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!