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CHAPTER I.: A brief description. - John Milton, The Prose Works of John Milton, vol. 2 
The Prose Works of John Milton, With a Biographical Introduction by Rufus Wilmot Griswold. In Two Volumes (Philadelphia: John W. Moore, 1847). Vol. 2.
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A brief description.
The empire of Moscovia, or as others call it Russia, is bounded on the north with Lapland and the ocean; southward by the Crim Tartar; on the west by Lithuania, Livonia, and Poland; on the east by the river Ob, or Oby, and the Nagayan Tartars on the Volga as fas as Astracan.
The north parts of this country are so barren, that the inhabitants fetch their corn a thousand miles;* and so cold in winter, that the very sap of their woodfuel burning on the fire, freezes at the brand’s end, where it drops. The mariners, which were left on shipboard in the first English voyage thither, in going up only from the cabins to the hatches,† had their breath so congealed by the cold, that they fell down as it were stifled. The bay of St. Nicholas, where they first put in,‡ lieth in sixty-four degrees; called so from the abbey there built of wood, wherein are twenty monks, unlearned, as then they found them, and great drunkards: their church is fair, full of images and tapers. There are besides but six houses, whereof one built by the English. In the bay over against the abbey is Rose Island,§ full of damask and red roses, violets, and wild rosemary; the isle is in circuit seven or eight miles; about the midst of May, the snow there is cleared, having two months been melting; then the ground in fourteen days is dry, and grass knee-deep within a month; after September frost returns, and snow a yard high: it hath a house built by the English near to a fresh fair spring. North-east of the abbey, on the other side of Duina, is the castle of Archangel, where the English have another house. The river Duina, beginning about seven hundred miles within the country, having first received Pinega, falls here into the sea, very large and swift, but shallow. It runneth pleasantly between hills on either side; beset like a wilderness with high fir and other trees. Their boats of timber, without any iron in them, are either to sail, or to be drawn up with ropes against the stream.
North-east beyond Archangel standeth Lampas,∥ where twice a year is kept a great fair of Russes, Tartars, and Samoëds; and to the landward Mezen, and Slobotca, two towns of traffic between the river Pechora, or Petzora, and Duina: to seaward lies the cape of Candinos, and the island of Colgoieve, about thirty leagues from the bar of Pechory in sixty-nine degrees.*
The river Pechora or Petzora, holding his course through Siberia, how far the Russians thereabouts know not, runneth into the sea at seventy-two mouths, full of ice; abounding with swans, ducks, geese, and partridge, which they take in July, sell the feathers, and salt the bodies for winter provision. On this river spreading to a lake, stands the town of Pustozera in sixty-eight degrees,† having some eighty or a hundred houses, where certain merchants of Hull wintered in the year sixteen hundred and eleven. The town Pechora, small and poor, hath three churches. They traded there up the river four days’ journey to Oustzilma a small town of sixty houses. The Russians that have travelled say, that this river springs out of the mountains of Jougoria, and runs through Permia. Not far from the mouth thereof are the straits of Vaigats, of which hereafter: more eastward is the point of Naramzy, the next to that the river Ob;‡ beyond which the Moscovites have extended lately their dominion. Touching the Riphæan mountains, whence Tanais was anciently thought to spring, our men could hear nothing; but rather that the whole country is champaign, and in the northermost part huge and desert woods of fir, abounding with black wolves, bears, buffs, and another beast called rossomakka, whose female bringeth forth by passing through some narrow place, as between two stakes, and so presseth her womb to a disburdening.
