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Title: The Englishwoman in Russia - Impressions of the Society and Manners of the Russians at Home
Author: A Lady (pseudonym)
Language: English
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[Illustration: Frontispiece. A Review. Charge of 10,000 Cavalry.

See page 323.]



                                   THE
                         ENGLISHWOMAN IN RUSSIA;
                 IMPRESSIONS OF THE SOCIETY AND MANNERS
                                 OF THE
                            RUSSIANS AT HOME.

                               BY A LADY,
                   TEN YEARS RESIDENT IN THAT COUNTRY.

                [Illustration: Peter the Great’s Statue,
                     and the Office of the Senate.]

                           With Illustrations.

                                 LONDON:
                     JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET.
                                  1855.

        _The Proprietor of the Copyright of this Work reserves to
         himself the right of Translation in Foreign Countries._



TO HER BROTHER, THESE PAGES ARE AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED BY THE AUTHOR.



PREFACE.


Without troubling the reader with any account of a sea voyage from
England to Archangel, as all travels on the “vasty deep” present pretty
much the same features which have been so frequently and so well
described by others, I will only observe that circumstances induced me
to reside for more than ten years in Russia, which I have only recently
quitted.

The following pages contain a simple account of the manners, customs,
and _genre de vie chez eux_ of a people whose domestic habits are
comparatively but little known to the English nation.

Of the truth of many of the anecdotes I can assure the reader; others I
have had from good authority, and I have every reason to believe that
they are veracious.

The names of persons that are inserted in the text are not those
of Russian families: the Russians, like the ancient Greeks, have a
termination denoting parentage; the syllables _vitch_ for the masculine,
and _ovna_ for the feminine, are merely equivalent to the classic _ides_.
Thus, Dmitri Ivanovitch, means Demetrius the son of Ivan; Cleopatra
Ivanovna, Cleopatra the daughter of Ivan, &c. I have therefore betrayed
none, because the surname is omitted; I have also taken the further
precaution to change _one_ of the names in every instance, lest my
friends should incur any evil consequences from their government, which
is at the present time so exceedingly suspicious, that, for the most
harmless expression, the offender who made use of it would be liable to
be banished to Siberia.

I trust that I have done full justice to all the amiable and _social_
excellences of the Russians. Of their other qualities I beg the reader
to form his own judgment. “Une nation de barbares polis,” said a French
gentleman, in speaking of them; but one cannot deny that they possess the
_good_ qualities of savages, as well as their _bad_ ones. Perhaps the
Muscovite character is the most difficult of any to understand; and after
living for years in Russia, it is very possible not to know the Russians.
They seem indeed to possess two characters, each distinguished by traits
diametrically opposed to those of the other. One may be considered as
their private, and the other as their public character; and I cannot
pretend to the power of defining them. I have seen a Russian colonel,
known for his excessive severity, who would witness unmoved the terrible
infliction of the knout, perfectly unable to control his tears at the
mimic sorrows of a French actress. He that is mean and despicable in
public life, is often kind, amiable, and liberal at home. He who would be
merciless and oppressive to his inferiors, is frequently affectionate to
his family and sincere to his friend. The lady who would be shocked to
say a petulant word to an acquaintance, would not hesitate to strike her
maid; and though she would be overwhelmed with grief at the distress she
could _see_, she would, by her reckless extravagance, cause the severest
sufferings to her serfs, and reduce them to the extremity of want,
without feeling remorse.

This slight sketch of Muscovite manners having no pretension whatever to
literary excellence, the writer trusts that its manner of delineation
will escape criticism, and that its truthfulness will counterbalance the
many faults it undoubtedly contains.

The interest at present excited by a nation with whom the English are at
war has induced her to listen to several friends who have recommended her
to present these written observations to the public.

    _London, October, 1854._



CONTENTS.


                                                                      PAGE

                               CHAPTER I.

    Aspect of the Dwina—Crosses erected by the peasants—Sunset
    in the North—Russian boats and barks—Boatmen—Their
    cargoes—Solombol—Shallowness of the river—Archangel—Samoïdes—Their
    mode of living—A visit to their Tchume, or encampment—Reindeer
    and sledges—Samoïde bridegroom—A wedding-feast—The Samoïde
    costume—Their ideas of the Supreme Being—A keepsake—Catching a
    reindeer—Manner of eating—Strange custom                             1

                               CHAPTER II.

    Wedding of a Starosta’s daughter—Politeness of the host—The
    guests—The bride—Bridal etiquette—Description of the bride’s
    dress—The bridegroom—The hospitality shown—The amusements of
    the guests—Improvised songs—The bridegroom’s riches—Demeanour
    of the company—Dance of the peasant-women—Dance of the
    men—National songs                                                  14

                              CHAPTER III.

    Travellers in Russia—False impressions—Civilization in the
    Czar’s dominions—Public roads—Morasses and forests—The Vologda
    road—Wretched horses—Rough roads—The crown peasants—Aspect
    of the villages—Civilization of the _people_—Vanity of the
    Russians—Provincial towns—The churches—The postmasters—The
    yemstchicks or drivers—Personal appearance of the
    peasantry—Their costumes—Crossing the Dwina—Pleasing
    scene—Village burying-ground                                        19

                               CHAPTER IV.

    Vologda: its inhabitants—A Polish lady—Treatment of
    the Poles—Russian ladies: their politeness—Peter the
    Great’s civilization—Slavery: its effects on the
    character—Conversation—Card-playing—A princess—Poverty—Filthy
    households—Equal division of property—Cause of poverty—An old
    gambler                                                             31

                               CHAPTER V.

    Our journey—Kabitkas—Russian custom—Endless forests and
    morasses—Desolation of the country—Musical yemstchick—Scarcity
    of inhabitants—Criminals: their aspect—A bad mother—Monastery
    of Seea—Visit to the abbot—The church—A saint’s
    shrine—Peasants—Change in the scenery—Accidents—The driver—A
    contented veteran—Love of country—Soldiers’ songs—Russian
    melodies—Yemstchick’s gratitude—Another driver: his prospects
    in life—Beautiful effect—Ladinapol—Schlusselberg—A village inn
    in Russia                                                           39

                               CHAPTER VI.

    Appearance of the capital—The public buildings—The statue
    of Peter—The quays—The lighting of the streets—The shops
    and shopmen—A bargain—The dwornicks: their wretched
    life—Tea-taverns: the company assembled—The itinerant
    merchants—Cossacks—Circassians: their fidelity—The soldiers
    of the line—Shameful treatment—The butitchnick—A sad
    occurrence—Winter aspect—The Nevsky Perspective—Costumes—A
    drowning man—Police regulations—Number of murders—A poor
    man’s funeral—Funeral cortège of a prince—Effect of
    twilight—Convicts—The metropolitan—The Emperor—Police
    regulations on salutations—The Kazane church                        51

                              CHAPTER VII.

    Places worth visiting—Peter’s Museum—The Czar’s
    works—Curious effigy—The war-horse—The Nevsky monastery—The
    saint’s shrine—Magnificent tomb—Superstition—The
    cemetery—Catherine—Imperial mausoleum—Description
    of the sarcophagi—Prisoners—Political offenders—Spy
    system—Bombardment of Odessa—Dumb spy—A spy of rank—Assemblée
    de la noblesse—Masked balls—Russian civilization—Love of
    money—Inebriety—Society in St. Petersburg                           74

                              CHAPTER VIII.

    Winter amusements—The opera and French theatre—Hamlet—A
    true Russian play—Corruption of the police—Anecdotes—The
    hermitage—The museum—Dinner parties—Russian hospitality—Want of
    information—The censor’s office: its restrictions                   87

                               CHAPTER IX.

    Russian courtship—State of household
    servants—Anecdotes—Trousseaux—The matrimonial
    candidate—Matchmakers—Serfs’ weddings—Rich
    dowry—Matchmakings—Curious custom—Russian marriages—Blessing
    the threshold—Bridal parties—Statute-fair for wives in St.
    Petersburg—Habit of painting—Lottery of marriage, &c.              103

                               CHAPTER X.

    The abbess—The inmates of the convent—The wardrobe—A
    young Russian priest and his bride—The archbishop—Ancient
    manuscripts—Alexis, son of Peter the Great—Description of a
    monastery—Prisoners—The church, cemetery, and garden—Monastic
    serfs—The archimandrite—Superior and inferior class of
    Russian clergy—Peter the Great’s policy—Political use of
    religion—A modern miracle—General estimate of monastic
    institutions—Proscribed sects—Russian hermits—Hermitage at
    Kastroma                                                           118

                               CHAPTER XI.

    Aspect of the country—Sketch of the peasants—Forebodings
    of evil—State of the serfs—Anecdotes of proprietors—The
    French waiting-maid—Shameful treatment of serfs—State of
    crime—Mutilations and murders—Revenge for a beating—Dreadful
    vengeance of the serfs—Pleasing anecdote—Wealthy
    serfs—Recklessness of the nobles—Selling slaves—The cook and
    his sorrows—Anecdotes—Serf apprentices—The old gourmand—A good
    bargain and a bad one—The gardener—A boorish audience—The
    peasants—Superstitions and ignorance—Anecdotes                     134

                              CHAPTER XII.

    Landed proprietors—Sketch of the country—The wolves: dreadful
    occurrence—A child lost—Winter amusements—Wolf-hunt—A
    cunning animal—Summer sketch—Russian costumes—The national
    dance—The peasants—Avarice of the landowners—Serfs and their
    treatment—Cruel and unprincipled proprietors—Opinion of the
    upper classes                                                      171

                              CHAPTER XIII.

    Government _employés_, their servility—Baseness, and its
    fruits—Duty of the senate—Dishonesty, bribery, and poverty—New
    way to pay old debts—Mistrust—Conduct of the ladies—Duties of
    those in office—The railway serfs—Police-masters in Russia—The
    military officers and the soldiers—The wretched fare of the
    army—Peculations of the colonel—Army regulation—A colonel in
    the Caucasus—Why _the people_ are created                          186

                              CHAPTER XIV.

    Description of churches—A devotee—Saints’ portraits—The
    lower class of worshippers—Infant communion—Administering
    the sacrament—A funeral—Customs of oriental origin—Tartar
    burying-ground—A wake—Prayers for the dead—Horror of death—A
    baptism—Authenticity of Christ’s portraits—A procession
    in Moscow—Miraculous portrait of the Virgin—Religious
    processions—Aquatic procession—Pilgrims—A pilgrimage—The
    miraculous image at Jaroslaf—Angelic artists—Monks and money—A
    holy tradition—Religious ceremonies—Confession in the Greek
    Church—Representation of Christ’s interment—High mass in the
    Kazane church                                                      197

                               CHAPTER XV.

    The carnival—Amusements at the fair—Curious
    procession—Palm fair—Whitsuntide—The Resurrection on
    Easter-night—Easter-day—Easter privilege—Anecdote of
    the Emperor—Bell-ringing—Kindness of heart among the
    Russians—Household gods—Christmas—Midsummer-eve—Heathen
    custom—New-year’s-eve—A Russian election—Unfortunate
    orator—Russian maypole—Characteristic dance by a soldier, its
    beautiful execution—Military picnics—Disagreeable traits of
    character—Shopkeepers’ balls—Splendid festivals—The Kremlin
    illuminated                                                        214

                              CHAPTER XVI.

