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Centennial Tribute to Kropotkin

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Peter Kropotkin, Geographer, Explorer, Mutualist

By J. Scott Keltie, Secretary:
Royal Geographical Society of

The announcement of the death of Prince Peter Alexeivich Kropotkin on February 8, 1921, in a small town near Moscow, where he was virtually interned, will have been received with regret by a wide circle of all classes and all creeds. He had left England (Which had been his home for many years) for Russia in 1917, after the Revolution had broken out, no doubt with the hope that his "anarchist" aspirations would be realized on a large scale. It need hardly be said that he was grievously disappointed. But this is not the place to deal in detail with Kropotkin's political views, except to regret that his absorption in these seriously diminished the services which otherwise he might have rendered to Geography.

Prince Kropotkin, descended from one of the oldest princely houses in Russia, was born in the "Old Equerries Quarter" in Moscow on December 9, 1842, so that when he died he had entered on his seventy-ninth year. In this aristocratic quarter, surrounded by troops of serfs, he spent his first fifteen years. He and his brother Alexander, who were devoted to each other, received a somewhat irregular education from private tutors — French, German and Russian. The education was mainly literary and historical. So keenly interested in literature was Kropotkin even then (aged thirteen), that he started a Review which continued for two years, till he had to leave for St. Petersburg. His father had determined that his sons should enter the Army, and at the age of fifteen Kropotkin, much against his wishes, was admitted to the Cadet Corps, or Corps of Pages, which received only 150 boys, mostly children of the nobility belonging to the Court. Those who passed the final examination could enter any regiment of the Guards or of the Army they chose, while a certain number were attached as pages to members of the Imperial Family. After all, Kropotkin became reconciled to the school, and spent quite an interesting and useful five years going through the various forms. At first he found the lessons so easy that he had plenty of time for private reading. In time he took up various sciences — Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Geography, Cartography, and both in classes and by himself made considerable progress in this direction.

When in 1863 he had passed his final examinations, in which he took high rank, he had to decide what regiment he wished to enter, I being expected that, like his fellow cadets, he would choose one of the most select — some regiment attached to the Court. But to the consternation of is father and his comrades, he decided to join the Mounted Cossacks in the Amur, a new and undistinguished regiment. He had long been interested in Siberia and its geographical problems, especially those connected with the Amur and the Usuri. By selecting a Siberian regiment he would have ample scope for exploration in little-known Eastern Siberia. During his five years in Siberia he had opportunities for carrying out exploring and surveying work on the Amur and in Manchuria, the maps of which abounded in blanks and errors. Later still he explored the Western Sayans, and caught a glimpse of the Siberian Highlands. Finally he undertook a long journey to discover a direct communication between the gold mines of the Yakutsk Province and Transbaikalia. All this proved of great service to Kropotkin when, after his return to Europe, he took up the difficult problem of the structure of Northern and Central Asia.

In time, Kropotkin and his brother Alexander, who was station at Irkutsk, became more and more interested in the revolutionary movements which were developing in Russia and other European countries. They decided to leave the Army and return to St. Petersburg; this they did early in 1867. Kropotkin entered the University, where he worked hard for five years mainly on scientific subjects, devoting special attention to geography. He became intimately associated with the Imperial Geographical Society in his capacity of Secretary to its section of Physical Geography. But his main geographical interest at this time was the vast problem of the orography of Northern Asia, the maps of which he considered were "mostly fantastic." This led him in time to extend his investigation into Central Asia. He not only made use of the


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