Personal Privileges of the Nobles, and Prerogatives of their Order--What
Emancipation has Taken from the Nobles besides Landed Property--
The Dvoriànstvo Threatened with Gradual Expropriation--How, though
not Despoiled, it Practically Lost all its Privileges--Importance of the
Prerogatives Conferred on the "Nobiliary Assemblies" by Catherine II.
--Why they did not Manage to Benefit by them--Has Russia the Ele-
ments of a Political Aristocracy?
A NOBILITY can have two kinds of privileges: personal, which each noble enjoys individually; collective, belonging to all the nobles as a body. The law awards the Russian dvoriànsivo prerogatives of both kinds, both greatly reduced in our day by the extension of public liberty. The nobility, as a rule, has not been despoiled of its rights; but that which was the privilege of one class has become the right of all. Its prerogatives, collective or personal, the dvoriànstvo held not from the will of the rest of the nation, nor from its own achievements or ancestral conquests, but wholly and entirely as a gift of sovereign bounty, and they were all comparatively recent still when they were extended to the rest of the nation. Before Catherine II. the nobility had no sort of corporative rights, and if the nobles did claim some individual rights, they were ill-defined and ill-observed.
The nobles were not only, like all the rest, subject to the sovereign's will and pleasure; there was no coarse freak of whim or impertinent fancy which the sovereigns or their favorites scrupled to indulge in at the expense of members of the most illustrious families. The reign of Anna Ivànovna and Biron is full of instructive anecdotes to the point. The inheritors of the greatest names could be compelled to play clown for the delec-