The Napoleonites

Imagination can scarcely conceive of some of the strange forms under

which the thirst for religious truth in Southern Russia was revealed.

In this great laboratory of sects, all the dreams of humanity had their

more or less "inspired" representatives. Even the smallest town was in

the same case as, for example, the prison of Solovetzk, which was

usually inhabited by large numbers of sectarian leaders. A Mr.

ho spent some time there, has published a description of this

modern Tower of Babel.

It harboured, among others, a _douchoboretz_; a "god" of the Sava

persuasion, with his wife, representing the "Holy Ghost"; a _chlyst_,

who rotated indefatigably round a tub of water; a captain who claimed

the honour of brotherhood with Jesus Christ; a man named Pouchkin, who

supposed himself to be the Saviour reincarnated; a _skopetz_ who had

brought a number of people from Moscow to be initiated into the sect of

the Russian eunuchs; and the _staretz_ Israïl, a famous seer, who

desired to found a "Church Triumphant" among the inhabitants of the


These ardent reformers of religion made a terrible uproar during the

hours for exercise, each one wishing to convert the rest, and

frequently the warders had to intervene, to save the terrified "Holy

Ghost," for example, from the "brother of Christ" or the prophet Elijah.

Before taking leave of these and other equally bizarre products of the

"great laboratory," we must mention the sect of the Napoleonites, some

few members of which were still to be found recently in Southern

Russia. William Hepworth Dixon, who visited the country in 1870,

claims to have met some in Moscow, and according to him they were then

rapidly increasing in numbers.

The _douchobortzi_ and the _molokanes_ were deeply impressed by the

advent of Napoleon the First. It seemed to them that a man who had

taken part in so many heroic adventures must be an envoy of the Deity.

They conceived it his mission to re-establish the throne of David and

to put an end to all their misfortunes, and there was great joy among

the "milk-drinkers" when the "Napoleonic mystery" was expounded to them

by their leaders. It was arranged to send five _molokane_ delegates to

greet the "heavenly messenger," and five old men set forth, clad in

garments white as their beards. But they arrived too late. Napoleon

had left Russia after the disaster of 1812, and when the _molokanes_

tried to follow him they were arrested on the banks of the Vistula and

thrown into prison.

The popular imagination, however, refused to abandon its idol, and the

idea of Napoleon ascending into heaven continued to arouse much

enthusiasm. Many of the Napoleonites lamented the wickedness of his

enemies, who had driven him out of Russia, thus depriving mortals of a

saviour from on high.

At their meetings they spoke of Napoleon's heroic exploits, and knelt

before his bust. It was said that when he entered Russia a star had

appeared in the sky, like that which heralded the birth of Christ; that

he was not dead, but had escaped from St. Helena by sea and was living

in Irkutsk; that one day the heavens would be torn open by a great

storm, and Napoleon would appear as leader of the Slavonic people; that

he would put an end to all discord and, surrounded by angels and brave

soldiers, would re-establish justice and happiness on earth to the

sound of trumpets.

"The hour draws near!" This cry of supremest hope was ever upon the

lips of the members of the Napoleonite church.

But to become almost God was a promotion of which the "little corporal"

had surely never dreamed!