household. If the community is too large to allow of all its members being employed in agricultural labour, the family finds it advantageous to permit a certain number of its members to seek their fortunes abroad, either in private service or as small traders or pedlars, travelling about the country with packs on their backs. Such petty hawkers, verv numerous in our Eastern provinces, are known in Russia under the various names of "ofeni," "chodebocschiki," "korobhniki," and "prosoli." They render a real service to the country population, which, at least in places far distant from railways and markets, would without them have no means of procuring the most simple necessaries of life.

Young orphans find in the person of the house-elder their legal guardian; their moral and mental education depends solely on him; it is be who sends them to school, finds employment for them in the fields, or apprentices them to the different village artisans to learn a trade by which to earn a future livelihood.

As the administration of the family fortune, as I have already said, falls on the house-elder, he makes all arrangements that are needful to secure that every kind of agricultural labour shall be properly done, assigning to each his daily share in the ploughing, harrowing, and sowing of the fields, thrashing of the corn, and such like occupations. If the number of hands of which the family can dispose is not sufficient to answer all its requirements, he hires others to help them. When the time comes for the exchange of harvest produce for such articles as the peasants may need, it is again the business of the house-elder to sign contracts of sale or exchange. Those under his charge have in such cases the right to control actions and to demand a full account of all the moneys received or paid by him. This control is particularly useful on those somewhat rare occasions when, in consequence of a series of bad harvests, the family is obliged to dispose of a part of its estate. On such occasions the whole family has a voice in the selection of the purchases. Their unanimous consent, plainly expressed in the act of sale, is necessary in order to render it legal.

The resources by which the family provides for all its requirements are of different kinds: some are derived from the lands it owns, others from the private earnings of its members. Widely separated though some of its members may be from the family, the travelling pedlar, the labourer who has hired himself out on some distant farm, the soldier and sailor fighting in some foreign country or sailing to some distant land, nevertheless they all look upon it a duty to allow their family to share in their earnings. On its part the House Community does not object to maintain the wife and children of an absent member, or to pay the amount of his yearly taxes. The communistic character of the great Russian family is shown by the ease with which the household gets its members who are temporarily separated from it to pay over to it the gains which they make. These, as a rule, make no claim to keep their earnings for themselves. The peculium castrense and quasi castrense, formerly known to the ancient Romans, appear still to exist among the members of the Russian house communities of the present day. if a movement in favour of the establishment of private property can be detected it is only in the private earnings made by the women and girls in their leisure hours. These earnings accumulated hour by hour and day by day form, as a rule, the principal part of the future dowry, the father and mother making but a small addition to the sum got together by the industry and thrift of a maiden who for many years has been preparing for her marriage. The Undivided Household of Great Russia may in this respect be compared to the house community of India, for it also secures to an unmarried woman the right of providing a peculium apart, a sort of independent fortune, the so-called "stridhana," by the accumulation of the small savings she regularly makes by needle work.

Now that I have traced, though only in its general outlines, that peculiar institution known in Russia under the rather vague term of "The Great Family," let me call your attention to the advantages and disadvantages which this institution presents. Its great merit certainly consists in the fact that it develops to a far larger extent than the small families of our days the feeling of mutual dependence and joint relationship without which no system of social reform can have any chance of success. Possessing as they do no other but common property and having an equal share in all the material enjoyments of fortune, the members of these communistic bodies escape from the disheartening influence of economic competition.

The conditions of this existence necessarily develop in them all the consciousness of mutual responsibility, and the conviction that without reliance on one another they cannot overcome the dangers and difficulties of life. It would be a study of high psychological interest to analyse the character of a people which had grown up under such conditions, and to show how far the inborn selfish instincts of man have been moderated by the softening influence of a state of society which, to a certain extent, does away with the necessity for an uninterrupted struggle for life. The Russian novelists, conscious of what might properly be expected of them, have more than once tried to give a picture of the Russian "moujik" who is so unlike the French "paysan," that petty owner of a small piece of land jealously watched and guarded from the encroachments of his neighbour and from those of the State.