Travelling southward they found the country more pleasant, fair, and better inhabited, corn, pasture, meadows, and huge woods. Arkania (if it be not the same with Archangel) is a place of English trade, from whence a day’s journey distant, but from St. Nicholas a hundred versts,§ Colmogro stands on the Duina; a great town not walled, but scattered. The English have here lands of their own, given them by the emperor, and fair houses: not far beyond, Pinega, running between rocks of alabaster and great woods, meets with Duina. From Colmogro to Usting are five hundred versts or little miles, an ancient city upon the confluence of Juga and Sucana into Duina,∥ which there first receives his name. Thence continuing by water to Wologda, a great city so named of the river which passes through the midst; it hath a castle walled about with brick and stone, and many wooden churches, two for every parish, the one in winter to be heated, the other used in summer; this is a town of much traffic, a thousand miles from St. Nicholas. All this way by water no lodging is to be had but under open sky by the river side, and other provision only what they bring with them. From Wologda by sled they go to Yeraslave on the Volga, whose breadth is there at least a mile over, and thence runs two thousand seven hundred versts to the Caspian sea,¶ having his head spring out of Bealozera, which is a lake, amidst whereof is built a strong tower, wherein the kings of Moscovy reserve their treasure in time of war. From this town to Rostove, then to Pereslave, a great town situate on a fair lake, thence to Mosco.
Between Yeraslave and Mosco, which is two hundred miles, the country is so fertile, so populous and full of villages, that in a forenoon seven or eight hundred sleds are usually seen coming with salt-fish, or laden back with corn.**
Mosco the chief city, lying in fifty-five degrees, distant from St. Nicholas fifteen hundred miles, is reputed to be greater than London with the suburbs, but rudely built;* their houses and churches most of timber, few of stone, their streets unpaved; it hath a fair castle four-square, upon a hill, two miles about, with brick walls very high, and some say eighteen foot thick, sixteen gates, and as many bulwarks; in the castle are kept the chief markets, and in winter on the river, being then firm ice. This river Moscua on the south-west side encloses the castle, wherein are nine fair churches with round gilded towers, and the emperor’s palace; which neither within nor without is equal for state to the king’s houses in England, but rather like our buildings of old fashion with small windows, some of glass, some with lattices, or iron bars.
They who travel from Mosco to the Caspian, go by water down the Moscua to the river Occa;† then by certain castles to Rezan, a famous city now ruinate; the tenth day to Nysnovogrod, where Occa falls into Volga, which the Tartars call Edel. From thence the eleventh day to Cazan a Tartar city of great wealth heretofore, now under the Russian; walled at first with timber and earth, but since by the emperor Vasiliwich with free stone. From Cazan, to the river Cama, falling into Volga from the province of Permia, the people dwelling on the left side are Gentiles, and live in woods without houses:‡ beyond them to Astracan, Tartars of Mangat, and Nagay: on the right side those of Crimme. From Mosco to Astracan is about six hundred leagues. The town is situate in an island on a hill-side walled with earth, but the castle with earth and timber; the houses, except that of the governor, and some few others, poor and simple; the ground utterly barren, and without wood: they live there on fish, and sturgeon especially; which hanging up to dry in the streets and houses brings whole swarms of flies, and infection to the air, and oft great pestilence. This island in length twelve leagues, three in breadth, is the Russian limit toward the Caspian, which he keeps with a strong garrison, being twenty leagues from that sea, into which Volga falls at seventy mouths. From St. Nicholas, or from Mosco to the Caspian, they pass in forty-six days and nights, most part by water.
Westward from St. Nicholas twelve hundred miles is the city.§ Novogrod fifty-eight degrees, the greatest mart town of all this dominion, and in bigness not inferior to Mosco. The way thither is through the western bottom of St. Nicholas bay, and so along the shore full of dangerous rocks to the monastery of Solofky, wherein are at least two hundred monks; the people thereabout in a manner savages, yet tenants to those monks. Thence to the dangerous river Owiga, wherein are waterfalls as steep as from a mountain, and by the violence of their descent kept from freezing: so that the boats are to be carried there a mile over land; which the tenants of that abbey did by command, and were guides to the merchants without taking any reward. Thence to the town Povensa, standing within a mile of the famous lake Onega three hundred and twenty miles long, and in some places seventy, at narrowest twenty-five broad, and of great depth. Thence by some monasteries to the river Swire; then into the lake Ladiscay much longer than Onega; after which into the river Volhusky, which through the midst of Novogrod runs into this lake, and this lake into the Baltic sound by Narva and Revel. Their other cities toward the western bound are Plesco, Smolensko, or Vobsco.