    Travelling in Russia—Monotony of scene—Want of animation—Style
    of dwellings of the nobles, the gentry, and the peasantry—Poor
    gentry—Pride and poverty—Peasants’ isbas, the furniture they
    contain—Vermin—The breaking up of the ice—The Dwina—Distressing
    occurrences—The peasant and his dog—The aged peasant—The
    commandant’s gold cup—Native barks: the peasants on board of
    them—Neva boats—Concerts al fresco—Numerous imperial palaces       236

                              CHAPTER XVII.

    Education—The highest studies—Russian history—Infallibility
    of the Czar—Moral excellence—Devotedness of a young
    lady—Profiting by instruction—Noble culprits—Education
    of the serfs—The University—The students’ costume—Naval
    school—School for the deaf and dumb—Academy of Fine
    Arts—Priouts—Education of boys—Studies—Ladies’ institutes—Plan
    of education—Uniforms—Private education—Remarks on education in
    Russia                                                             252

                             CHAPTER XVIII.

    Moscow—Poushkin’s verses—The Moscowites—Dislike of
    foreigners—Antipathy to the St. Petersburg people—Ancient
    devotees—Places of amusement—General remarks—The Kremlin—The
    churches—General view of the city—Napoleon—The miraculous
    image—Ivan and his recompence for genius—The Gostinoi Dwor—The
    shopkeepers’ brides—A wedding coach—The Tartar—The Persian—The
    Metropolitan of Moscow—The Jews—The shopkeepers—Smoking—The
    Tiramà, or ancient palace—The new palace—The Treasury—The
    diadems—The Tartars of the present day—The church of Warsaw—The
    last fight for freedom—Various curiosities—Spoils of the
    _grande armée_—The officer’s widow—French refugees: their
    gratitude—The model of the Kremlin                                 270

                              CHAPTER XIX.

    English people in Russia—Sudden change of sentiment—Intolerant
    feelings of the Russians towards them—Opinions of the
    people—Ideas of the Russians on the English ministry—Their
    hope of aid from the Americans—The lower classes—Losses of the
    Russians—Disagreeable remarks—Their manner of speaking of the
    French—Political ideas—The Americans in St. Petersburg—Invented
    news—Odd ideas of a war-ship—The English in fault—Mr. Pim’s
    designs—Russian disgust at the new warlike inventions—Dread
    of the British—The serfs—The troops in the capital—Vanity
    of the Russians—Their disappointment about Turkey—False
    ideas—Evil effects of the conscription and slavery—The
    recruits—Deserters—Dissatisfaction—The Czar’s ambition—Aspect
    of St. Petersburg—Wretched recruits—Embarrassments of the
    Russians—A bivouac—The dying officer—March of the army—The
    future of Russia—A review—Anecdote of the Emperor                  291

                               CHAPTER XX.

    Foreigners in Russia—The Poles—The oath of
    allegiance—Disgraceful treatment—Want of cordiality—Polish
    exiles—Greek and Roman churches—Difference of
    creed—Saints—Christmas custom—Warsaw—Polish cottages—Peasants:
    their treatment—Germans in Russia: their customs; their
    mode of life—New-Year’s eve—Pleasing custom—Character of
    the Germans—Variety of foreigners—The French—The Turkish
    renegade—Mixed society—Conclusion                                  327

    GENERAL REMARKS                                                    339



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.


    A REVIEW—CHARGE OF 10,000 CAVALRY                      _Frontispiece._

    PETER THE GREAT’S STATUE, AND THE OFFICE OF THE SENATE   _Title-page._

    THE ALEXANDER COLUMN AND WAR OFFICE                _To face page_ 52

    COSSACKS OF THE DON AND BLACK SEA                        ”        59

    THE CARNIVAL AT ST. PETERSBURG—RUSSIAN MOUNTAINS         ”       215

    AN IMPERIAL BALL                                         ”       231

    RECEPTION OF THE IMPERIAL FAMILY AT A REVIEW             ”       314



THE ENGLISHWOMAN IN RUSSIA.



CHAPTER I.

    Aspect of the Dwina—Crosses erected by the
    peasants—Sunset in the North—Russian boats and
    barks—Boatmen—Their cargoes—Solombol—Shallowness of the
    river—Archangel—Samoïdes—Their mode of living—A visit to their
    Tchume, or encampment—Reindeer and sledges—Samoïde bridegroom—A
    wedding-feast—The Samoïde costume—Their ideas of the Supreme
    Being—A keepsake—Catching a reindeer—Manner of eating—Strange
    custom.


“By the quarter seven” sang out the musical voice of the sailor who
was engaged in heaving the lead. I hastened on deck, and found we were
crossing the bar at the mouth of the Dwina. I looked around on the banks
of the broad but shallow river; they were flat and marshy, abounding
in brushwood and stunted firs, small birch-trees, with here and there
an ash, the coral berries of which served to enliven the mass of green
foliage. There were some cleared spaces, which, at a distance, with
the setting sun shining full upon them, appeared like verdant lawns,
but were, in fact, only sheets of morass, of which, indeed, the whole
province of Archangel mainly consists. Here and there, amongst the sombre
and interminable forests, I descried, far distant from every human
habitation, a solitary Greek cross, erected by some pious peasant or
grateful fisherman, on his escape from danger. Contrary as such are to
our more spiritual creed, yet I confess that I never could gaze unmoved
on the holy symbol of our faith, thus made an offering from a simple and
devoted heart. Many and many a time, during my long journeys through
hundreds of versts[1] of the forest-land and sandy plains of Russia, have
I felt cheered by this sign of a belief and church that we (because we
are happily more enlightened) are too apt to condemn; yet our ancestors,
to whom the Russians, in their present state, may be compared, did not
find it an useless symbol to awaken sentiments of religion in their
breasts.

The evening was beautiful, and the sunset magnificent! the sky and river,
the forest, the distant ocean, and the whole landscape, seemed wrapped in
a flood of crimson light; every object was as perfectly distinct as in
broad day, the only difference being that there was no shadow. The native
barks glided calmly past us, strange-looking things, gaudily painted with
red, black, and yellow designs, on the rough wood. Their clumsy vanes
resembled those on Chinese junks; some were in the form of a serpent,
others in that of a fish, a griffin, or some fabulous creature or other,
and decorated with streamers of scarlet, all fluttering in the slight
breeze that swept down the stream. The heavy one-masted vessels, with
their large square sails, reminded me of the old pictures of the Saxon
boats some thousand years ago. The boatmen are fine-looking men, of the
real and pure Russian race, uncontaminated by a mixture with the Tartar
blood, of which there are so many traces in the middle provinces. Their
dress is picturesque, and serves greatly to enliven the landscape; their
gaily-coloured shirts show off to much advantage their sturdy forms;
their costume, their manly beards, fair complexions, and light flaxen
hair, might cause us almost to imagine that we were gazing on the men of
Hengist and Horsa, who lived years and years ago; they were singing a
monotonous and sad yet pleasing air, as they walked to and fro the whole
length of their bark, propelling it with their long poles through the
shallow part of the river. Their cargoes consist of articles of which the
odour is not savoury, such as tallow, sheepskins, and hides in the raw
state: evil awaits the nose of him who stands to leeward.

I landed at Solombol, which is the port of Archangel, as vessels of any
considerable burthen cannot proceed so far up the river as the city, on
account of the shallowness of the water.

Archangel, although the capital of the province, and the chief port in
the north of Russia, by no means answers the expectations of a foreigner
who has seen it only in the large letters printed on the map: it was (for
it has since been burnt down) a long straggling street of dismal-looking
wooden houses, mostly painted dark gray or black, with the window-frames
and doors of a staring white; the only buildings that were tolerable were
(as is commonly the case in Russian provincial towns) the government
offices, the gymnasium, and the churches. A more wretched place dignified
by the name of _city_ it is impossible to conceive; but we comforted
ourselves with the reflection that we should not remain long in it, a
few months at the utmost, when we calculated upon bidding adieu to it
for ever; we therefore determined upon philosophically bearing all the
_désagrémens_ which we might be condemned to meet with. It contained, at
the time of which I am writing, about twenty-five thousand inhabitants,
including the foreigners (mostly Germans) and the government authorities,
but it was a miserably dull place. In the winter, which lasts about
eight months of the year, we lived almost entirely by candle-light,
our monotonous existence only varied by a drive in the sledge, or a
stiff formal ball at the governor’s of the province, in which our sole
amusement was staring at the uniforms, bowing to his excellency, and
eating bonbons. I do not know how we should have got through the dreary
winter, had we not been cheered by the consolation that summer would come
some time or other, though it appeared distant enough in the prospect
as we walked out during the short hour of daylight, or rather twilight,
in the middle of the day; when we made ourselves still more miserable
by continually conversing of the daisied meadows and shady lanes, the
forest glades and pretty flowers of “merry England.” Not only did we
suffer terribly from _mal de pays_, that extreme longing for home that
amounts to a malady, but the heaviness of the sky seemed to affect the
mind, as if the excessive cold had frozen all one’s energies. It appeared
of no use struggling against our misfortunes, so we resigned ourselves
to our fate, and made ourselves as miserable as possible. There was only
one circumstance that afforded us amusement, and that was the visits
that some savages, a tribe of Samoïdes, occasionally paid to the town;
they came from their desolate country to avoid the rigour of their cold
climate, by passing a few months in the _more genial south_; indeed,
comparatively speaking, Archangel was a Naples for them, since here the
mercury freezes _only sometimes_. These poor people, who belong to the
Esquimaux race, as some suppose, are natives of a wild, inhospitable
land, stretching far away to the north: little is known of their manners
and customs _chez eux_; but when they descend from their high latitudes,
and make the neighbourhood of the Russian towns their asylum for the
winter, they seem to live in much the same way as the gipsies do,
pitching their tents wherever they may find it most convenient to do so,
and obtaining their subsistence either by the sale of reindeer, of coats
made of their skins, and of curious dolls dressed in their own fashion,
or by begging.

We determined to pay our uncivilized friends a visit. There were but
18° of Réaumur; the sky was beautifully blue; the sun was so kind as to
cast a few odd rays upon the wide plains of snow, stretching like the
waves of the ocean towards the utmost verge of the horizon; there had
been foggy weather during several preceding days, and the particles had
frozen so thickly on the trees, that the branches, hanging pendant with
the weight, had an indescribably beautiful effect, like gigantic white
ostrich-feathers, or as if the forest had been transformed by sudden
enchantment into glittering crystals; in fact, it was the very beau idéal
of an hyperborean landscape.

