« VorigeDoorgaan »
small towns, and in country districts; and in every home where I have ever been I have found the inmates well content, nay thankful to be there. In the homes, too, that I know in Austria the same state of things prevails, but with them I must not deal, as they have already been described in this Review. These old people evidently all consider the life they lead well worth living; they have their full meed of its joys and its sorrows; and on the whole they are happy, as happy at least as it lies in their nature to be. And that it is thus is due almost entirely to the fact-no one can go about among them and doubt it-that they are treated not only with kindness but with sympathy; their feelings are considered, their tastes are consulted, and deference is shown even to their prejudices. Denmark, in fact, takes thought for her worn-out workers; she studies what they like and what they dislike -lets them even give free rein to their little foibles, their harmless vanitiesand it is by so doing, not by lavishing on them money, that she has succeeded in rendering them the happiest oldage community in the whole world. The average cost per head in the Danish homes is only a shilling a day; in the country it is a little less; in towns it is sometimes a little more; but the difference is never very great. In the home at Fredensborg it is exactly a shilling a day; in that at Copenhagen one shilling and fourpence-halfpenny. In the most comfortless of all the London workhouses it is one shilling and elevenpence. Thus our poor miserable old paupers actually cost us considerably more than Denmark's well-cared-for pensioners cost her. And all because we do not take thought for them, but content ourselves with lavishing on them money, money for which we obtain in return scant value.
It is interesting to note that in some of the Danish homes the cost of ad
ministration-officials' salaries, rations, &c.-amounts to only one-twentieth of the whole cost of the home; and that in none of them does it amount to more than one-fifth.
Between the old-age homes in Denmark and those in Russia there are fundamental differences, of course; for whereas in the one country these institutions are but the complement to a singularly perfect poor-relief system, in the other they practically take the place of any poor-relief system at all. Russia, it must be remembered, has no poor law, no poor rate; as a State, indeed, she does nothing whatever for her poor beyond punishing them sometimes for being poor. In Denmark old-age homes are public institutions; they are there by the law's decree; they were built out of public funds, and are supported in the same fashion. In Russia, on the contrary, they are for the most part private institutions, the property either of the Crown or of individuals; the money wherewith they were built was a free gift; it is by means of free gifts, too, that they are chiefly supported. In Denmark it is the law that decides who shall and who shall not go to these places; and whoever goes, goes not by favor but by right, by the right of his own personal merit; while in Russia the law has nothing whatever to do with the matter, and luck, perhaps, has almost as much as merit. None the less, in spite of these differences, the Danish homes and the Russian have much in common, as is proved by the fact that in both happy, contented old men and women are to be found, old men and women who are most thankful to be there. In the latter the company is no doubt less "select" than in the former, the inmates have not been so carefully sifted and sorted; but this, so far as their own comfort is concerned, is a point of little importance; for Russians are much too good-natured, too easy
going, to worry themselves, as Danes and Englishmen do, about the moral status of those around them.
St. Petersburg prides itself on its nice appreciation of social distinctions, and holds that, in deciding how even the destitute are to be provided for, respect must be paid not only to merit but to birth. This being the case it is but natural that the most attractive of its old-age homes should be reserved exclusively for those who have seen better days, for gentlefolk in fact. This is the Widows' House, as it is called, in spite of the fact that among the six hundred old ladies whose home it is, there are more spinsters than widows. It is a beautiful place, a palace, the old Tsaritsa Elizabeth Palace, which stands just opposite the wellknown Smolnyi Institute and close to the great Cathedral. The inmates in their faded, well-worn clothes seem oddly out of keeping with their surroundings, as they walk up and down the great corridors where Court receptions were once held, or make their way up the splendid staircase to their gorgeous chapel, or still higher to that quaint little portable chapel which Peter the Great used always to have carried about with him wherever he went. Still, far from being oppressed by the grandeur of their habitation, they seem to derive from it positive pleasure; and certainly everything that could be done has been done to render the place comfortable. One side of the Palace is set aside entirely for the widows, each one of whom has a room to herself, as pretty a room as one could wish for. One old lady whom I visited had divided hers into three parts—a salon, a dining-room, and a bedroom-and was living there quite in state. The widows dine in their own rooms, all their food being brought to them from the common kitchen by servants who are there to help them with their work and make things comfor
table for them. Widows are not admitted to the home until they are sixty, whereas spinsters may go there at forty; the spinsters, however, are by no means so well off when they are there as the widows. They have only half a room each, and they must dine in the common hall, for there are no servants to wait on them. None the less they have no reason to complain of their lot, for they are treated both kindly and respectfully, and much trouble is taken to make things pleasant for them. They have nice little dinners, too, every day-a fact that has its influence, of course, on their tempers, and thus on the general welfare. They had three courses the day I was there, and everything served was wholesome, appetizing, and well cooked.