The emperor exerciseth absolute power; if any man die without male issue, his land returns to the emperor.∥ Any rich man, who through age or other impotency is unable to serve the public, being informed of, is turned out of his estate, and forced with his family to live on a small pension, while some other more deserving is by the duke’s authority put into possession. The manner of informing the duke is thus: Your grace, saith one, hath such a subject, abounding with riches, but for the service of the state unmeet; and you have others poor and in want, but well able to do their country good service. Immediately the duke sends forth to inquire, and calling the rich man before him, Friend, saith he, you have too much living, and are unserviceable to your prince; less will serve you, and the rest maintain others who deserve more. The man thus called to impart his wealth, repines not, but humbly answers, that all he hath is God’s and the duke’s, as if he made restitution of what more justly was another’s, than parted with his own. Every gentleman hath rule and justice over his own tenants: if the tenants of two gentlemen agree not, they seek to compose it; if they cannot, each brings his tenant before the high judge of that country. They have no lawyers, but every man pleads his own cause, or else by bill or answer in writing delivers it with his own hands to the duke: yet justice, by corruption of inferior officers, is much perverted. Where other proof is wanted, they may try the matter by personal combat, or by champion. If a debtor be poor, he becomes bondman to the duke, who lets out his labour till it pay the debt; till then he remains in bondage. Another trial they have by lots.*
The revenues of the emperor are what he list, and what his subjects are able; and he omits not the coarsest means to raise them: for in every good town there is a drunken tavern, called a Cursemay, which the emperor either lets out to farm, or bestows on some duke, or gentleman,† in reward of his service, who for that time is lord of the whole town, robbing and spoiling at his pleasure, till being well enriched, he is sent at his own charge to the wars, and there squeezed of his ill-got wealth; by which means the waging of war is to the emperor little or nothing chargeable.
The Russian armeth not less in time of war than three hundred thousand men,‡ half of whom he takes with him into the field, the rest bestows in garrisons on the borders. He presseth no husbandman or merchant, but the youth of the realm. He useth no foot, but such as are pioneers, or gunners, of both which sort thirty thousand. The rest being horsemen, are all archers, and ride with a short stirrup, after the Turkish. Their armour is a coat of plate, and a skull on their heads. Some of their coats are covered with velvet, or cloth of gold; for they desire to be gorgeous in arms, but the duke himself above measure; his pavilion covered with cloth of gold or silver, set with precious stones. They use little drums at the saddle-bow, instead of spurs, for at the sound thereof the horses run more swiftly.
They fight without order;§ nor willingly give battle, but by stealth or ambush. Of cold and hard diet marvellously patient; for when the ground is covered with snow frozen a yard thick, the common soldier will lie in the field two months together without tent, or covering over head; only hangs up his mantle against that part from whence the weather drives, and kindling a little fire, lies him down before it, with his back under the wind: his drink, the cold stream mingled with oatmeal, and the same all his food: his horse, fed with green wood and bark, stands all this while in the open field, yet does his service. The emperor gives no pay at all, but to strangers; yet repays good deserts in war with certain lands during life; and they who oftenest are sent to the wars, think themselves most favoured,* though serving without wages. On the twelfth of December yearly, the emperor rides into the field, which is without the city, with all his nobility, on jennets and Turkey horses in great state; before him five thousand harquebusiers, who shoot at a bank of ice, till they beat it down; the ordnance, which they have very fair of all sorts, they plant against two wooden houses filled with earth at least thirty foot thick, and beginning with the smallest, shoot them all off thrice over, having beat those two houses flat. Above the rest six great cannon they have, whose bullet is a yard high, so that a man may see it flying: then out of mortar-pieces they shoot wildfire into the air. Thus the emperor having seen what his gunners can do, returns home in the same order.
They follow the Greek church, but with excess of superstitions:† their service is in the Russian tongue. They hold the ten commandments not to concern them, saying, that God gave them under the law, which Christ by his death on the cross hath abrogated: the eucharist they receive in both kinds. They observe four lents, have service in their churches daily, from two hours before dawn till evening;‡ yet for whoredom, drunkenness, and extortion none worse than the clergy.