Above a dozen sledges, each drawn by four reindeer, with either a male
or female Samoïde acting as coachman, were waiting in the yard. After
making a good provision wherewith to treat our new friends, and taking
every precaution against the severity of the cold, by wrapping ourselves
well up in warm fur cloaks and skins, we each took possession of the
particular equipage allotted to us. These little reindeer sledges are
very slightly constructed to enable them to pass lightly and swiftly over
the deep snow; in form they are something like a small boat, supported by
a frail-looking frame; they are not meant apparently for a social people,
for there is only sufficient space for one person in each, besides the
driver, who sits sideways in front, and who guides his pretty-looking
team by means of a long pole. The men and women are so much alike among
this people, that we were obliged to ask which were masculine and which
feminine. A lady-driver fell to my share, who beat the deer rather more
than the others, and seemed in a particularly bad humour; perhaps, as the
Samoïde wives are really and truly subjected to their husbands in all
things, being treated like slaves and drudges, her good man might have
caused her to feel his power and physical strength before setting out,
for, when he spoke to her, it seemed very much as if he were swearing; so
in turn SHE was unmerciful to the weaker creatures in _her_ power. Our
road lay across the river; the “Tchume,” or encampment, being at about
eighteen versts on the further side; the country was covered with snow,
so that nothing but an immense white plain, varied here and there by a
dark stunted fir, formed the landscape in whichever direction we turned
our eyes; to strangers the novelty of such a scene is agreeable, but one
soon wearies of its monotony. The sun had not long risen, it being nearly
noon; so we had the advantage of daylight, a rather scarce commodity
in the dreary north; and as we were all inclined to be unusually gay,
we made the desolate wilderness quite re-echo with our laughter, to
which the clicking of the reindeer’s hoofs formed a kind of castanet
accompaniment. Nature has provided them with widely-spreading feet, which
prevent them from sinking in the snow, and which open and shut with a
smart snapping noise at every step they take. In about an hour and a
half we reached the Tchume, to which we had been guided by the long
wreaths of gray smoke ascending from the midst of the pine forest. Here
we found a little colony encamped; there were four tents constructed
in a very simple fashion, in form very like a sugar-loaf; the frame
was composed of fir-poles joined by some means at the top, the whole
being thickly covered and lined with reindeer-skins. We peeped into one
of the tents: in a space of about eight feet in diameter were huddled
together men, women, babies, and dogs, somewhat in the mode of herrings
in a cask: at first the smoke was so thick that I could discern nothing
distinctly; but I soon perceived that the inmates were well wrapped up
in furs; their greatest enjoyment seemed to consist in getting as warm
as circumstances permitted. In a small sledge filled with the softest
skins was a diminutive baby; I should think it could not have been more
than a few weeks old; its pretty face (for it _was_ pretty although a
Samoïde) was half covered with its fur wrappings; its bright black eyes
and Lilliputian features made it look like an Indian doll. The rigour
of their climate does not, it seems, congeal the tender sympathies of
the human heart, for its mother fondled it with the greatest affection
and pride; she was much delighted with the notice her infant attracted,
and, although she did not understand a word we uttered, yet she gathered
from smiles and signs, the freemasonry of nature, that we admired her
baby, and she was pleased and grateful. We made her a little present
for its sake, and then went to visit the other tents; we found them all
constructed exactly on the same plan.

There were a great many men and women belonging to the tribe; their dress
was curious; the men’s was composed of a long gown, called a militza,
furnished with a hood lined with fur; the whole consisted of prepared
reindeer-skins sewed together with the tendons and sinews of the animal;
the leg-coverings were a kind of boot, which, being much lengthened,
served for other garments as well; they were striped white and brown,
the former being the under fur of the deer, the latter the upper; they
were neatly stitched together, and formed, I should imagine, a very
effective protection from the climate. The ladies’ dress differed in
many respects from that of their lords and masters, inasmuch as it was
much finer, which may cause the malicious to remark that the same vanity
reigns in the female heart in every race and clime alike: it consisted
in a kind of gown very much ornamented; across the shoulders there
were alternate brown and white stripes; from the waist downwards it was
further decorated with pieces of black and red cloth, so arranged that at
a distance it had in some measure the appearance of a plaid petticoat;
indeed, an odd idea struck me, that perhaps the tartan was derived from
the originally savage dress of the ancient Scotch and other Celtic
nations: the whole garment was finished by a deep fringe formed of the
long hair of the reindeer’s beard; the hood was separate from the dress,
and furnished with lappets to cover the poll of the neck. As for the rest
of their attire, it was precisely similar to that of the men. In regard
to their persons, the descriptions that have been given of the Esquimaux
are equally applicable to the Samoïdes; indeed they are apparently of the
same family. They have a language peculiar to themselves, but many speak
Russian, and some of our party got up quite an agreeable conversation
with them. They informed us, amongst other things, that they had been
to a grand wedding some time previous: the bridegroom, it appears, was,
according to their ideas, the richest man they had ever heard of; he
had countless herds of reindeer, and militzas without number; but, as
the most convincing proof of his boundless wealth, we were assured that
he gave so much strong waters on the occasion, that everybody became so
drunk that they could not move. I do not recollect this happy man’s name,
or whether the bride was young and beautiful; doubtless they will both
be celebrated in the ballads of their native land, and be the theme of
wonder and admiration to their countrymen for future generations.

Most of these nomads have been baptized into the Russian Church; but a
gentleman assured me that they paid very little respect to its forms and
ceremonies; and he mentioned a circumstance that would seem to indicate
that they had a much higher sense of the Supreme Being than the besotted
serfs of Russia possess. It appears that he and another gentleman had
paid one of the tribes a visit, when one of the men asked him if he
were a Russian? On being answered in the negative, he showed him some
pictures of saints, hidden under some skins in the tent, and, pointing to
them with disdain, he exclaimed, “See! these are Russian gods, but ours
(raising his hand towards heaven) is greater; He lives up there.”

These savages can also feel, and deeply too, much gratitude for kindness.
I remember, when I had the pleasure of meeting, in Petersburg, M. M——,
of the Académie des Sciences, who was sent some years ago to explore the
northern regions of Asia, he showed me some little figures carved out of
a mammoth-bone; they represented the chief of a tribe and his wife in
their national dress, and had been given to him by the former as a token
of his gratitude and esteem. He had heard that amongst other people it
was frequently the custom to give your own portrait to a friend, and
therefore he had begged M. M—— to accept his. M. M—— also related to us
the extreme kindness he had experienced from some of these uncivilized
races. He was attacked with a severe fever, owing to the great privations
and fatigue he was obliged to undergo in his long and trackless journey
across almost endless forests and morasses, sometimes floundering
through stagnant water up to his horse’s saddle-girths, at others
pursuing his dreary path with dog-sledges in intensely cold weather,
without provisions or places of shelter. At last he was so very ill that
he did not expect to live, and begged to remain behind. His companions
dug a kind of cave for him out of the snow, and left him to his fate; he
remained unconscious he knew not how long. When he recovered his senses,
the fever had left him, but his hunger drove him almost mad; there
seemed nothing but death before him, and, after having in his extremity
devoured his gloves and other articles of clothing, he gave up all hope,
and resigned himself to the terrible fate of perishing of starvation in
the wilderness; but when all chance seemed lost, he suddenly heard a dog
bark; he crawled out of the cave; a tribe of these Samoïdes was passing
by, they caught sight of him and stopped; some of them advanced and gazed
on him with astonishment; his famished state filled them with compassion;
they placed him in a sledge, and conveyed him to their tents, where they
tended him with the greatest care and kindness until he was enabled to
rejoin the “expedition,” to which they conducted him. He rewarded them
with various trinkets highly prized among these people; but such actions
are above recompence. We had not come unprovided with refreshments suited
to their taste, and we produced sundry bottles of strong brandy, at the
sight of which their eyes sparkled with unwonted fires; each of them was
regaled with a tumblerful, which both ladies and gentlemen tossed off as
if it were water, and which had no other effect than that of rendering
them in infinite good humour with us and each other. Even my sulky
driver and her husband felt its power, and drank a loving-cup together,
whilst they began to chatter much faster, and became very obliging. The
daylight was disappearing, so we began to think of returning home. Being
desirous of tasting what a haunch of reindeer was like (which, by the by,
we afterwards found to be extremely tough), we resolved upon purchasing
a fine young animal, which, “all unconscious of his fate,” was quietly
grazing amid the numerous herd scattered around. At our request the
proprietor seized a lasso, and with unerring aim caught the poor little
creature by the horns, and, gradually hauling in the rope, sailor’s
fashion, soon brought it near enough for another Samoïde to lay it dead
at his feet with a blow on its forehead. This gave us an opportunity
of witnessing a truly savage feast; for, no sooner were they given to
understand that we only required the haunches, than they tore out the
heart and liver, and immediately devoured them warm and raw! I remarked
that they had a very peculiar manner of eating; they held the meat with
their teeth, and, like the Abyssinians, cut off each mouthful with their
knife so close to their nose, that we were in constant fear lest its tip
would be sliced off at the same time. I was assured that amongst these
people, when the father becomes too old to follow his usual pursuits,
it is the duty of the eldest son to kill and bury him! Just before I
quitted Russia I met a chief and chieftainess of the Samoïdes, wearing
an ornamental head-dress of gold, and was told that they were staying at
the winter-palace, but for what purpose I could not learn; perhaps the
government means to make use of them in the present war; if so, it can
only be in America against the Indians of the British territories.

The cold greatly increased; before we reached home the snow fell so
thickly that we could scarcely see; indeed it seemed more like cutting
particles of ice than aught else, so that we were glad to find ourselves
again under a warm roof.



CHAPTER II.

    Wedding of a Starosta’s daughter—Politeness of the host—The
    guests—The bride—Bridal etiquette—Description of the bride’s
    dress—The bridegroom—The hospitality shown—The amusements of
    the guests—Improvised songs—The bridegroom’s riches—Demeanour
    of the company—Dance of the peasant women—Dance of the
    men—National songs.