The life-like characters drawn by our great author, Tourgenieff, in his vivid "Sketches of a Sportsman" are, I believe, the best illustrations that have ever been given of the thoughts and feelings of our people -a people who, though rough and rude, yet enjoy the great blessing of being unconscious of the need of securing their individual happiness by a constant struggle and by the pursuit of egotistic ends. The reliance shown by the Russian peasant on the community, his conviction that the mir is always just and reasonable, and that truth is nowhere to be found but in the unanimous opinion of the people have certainly developed estimable qualities and have helped to make the Russian moujik a communist. That this is really the case, and that his character has been modified by the system of the Great Family, is proved by the fact that wherever a division of the common property had taken place, wherever the peasant has been reduced by his own will to depend entirely on his personal industry for his success in life, he has become the pushing, unscrupulous man whom the American novelist has rendered so familiar to us. Two great Russian writers, Mr Ouspensky and Mr Slatovraczky, both equally unknown to the English public although their popularity amongst my countrymen almost equals that of Tourgenieffor Tolstoi, have recently published two widely different accounts of the social and psychological condition of our peasants. Mr Ouspensky has spoken of the peasant as a creature whose ethics almost entirely depend upon the regular performance of agricultural labour. As long as he remains a proprietor his morals are sound, but let him once lose the piece of land which he has made fruitful by the sweat of his brow he is sure to fall into debauchery and vice. Mr Slatovraczky has depicted him as a kind of unselfish philosopher, who thinks that the products of the earth are the common inheritance of all men, and that the chief duty of a Christian is to help his neighbour, sometimes even at his own expense.

Now, what may seem hardly credible is that both authors have been applauded by the same public -- applauded, moreover, because both were equally correct in their statements. The key to the mystery is to be found in the fact that it is a different life which is pictured by each -- the first having chosen his hero from among the members of a broken-up house community; the second among those still living in common. Our thoughts and feelings being directly influenced by our social conditions, Mr Ouspensky's hero presents to us all the features of a hard worker, pursuing no other object than his own interests and welfare, whilst Mr Slatovraczky's hero appears to be "a person living not after the word of man but after the word of God," caring for his fellow-creatures almost as much as for himself.(4*)

There is exaggeration in the way in which both authors represent the modern Russian moujik; for the sense of proportion which was so highly valued by the ancients is not always possessed by my countrymen; but even taking into account this partiality for certain social forms and institutions, I believe they have rendered us a real service by pointing out the intimate correspondence that exists between the moral character of our peasantry and their ancient mode of life.

I must, nevertheless, confess that morality, that at least which is concerned with the relations between the sexes, has not much to gain from the close packing under the same roof of persons differing in sex and age. I leave to Mr. Anatole Leroy Beaulieu the task of instructing you on this subject: "Chez un peuple pauvre et chez des hommes grossiers," says this acute French observer, "tout n'est point profit et vertu sous le regime patriarcal. On sait combien de maux de toutes sortes derivent dans les grandes villes d'occident, de l'etroitesse des logements et de l'entassement des individus. Les incony enients ne sont pas moindres en Russie. Quand une etroite izba (chaumiere) reunit plusieurs generations et plusieurs menages, que durant les longues nuits d'un long hiver les peres et les enfants, les freres et leurs femmes couchent pele-mele autour du large poele, il en resulte une sorte de promiscuite aussi malsaine pour l'ame que pour le corps. Chez le moujik, alors meme que les enfants maries habitaient plusieurs izbas disposees autour de la meme cour, l'autocratie domestique etait un danger pour l'integrite et la chastete de la famille. De meme que le proprietaire noble sur les serves de ses domaines, le chef de maison s'arrogeait parfois une sorte de droit du seigneur sur les femmes soumises a son autorite. Le chef, designe du surnom le Vieux, qui, grace a la precocite des marriages, avait souvent a peine quarante ans, prelevait sur ses belles filles un tribut que la jeunesse ou la dependance de ses fils leur defendait de lui contester. Il n'etait point rare de voir ainsi le foyer domestique souillie par l'autorite qui en devait maintenir la purete.(5*)

