The Material Question

‘This part of the Transcaspian region and the part of Turkestan adjoining it had begun to be populated by foreigners only a few decades previously, and the new towns had grown up mostly on the outskirts of the old ones. Consequently almost all the towns of this region were composed of two parts; the old, as it was called, Asiatic town, and alongside it the new, Russian town—each living its own independent life.
‘The population of these new towns consisted of Armenians, Jews, Georgians, Persians and others, but chiefly of Russians, most of whom were public officials or retired soldiers who had finished their terms of service in this region.

‘Thanks to the natural riches of the country and the honesty of a local population as yet unspoiled by contemporary civilization, these newcomers quickly began to grow rich, but, in the absence of any cultural influences on the part of the ignorant officials who had happened to become their governors, they remained just as uncultivated as they had been before they migrated there. And so, along with a flourishing commerce, which had brought them material wealth, there was nothing to develop any aspect of their intellectuality or their technical knowledge.

‘European civilization, which was rapidly spreading everywhere else, had scarcely touched the people of these places, and the little they learned about it through newspapers and magazines reached them in a completely distorted form, owing to the fantastic exaggerations of journalists, who in general—and particularly then in Russia—are quite incapable of even an approximate understanding of the real essence of what they are writing about.

‘These newly-rich people, according to the inherency of all upstarts, imitated everything “cultured” and “fashionable”—in the given case everything European. But, drawing all their information about this culture and fashion only from Russian papers and magazines compiled by persons themselves ignorant in these matters, they presented to an impartial observer a comical and at the same time sad caricature.
‘And so, in great material prosperity but without a single trace of even elementary culture, the inhabitants there were playing as children do at being civilized people.

‘Nowhere was fashion more closely followed, everyone feeling obliged to be up to date in everything. Moreover, they eagerly bought, or ordered by post from everywhere, all sorts of new inventions and everything considered appropriate to the life of “the cultured gentleman”— though of course only what they could find out about this from newspaper advertisements.