There was but little to vary the monotony of our life in Archangel,
as we had but few opportunities of seeing much of the Russians. In
the spring we decided upon paying a visit to Vologda, having received
an invitation to pass a few weeks at the house of the governor of the
province. In the midst of our busy preparations for the journey, the
Starosta or head man of a neighbouring village came to beg the honour
of our company at a festival which he proposed giving the next day to
celebrate his daughter’s marriage. We accepted the invitation, and the
following morning hired a boat to take us across the Dwina, for the
village was situated on the opposite bank at the distance of about eight
versts. We had no sooner landed than the bride’s father, the Starosta
himself, came out to welcome us, and to conduct us to his house. A great
number of people were assembled in front of it; they all seemed very
merry, and were gaily dressed in their best attire: we passed through
the crowd and followed our host, who ushered us with many profound bows
into the best apartment, where we found a numerous company already
arrived. There were at the least thirty women, all in their national
dress, seated in straight rows round the room; most of them had their
arms crossed, and remained almost motionless; their gaily coloured silks
and showy head-dresses had a very striking effect. The bride herself, a
pretty-looking girl of about seventeen, was seated at the upper end of
the room with the bridegroom at her right hand. A table, covered with
a white cloth and tastefully ornamented with festoons of artificial
flowers and bows of pink ribbon, was before them, on which was placed
the wedding-cake made of flour and honey, with almonds on the top;
several dishes of sweetmeats, preserves, and dried fruits were arranged
around it. It was, as I was told, the etiquette for the bride not to
speak even to the bridegroom; but we went up to her, and offered our
congratulations, which they both acknowledged by a graceful inclination.
The Starosta ordered chairs to be placed just opposite the table, and
begged us to be seated, so we had a good opportunity of examining and
admiring the bride’s dress. It was composed of a coiffure nearly a foot
high, somewhat resembling a brimless hat; it was of gold, enriched with
pearls and fastened on by a knot of gold tissue behind, which was edged
with lace; her ears were decorated with handsome rings, and round her
neck were innumerable rows of pearls. I expressed a doubt as to whether
they were real; but I was assured they were so, only they were defective
in form. Her casackan or jacket was of gold cloth, with a border of pearl
embroidery, the sleeves of cambric, short and very full, tied up with
blue ribbon and finished by a lace trimming; the skirt of her dress was
of crimson flowered silk, having a gold border nearly a foot deep, with
gold buttons up the front. This is the national costume, but it varies
in different provinces, and is not equally rich. But then the Starosta
was well to do; he was not only the head man of the village, but he had
shops of his own in Moscow and in St. Petersburg. I noticed that the
bride’s fingers were loaded with rings; indeed she seemed to have on all
the finery the whole family could muster. As for the bridegroom, he was a
good-looking young man of twenty-two or so, and very respectably dressed
in the costume of a shopkeeper, which consists of a long blue coat called
a caftan, closely buttoned up to the throat. We were presented with tea,
coffee, wine, bonbons, cakes, fruit, &c., in succession, all of which
we were expected to partake of, or the hosts would think themselves
slighted, and their hospitality insulted. The spoons I remarked were of
Tula work, and had the appearance of being of gold, but were in reality
of silver-gilt, with arabesque flowers all over them, which they say
are done with some kind of acid: I believe the secret is not known out
of Russia. All the Russian women assembled at this festival were of the
upper class of petty shopkeepers or farmers, and they were dressed in
the same costume as the bride, with perhaps fewer ornaments. During the
whole time we were in the room their amusement consisted in singing, one
after the other, in a low kind of chant, songs improvised in honour of
the occasion, all the rest of the company sitting silent and motionless
as statues. As soon as one had exhausted all her available talent on the
subject, another took it up and gave us her ideas upon it. According to
one, the bride was too young to be married: she wondered how her mother
could part with her, and thought she ought to have kept her at home for
a long time yet. Another seemed to think she was doing perfectly right
to marry her daughter, after bringing her up so prudently, and making
her so clever in household affairs. A third wished to settle the matter
entirely by praising the bridegroom; “he was so gay of heart, he loved
his bride so well.” His possessions, it appears, were worth having, and
enough to tempt a village-maid; for “he had plenty of cows, pigs, and
horses;” and as the climax to all these advantages of estates real and
personal, she assured us, “that he could take his wife to church in a
droshsky!” The whole of the guests remained quite silent, listening with
a serious face to the songs; there was no laughing or chatting; each
kept her seat and preserved such an intense gravity all the time, that
they evidently considered matrimony as no joke after all, and not in the
least amusing. Were I malicious, I would remark that they had every one
of them been married themselves. After we had remained a reasonable time
in the company of the young couple, we went outside to see the guests
assembled in the front of the house; there we found several women dancing
a wearisome kind of dance, if such it might be called, which consisted in
merely walking to and fro in pairs placed one behind the other in a long
line. They moved forwards and then backwards to a monotonous singsong
kind of air; on advancing, the first two changed places with the last
couple, and so on in succession. The amusement seemed to afford them
intense delight, and so fond are they of it that they keep it up for
hours together. On the opposite side of the yard the men were having a
ball amongst themselves; their performance was more entertaining, and
we laughed heartily at a comic pas de deux by a couple of young men,
who capered about in a very diverting manner. Another peasant danced a
solo in very good style. After the dancing the men sang us some national
airs; each took the hand or leant on the shoulder of his neighbour,
“in order to unite the tones,” as they said. We thanked them for their
entertainment, and re-entered the house to take our leave of the good
Starosta and his family, when we again expressed our wishes for their
happiness, but we were not allowed to depart until we had drunk their
health in a glass of champagne, a wine which the Russians give upon all
extraordinary occasions. As we were stepping into the boat the peasants
gave us a parting cheer, and far away, when the village was quite lost
to our view in the distance, we heard their wild voices still singing
in chorus their beautiful national airs in honour of the young Russian
bride.



CHAPTER III.

    Travellers in Russia—False impressions—Civilization in the
    Czar’s dominions—Public roads—Morasses and forests—The Vologda
    road—Wretched horses—Rough roads—The crown peasants—Aspect
    of the villages—Civilization of the _people_—Vanity of the
    Russians—Provincial towns—The churches—The postmasters—The
    yemstchicks, or drivers—Personal appearance of the
    peasantry—Their costumes—Crossing the Dwina—Pleasing
    scene—Village burying-ground.


The generality of travellers in Russia, at least of those tourists who
have obliged the world with ‘Winters in St. Petersburg’ and ‘Journeys to
Moscow,’ containing the most flourishing accounts of the state of the
roads, the high civilization, the rapid strides to excellence, &c., of
the Czar’s dominions, are unfortunately limited to a class who, having
a few months’ leisure, and being desirous of change, take the voyage to
Russia as one promising more novelty than the hackneyed roads of France
and Switzerland. Their ordinary plan is, to take the steamer to St.
Petersburg, and after a stay of a short time take a “run” to Moscow,
whence they return in time for the “boat,” and hasten back at the rate of
ten or twelve knots an hour, carrying away with them the most erroneous
and false ideas of the real state of things, the mere surface of which
they have scarcely had time to skim. Had they remained a few years
among the Russians, not living, as the most part of the English do,
in little colonies by themselves, but mixing with the people, and had
they travelled a few thousand miles over the cross-country roads, they
would soon have had “the gilding taken off the gingerbread” of Muscovite
civilization. In fact, the excessive exterior polish always reminded me
of a woman with her face painted, who hopes by factitious bloom on her
cheeks to hide her ugliness. Moscow and St. Petersburg are certainly
fine cities; the former may be regarded as the true Russian capital,
the latter is merely a handsome imitation of other European great
towns. Having seen them, the stranger has seen all that is civilized
in the empire. In illustration of what I have said, I may remark that,
excepting the chaussée from the western to the inland capital, and from
the former to Warsaw, there are really no roads; those fine macadamised
highways so much lauded by travellers, and deservedly so, extend but a
few miles beyond the towns: farther on the route lies through immense
plains of sand, endless morasses, and interminable forests in the north,
and steppes in the south, across which the post-road has been cut; but
this post-road scarcely deserves the name, for, generally, it is merely
a cleared space cut through the woods, with boughs of trees laid down
here and there where there are spots that would be otherwise impassable.
There is little enough to vary the monotony of the journey; the miserable
villages with their wretched inhabitants scarcely serve to enliven the
scene.

The whole of the distance between Archangel and Vologda, comprising
several hundred miles, with the exception of the two pretty towns
Vycavajai and Velsk, is composed of those desolate features which,
indeed, characterise nearly all the north of Russia. Sometimes we
had to be dragged through sand so deep that our carriage-wheels sank
a foot or two, and the eight ragged-looking brutes—they were scarcely
worthy of the name of horses—would suddenly stand stock still, and thus
confess their utter inability to fulfil their engagement of taking us
to the next post-station. Whenever this happened, there was nothing for
it but to descend from the carriage in order to lighten the weight,
and to stand patiently until some peasants had been procured from a
neighbouring village, who, by the aid of poles inserted between the
spokes of the wheels, and by loud barbarous cries, aroused the energies
of our gallant team to make further efforts and extricate us from this
dilemma. After the usual number of Slavo Bogens (thank God) had been
uttered by the wild-looking, long-bearded boors, and after being again
seated comfortably, with every reason for congratulating ourselves that
we were progressing, although at a snail’s pace, perhaps I would be
tempted to take a little nap, being convinced that I should lose nothing
of the prospect, for I might be pretty sure of seeing the same endless
forests of fir if I were to awake the next day. With this assurance I
begin to nod, and, perhaps, by some unaccountable delusion am dreaming of
the smooth highways and green hedges of merry England, when bump we come
against something, the shock giving me such a rap on the head that it
effectually dispels all visions and fantasies. I look out and find we are
splashing gaily through a morass which hides in its bosom sly stones and
stocks, and which seems as interminable as the sandy plains from which we
have just escaped, and of which we shall have many repetitions before
the journey is over. Of course, as every one knows, there are no inns
on the cross-roads, and places whereat to rest at night are altogether
unknown. Even on the great chaussées it is better to travel day and
night and remain in the carriage, for he must be a bold man who would be
willing to face the vermin of all kinds, even for a single night, in a
wayside hotel. The better class of Russian travellers know well how they
are peopled, and avoid them accordingly. As for the lower class, they are
too much accustomed to such company to care in the least. A Russian lady
whom I know once spoke to her peasants on the subject of cleanliness, and
especially concerning the vermin. Their reply would have done honour to a
Gentoo: “Ah, Sudarina, it is a _sin to kill them, because God has given
them to us_!”

The post-station is generally kept by a government official: a samovar
or tea-urn can be obtained from him, for the use of which he expects a
few copecks; and this, with the addition of black bread and salt, is all
that can be procured during the whole route: it is therefore absolutely
necessary to provide oneself with everything that is needful, such as
bread, meat, tea, &c., and in very long journeys a cooking apparatus.
If the traveller does not take spoons, cups, and plates, let him be
very careful to wash those he finds at the station, or he may swallow
some little animal and transgress the Gentoo laws, besides which entire
confidence cannot be placed in the mode of their being purified. I
remember taking tea at a certain monastery. There were many ladies and
gentlemen at the abbot’s party; and, to make it more pleasant, his
reverence proposed our adjourning to a summerhouse in the garden to eat
ices. The young monks or novices were to act as servitors, and they stood
behind some bushes near the place where we sat. I confess my relish for
the refreshment was somewhat taken away when I saw them lick the spoons
and wipe them: I could not warn my friends, but I took good care not to
make use of them myself. But in regard to travelling in Russia, I am
sure that those who have done so in the summer time will well remember
the miserable nights passed _en route_, the myriads of mosquitoes,
rising like a brown cloud from the marshy grounds, allowing no rest, to
which the excessive heat formed no agreeable addition. In Archangel the
English sailors suffered so dreadfully from the bites of these insects
that they were frequently obliged to go to the hospital: they used to
declare that “it was worse than in the West Indies.” The winter journeys,
notwithstanding the extreme cold, are infinitely more pleasant.

The people at the post-stations are generally civil, and are much obliged
for a small gratuity. As for the poor yemstchicks or drivers, they are
overcome with gratitude at a trifling present of a few copecks at the end
of each post.

I remarked that the inhabitants of the villages belonging to the crown,
through which we passed, appeared more comfortably lodged and far more
at their ease than those who were the property of private landowners:
perhaps their less degraded look was owing to their enjoying upon the
whole more freedom than those who are ground down to the dust by the
tyranny of the petty noblesse. The crown peasants pay a poll-tax to the
Emperor.

Some of the villages were in a most wretched condition, the houses dirty
and dilapidated, without windows, and having only a little trap-door
just large enough for a man to peep through, which shuts at pleasure to
exclude the cold. Indeed the log-huts of the Russian peasants are very
little better than the wigwams of the Red Indians, although sometimes
the exterior is more ornamented. The inhabitants live in much the
same manner as they did centuries before Peter the Great’s reign. The
_people_ have not made a single forward step in the march of intellect,
of which the admirers of Russia so madly rave. Scores of the Russians
of the upper classes, I have heard, say the same thing, notwithstanding
their own vanity, which so blinds their eyes that they imagine that by
imitating the exterior polish of the French—although omitting the solid
enlightenment of that nation—they have really become civilized, and many,
I verily believe, think that they have even surpassed them. Perhaps the
Czar would have done more towards the advancement of his people, and
have benefited the cause of civilization more, had he spent his money in
forming roads throughout his empire, and made the means of communication
easier between the various towns, instead of playing the game of chess in
Turkey, and sinking such enormous sums in the marshes of the Danube.

