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Ah, God! the battle-throes !
With their dead for shields, they close, Where the slaughter ebbs and flows, in Isandúla !
And as fast as one form falls, another springs-
Surging onward they abound,
Waving round !
Fall death-smitten in the sun,
“Save the colours !” shrieks a dying voice, and lo! Two horsemen breast the raging ranks, and go
(In thy sacred list, O Fame !
Fierce as flame-
Lifts a British banner, warm
“ Save the colours !” and amidst a flood of foes,
Around the steeds they stride
How they ride!
With blood of dying and dead,
“ Save the colours !”—They are saved--and side by side The horsemen swim a raging river's tide
They are safe—they are alone-
Drops like stone;
Can reach his side, he too
* Lieut. Nevill Josiah Aylmer Coghill (24th Regt.), Lieut. Teignmouth Melvill (24th Regt.), both killed while escaping with the colours, Jan. 22, 1879.
But give honour everywhere
With a prayer-
They have won the crown of Fame !
CONTEMPORARY LIFE AND THOUGHT IN
ST. PETERSBURG, March 12th, 1879.
NATE has of late been very cruel to our country; there is no
calamity it spares us. With the war hardly terminated, and the revolutionary movements only partly put down, we have now to face the Plague. This last stroke fell on us quite unexpectedly, and its worst feature is not the evil it actually does, but rather the panic it produces.
When the first news reached us of the disease bursting out in a distant corner of the Government of Astrakhan, everybody was so stricken by terror that anything like calm reflection seemed quite hopeless. The plague, or the black death, as it is called in the native language, was thought to be only waiting for the spring and the thawing of the ice, to invade not only all Russia but the whole of Europe. Nothing was left us to do but to await death.
The most celebrated members of the medical faculty assembled here nearly every day to deliberate upon the character of the epidemic, and to consider the means of fighting it. Our first authority in that line of disease, Doctor Batkine, publicly declared it to be the real Indian plague, saying nobody could have the least doubt about it. naturally seizing every opportunity for communicating startling news, expatiated upon the subject. Each time their sensational telegrams were officially refuted they took the greatest pains to insinuate that the Government did not wish the truth to be known, and that their news ought to be believed despite the official denial. The grossest instance of this kind occurred in the case of The Golos. Soon after the out. break of the plague at Vetlianka it inserted telegrams stating that the epidemic had reached Zarizine, which is a large town, and an important commercial centre on the Volga, and that it was making dreadful rarages there.
The Minister of the Interior sent an official refutation
of this statement to the paper, and threatened it with heavy penalties for publishing false telegrams.
For a long time public opinion sided with the press against the Government, most people feeling certain that the journals were right, and that the Government used its power in order to conceal the real state of things. Nevertheless, ensuing events have proved that for once the public has erred in its judgment. Private information arrived in support of the official statements, and it became known that no case of plague had occurred at Zarizine or anywhere beyond the limits of the Government of Astrakhan.
Notwithstanding this fact, the papers continued to fill their columns with exaggerated reports. Enough allowance was not made for what was being officially done. The administration had roused itself to unusual activity ; its local as well as its central agerts beginning a desperate fight against this new foe. They even acted in unity, a rather unusual thing, running a kind of steeplechase of zeal, where every one was anxious for the others, also, to gain the victory. This competition at first helped the exaggerating of the evil, lending itself to the course taken by the press. Each functionary who took upon himself the task of stopping the progress of the plague, or of circunscribing it within certain limits, not unnaturally wished it to be thought difficult in order to gain more honour. Thus, the Governor of the border provinces desired to persuade us all that he had found the country in a dreadful state, and had rapidly cured it by enforcing his energetic regulations. At the same time, the General-Governor named specially for affairs connected with the plague (Louis-Melikof), and entrusted with extraordinary powers for the purpose, expected to meet a formidable enemy, one that would task all his exertions. He would hardly have been pleased to hear that the foe had capitulated before his arrival, and that he had nothing whatever to do. Something of the same kind may be said concerning the medical men despatched to the theatre of the disease. Their devotion had been so much spoken of, and their courage so much praised, that they would have been disappointed, one may almost say, to find the epidemic gone, and their journey made useless. All these different reasons explain why reports of the disease still continue to pour in after the plague itself is hardly worth mentioning. There can be no doubt that we shall be obliged for some time yet to come to read bulletins about two or three peasants, lying ill in some village two thousand kilomètres away, while we have no excitement about the patients suffering as much from common diseases near us.
However, every day the exaggerations of the first reports are becoming more and more clearly apparent. The timorous are rapidly decreasing in numbers, and the spring is being looking forward to with much less anxiety. The panic would never have attained such proportions if it had not been for the censorship and for the Government adopting its usual tactics. If the rulers did not so dreadfully fear liberty of thought,
and put such restrictions on the press, people--at home, as well as abroad-would not so easily credit bad news and disbelieve official statements.
If we remember the hygienic condition in which most of our rural populations are still living, and also the lack of medical statistics respecting them, it is easy to account for the great mortality in that class without recurring to the hypothesis of plague. A quite curable epidemic may, in those districts, take a mortal character; and, indeed, who knows the exact numbers of poor peasants dying in all the villages spread through our vast country? In the south and the east of Russia it is nothing unusual to find cottages without chimneys, where the smoke has no other issue than the door. The narrow, small windows of these dwellings are never opened during the whole winter, while, like the old Irish huts, the cot's only room gives shelter, not only to the family of its owner-grown people and children—but also to the hens and domestic cattle. One can easily imagine how vitiated the air must become in such circumstances, especially when we remember that the family linen is dried at the same kitchen fire, and that work of all sorts is done there. At the village of Vetlianka, where the plague broke out, another unfavourable condition besides all these was added.
A large fishery is carried on at the place, and the heaps of fish, often halfrotten, which accumulated there in the course of being salted, helped still further to poison the atmosphere. Malignant fevers are never absent from these localities, and newcomers often yield to them after having breathed the air for only a few hours. Medical aid is nearly unknown, and nothing induces the peasants to change their modes of life. It is, therefore, not to be wondered at that every case which arises under these conditions makes a great number of other victims.
This visitation has done us, and will do us, great harm in stopping trade and industry; but, on the other hand, it will prove salutary by revealing many hidden sores, and obliging the authorities to introduce most urgently required sanitary regulations. It has already given a very strong impulse of that kind throughout the whole country. Everywhere, from the capital down to the smallest provincial town, measures of cleanliness and of better hygiene are being discussed, and if only a portion of them are actually put into practice the national health must be a great gainer.
It has, however, now clearly been made out that the disease—whatever be its right name-has not spread beyond the locality where it made its first appearance.
Four months have elapsed since then, and, despite the thawing of the ice on the Volga, followed by whole weeks of warm weather, not one single case of it has occurred in any other of the provinces. At first people were apt to take for the plague every illness having the slightest resemblance to it. As we have said, alarming news ran like wild-fire from different parts of the empire to St. Petersburg, but the reports all proved to be false. It was always