An American Description of the Foundling Hospital in Moscow

[excerpted from Bayard Taylor, Greece and Russia (NewYork: Putnam, 1859), pp. 348-358]

It was a pleasant change to me to turn my eyes, dazzled by the splendors of the Kremlin, upon an edifice which has neither gold nor jewels to show, but which illustrates the patriarchal, or rather paternal, character of the Russian Government, on the grandest scale. This is the Vospitatelnoi Dom, or Foundling Hospital -- but the title conveys no idea of the extent and completeness of this imperial charity. There are similar institutions in Paris, Stockholm, Vienna, and other cities, on a much more contracted scale. Our New York asylum for children, on Randall's Island, though a most beneficent establishment, is still more limited in its operations than the latter. In Russia the Foundling Hospital is characterized by some peculiar and very interesting features, which deserve to be generally known as they are intimately connected with one of those tender moral questions our civilization is afraid to handle.

In every general view of Moscow, the eye is struck by an immense quadrangular building, or collection of buildings, on the northern bank of the Moskva, directly east of the Kremlin. The, white front towers high over all the neighboring part of the city, and quite eclipses, in its imposing appearance, every palace, church, military barrack, or other public building whatever. It cannot be much less than a thousand feet in length, and, at a venture, I should estimate its size at three times that of the Capitol at Washington. The Governorship of this institution is only second in importance to that of the city itself, and is always conferred upon a nobleman of distinguished rank and attainments. The importance of the post may be estimated when I state that the annual expenses of the hospital amount to $5,000,000. A portion of the Government revenues are set aside for this purpose, in addition to which successive Tzars, as well as private individuals, have richly endowed it. The entire property devoted to the support, maintenance, and education of foundlings in Russia, is said to amount to the enormous sum of five hundred millions of dollars.

This stupendous institution was founded by Catharine H., immediately after her accession to the throne in 1762. Eight years afterwards, she established a branch at St. Petersburg, which has now outgrown the parent concern, and is conducted on a still more magnificent scale. The original design appears to have been to furnish an asylum for illegitimate children and destitute orphans. A lying-in hospital was connected with it, so that nothing might be left undone to suppress crime and misery in a humane and charitable way. The plan, however, was soon enlarged so as to embrace all children who might be offered, without
question or stipulation, the parents, naturally, giving up their ofspring to the service of the Government which bad reared them. Russia offers herself as midwife, wet-nurse, mother, and teacher, to every new soul for whom there is no place among the homes of her people, and nobly and conscientiously does she discharge her self imposed duty. She not only takes no life (capital punishment, I believe, does not exist), but she saves thousands annually. She, therefore, autocracy as she is, practically carries into effect one of the first articles of the ultra-socialistic code.

Through Col. Claxton's kindness, I obtained permission to visit the Foundling Hospital. We were received by the Superintendent, a lively intelligent gentleman, with half a dozen orders at his button-hole. Before conducting, us through the building, he stated that we would see it to less advantage than usual, all the children being in the country for the summer, with the exception of those which bad been received during the last few weeks. There is a large village about thirty versts from Moscow, whose inhabitants devote themselves entirely to the bringing up of these foundlings. We first entered a wing of the building, appropriated to the orphan children of officers. There Were then one thousand two hundred in the institution, but all of them, with the exception of the sucklings, were enjoying their summer holidays in the country. It was the hour for their mid-day nap, and in the large, airy balls lay a hundred and fifty babes, each in its little white cot, covered with curtains of fine gauze. Only one whimpered a little; all the others slept quietly. The apartments were in the highest possible state of neatness, and the nurses, who stood silently, with hands folded on their breasts, bowing as we passed, were also remarkably neat in person.

These children enjoy some privileges over the foundlings and poorer orphans. The boys are taught some practical science or profession, and not unfrequently receive places as officers in the army. The girls receive an excellent education, including music and modern languages, and become teachers or governesses. As the larger children were all absent, I could form no idea of the manner of their instruction, except from an inspection of the school and class rooms, the appearance of which gave a good report. The Superintendents and Teachers are particularly required to watch the signs of any decided talent in the children, and, where such appears to develop it in the proper direction. Thus, excellent musicians, actors, painters, engineers, and mechanics of various kinds, have been produced, and the poor and nameless children of Russia have risen to wealth and distinction.