A short time since the Grand-Duke Alexander, the heir apparent to the
throne, was at a banquet, when some one was remarking on the great
advantage it would be to the country when the railway was finished
between St. Petersburg and Warsaw. His Imperial Highness replied that it
would be so indeed, but that his Majesty, being engaged in war with the
Turks, was obliged to employ the money intended for its construction in
defraying the expenses of the army. When we were passing through Poland
I noticed that the works had been entirely suspended. _A propos_ of this
subject I may mention that, when the railway between St. Petersburg and
Moscow was nearly finished, orders came that it was to be ready on a
certain day, as the Imperial family were to visit the latter city, and
proposed going thither by train. There were several miles of it entirely
unconstructed, but, to obey orders, they patched them up in the best
way they could, and laid the rails down so that the waggons might pass
over them. The most wonderful thing was that some fatal accident did
not happen. The Emperor, of course, knew nothing about it, or perhaps
he would not exactly have liked to risk _his own_ life and those of
his court on the Moscow railroad. We were staying near the spot at the
time. So badly arranged was this road at first, that, when we went to
St. Petersburg by it, we were kept thirty-six hours in the midst of
the Valdai hills, in twenty-eight degrees of cold (Réaumur), without
anything to eat or drink. Some of the third-class passengers were obliged
to be brought into the first-class waggons, lest they should be frozen
to death; and a poor peasant-woman’s child died in her arms from the
dreadful severity of the weather. Some of the passengers (one of them an
officer in the army) fainted; and all this was through the negligence of
the authorities. So many complaints were made that it is now well managed
and the conductors are very civil.

The description of one provincial town in Russia is applicable to
almost every other. The most remarkable buildings are the churches and
monasteries, the domes and cupolas of which are painted green, gilt, or
of dark blue with golden stars sprinkled over them, each dome and minaret
being surmounted by a glittering cross standing on a crescent; the
gymnasium, or government school for young gentlemen; barracks (a _sine
quâ non_), and a post-office: these, with a few good houses, and many
mere wooden huts similar to those in the villages, make the substance
of a country town, up to the very barriers of which the interminable
forests form the suburbs. We changed horses and driver at every station;
the postmasters are bound to have horses in readiness for all travellers
furnished with a padarosjnai or government _feuille de route_. They very
often make a little money by suddenly losing their memory regarding the
horses at their disposal, as they only recover it again at the sight of a
small piece of silver, which serves wonderfully to recall to their mind’s
eye the vision of sundry rough nags in the field at the back. It is but
just to them to say that the apparition of a military uniform possesses
the same magic influence.

The life the poor yemstchicks lead must be miserable in the extreme:
any complaint lodged against them is pretty sure of procuring them a
good beating; and I have seen the conductors or guards of the mail-coach
thrash them most unmercifully with the sword, or give them such blows
on the ears with their post-horn as to make one feel sick at heart to
think that any human being was obliged to endure so great an indignity,
and that without the hope of redress. The mode in which they live I can
compare to nothing but to that of dogs. Wherever we stopped at night
on our summer’s journeys we were almost in danger of stumbling over the
sleeping bodies of these poor people; for all the space in front of the
station was crowded with what at the first sight I really thought were
heaps of brown skins on the bare ground, but which I soon perceived were
yemstchicks, all in readiness to be hired by the next travellers who
might be passing. When a carriage arrived, they would suddenly start into
life and draw lots amongst themselves as to who should take the turn:
he on whom the lot fell immediately fetched the horses and mounted; the
rest threw themselves again on the ground and instantly returned to their
slumber, so exactly like a number of animals that it was painful to see
them. In the winter-time they sleep in cribs something like a horse’s
manger, with a little hay or straw. “Our peasants,” said a Russian to
me, “are nothing but brutes; the only argument with them is blows, for
that is all they can understand.” Is this, then, the land in which
civilization has made her abode, and whose wonderful advance in the path
of wisdom is to form an era in the records of the human race? Surely
those who are under this delusion can have but very little idea how small
an amount of civilization exists beyond Moscow and St. Petersburg, or
they must have been too ready to believe the boastings of the Russians
and the flourishing accounts of superficial travellers.

A Russian village is generally composed of a long row of wooden houses on
each side of the post-road, with usually a line of birch-trees in front.
Some of the well-to-do peasants, or those amongst them who are the most
ingenious, have the eaves of their cottages ornamented in a very pretty
manner with a kind of border of so light and elegant a description that
it may be compared to wooden lace; the windows, where there are any,
are decorated in the same manner. At the entrance of the villages we
generally saw painted on the same board the number of men and of cows
contained in each; the fair sex were not thought _worth the trouble_ of
being enumerated.

As to the inhabitants, they are true children of the soil; the men have
something fine in their appearance; they wear a loose shirt fastened
round the waist. In some of the villages through which we passed a few of
the men had boots on, but the greater part had only leggings bound round
with thongs, sandal-fashion; their feet were furnished with shoes of a
kind of basket-work, made of strips of the birch-tree. The women had on a
coarse chemise with full sleeves, and over that the national dress, the
sarafane, which was generally of common blue or red cotton, having no
boddice, but kept on the shoulder by a band of the same. The married ones
wore a handkerchief tied round the head in a peculiar manner; most of the
girls had their hair formed into a long plait hanging down their back:
the children ran about at play almost in a state of nature, having on
only a short shirt with open sleeves. Nearly every house in the villages
was furnished with a kind of settee outside, where in the evening we
frequently saw groups of the peasants sitting to have a chat or to sing
together their national airs, of which they are very fond. During our
journey we had to pass several rivers on rafts, which were dragged to the
opposite bank by means of ropes. We had to cross a very rapid branch
of the northern Dwina, which had been much increased by the melting of
the snow. Here we were very nearly drowned, for, the carriage being too
heavy for the raft, it began to sink when in the middle of the stream;
but fortunately, through the great exertions used by the peasants, we at
last reached the shore. We continued to follow the course of the Dwina
for more than fifty miles. I do not know anything that gives a more
dreary idea of a country than the sight of a broad and silent river,
whose unbroken surface reflects no human habitation as far as the eye
can reach, not a single bark to ruffle the mysterious stillness of the
waters, nor any living thing to awaken the echoes of those dismal forests
of pine which stretch far away to the verge of the horizon, and seem an
impenetrable bar to the advance of civilization.

Such is the aspect of the Dwina and its dark, untrodden shores; yet,
in coming to a very broad part of the river we were greatly delighted
by a scene which, like many others—we know not why or wherefore—become
indelibly impressed on the mind, a pleasing and vivid picture of the
past. The scene of which I speak may seem in description not to be worthy
of remark, nor perhaps would it have appeared remarkable to us had we not
previously passed so many monotonous days. In a bend of the river, at
the confluence of several smaller streams that empty themselves into the
Dwina, we suddenly came to a considerable elevation rising abruptly from
the water. The sun had just set, but his parting rays still illumined
the beautiful gilt cross surmounting a small church which crowned the
height above us; the lamps were already lighted and gleamed through
its long narrow windows, and borne on the calm summer breeze came the
voices of the monks and choristers singing the magnificent responses
of the Greco-Russian Church. It was a saint’s-day, and the people from
the neighbouring village, dressed in their gayest and best attire, were
hastening up the path in groups of twos and threes; others were crossing
the stream in boats; but all were intent upon worshiping the heavenly
Father of All in his holy place.

A little farther on we passed the burying-ground of the village. Most of
the graves were marked by a rudely-constructed cross in wood, but some of
these were so old and broken that little of their original form remained.



CHAPTER IV.

    Vologda: its inhabitants—A Polish lady—Treatment of
    the Poles—Russian ladies: their politeness—Peter the
    Great’s civilization—Slavery: its effects on the
    character—Conversation—Card-playing—A princess—Poverty—Filthy
    households—Equal division of property—Cause of poverty—An old
    gambler.


Vologda is a pretty town, but we did not prolong our stay in it beyond
a few weeks, being desirous of returning to Archangel to make our
preparations for proceeding to St. Petersburg. There is nothing very
remarkable in the place. We made several acquaintances among the Germans,
Russians, and Poles, of whom the inhabitants chiefly consist; among the
latter was a most amiable Polish lady, who, together with her husband,
had been banished thither for some political offence. I shall never
forget the pride and exultation with which she presented her son, a
lad of about ten years old, saying “that he could not speak a word of
Russian,” and that she took every care to prevent him from learning
the hated accents of the Muscovite. It was then that I learnt that it
was a general custom of the government to banish into the interior of
Russia those Poles who wore suspected or convicted of minor political
faults, the more grave crimes being punished by an exile into Siberia.
I have since met with those Polish offenders in many places, and I must
say that, as far as it has been in my power to ascertain the fact, they
have been well and kindly received even at the Governor’s table, nor
would any one imagine that their stay in the place was compulsory. It
is now ten years since I first went to Russia, and I have resided there
until the last three months, not living like a stranger in the land,
but in the closest intimacy with Russian families, and I willingly bear
witness to their general hospitality and kindness of heart, not towards
the rich alone, for a well-educated person, let his circumstances be
what they may, is always well received. The ladies are most amiable
and polite; they are, however, often accused of want of sincerity,
but, in my opinion, unjustly so. We are too apt to judge foreigners by
ourselves, and think that they ought not to utter sentiments that they
do not feel; but the fact is, what they mean only as expressions of
every-day civility, we translate literally into those of regard, and
hence our false estimate of their character. A Russian lady will say, on
your being introduced, “that she is delighted at having the advantage
of your acquaintance,” “that she has much esteem for you,” and so on;
all of which is only very kindly meant to put you at your ease, and
prevent you from being gênée in her house; but, in regard to real worth
and goodness of heart, she is by no means deficient. In a thousand
instances I have remarked acts of benevolence and charity that would
do honour to the name of Russian, and serve to counterbalance grave
faults and errors with which unfortunately they are mingled. Such must
be expected in a nation on whom civilization was thrust at the sword’s
point, and perhaps Peter the Great did his country more harm than good
by obliging them to adopt the similitude of a state that ought gradually
to be acquired. No civilization can be truly solid unless it be reached
step by step through the weary road of experience. Gilt frames have all
the _appearance_ of gold, but scrape off the exterior, and nothing but
worthless wood is underneath. One does not build a house without first
laying the foundation, nor does a child run before it learns to walk! The
_people_ of Russia would very likely have been more advanced in the real
essentials of a civilized state if Peter had never obliged them to wear
short-skirted coats, and their wives to appear in public unveiled. In
the summer gardens in St. Petersburg a walk is still shown, up and down
which the half-savage Czar obliged the Russian ladies to promenade with
their faces uncovered, whilst a regiment of soldiers was drawn up on each
side. To do them justice, they soon learned to profit by the lesson, and
have gone infinitely further than their instructor _could_ have intended
them to do. The immoral conduct and the inconceivable want of delicacy
of many of the ladies of rank cannot fail to have a very unfavourable
influence on others below them, especially as the court is regarded as
the criterion of what is right. Were I to relate the almost incredible
actions of many of the titled dames, I fear I should be accused of
falsehood, but I am happy to say there are some noble exceptions;
indeed, I have had the pleasure of knowing many who are an ornament and
a pattern to their sex. The state of slavery, which is so disgraceful to
an European nation, must also greatly influence the domestic character of
the ladies, for, being surrounded by so many menials always at hand, it
must induce habits of indolence; and “idleness,” as is well known, “is
the parent of many vices.” Many of the ladies never do any work, and
are almost ignorant of the use of the needle. “Why should I sew, when I
have others to do it for me?” is a common question. The absence of the
necessity of being employed, and the want of mental resources, drive them
to pass their existence in reclining on the sofa and reading some silly
French romance when alone, or to the card-table when in company. There is
really no conversation in Russia, unless the ridiculous compliments and
inanities of a drawing-room be dignified as such; the ladies generally
discuss the price and quality of their acquaintances’ dress. “Where did
you get that charming mantle?” “From France.” “O, indeed; ah! now I see
it could only be made in Paris.” “How much did you give an arsheen for
your dress?” &c. Such are the efforts of the Russian ladies’ ideas.
The remainder of the evening is made up of flirting, eating bonbons,
and _jouant aux petits jeux_ for the unmarried. As for the married,
they sit down to cards and play the coquette with some friend near, or
make remarks on the personal appearance of their acquaintances:—“I saw
Madame Vasiliwitch yesterday—how old she is looking!” “It is your turn
to deal, madame.” “How much the princess paints! she puts on so much
white! I think an old lady _ought_ to rouge, but really she uses too
much.” “You have made a miss-deal.” “Madame Beck is separated from her
husband; she is going to sue for a divorce.” “Well, it is lucky she and
her husband are Germans, for if he had been a Russian she would never get
it.” “How old is she?” “O, she must be forty at the least.” Such is a
sample of the conversation at a soirée; nor are the subjects on which the
gentlemen converse one whit more intellectual. “Que voulez-vous?” said
a nobleman one evening—“que voulez-vous? on ne peut parler la politique,
et il n’y a rien à faire que de jouer aux cartes;” and it is certain
that the dread of being everywhere within hearing of some government
spy must be a disagreeable check on conversation. It is astonishing
how much the absence of political discussion influences the amount of
information current in society, or how much freedom of speech contributes
to intelligence; any one who has lived in Russia can bear witness to
this fact. When we were near the frontiers of Prussia, some French and
German gentlemen got into the railway carriage, and began conversing
on the present state of Europe. One of the latter remained quiet for a
few minutes, and then said, “My friends, listen: we shall in less than
an hour have quitted the territories of Russia; until we do so, let us
be silent, for how do we know who may be within hearing?” The others
acquiesced in the justice of the proposition, and not until we reached
Myslowitz did they give any further expression to their thoughts.