It may also certainly be questioned how far the loss of a spirit of personal enterprise, and the removal of a strong feeling of self-reliance ought to be considered beneficial. I have no doubt that if modern Russia produces on the minds of foreign observers an impression as of a land of paupers, the reason of it, or at least one of the reasons, is to be found in the prevalence of these old communistic institutions. We must not forget that it is the principle of self-help that has created the material growth of England and of the United States of America. But in entering on these discussions I trench on very uncertain ground. The relative advantages and disadvantages of individualism and of communism have furnished matter for warm controversy from the time of Plato down to the time of Ruskin and of Spencer, and we need not discuss them here. I think it better to state that the Russian peasant, at least in our time, is not insensible to the advantages of individualism, as is well shown by the fact that between two and three million divisions of House Communities have been effected since the day when the liberated serf obtained the right to make them. If divisions of family property were rare before 1861, the year of the abolition of serfdom, the reason lies in the fact that the manorial lords and the State were alike interested in the preservation of the system of Undivided Households. The natural responsibility of the members for the payment of taxes and for the execution of those various kinds of agricultural labour which serfs were bound to perform on the lands of the manor, were advantages far too precious to be easily abandoned. It was, and it still is, for the interests of the national treasury that these divisions should not take place. It is for this reason that the Government, concealing its real designs under a show of good-will towards an old and venerable institution, has recently taken measures to prevent further divisions. It is no longer with the majority that the decision is to rest in questions of this kind, but with the chief of the household, a person who is, of course, as a rule, interested in the maintenance of non-division.

The reasons which are brought forward by the peasants to justify their breaking up of Undivided Households are generally the following: Non-division, they say, causes the able and laborious to work for the idle and incapable. It is unjust to force an unmarried person to divide his savings with a relative enjoying the pleasures of married life and a numerous progeny, who, on account of their youth, are not yet able to earn anything by the work of their hands. They also affirm that, as the dwelling-place is too small to accommodate a large family, they are forced to divide in order to live with decency.

It is also often said that disputes among the women are the direct cause of separation, while, again, some peasants frankly avow that they insist on leaving their communistic mode of life in order to have their own homes and to be their own masters.(6*) If the objections just mentioned are not those of individualism, I do not know what individualism is.

It is in the most fertile regions of Russia -- in Little Russia and New Russia -- that divisions have been most numerous. in these parts small families are already the general rule, as the black soil of those districts is rich enough to pay the taxes that are levied, and the peasant is not alarmed by the prospect of being deprived of the aid of his relatives. The spirit of independence of the Cossacks, which all those who are acquainted with them readily acknowledge, explains to a great extent the reason why the undivided household is dying out in the southern and south-western parts of Russia.

The northern provinces will certainly sooner or later follow the same path, and the patriarchal house community will disappear in Russia, just as it has disappeared in France, Italy, and Spain, and as it is disappearing in our days in Servia and Croatia. For we must not think that this system was altogether unknown to the people of Western Europe. Not only in Ireland, where its previous existence had been recognised by Sir Henry Maine, but also among the German and Latin races, the undivided household was, a few centuries ago, a still living institution. Guy Coquille, a legal writer of the sixteenth century, speaks of them in the province of Nivernais, and they have recently been discovered in the old charters of Berry. The "consorteria" of medieval Tuscany, the "genealogie" of the old Alemannic law, and the still existing "Companias" of Spanish Galicia, are but different names to designate the Undivided household. If these have disappeared, or are likely to disappear, in the near future, it is because they have been forced to yield to the requirements of individualism. I see no reason why the same thing should not happen in Russia.


1. Charousin, "The Cossack Communities of the Don" (Moscow, 1883), p. 74. Return to the Text

2. "The Pravda of Jaroslav", published by Kalachev, ss. 88, 89. Return to the Text

3. This word appears, for instance, in the following sentences; "No political assembly of the 'siabri' ought to exist." "If any one convenes it, let him lose his ears." Return to the Text

4. The two novels to which I allude are, "The Power of the Land," by Ouspensky, and "The Solid Base" (Oustoi), by Slatovraczky. Both novels were published in Moscow. Return to the Text

5. "L'Empire des Tzars et les Russes," p. 488. Return to the Text

6. Compare what M. Dobrotvorsky says about the family in the Government of Vladmir (Juridical Journal, Moscow, 1889, vol. ii. p. 283). Return to the Text

Lecture I Contents Lecture III
Economic Treatises

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