On our way to the Hospital proper, we passed through the Church, which is as cheerful and beautiful a place of devotion as I bad seen since leaving the Parthenon. The walls are of scagliola, peach-blossom color, brightened, but not overloaded with golden ornaments. The dome, well painted in fresco, rests on pillars of the same material, and the tall altar screen, though gilded, is not glaring, nor are the Saints abnormal creatures, whose like is not to be found in Heaven or Earth. The prestol, or inmost shrine, stands under a dome, whose inner side contains a choral circle of lovely blonde-haired angels, floating in a blue, starry sky. All parts of the vast building are most substantially and
carefully constructed. The walls are of brick or stone, the floors of marble or glazed tiles in the corridors, and the stair-cases of iron. The courts inclose garden-plots, radiant with flowers. The arrangements for beating and ventilation are admirable. With such care, one would think that a naturally healthy child would be as sure to live as a sound egg to be hatched in the Egyptian ovens.

We passed through hall after hall, filled with rows of little white cots, beside each of which stood a nurse, either watching her sleeping charge, or gently rocking it in her arms. Twelve hundred nurses and twelve hundred babies! This is homoculture on a large scale. Not all the plants would thrive; some helpless little ones would perhaps that day give up the unequal struggle, and, before men and women are produced from the crop there sown, the number will be diminished by one-third. The condition in which they arrive, often brought from a Ion(, distance, in rough weather, accounts for the mortality. When we consider, however, that the deaths, both in Moscow and St. Petersburg, annually exceed the births, it is evident that the Government takes better care of its children than do the parents themselves. Of the babies we saw, seven had been brought in on the day of our visit, up to the time of our arrival, and fourteen the previous day. The nurses were stout, healthy, ugly women, varying from twenty to forty years of age. They all wore the national costume

a dress bordered with scarlet, white apron, and a large, fan-shaped head-dress of white and red. In every hall there was a lady-like, intelligent overseeress. In spite of the multitude of babies, there was very little noise, and the

most nervous old bachelor might have gone the round without once having his teeth set on edge.

The superintendent then conducted us to the office or agency, on the lower story, where the children are received. The number of clerks and desks, and the library of records, showed the extent of the business done. I looked over a report of the operations of the institution, from its foundation to the present time. The number of children confided to its care has increased from a few hundred in 1762 to 14,000 in 1857. Since the commencement of the year (Jan. 13, 0. S.) 6,032 had arrived. The entire number received in ninety-six years is 330,000, to which may be added 60,000 more, born in the lying-in hospital during the same period -- making 390,000 in all. The Petersburg branch affords still larger returns, so that at present 30,000 children are annually given into the care of the Government. A very large proportion of them are the offspring of poor married people, in all parts of the country. As the children may afterward be reclaimed, on certain conditions, and are in any case assured of as fortunate a lot, at least, as would have been theirs at home, the parents are the more easily led to take advantage of this charity. The child is taken without question, and therefore no reliable statistics of the public morality can be obtained from this source.

The office is kept open night and day, and no living child which is offered can be refused. The only question asked is, whether it has been baptized. If not, the ceremony is immediately performed in an adjoining room, by a priest connected with the institution, one of the oldest nurses, generally, acting as godmother. Its name and number are
then entered in the official book, a card containing them and the date of its arrival is attached to its neck, and another given to the mother, so that it may afterwards be identified and reclaimed. Very frequently, the mother is allowed to become its nurse, in which case she receives pay like the other nurses. After six weeks or two months in the institution, it is sent into the country, where it remains until old enough to receive instruction. The regular nurses are paid at the rate of about $50 a year, in addition to their board and lodging. if the parents pay a sum equal to $25 on the deposition of the infant, they are entitled to have it brought up exclusively within the walls of the institution, where it is more carefully attended to than elsewhere. The payment of $200 procures for it, if a boy, the rank of an officer. The parents are allowed to see their children at stated times, and many of them take advantage of this permission. The greater part, however, live in the provinces, and virtually give up their children to the State; though it is always possible by consulting the Hospital directory, to find where the latter are, and to recover them.

In the lying-in hospital, all women are received who apply. They are allowed to enter one month before their confinement, and to remain afterwards until their health is entirely restored. Those who wish to be unknown are concealed by a curtain which falls across the middle of the bed, so that their faces are never seen. Besides this, no one is allowed to enter the hospital except the persons actually employed within it. The late Emperor, even, respected its privacy, and at once gave up his desire to enter, on the representations of the Governor. The arrangements are said to be so excellent that not only poor married women, but many who are quite above the necessity of such a charity, take advantage of it. In this case, also, the number of children brought forth is no evidence as to the proportion of illegitimate births. It is not obligatory upon the mother to leave her child in the hospital; she may take it with her if she chooses, but it will. of course be received, if offered.