But to return to the Russian ladies. I remember I once went to call on
the Princess O——ff: she was of very good family, but extremely poor,
yet of course she could not do without a carriage, horses, a footman,
and maid-servants, but the state of dirt and misery in which she lived
would disgust almost a beggar amongst us. A very filthy lacquey, in
livery the facings of which were scarcely visible, so discoloured were
they with long use, ushered me through a room quite as dirty as himself
to a second apartment, in which was seated the princess. She was at
breakfast, it being twelve o’clock. The abominably filthy room, her
equally disgusting attire, and the super-dirtiness of a miserable little
maid who brought her some rusks, made me almost afraid to take a seat
on the chair placed for me. She very politely requested me to partake
of her refreshment, which I, as politely, declined: but imagine, gentle
reader, how infinitely I was disgusted when she took up a piece of paper
from the table, spat in it, and then replaced it near the bread she was
eating! She begged me to come and see her again, as she assured me she
was very fond of the English: I need not say that I did not repeat my
visit. Candidly speaking, this was the only instance I met of such an
extremely filthy ménage, therefore I hope it formed a rare exception. I
must, however, say that in St. Petersburg I once called at a house where
the footman who opened the door presented so dirty an appearance that
I would not enter it, and therefore cannot say whether it was his own
fault or that of his master. In order to give an example of the state
of moral feeling in the country, I will narrate a little incident that
occurred one evening at the house of a lady of very high rank: a Madame
——, the wife of a governor of a large province, was present; and Prince
T——koi, who had been ordered to join his regiment, had come to take leave
of his friends: to my astonishment, Madame —— burst into a violent flood
of tears, and “refused to be comforted,” when she bid him adieu. On my
inquiring why she was so affected, the prince being no relation of hers,
I was informed that, “poor thing! she was so deeply in love with him that
she was unable _maîtriser son émotion_.” I ventured to remark that it
was rather disagreeable to her husband that she should make so public
a display of her preference for another. For my pains I was told that I
had no heart, and that, like all the English, I was quite destitute of
feeling. I _do_ believe that not a lady was there present who did not
regard her as quite a martyr of sensibility.

Many of the noblesse are extremely poor; indeed, it is almost a wonder
how they can exist. A great cause of their indigence is the equal
division of the family estates among all the children. M. M——ff, a
gentleman belonging to one of the most ancient houses in Russia—indeed,
he used to boast of his descent from Rurick, the founder of the
empire—often bitterly lamented the subdivision of the property. “My
father,” said he, “had eight children; he was possessed of a fortune
of four thousand slaves, a very handsome estate; when he died we each
had five hundred as our share; I have four sons and a daughter, among
whom my patrimony must be again subdivided; if they marry, they must be
very poor, and, if they have families, still more so; by this means my
descendants will eventually become mere beggars.” Another common cause
of their poverty is their propensity for gambling, which ruins many. One
day an old gentleman called on Madame P——ska, a lady with whom I was well
acquainted in St. Petersburg; he came to borrow a few rubles, which she
kindly gave him. On his leaving the room I begged to know what had thus
reduced him. “Ah! poor man,” said my friend, “think how unfortunate he
has been; he once possessed fourteen thousand slaves, and he lost them
all at cards.” I said I was sorry that a man of his years should have
rendered himself miserable by such a vice. “How old do you think him?”
asked my friend. “Oh, sixty at the least.” “Sixty!” answered she, “he is
past eighty, only he wears a wig, paints his eyebrows, and rouges to make
himself look younger.” Wretched old man! he died soon after I saw him, on
his return from a card-party; he was found lifeless on his bed, and did
not leave a single ruble to defray the expenses of his interment.



CHAPTER V.

    Our journey—Kabitkas—Russian custom—Endless forests and
    morasses—Desolation of the country—Musical yemstchick—Scarcity
    of inhabitants—Criminals: their aspect—A bad mother—Monastery
    of Seea—Visit to the abbot—The church—A saint’s
    shrine—Peasants—Change in the scenery—Accidents—The driver—A
    contented veteran—Love of country—Soldiers’ songs—Russian
    melodies—Yemstchick’s gratitude—Another driver: his prospects
    in life—Beautiful effect—Ladinapol—Schlusselberg—A village inn
    in Russia.


After our return to Archangel we had to wait there some weeks, until the
winter roads had become sufficiently hard to render sledge-travelling
pleasant. We procured a kabitka—a kind of Russian vehicle much resembling
a large cradle on slides—bought a mattress to fit into it, and provided
ourselves with enough provisions for our long journey, such as frozen
fowls, soups, &c., which we were to thaw at the different stations. As
it was quite unsafe to traverse roads so unfrequented alone, we agreed
to join a party of Russians and Germans who were going to visit the
capital. It was arranged that our kabitka was to precede those of our
acquaintances, as we were strangers to the country. On the morning of our
departure we assembled at a house belonging to one of our acquaintances:
a great many friends had met there in order to see us set out, and to
bid us God speed on the journey. We seated ourselves, conformably to the
Russian custom, a few moments in silence: champagne was handed round to
drink to our success; the whole company then arose, and assembled at
the gate to see us comfortably seated in our sledges; some of them even
escorted us beyond the barriers of the town before they would bid us
adieu; nor was it without regret on our side that we took leave of those
kind-hearted people, whom in all probability we should never see again.

Once fairly on our journey, we found ourselves surrounded by those dreary
forests and boundless morasses (now hidden by the deep snow) of which we
had so recently had so much experience. I do not know whether this wild
region is not more agreeable in the winter-season, as then its barrenness
is concealed. It is not an exaggeration to say that four-fifths of the
northern portions of Russia consist of the sandy plains and marshy
forest-land I have already described, but, in the winter, it matters
little what lies underneath the frozen snow.

From Archangel to St. Petersburg we passed hundreds of versts of this
description of country. In these districts utter desolation reigns,
scarcely a living thing is seen; even the birds have deserted them, and
have flown to the neighbourhood of the towns, to find there the food
their native woods can no longer afford them. A solitary wolf or fox may
occasionally be descried, either skulking among the bushes or sitting
watchfully by the wayside, in faint hopes, perhaps, of some weary horse
being left on the road to die and to become the victim of the hungry
droves now lying perdus in the forest depths, and only scared from the
traveller’s path by the tinkling of the bell attached to the sledge. No
other sound breaks the weary silence but the yell of the yemstchick
inciting his team to greater speed, or his wild voice chanting forth
the songs of the people, which echo far away through those melancholy
forests, and only serve to awaken the heart to a still greater sense of
the utter desolation around. Yet Nature is always grand, and perhaps
never more so than in the wilderness!

No inhabitants dwell in these tracts, with the exception of the few poor
peasants whose huts surround the government post-stations; it is a rare
occurrence indeed to meet a human being, and for hours one travels on,
and the only sign of being in a civilized country is the wooden cross,
gray with age, placed here and there by the wayside. Several times on
the journey we met gangs of wretched criminals, heavily chained, and
escorted by soldiers, whose duty it is to conduct them from station to
station. Along the roads in Russia the traveller may remark small brick
houses, placed at intervals of about twenty or twenty-five versts; these
are the places at which these gangs rest on their way to Siberia. One of
these miserable escorts was standing still as we were changing horses,
which gave us the opportunity of examining their countenances. Features
more debased or expressions more frightful it is impossible to conceive.
Crime and every evil thought seemed to have deprived them almost of even
the traces of human beings; I shuddered as I gazed on them. Among the
convicts was a woman with a face, if possible, more horrible than that of
the men; she had a child with her, a poor little thing of scarcely five
years old, that was suffering dreadfully from the hooping-cough; instead
of treating it with kindness and compassion, its wicked mother was
treating it unmercifully, until even the men, her companions in crime,
brutalized though they were, called out shame on her, and begged her to
desist. I never felt so convinced that punishment was justly deserved as
in the case of this wretched woman.

At the distance of about fifty-five or sixty versts from Archangel we
came to a monastery at a place called Seea; it was surrounded by woods
and lakes, which, in the summer-time, must have a very pretty effect. For
a Russian building, it was quite an ancient one, and was erected before
Peter the Great’s reign: it was the sanctuary to which that monarch
often retired to perform his devotions. Like most monasteries in the
empire, it was surrounded by a wall, having a curiously dovetailed top
with towers at each corner pierced with loopholes. One of the gentlemen,
who was acquainted with the abbot, proposed to us to pay him a visit; we
all of course willingly assented, and turned out of the post-road for
the purpose. Half a verst brought us to the gates: on ringing a bell,
one of the holy brothers appeared, who to our disappointment informed
us that the Father (for such they designate their superior) was ill
and asleep, but offered to awake him if we wished; we thanked him, but
begged that the abbot’s slumbers should not be disturbed on our account,
and requested the monk to express our great regret at his superior’s
indisposition, with good wishes for his recovery. The monk, seeing us
about to depart, entreated us to take some little refreshment in the
refectory: on our declining, he asked us if we would not like to see
the shrine of their patron, Saint Anthony, whose body was interred in
their church. We accepted his offer, and followed him into the cathedral,
which, like all Greek places of worship, was filled with pictures
of the innumerable saints of their calendar, and wretchedly-painted
scripture-pieces. Having walked round the interior of the building and
examined the very curious lamps hung before several of the images, we
were led to a shrine quite brilliant with lighted tapers and oil, and
here our guide pointed with evident pride to a full-length likeness
of the saint placed on the top of a long box that covered his mortal
remains. Above it was a wretched daub of a Virgin and Child, which he
triumphantly informed us was the holy man’s own work. Although there
was nothing to admire in it, we saw that it would give him pleasure to
express our satisfaction, and therefore did not fail to do so: we also
made the offering of a piece of silver to the church, which seemed to
raise us immensely in the good monk’s estimation. After thanking him for
the trouble, we left the monastery of St. Anthony just as a party of the
peasantry from a village close by, dressed in their best clothes, with
smooth hair and well-combed beards, were reverently ascending the steps,
bent on asking the prayers of the respected superior for the success of
the ensuing harvest.