They have many great and rich monasteries,§ where they keep great hospitality. That of Trojetes hath in it seven hundred friars, and is walled about with brick very strongly, having many pieces of brass ordnance on the walls; most of the lands, towns, and villages within forty miles belong to those monks, who are also as great merchants as any in the land. During Easter holydays when two friends meet, they take each other by the hand; one of them saying, The Lord is risen; the other answering,∥ It is so of a truth; and then they kiss, whether men or women. The emperor esteemeth the metropolitan next to God, after our lady, and St. Nicholas, as being his spiritual officer, himself but his temporal. But the Muscovites¶ that border on Tartaria are yet pagans.
When there is love between two,** the man, among other trifling gifts, sends to the woman a whip, to signify, if she offend, what she must expect; and it is a rule among them, that if the wife be not beaten once a week, she thinks herself not beloved, and is the worse; yet they are very obedient, and stir not forth, but at some seasons. Upon utter dislike, the husband divorces; which liberty no doubt they received first with their religion from the Greek church,†† and the imperial laws.
Their dead they bury with new shoes on their feet,‡‡ as to a long journey; and put letters testimonial in their hands to St. Nicholas, or St. Peter, that this was a Russe or Russes, and died in the true faith; which, as they believe, St. Peter having read, forthwith admits him into heaven.
They have no learning,§§ nor will suffer to be among them; their greatest friendship is drinking; they are great talkers, liars, flatterers, and dissemblers. They delight in gross meats and noisome fish; their drink is better, being sundry sorts of meath; the best made with juice of a sweet and crimson berry called Maliena, growing also in France;∥∥ other sorts with blackcherry, or divers other berries; another drink they use in the spring, drawn from the birch-tree root, whose sap after June dries up. But there are no people that live so miserably as the poor of Russia; if they have straw and water, they make shift to live; for straw dried and stamped in winter time is their bread; in summer grass and roots; at all times bark of trees is good meat with them; yet many of them die in the street for hunger, none relieving or regarding them.
When they are sent into foreign countries,* or that strangers come thither, they are very sumptuous in apparel, else the duke himself goes but meanly.
In winter they travel only upon sleds,† the ways being hard, and smooth with snow, the rivers all frozen: one horse with a sled will draw a man four hundred miles in three days; in summer the way is deep and travelling ill. The Russe of better sort goes not out in winter, but on his sled; in summer on his horse: in his sled he sits on a carpet, or a white bear’s skin; the sled drawn with a horse well decked, with many fox or wolf tails about his neck, guided by a boy on his back, other servants riding on the tail of the sled.
The Russian sea breeds a certain beast which they call a morse;‡ who seeks his food on the rocks, climbing up with help of his teeth; whereof they make as great account as we of the elephant’s tooth.
[* ]Hack. 251.
[† ]Ibid. vol. i. 248.
[‡ ]Ibid. 376.
[§ ]Ibid. 365.
[∥ ]Ibid. 284
[* ]Purc. part 3. 533.
[† ]Ibid. Purc.
[‡ ]Purc. 549, 445, 551.
[§ ]Hack. 376.
[∥ ]Ibid. 312.
[¶ ]Ibid. 377, 248.
[** ]Ibid. 251. 335.
[* ]Hack. 313.
[† ]Ibid. 325.
[‡ ]Ibid. 334.
[§ ]Ibid. 365.
[∥ ]Ibid. 240.
[* ]Hack. 309.
[† ]Ibid. 314.
[‡ ]Ibid. 239, 250.
[§ ]Ibid. 314, 250.
[* ]Hack. 316.
[† ]Ibid. 253.
[‡ ]Ibid. 242, 321.
[§ ]Ibid. 320.
[∥ ]Ibid. 318.
[¶ ]Ibid. 320, 254.
[** ]Ibid. 322.
[†† ]Ibid. 314.
[‡‡ ]Ibid. 242, 254, 323.
[§§ ]Ibid. 241, 314.
[∥∥ ]Ibid. 323.
[* ]Hack. 239.
[† ]Ibid. 314.
[‡ ]Ibid. 252.