Besides the soldiers, common mechanics, and factory girls, which the children of merely ordinary capacity become, the Government has, of late years, established many of them as farmers and colonists on the uncultivated crown lands. They are mated, married, and comfortably settle in villages, where, in addition to their agricultural labors, they frequently take charge of a younger generation of foundlings. I have seen some of these villages where the houses were all neat Swiss cottages, under the projecting eaves of which the families sat in the mild evening air, while groups of sprightly children, too nearly of an age to belong to the occupants, sported before them. The people looked happy and prosperous. If there is a patriotic peasantry on earth, they should certainly belong to it. They are, in the fullest sense of the term, children of their country.

The St. Petersburg Hospital, though in the heart of the city, covers, with its dependencies, twenty-eight acres of ground. Upwards of five hundred teachers are employed, many of them on very high salaries. The number of nurses, servants, and other persons employed in the establishment, amounts to upward of five thousand. The boys
and girls, both there and in Moscow, are taught separately. The cost of their education, alone, is more than $1,000,000 annually. In a word, Russia spends on her orphans and castaways as much as the entire revenues of Sweden, Norway, and Greece.

Let us not be so dazzled, however, by the splendid liberality of this charity, as to lose sight of the moral question which it involves. No other nation has yet instituted such a system; few other governments would dare do it at present. What effect has it bad on public morals? It has existed for nearly a century, and whatever influence it may exercise, either for good or evil, must now be manifest. One fact is certain-that the number of children delivered into its keeping, has steadily increased from year to year; but this, as I have already shown, is no indication whatever. The growth of its resources, the perfection of its arrangements, and the liberal education which it bestows sufficiently explain this increase. In the absence of reliable moral statistics, we are obliged, simply, to draw a parallel between the condition of the Russians, in this respect, at present, and the accounts given of them in the last century. Judging from these data, I do not hesitate to declare that the effect of the system has not been detrimental to the general morality of the Russian people. On the contrary, they have improved with the improvement in their condition and the gradual advance of civilization. When I compare the chronicles of Richard Chancellor, and of Sir John Chardin, two and a half centuries ago, with what I see now, I can scarcely realize that they are the same people.

"But," cries a Pharisee, "this Hospital affords an easy and secret relief to the sinner. By saving her from public shame, it encourages her in private vice! It removes the righteous penalty placed upon incontinence, and thereby gradually demoralizes society!" I do not deny that the relief here afforded may increase the number of individuals who need it, but I assert, in all earnestness, that the moral toile of "Society" would not be lowered thereby, seeing that, where one licentious act may be encouraged, one awful crime is certainly prevented. In Russia, infanticides and abortions are almost unknown. In America, one need but look at what is discovered. God only knows how many additional cases of the crime most abhorent to human nature are perpetrated in secret. And yet, if some benevolent millionare should propose to build such a foundling hospital in New-York, pulpit and press would riddle him with the red-hot shot of holy indignation. Oh, no I Let the subject alone-your fingers, of course, are white, and were not meant to handle pitch. No matter what crimes are eating their way into the moral heart of Society, so long as all is fair on the outside. Let the unwedded mother, finding no pity or relief for her, and no place in the world for her unlawful offspring, murder it before it is born! This is better than to stretch out a helping hand to her, and so prevent the crime. Ten to one, the act is never found out; appearances are preserved, and our sanctified prudery is unruffled.

It is a great mistake to suppose that the moral tone of Society can only be preserved by making desperate outcasts of all who sin. So long as we preserve a genuine domestic
life-so long as we have virtuous homes, liberal education. and religious influences-we need not fear that a Christian charity like that which I have described will touch our purity. It will only cleanse us from the stain of the blackest of crimes. The number of illegitimate births would be increased by the diminution in the number of abortions. Who will dare to say that the reverse is preferable ? We boast, and with some justice, of the superior morality of our population, as compared with that of the nations 0

Europe; but we should know that in none of the latter is infanticide (both before and after birth) so common as with us. We should remember that a morality which is uncharitable, cruel, and Pharisaic, inevitably breeds a secret immorality. The Spartan holiness of the New England pilgrims was followed by a shocking prevalence of unnatural vice, which diminished in proportion as their iron discipline was relaxed.

At any rate, we can never err by helping those who are in trouble, even though that trouble have come through vice. I have never beard that the Magdalen Societies have increased the number of prostitutes, and I do not believe that a foundling hospital would encourage seduction or adultery. To change one word in the immortal lines of Burns:

What's done, we partly may compute, But know not what's prevented."