Having traversed about four hundred versts, we came to the town of
Kargapol; it contains nothing remarkable, and is composed of wooden
houses, as usual. From this place the scenery began to show a little
variety. We had no longer to complain of those monotonous plains of which
we were so thoroughly weary: the country now became diversified by hills
and valleys; sometimes we were rapidly galloping up a declivity (for
the Russians drive at the top of the horse’s speed up hill), at others
we were gliding along the edge of a precipice. One of the horses slipped
aside, and by so doing broke his thighbone; the poor yemstchick cried
most bitterly, saying that his master would beat him almost to death. We
were so grieved at his misfortune that we made up a little subscription
for him, which afforded him some consolation, and I dare say served to
comfort him under the correction. As for our unlucky steed, we were
obliged to leave him behind on the snow, and doubtless in a few hours
his carcase had furnished an unwonted feast to the prowling wolves with
which the forests around were infested. During the next post we were
doomed to meet with more misfortunes, for our yemstchick drove us so
near to the edge of the road that he turned us both out into the midst
of an enormous snow-drift I really thought we should be smothered, for
the kabitka rolled right over upon us; being half-buried in the snow
was disagreeable enough, but to have pillows, mattress, portmanteaux,
and a whole shower of small etcetera with which our sledge was filled,
upon our backs, rendering it impossible for us to move, was even worse.
The other kabitkas had by this time come up, and great inquiries were
made for our yemstchick, who had unaccountably disappeared; presently
a voice was heard whose smothered tones seemed to come somewhere from
under ground, and to our horror we found that he was just under us,
and that the kabitka had jammed him deeply into the snow, so that he
could not get out. To raise the sledge was the first thing to be done,
and with the aid of the other yemstchicks we were extricated from our
dilemma; our coachman was pulled out of the snow. We expected to find him
half-dead, or at the least with some bones broken; he, however, merely
shook himself, just as a dog does on coming out of the water, and jumped
upon his seat as if nothing had happened. Our friends, finding that we
were neither of us hurt, enjoyed a hearty laugh at our expense: I make
no doubt that we cut a sorry figure. As for our yemstchick, he was ready
to go down on his knees to ask our forgiveness. He begged to know if
we were bruised at all; being answered in the negative, he repeatedly
crossed himself, and thanked God for our sakes, and perhaps for his own
too. We were glad enough to get into the sledge again and drive on, to
escape the jokes with which our friends assailed us. Our yemstchick
had been a soldier, he said, and boasted of having served the Czar in
every government in his dominions; but now that his time was out, he had
turned post-driver. He told us that the last province he had been in was
Podolia, of which he gave the most flourishing accounts.

“But,” said I, “why did you not remain, when, as you say, your prospects
were so good, and the country so delightful?”

“Ah! Matutchka, how was it possible? I thought of my native village far
away in the north. I was always longing to see the snow and pine-forests
again, which made me so miserable that I asked for my discharge; and as I
had served the required term, here I am.”

“But how did you return from so great a distance? Did the government send
you back?”

“Not at all, Barishna! I walked all the way.”

“What! fifteen hundred versts?”

“Yes, to be sure; that is nothing.”

“But I suppose you live comfortably here. You have a little pension, I
dare say?”

“Pension! no, only the officers ever get that, and they only when they
are wounded. But as for being well off, slavo Bogen! we live as our
neighbours do. I have a wife and two children; we get plenty of black
bread and salt, and very often stchie. What else could we wish for?”

It was really something agreeable to hear that even this poor man
could feel attachment for his miserable village of log-huts, situated,
doubtless, in the midst of some dreary morass in this obscure corner of
the earth. My reflections on the wonderful affection everywhere felt
for the scenes in which childhood has been passed were interrupted
by the driver asking if we would like to hear some of the songs the
soldiers used to sing on the march. On our assenting, he began in a full,
deep-toned tenor, awakening all the echoes of the surrounding forests.
The burthen of his song was concerning some country belle who danced
so elegantly that even the Czar himself came to see her performance.
According to all accounts, the hearts of the village-swains were all
sore with being so much in love with her; but she settled the matter by
choosing a happy fellow named Ivan, whose felicity, we were assured,
was inconceivable. This love does not appear to have been entirely
disinterested, for there followed a long list of the bride’s trousseau.
She had a _crasnoi sarafane_, or red gown, and was further endowed
with some pillows and a counterpane; added to which she was the richest
bride in the whole village. The air was pretty, and, like most Russian
melodies, in the minor key; the whole was terminated by the peculiar
scream which finishes each cadence. We were so amused by our yemstchick
that we were quite sorry when we arrived at the station. Notwithstanding
his _mal-adresse_ in overturning us, we made him a present, which was so
much more than he expected, that he was overpowered with gratitude, and
crossed himself many times in wishing us a prosperous journey.

He was succeeded by a merry little fellow, who entertained us by giving
us a confidential tableau of his prospects in life. He began by informing
us that he was going to be married, and that he was so much in love
he could get no rest night or day; that his intended bride’s name was
Katrina; she was seventeen and he was twenty-one, and “Please God, they
should soon be as happy as they need be.” He also volunteered a song, the
subject of which was a soldier’s daughter who had fallen in love with the
major of the regiment; but, it appears, her case was a hopeless one, as
he was going to wed another.

Night had now closed in, and for the first time during our journey the
full moon shone in all her splendour upon the scene; during the previous
days the sky had been much clouded, and occasional falls of snow had
prevented our remarking a most beautiful effect produced by the shadow
of the trees on the pure glittering plains beneath. I can compare it
to nothing but a mezzo-tinto drawing, only infinitely more defined.
There was not a breath of air to stir the branches of the lofty pines
interlaced over our heads; a mysterious silence seemed to pervade the
very atmosphere we breathed; it was excessively cold, and the moon
lighted up the clear sky with such brilliancy, that we could easily
read a moderately-sized print; the snow at the same time glittered
and sparkled like millions of diamonds strewn in our path, and clung
to the sombre foliage of the forest like gems of the purest water on
sable plumes. Yes, truly, even this barren land possesses beauty and
loveliness. One who has travelled through a night such as this will
never forget the impression left on his mind by so splendid a scene, and
will cease to wonder at the attachment of the barbarian serfs to their
isolated villages.

The next day we reached Ladinapol, an insignificant place. The extensive
lake of Ladoga not being sufficiently frozen to make it safe for us to
cross it in our sledges, we continued our route by the post-road. We
passed the small river Swere, and soon came to the town of Ladoga on the
Volkof; from thence we proceeded to Schlusselberg, on the lake which
formerly belonged to Sweden, and of which Peter the Great deprived her.
It was in the castle of this place that his son was confined.

Once during our journey we were tempted to see what a village-inn was
like, for after travelling eight days and nights we felt so thoroughly
worn out by fatigue, that we thought any place in which we could rest
a little would be welcome; we therefore asked our yemstchick if there
were no house of entertainment at the neighbouring hamlet. “Ay, surely,”
replied he, “there is a very good tavern for travellers at the other end
of the village.”

“Then drive on, pray, my good fellow, and let us be there as quickly as
possible.”

“Horro sha Barishna!”

Crack went his whip, and our steeds, having a vision of hay near at hand,
were tempted to stretch their legs into a real gallop; we, in the mean
while, had the _douce illusion_ of thinking that we should soon have a
smoking samovar on the table and a few hours’ repose. Alas! how our hopes
were disappointed! Our kabitka suddenly drew up at a miserable-looking
peasant’s isba, half tumbling down, from the foundation having sunk a
foot or two on one side. The yemstchick rapped at the door, which was
opened by a dirty, long-bearded old fellow, who seemed to have had quite
enough whisky to make him perfectly stupid. When we at last succeeded in
making him understand what our wishes were, he said that he had a room in
which we could very well pass the night. Our Russian acquaintance begged
us to alight, which we did in the faint hope of finding the interior
better than the exterior would lead us to suppose. Our host thereupon
threw open the door of an apartment, on the floor of which some dozen
or two of peasants in their sheepskins, men, women, and children, were
huddled promiscuously on the bare boards. The heat and stench were
intolerable; one look was sufficient. I and my friend hastened back
to the kabitka, nor did we heed the repeated assurance of the worthy
landlord that we could sleep very well on the table! Our compagnons de
voyage, however, had the courage to pass the night somewhere in the
house; we ladies preferred the refuge of our kabitka, which was drawn
under an open shed that served as a stable as well. Our slumbers
were somewhat disturbed by the horses’ noses sniffing at us several
times during the night, attracted, I suppose, by the hay placed at the
bottom of our sledge. According to the accounts our friends gave of the
manner in which they had passed the time, we had, notwithstanding this
annoyance, every reason to congratulate ourselves on having given the
preference to the stable.

There is a chaussée from Schlusselberg to St. Petersburg; so the
remainder of our journey was easily enough accomplished, nor did we
observe anything more that was worthy of remark excepting the very
wretched state of the villages belonging to the Count Sherrematief,
in the neighbourhood of the capital, which we thought were a perfect
disgrace to one who is considered the richest nobleman in the empire.



CHAPTER VI.

    Appearance of the capital—The public buildings—The statue
    of Peter—The quays—The lighting of the streets—The shops
    and shopmen—A bargain—The dwornicks: their wretched
    life—Tea-taverns: the company assembled—The itinerant
    merchants—Cossacks—Circassians: their fidelity—The soldiers
    of the line—Shameful treatment—The butitchnick—A sad
    occurrence—Winter aspect—The Nevsky Perspective—Costumes—A
    drowning man—Police regulations—Number of murders—A poor
    man’s funeral—Funeral cortège of a prince—Effect of
    twilight—Convicts—The metropolitan—The Emperor—Police
    regulations on salutations—The Kazane Church.


