August von Haxthausen’s Studien über die innern Zustände, das Volksleben und insbesondere die ländlichen Einrichtungen Russlands (1847-1852; Google Books), an account of his 1843 journey to Russia from the point of view of agricultural economics, is famous for its impact on the Russian intelligentsia—it jump-started the debate on the origin of the mir (commune), which so obsessed late-nineteenth-century Russia—so when I saw a used copy of an abridged English translation, Studies on the Interior of Russia, for a few dollars, I bought it, despite my suspicion that it would prove too dry for extended reading. Imagine my surprise when I found it readable and interesting; I’ve only read a couple of chapters, but I’ve already hit a passage on inns so striking I feel impelled to share it. This has significantly altered the way I envisioned premodern travel:

Now that we have settled down for the first time in a hostel in the Russian interior, I want to make some general remarks on the subject. The European inn was formerly unknown in Russia. Instead, Asiatic caravansaries were customary. These are large, empty, unfurnished buildings, where for a modest price the traveler can find shelter for himself and his animals but nothing more. There is no innkeeper in the real sense; beds are not to be had, and one has to provide one’s own food. It is impossible to speak of a friendly reception by the innkeeper or of the service. There are still such caravansaries in the southern part of the Russian Empire, in Astrakhan and the Caucasian provinces. Throughout these areas there are inns without lodging, where one can get prepared meals and tea or, in the regions around the Black Sea, Turkish coffee. Formerly, when Russians traveled in the interior they had everything they needed with them — beds, provisions, etc. With the spread of European civilization in Russia, European-style inns are being introduced, but only very gradually. Even in Petersburg there is no hotel which one could compare in terms of comfort with an inn in a moderate-sized German city on the Rhine. Hotel Demuth and Hotel Coulon in Petersburg can hardly be ranked with a third-class inn in Germany in respect to elegance and comfort, even though they look like huge palaces from the outside. The beds and furniture are poor, I would say almost shabby. Very seldom is there a table d’hôte. If one wants to eat something in the hotel, it has to be specially prepared. Occasionally the owner leases the restaurant rights. One can hardly speak of service. Moreover, it is scarcely worth the effort to furnish an inn elegantly, since it would be appreciated only by foreigners and consequently would not be very profitable. The modern hotels in Petersburg and Moscow are, moreover, run exclusively by Germans, French, and Englishmen. The Russian merchant still prefers the Russian inns resembling caravansaries; as in former times the Russian aristocrat continues to take along his beds, etc. The very wealthy aristocrat takes with him even his cook and everything he needs. He makes himself at home in the inn and has his servants buy all the provisions.

(I also created a Wikipedia article for Haxthausen, since, shockingly, he didn’t have even a stub.)

By the way, I would like to extend my deepest thanks to the anonymous LH readers who were kind enough to send me the copies of Stalin’s Children by Owen Matthews and Russia’s Steppe Frontier: The Making of a Colonial Empire, 1500-1800 by Michael Khodarkovsky that turned up unexpectedly on my doorstep in recent days. You have made me a happy Languagehat indeed.

Update. I hit “Post” just before the mail truck came; when I went out to get the mail, I found a couple of surprises in the mailbox, Viktor Shklovsky’s Third Factory and Serguei Oushakine’s The Patriotism of Despair: Nation, War, and Loss in Russia, two more books I’ve been eager to read for some time. I’m starting to feel like the protagonist of Alan Nelson’s story “Narapoia“: “Well, I keep having this strange feeling that people are plotting to do me good. That they’re trying to be benevolent and kind toward me. I don’t know exactly who they are, or why they wish me all this kindness, but… it’s all very fantastic, isn’t it?” Yes, yes it is. Hattic blessings upon the benevolent!


  1. Better than George Dane.

  2. Seems like the modern equivalent of the caravanserai is the huts on the Appalachian Trail (and similar). Although hikers don’t pay every time they stay, many of them belong to the organizations that maintain the huts. What’s the equivalent in Europe, if any?

  3. extend my deepest thanks
    hubba-hubba, hub of Russian studies, that’s how they must see you.
    What a story! Thanks for bringing it back. I was only vaguely aware of his study. It also explains why obschina is commonly spelled in Germanic way. It looks like it has never been published in full in Russian, though there are numerous references to him, and a doctorate dissertation on him was published in 1998.
    It seems that his tour of Russia was planned, at least partly, as a propaganda operation by the tsar. He gave him a grant of 1500 rubles, the same sum he awarded as annual (generous) pension to Pushkin’s widow after the poet’s death. And later 6,000 for publishing the first two volumes in German and French, and 3,000 for the third volume. It was also decreed that the third volume (with obschina) should never be published in Russian, only in French, but ‘Sovremennik’ did publish excerpts on obschina in 1857, under the new tsar.
    And the young translator you mention in wikipedia, Ardekas, was given special duties by the secret police – to guide the baron to positive sides of rural life and hide the negative.
    It took me a bit of an effort to reconstruct the Russian transliteration of his name: барон Август фон Гакстгaузен. If you haven’t seen it the Russian article on him is on something called wikiznanie.ru, a wikipedia-type format.
    Does anyone know if Marx/Engels read it?

  4. sorry, it should be obshchina (wiki here).

  5. “Well, I keep having this strange feeling that people are plotting to do me good.”
    Do people really have such feelings, and could they be symptoms of paranoia?