In theory the inmates of the Palace home, as of many Russian old-age homes, are supposed to contribute towards their own support. The full cost per head is 280 roubles a year (18. 7d. a day); and every widow who is admitted is expected to pay, or to find someone to pay for her, 250 roubles a year; and every spinster 200 roubles a year. Nearly one half of these old ladies do actually either pay for themselves or find friends to pay for them; and the rest are paid for by the trus tees of the Tsaritsa Marie Fund, to whom the house belongs, and who make good the deficits in its budget. This Tsaritsa Marie Fund was founded at the beginning of the last century by Nicholas the First in memory of his mother, and is administered under the personal supervision of the Tsaritsa Marie Feodorovna. It now amounts to some 100,000,000 roubles, and out of it more than 5,000 old men and women are partially or entirely housed, fed, and clothed.
The Old Women's House, which stands quite near the Old Ladies', or Widows' House, is a modern institu
tion. One wing of it was built in 1862 to commemorate the coming of age of the Tsarewitch Nicholas, the eldest son of Alexander the Second; and the other wing, a few years later, to commemorate his death. Here some 400 old women find a refuge in their old age a very pleasant refuge too. The inmates of this home, unlike their near neighbors, have not come down in the world. On the contrary, they are probably seeing better days now than they ever saw in their lives before; for they all belong to the working classes, the servant-class for the most part, and not a few of them were born serfs. Probably the long rest they are having now is the first rest many of them have ever had; little wonder, therefore, they enjoy it, and enjoy it they certainly do. When I paid them a visit I found most of them assembled in their great vestibule, laughing and talking together in the most cheery, good-humored fashion, evidently on the best of terms with themselves, one another, and their official caretakers. There seemed to be a quite delightful absence of rules and regulations in the establishment, inmates and officials working together in a friendly giveand-take spirit to make life go smoothly. The result was as happy a little company as one would wish to see. They showed me the menu-it was in French-of the dinner they had had on the previous Sunday: "Soupe pot-au-feu, jambon aux pommes de terre, crêpes avec des confitures." They showed me, too, the menu of the dinner they had had that very day: "Soupe aux choux, côtelettes, esturgeon avec du raifort et des pommes de terre." They were just going to have tea when I left them; and later in the evening they would have "gruau d'orge" for supper, they told me.
About one-third of the women have either a separate room, or one which they share with one other woman,
while the other two-thirds sleep in small dormitories. In this house, as in the Widows' House, the inmates must either pay for themselves, or find some one to pay for them; 100 of them, however, are always paid for by the Tsar, 155 are paid for out of charity funds, and many of the others, by their former masters and mistresses. The charge for a woman who has a private room is 300 roubles a year (1s. 9d. a day); for one who has half a room, 1s. 7d. a day; and for those who sleep in the dormitories, 101⁄2d. Attached to the home there is a beautiful church, and also an infirmary, where the old women are sent when the end is drawing near.
By far the largest of the St. Petersburg old-age homes, and in some respects the most interesting, is the Gorodskaia Bogodielna, or Municipal House, which Catherine the Second built at her own expense and presented to the city, having previously forced the city to present to her the ground on which to build it. It is a huge place, much too huge for any old people to live in it comfortably, cepting Russians, who seem to have none of that horror of great buildings and large rooms which marks the English and the Danish poor. They are evidently quite content, and, oddly enough, they look quite comfortable in this home in spite of its size. It is curious to note how much more is done in Russia for women, in the way of providing them with homes, than for men; in this Municipal House, for instance, there are 3,000 women and only 800 men. Men and women alike belong for the most part to the poorest section of the community, the unskilled labor section; still there are among them members of a somewhat higher class-small traders, petty functionaries, and even a school-mistress or two; for the Gorodskaia Bogodielna opens its doors to all classes, just as our
workhouses open theirs. How little there is in common, however, between even this old-age home, which is of the lowest class, and English workhouses, may be judged from the fact that its inmates betake themselves there gladly and regard admission as a privilege. No fewer than 300 of them pay seventy-two roubles each towards the cost of their own maintenance; while 700 more are paid for by their friends, and the rest by the municipality. Most of those who pay for themselves are lodged in small rooms, two in each room; and the other inmates, in large rooms. In this home, too, the food is decidedly good, and the old people are all well-cared for; they are all provided with comfortable chairs and soft warm beds. The only complaint I heard, indeed, when I was there, came from an old lady of German extraction, who assured me in confidence that the company was very mixed, not at all what she had been accustomed to. Her feelings had been wounded, it seems, by being called upon to share her room with a woman-a most peaceful, gentle old creature-who had no "quarterings."
