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Baltic RussiaHarper's New Monthly Magazine, July 1890
Henry Lansdell

As the end of the 19th century approached, Riga was a hub of manufacturing and international commerce—third in size only behind Moscow and St. Petersburg in industrial workforce in the Russian Empire.


The histories of Riga and of Latvia are inexorably entwined. While Riga is the cosmopolitan attraction, for as Henry Lansdell writes: "Here an Englishman who speaks German may feel nearly as much at home as in Prussia or Switzerland, and may study the many curious questions connected with a Lettish and Esthonian peasantry living with a Teutonic aristocracy, and all governed by autocratic Russia," the curious—such as Lansdell—could not but become interested in the indigenous Latvians as well. And so, owing to Riga’s role as a center of commerce for centuries, far more accounts of Riga and her history, along with that of its inhabitants and their land, are available than might be otherwise.

Lansdell (1841–1919) was a retired minister who travelled widely. His journeys across Russia ranged from the Baltics to Vladivostok; wherever he traveled he took with him an insatiable curiosity, documenting everything from flora to local penal systems—a curiosity which, judging by his writings, opened many doors, offering insights afforded to few others. A contemporary who's who of Christian personalities writes[1]:

LANSDELL, Henry DD. (by Archbishop Canterbury and Queen's letters patent, 1882), Church of England; born at Tenterden Kent January 10, 1841; educated in the London College of Divinity, 1865–67; was ordained deacon 1867, priest 1868, curate of Greenwich 1868–69; secretary to the Irish Church Missions 1869–79; founder and honorary secretary of the Homiletical Society 1874–86; originator and editor of The Clerqyman's Magazine, 1875; curate in charge of St. Peter's Eltham Kent, 1885. He is a member of the Royal Asiatic Society, and of the General Committee of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (life member, 1880); fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, 1876. He has not only since 1870 journeyed the world, and with two exceptions every country of Europe; but he has visited of Siberia, Central Asia, Bokhara, and Khiva, where no Englishman had preceded him. Since 1874 he has gone not only as traveller, but amateur missionary, distributing tracts through Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Russia, 1874; Norway and Sweden, 1876; Hungary and Transylvania, 1877; tracts and Scriptures through Russia, 1878; Siberia, 1879; Armenia, 1880; Central Asia, 1882. He is the author of Through Siberia, London, 1882, 2 vols. 5th ed. 1883; Russian Central Asia, including Kuldja, Bokhara, Khiva, and Merc, 1885, 2 vols.

Lansdell's richly illustrated travelogue, one of a number which appeared in Harper's from 1887 to 1891, is a worthy expression of his intellectual curiosity and brings Baltic Russia to us through tales and personalities reflecting the life of the times.

THE HALL OF THE BLACKHEADS, RIGA. (detail from illustration)

Footnotes are our own for clarification, primarily to translate place names from the predominant German of the times.

Additional reading

[1]  Encyclopedia of Living Divines and Christian Workers of All Denominations in Europe and America BEING A SUPPLEMENT TO SCHAFF-HERZOG ENCYCLOPEDIA OF RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE, ed. by Rev. Philip Schaff, D.D., LL.D., and Rev. Samuel Macauley Jackson, M.A. Funk & Wagnalls, New York. 1887.
"Baltic Russia" as presented here is based on our scan of an original. This work is in the public domain.

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