  6. That’s a joke, son, not a clinical diagnosis. “Narapoia” is a science fiction story, a takeoff on paranoia.

  7. Does anyone know if Marx/Engels read it?
    Oh yes indeed; they both criticized him (and were upset that many leftists embraced his views). Marx: “It is even more incredible that in his work on Russia (3rd vol., 1852) Herr von Haxthausen is gullible enough to maintain that by suspending the cash-payments of the Bank, Pitt was preventing the money from going abroad. What may a man who is so credulous have swallowed in Russia? And what indeed are we to think of the Berlin critics who believe implicitly in Herr von Haxthausen, and by way of proof plagiarize him?” If you’re interested, you really should get hold of the English translation; the introduction by S. Frederick Starr goes into the reception of Haxthausen’s work at length.

  8. Yes, I’d figured all that out. Is it just a silly question? I thought it might be possible.

  9. There’s also J.D.Salinger’s Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters.
    “Oh, God, if I’m anything by a clinical name, I’m a kind of paranoiac in reverse. I suspect people of plotting to make me happy.

  10. oh I definitely will. It’s perhaps not surprising that he reads well – hew trained in literature before stumbling into statistik. And a friend of brothers Grimm
    What’s puzzling is why Lenin does not list him as one the ‘three sources and three component parts’ of marxism despite the obvious link Saint-Simon and Furié and Owen. Too embarassed of the populists’ connection?

  11. Pronoia, the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings. No, I haven’t read it, but I have enjoyed his horoscope for years. And if you get through his Oracles, Sacred Advertisements, and free podcast, and are “ready to stop equating cynicism with insight” there are more book excerpts here.
    Receiving unsolicited books in the mailbox can certainly qualify as a numinous experience.

  12. Furié: This is Fourier.
    Similarly, Zhores is Jaurès.

  13. Receiving unsolicited books in the mailbox can certainly qualify as a numinous experience.
    Not if you teach in a university. Unsolicited textbooks are a plague, cluttering up your bookshelves.

  14. David Marjanović says

    What’s the equivalent in Europe, if any?

    Huts in the Alps can be similar.



  15. Hat, I think you meant “This has significantly altered the way I envisioned premodern travel in Russia.” Some of the funniest scenes in Don Quixote take place in inns, after all. And China has had inns and restaurants at least since the Tang Dynasty.

  16. Not if you teach in a university.
    But if you teach in a community college, you are a stepchild and not just for hours and pensions. You have to fill out forms or email your rep for every single freebie. Or cage one from an administrator.

  17. Fourier
    Thanks, Marie-Lucie,
    I always think of him as Фурье.
    But you are only partly right on Zhores.

  18. Naraoia.
    Gee, thanks a lot. I found the absence of an explanation for such an odd name so irritating that I had to dig for it in Google Books and add it to the Wikipedia article. (It’s also mildly annoying that Wikipedia ignores the Narao Lakes for which the genus is named, but I’m not going to be the one to remedy the omission.)

  19. Nijma, too bad about the unfortunate division between community colleges and universities. It exists in Canada too.
    Zho-Res: I was repeating what I heard or read somewhere else (for a French person, seeing “Zhores” translates into the pronunciation “zor”). The alleged addition of Zho- to original Res (from where?) sounds fishy to me.

  20. The alleged addition of Zho- to original Res (from where?) sounds fishy to me.
    Yeah, it seems to be complete crap, and the article is so badly done I just deleted it, since I couldn’t find any backup for it. It seems almost certain that, like Zhores Alferov, he was named after Jaurès.

  21. “What’s the equivalent in Europe, if any?” Bothies.

  22. What’s the equivalent in Europe, if any?
    Surely you can’t expect an English word (outside of computer jargon) to have only one equivalent throughout Europe.
    In France these shelters for hikers in the mountains are called refuges.

  23. I’m curious, is it known when and how the kinds of stations described by Pushkin in his 1831 story, Stanzionny smotritel (Станционный смотритель) were established?

  24. oh, to me it’s a very obvious Mongol invention. That’s how the biggest empire in world’s history was held together, through postal relay. Russia inherited it from them, Ivan III arrogated the right to assign provisions for state travellers, and in 1615 Yamskoi Prikaz (postal ministry) was established. Of course by Pushkin’s times it was more developed but the principle stayed roughly the same. See this wiki article.

  25. That’s great! Thanks!

  26. Sashura, wasn’t there something similar already in the Persian empire? and the Roman empire?

  27. The yam had to be several times as fast as the cursus publicus, because the Mongol army moved faster.

  28. similar already in the Persian empire? and the Roman empire?
    I am not sure either. With the Mongol empire the key was the horse relay: you ride at full speed for a relatively short distance to the next station and then change horse/horses for fresh ones and leave the ones you used to rest. Postal riders had special badges to show their authority. But then, if you think of the time-line (early 1200s), it was when Knights Templar also had a developed communications system. Did they have some sort of inns?
    I’ve just re-read the baron’s extract. There seems to be a gap in his descriptions. He talks about caravansaries in the South and the poor state of hotels in the capitals. But what about in between? In Pushkin’s Captain’s Daughter (1831), for instance, while travelling from mid-Russia to Orenburg in the South the young Grinev gets drunk while playing billiards, he sleeps in bed and is served food. The events take place in 1770s, so even if Pushkin transfered the conditions of 1830s back 50-60 years, postal stations must have had slightly better accomodation than caravansaries.

  29. Good point. The edition I have is pretty heavily abridged, and I’m too lazy to work through the German original to find out what more he had to say.

  30. I also created a Wikipedia article for Haxthausen, since, shockingly, he didn’t have even a stub.

    I just took a look at it and discovered that in (exactly) eleven years, it’s hardly been touched — a few changes to the bibliography and some bot activity. On the one hand, I’m pleased; I worked hard on it, and in my experiences changes by Wikipedia editors are usually for the worse. On the other, it shows how little anyone cares about Haxthausen.

Speak Your Mind