A RUSSIAN STUDENT.
We clip the following "open letter" from the January number of the Yale Lit. It presents an interesting picture of Russian university life:
TO THE STUDENTS OF AMERICA:The students of Russia are many hundred of miles in distance from you, but they think of your land and your freedom very often. The same aspirations for the world of books and for an education animate them that animate you, but in their case, let me tell you, the obstacles to be overcome are vastly greater. Of the Schavic people, I am told, you know but little, and but meagre accounts reach you. I am not to tell you of the struggle going on over our vast Empire. The universities are a peculiar battleground for this struggle. It is here that your Western ideas, and your philosophies, and above all, your example, touch our worn-out Sclav institutions and our State.
For these reasons you can well imagine the universities are feared and detested by the present government. Though created by the royal power, for Russia has no other power, it is now more out of deference to the rest of Europe that they are allowed to exist at all. Nominally there is a university Senate and a Rector at its head. In reality the universities are under the direct control of the Czar. It is he who rules us. It is upon his words that our privileges depend. With his whims change the whole system and method of instruction. Not only this, but he places a military officer whom he calls Curator, in general charge over us, and through him directs the minutest details with an iron hand. The instructors' chairs are not indeed bought and sold or given to absolutely ignorant members of the military as they were in Nicholas I.'s time. But the professors, however learned or talented, under the restrictions of the Czar, are forced into mere educating machines to teach by rote the blessings of a military despotism. They have long since learned to hold their tongues not only upon the subject of the Government, but upon history, philosophy, economics, and nearly every other topic of the higher learning. But recently a Professor so bold as to translate your English John Mill was forced to take the long Siberian exile. Only a few years ago, in the study of Roman history, the Roman Republic was required to be either entirely eliminated or else passed over with the general statement that, "after Tarquinius the Roman people became unruly, and revolted against the legal authorities. A time of hideous disturbance followed until Julius Caesar appeared." In the interest of Russian "law and order, " it was forbidden too at that time to paint Nero and Caligula in anything but rosy colors. Even now France in its Revolutionary period is a blank to us; and as for Sclav history as well might we search for truth there as for honesty in the Government service.
Bad as the effect of this armed suspicion is upon the instruction given, upon the students themselves it is even more depressing. Not content with ticketing us off with all Russia, indeed, by means of passports, the Government even forces on us the ignominy of a uniform which we are obliged to wear, under heavy penalties, at all times outside the University walls. We are treated as natural enemies and spies are set to watch us at every corner. No social position is given us. The army is the road to influence. We are permitted no discussion of local matters, much less matters of public or general interest, such as your magazines and papers teem with. We cannot meet for debate, nor even for social purposes, for that is contrary to the military principles of the Czar. But a short time ago a few of us younger students organized a literary club. At not later than the second meeting the dreaded blue uniform of a "dvornik," police-spy, appeared at the door. It is needless to say the club was disbanded and one or two of our members expelled from the University. Think of that, free students of the West! Do you wonder that the Government is unpopular at the Russian Universities? Do you wonder that the power which grinds us down to the level of serfs of the Czar, with only a smattering of learning to separate us from the toiling mass, is detested and secretly defied? This is the reason why the Universities are such excellent field for the socialist propaganda; why St. Petersburg and Moscow and Kiev and Odessa and other institutions are furnishing young men to the cause in a never failing supply. It is a fight for free discussion and free thought, as well as for constitutional liberties. The "Nihilist" today is not necessarily an anarchist or a denier of everything, as I am told you consider him. He may not even believe as the most of us do, however, that the true remedy for Russian ills must extend to the social make-up, according to the new light of Louis Blanc and Lassalle. But he unites with us in the struggle for the abolition of Czardom. Between despotism and liberty, he chooses for liberty.
IVAN SCHOU VALOFF.University St. Petersburg.