The St. Petersburg Municipality has solved the creed problem in what is, for that part of the world, a somewhat unusual fashion. In Gorodskaia Bogodielna there are three chapels, an Orthodox, a Lutheran, and a Catholic; and three ministers, a pope, a pastor, and a priest, all living side by side on terms of perfect equality, and in peace! It is not in St. Petersburg, however, but in Moscow, that the best of the Russian old-age homes are to be found, the best, at least, according to our Western notions. Moscow, indeed, is the model city of the whole Empire in all that concerns the poor; and two of the homes there, the Heier and the Boew, are perfect models of what such places should be the very sort of home one would gladly see established in
every town in England. Both these institutions belong to the city; they were built and endowed by private citizens, and then handed over to the keeping of the municipality, which has undertaken not only to watch over the working of them, but to supplement when necessary their endowment funds by annual grants. They are both in the pleasantest part of the town, the healthiest, too, and they both stand in large gardens.
The Heier Home is a beautiful building, and in a style singularly appropriate to its purpose; everything about it is as simple and plain as possible, yet every room is so prettily arranged that it is a pleasure to see it. On one side of the house there are rooms for thirty-three old men; and on the other, for thirty-three old women; and between them is the common sitting-room, where the whole company pass most of their time, the men reading their papers or playing dominoes, the women sewing or knitting, and both alike talking their hardest more often than not. Although the full cost there is only 180 roubles a year per head (1s. a day) the inmates are well fed and well clothed; they are well cared for, too, and life is made as pleasant for them as possible. It is the rule of the house that everyone shall do exactly what he likes, so long as he does nothing to hurt himself or to interfere with the comfort of those around him. "What would you do if one of your old men came home from his walk drunk?" I asked the Director. "What should we do?" he repeated, evidently surprised that there could be any doubt on the point. "Why we should put him to bed, of course, poor old fellow." Such accidents do happen sometimes, he confessed, but very rarely; for it is only the thoroughly respectable who are admitted to the Heier. And certainly a more respectable little community I
never saw, although the majority of them belong to the poorest class— only one woman out of the thirty-three could read. Some of the men, however, were quite surprisingly intelligent and fairly well informed. Several of them volunteered the information that they had been serfs, while one assured me "those were good days." He had had a kind master, he sald. One room in the house is reserved exclusively for popes who have been forced to resign their livings through old age or lack of strength. There were five of them there, and very happy they were, at least so one of them told me an old man with a long white beard, and eyes that made one think of Tolstoi.
In the Heier Home I found what I had never found before in an old-age home, a mother and son sitting side by side, both inmates. The mother was eighty, the son sixty-three, but the one did not look a day older or younger than the other. They had spent all their lives working for each other; and when the time came that they could work no longer, they had applied for admission and had both been taken in on the same day. And delighted they were to be there; the old woman's face was simply beaming. All the inmates, indeed, seemed to be keenly alive to the fact that the Fates, in sending them there, had dealt with them most kindly.
The Boew Institution is much larger than the Heier, and on that account less homelike; but in all other respects it is just as comfortable, as well organized and managed. It has 300 inmates, 180 old women and 120 old men, who are maintained at a cost of 120 roubles a year each-93-4d. a day. They live in pleasant, prettily furThe Nineteenth Century and After.
nished rooms, six in some rooms, twelve in others, and they have good dinners to eat every day and good clothes to wear. These people, too, belong to the respectable class, and are therefore left to go their own way as much as possible. For the aged poor who are not respectable, who cannot be trusted to go their own way, Moscow reserves a special old-age home, one which is attached to the Beggars' Depot, an institution that corresponds roughly to our casual ward. The inmates of this home neither receive much consideration nor are yet allowed much liberty; still, unless their faces belie them most cruelly, they are treated every whit as well as they deserve.
Of the old-age homes in country districts in Russia, I know nothing, nothing at least beyond the fact that they are few and far between-the veriest white ravens, indeed, in some provinces. It is only the town homes that I have visited, and they certainly are in many respects admirable. They are not perfect of course-in some of them there are glaring defects-none the less they all serve their purpose; for the old and destitute, the weary and worn, find in them a peaceful, comfortable refuge. In the worst among them life smacks of Paradise compared with life in the Day-Room of our London workhouse. Yet there is not a single old-age home in Russia where the cost per head is so high as in that very workhouse. Thus not only Denmark, but Russia, turns to better account the money she spends on her aged poor than England. Even in St. Petersburg and Moscow respectable old men and women not only fare much better than they fare in London, but they cost their fellows much less.