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Dress is a no less striking distinction of nations than customs, language, and bodily configuration. The different races of people which form the principal nations of Europe have long assimilated with each other, and gradually adopted the same garb and outward appearance. In some nations, however, this distinctive characteristic is still preserved, and in none more than in the Russian Empire. An intelligent author, who has given the best account of this part of the globe, has observed, in his description of Petersburgh, that “a traveller who frequents the houses of the Russian nobility will be struck with the variety of complexions and faces which are observed among the retainers and servants; Russians, Fins, Laplanders, Georgians, Circassians, Poles, Tartars, and Calmucs. He will be no less surprised on being informed that many of the servants who belong to the English and other foreigners are Mahometans, of whom numerous colonies are still resident in this vast empire.”* The author might have added many others, as all the different subjects of this vast empire are still distinguished by their peculiar habits, manners, and language.
The Russian Empire in its present state is the most extensive that ever existed; it stretches from the shores of the Baltic to the Eastern Ocean, and from the Icy Sea, to the Euxine, and comprehends many Islands in the North Pacific Ocean, as well as various settlements on the north-west coast of America.
The origin of this mighty empire is derived from the petty Duchy of Moscow; which was scarcely known to the rest of Europe before the end of the fifteenth century, when it was governed by Ivan Vasilievitch the First, under the title of Grand Duke of Muscovy, from Moscow his capital. On his accession, Russia was divided into a number of petty principalities, engaged in perpetual wars with each other, some nominally subject to the Great Duke, and all, with himself, tributary to the Tartars. Ivan gave a new aspect to the affairs of his country; he annexed to his dominions the Duchies of Imer, and other principalities, subdued Novogorod, and rescued this country from the Tartar yoke. His success opened a way for a closer connexion of the other European powers, and, during his reign, Moscow saw, for the first time, ambassadors from the Emperor of Germany, the Grand Signior, the Kings of Poland and Denmark, and the Republic of Venice.
On this foundation the superstructure of Russian greatness was raised by his grandson, Ivan Vasilievitch the Second. He instituted a standing army, abolished the use of the bow, hitherto the principal weapon among the Russians, and introduced a more regular discipline. By means of this military force, he extended his power into Asia, conquered the kingdoms of Casan and Astrakhan, and opened a communication with Siberia, which, under his successors, finally led to the acquisition of that extensive region.
Still, however, Russia was considered as an Asiatic, rather than an European power, till the æra of Peter the Great; who, having wrested Ingria from the Swedes, founded Petersburgh, and transferred the seat of empire to the shores of the Gulph of Finland. This acquisition was followed by the conquest of Carelia, Esthonia, and Livonia; and Russia, from this period, took a prominent part in the affairs of Europe.
The late Empress, Catharine the Second, consolidated this vast empire, and considerably extended its limits by the acquisition of half Poland, Crim Tartary, and considerable territories round the shores of the Euxine and the Sea of Azof, together with the possession of Georgia and Imeretia.
This vast empire contains a population of not less than 34,000,000 souls. The people of such extensive regions, stretching over a considerable part not only of Europe, but of Asia, exhibit a singular diversity in their Manners, Customs, and Dress: it is, therefore, presumed that a collection of their most striking Costumes, accompanied with succinct Descriptions, cannot fail to be acceptable to the Public.
The subjects are partly selected from Müller’s interesting Description of all the Nations of the Russian Empire, and partly from the invaluable Travels of Professor Pallas. The Engravings are coloured with the greatest correctness; and in collecting the materials for the Historical Descriptions, recourse has been had to the labours of Müller, Pallas, Coxe, Fischer, Krasheninikof, and to most of the writers of merit on this subject.
To conclude; no pains nor expense have been spared to render this Volume worthy of public attention; and, without depreciating the merit of other performances of a similar nature, the Publisher flatters himself that it will be found the most complete work of the kind that has hitherto appeared ia this or in any country.