I was greatly disappointed with my first view of St. Petersburg. From
the extraordinary accounts I had so often read of its magnificence, I
was certainly led to expect something infinitely more grand. A drive of
half an hour enables the stranger to pass through all the best parts
of the city. It is true that in one tableau are assembled a number of
splendid buildings, such as few capitals afford; but if within the same
space were collected all the finest public buildings in London, with
all the advantages of the great extent of ground and clear atmosphere,
enabling the visitor to obtain an unobstructed view of their various
beauties, it would be easy to guess which would present the most imposing
appearance; added to which, it must be recollected that the edifices in
St. Petersburg are for the most part only of brick and stucco. That this
assemblage of all that is splendid in the city gives it at first sight a
magnificent _ensemble_, I do not deny; but, like everything Russian, the
showy façade only hides what is mean behind. In the same tableau we see
the Admiralty, on a line with which is the Winter Palace itself, facing
the War-office; in the intermediate space stands the Alexander Column,
with the bronze angel on the top, whose head is bowed in adoration,
and who bears a golden cross in his arms. In the large square of the
Admiralty stands the celebrated statue of the Czar Peter, on the left
hand of which is the ministerial and judicial department. Behind the
statue is the Isaac Church, not yet finished, a heavy-looking building
of dark granite, with gilt dome and crosses, and four ridiculous-looking
little towers, one at each corner. Some affirm that the dome and cupolas
are covered with thin sheets of pure gold, of the thickness of a ducat;
but this is quite a mistake; they are only trebly gilt. The interior
is in an unfinished state, but it will be much ornamented with rich
mosaics; and it is for this cathedral that the pictures and statues are
intended which formed the cargo of the vessel that so cleverly escaped
a few weeks ago being seized by the allied cruisers. On the bank of the
Neva, opposite to this edifice, are the University and the Academy of
Fine Arts, the latter a large and handsome square building. There is one
really fine street in the city: it is called the Nevsky-Perspective,
which as far as the Anitchkin bridge presents a splendid appearance, but
at the other extremity degenerates into miserable dwellings, some of
them of wood. The objects that attracted my attention the most were the
granite quays with which the Neva and the canals are bordered, and which
must have cost incalculable trouble, and an immense expenditure, both
of treasure and human life, in their construction. The pavement in St.
Petersburg is absolutely abominable, and only two or three streets are
lighted with gas; the remainder still retain the almost heathen obscurity
of oil. _A propos_ of these same oil-lamps: I was told by a Russian
gentleman that the police authorities in the capital find them immensely
to their advantage; for by lighting two wicks instead of three, which
greatly economizes the light and oil, and putting down the extra one to
their own account, they manage to make a handsome profit by the end of
the year; and this will serve to show how, even in the merest trifles,
the government is at the mercy of the _employés_.

[Illustration: Alexander’s Column and War Office.

page 52.]

All the _best_ shops in St. Petersburg are kept by foreigners; articles
of clothing are very dear, especially those imported, which I was
informed was mainly caused by the very great duty imposed on them, and
by the unwise restrictions of the government. The _Russian_ shops are
almost all confined to the Gostinoi Dwor, a kind of bazaar, situated in
the centre of the town. It is a square building, surrounded by a piazza,
and contains an immense number of warehouses. We never passed through
it without being reminded of the London “’prentices” in Walter Scott’s
‘Nigel,’ who formerly in Cheapside saluted the passers by with “What
do ye lack?” Just the very same thing may be heard in Moscow and St.
Petersburg; for at the door of each shop either the master or a servant
takes his station, and endeavours to draw the stranger’s attention to his
goods: “What do you wish, Sudarina? beautiful ribbons, laces, collars,
handkerchiefs?”

Another calls out, “Warm boots, shoes, slippers!” A third assails one
with “Fine bonnets of the newest fashion; velvet, silk, satin, whatever
you wish!” A fourth with “Brooches, rings, scissors, knives (real
English), bracelets,” &c. &c. All this is pronounced with inconceivable
volubility, which, at the first hearing, seems to be some interminable
word peculiarly Russian. The shops that strike a foreigner most forcibly
are those filled with pictures of the saints, household gods, and
crosses. Here a St. Anthony or St. Serge, a Virgin and Child, or a
Catherine, as the purchaser may require, can be bought at any price, from
sixpence to fifty guineas. These portraits are highly ornamented with
an immense quantity of gold and pearls, or tinsel, according to the sum
the buyer may wish to give for his patron and guardian angel, and make a
glittering show in the warehouse.

Having arrived at the shop to which the stranger has been directed, the
purchase is made somewhat in this fashion:—

_Lady._ “I wish, if you please, to look at some French ribbons.”

_Shopman._ “Horro sha, Sudarina” (very well, lady).

The shopman takes down a box, the contents of which are undeniably of
Russian manufacture.

_L._ “These are not French—I want _French_ ribbons.”

_S._ “These are _real_ French: they are from Paris.”

_L._ “No, I am sure they are not.”

_S._ (After again most energetically repeating his assertion) “Well! how
much do you want?”

_L._ “Show me the ribbons, and then I will tell you.”

_S._ “How many arsheens did you say?”

_L._ “Show me the French ribbons.”

The shopman unblushingly puts back the box which he has so recently
declared contained the real article, and takes down another, which is
filled with ribbons really of French fabrication.

_L._ “How much is this an arsheen?”

_S._ (With a most graceful inclination) “Seventy copecks.”

_L._ “Seventy copecks! Why, the price is only fifty, and that is all I
will give you.”

_S._ (Quite indignant) “Fifty! they cost us more than that; you shall
have it for sixty-five.”

_L._ “Fifty.”

_S._ “Bosja moia! No; I can’t think of fifty—say sixty.”

_L._ “Not a copeck more than fifty.”

_S._ “By Heaven! I can’t sell it for that price; you shall have it for
fifty-five.”

_L._ “Will you take fifty or not?”

_S._ “I can’t indeed.” (He shuts up the box and puts it back into its
place.) “You shall have it for fifty-three.”

The purchaser refuses to be cheated of even three copecks an arsheen, and
walks out of the shop; she has perhaps gone half-a-dozen yards, when the
shopkeeper’s voice is heard calling out, “Barishna, Barishna! come back,
if you please!”

_L._ “Not a copeck more than fifty.”

_S._ (Having persuaded her to re-enter the warehouse, says in a
confidential manner) “You shall have it for fifty-one.”

_L._ “I said fifty, and I will give you no more.”

_S._ “Well! say fifty and a half!”

_L._ “If you don’t like to take what I said, I will go to the next shop.”

_S._ (Finding that his customer will _not_ be cheated) “Horro sha,
Mosjna! well, you may have it; how much do you want?”

_L._ “Six arsheens.” He proceeds to measure the ribbon, and she takes
out her purse, and gives him, perhaps, a five-rouble note to change. The
shopkeeper’s hopes of cheating begin to revive at the sight of the note,
for he can’t find the amount of the balance due to his customer by two or
three copecks.

_L._ “You must give me three copecks more; this is not right.”

_S._ (With a very low bow) “Isvenete veno vat, I beg your pardon, I am in
fault.” The remaining three copecks are slowly produced, and the customer
at last walks away with her ribbon. In this senseless manner do the
Russian shopkeepers waste their own time and that of the purchaser. One
would think that the minutes thus lost would be of more value than the
consideration of the profit of a few copecks more.

Every house in Russia has a kind of out-of-door servant, called a
Dwornick, who may be considered as the real police of the country, for it
is he that guards the establishment from thieves, &c. His duties are of a
very varied description; he attends to the state of the yard, sees that
the roof is free from snow, brings the water from the river, and is at
every one’s call night and day. Their place is no sinecure, poor fellows!
and I never could find out when they had time to sleep; for in addition
to all that they have to do during the day, they watch over the house
at night, and from seven in the evening until the same hour the ensuing
morning they are obliged by the law to sit outside of the gate, to keep a
look-out for all comers. Theirs must be a very hard life; yet, to do them
justice, they seemed gay enough in the long summer evenings; many a time
have I heard them tinkling on their balaika, or triangular guitar, and
humming the wild airs of their native village, hours after I have retired
to rest. In the winter, however, it must be dreadful to be obliged to
remain so many hours exposed to the intense cold of a northern climate.
In all their sorrows tea and votku (a kind of Russian whisky made from
rye) seem alternately to be the consolation of the lower classes. See
that house at the corner; the upper part of it is devoted to the goddess
Bohea, which is sufficiently indicated by the rude painting of a tea-urn,
surrounded by a numerous progeny of white tea-cups on a dark-blue ground,
placed over the door. The windows are open, which enables us to see what
is passing within. Long-bearded shopkeepers, in their blue caftans, well
buttoned-up, istvostchicks or droshsky-drivers, rough peasants from the
country, in their loose shirts or sheepskins, and with queerly-cut hair,
are all seated in little groups, round small tables placed in lines down
the whole length of the room, as many as it will contain. Young boys,
in loose shirts, and mostly without shoes or stockings, are running
about attending to the wants of the guests, bringing little loaves to
one, rusks to another, and tea to all. Teacups do not seem to be the
fashion, for most of the guests are drinking out of glasses; some prefer
cream, but the majority have a slice of lemon swimming on the top, and
“a portion” of sugar in a small saucer, all ready to be used, is near at
hand; they do not put it into the glass, but hold it between their teeth,
and suck the beverage through it. They seem happy and contented enough as
we see them now, but doubtless each could tell of some act of oppression
and violence which weighs heavily on his heart, and which will inevitably
be avenged some day or other by him or his children’s children!

[Illustration: Cossacks of the Don and Black Sea.

page 59.]

Let us now cast a look into the cellars below. If the first floor be
dedicated to a Chinese deity, these are under the protection of a classic
god that indeed ought to be the tutelar deity of the Russian people.
The gigantic bunches of purple and white grapes on a gold field plainly
indicate that “Votku is sold here,” and that Bacchus holds his reign
in this subterraneous temple, even if we did not perceive the state of
those reeling mujiks (peasants) and young boys continually going in and
out, in danger of stumbling down the steps of the drinking-shop, the
doors of which are happily closed, and thus prevent our being disgusted
with what is passing within: we will therefore stand aside for a few
minutes and remark the passers-by. If it be summer, we shall see the
lemonade-boys with their large glass jugs and one glass for universal
use. Sometimes, instead of this beverage, they vend a kind of drink made
of cranberries. I dare say what they sell is very refreshing, but its
purity cannot be depended on. The bread-merchants with their portable
tray supported by a strap round their shoulders; the fruit-venders, whose
treasures are crude enough and never ripen in this northern clime; the
flower-girls with well-arranged nosegays; the begging monks and nuns,
with their board covered with cloth, on which is embroidered a cross, and
on which the pious are expected to place a trifle, which they pretend
goes to their religious house—their disagreeable whine is the true tone
of a hypocrite. All these are mixed up with an indefinite number of
peasants and _employés_, of whom, with the exception of the military, the
population at this season seems composed, for the “families” are all out
of town, enjoying the short summer on their estates, or at the “Islands”
in the environs of St. Petersburg. There seems no lack of uniforms,
notwithstanding that the soldiers are “aux camps” some forty versts from
the city: but this is the capital of a nation kept down by the knout and
the sword. Yonder are four horsemen abreast: they are Cossacks. Remark
their black sheepskin caps, their blue frock-coats tightly fastened by a
narrow belt round the waist. By the bye, it must be a great misfortune
if they grow stout, for the belt is only allowed to be of a certain
length, as if even flesh and blood must obey military regulations.
Their immensely long spears with red shafts are supported by a leathern
strap; the hay is curiously twisted up into a kind of gigantic ring and
fastened to the saddle-bow. They have good features, but are too small
in size to be handsome figures. Those two soldiers that you see coming
on horseback, looking round with ineffable disdain upon the people, are
Circassians: their proud and stately bearing, their magnificent dress
and ancient arms, recall to our remembrance the days of chivalry, when
in the olden time the warriors of merry England went forth to fight
Saladin in the plains of Syria. Their closely-fitting burnished helmets
with little scarlet ornament at the top, their steel veil falling over
their necks, their shirt of linked mail, the plate-armour on their legs,
and their barbed steeds, make us imagine them to be some ancient knights
of high renown ready caparisoned for the tournament. Their piercing black
eyes and noble features do not belie what we have heard of the beauty of
the Circassian race. These are probably some of a tribe that have been
induced to swear fealty to the Czar, or perhaps are two of the hostages
from Circassia. I remember a gentleman telling me that the Circassians
were among the most faithful of the Emperor’s soldiers: perhaps the time
may be near at hand in which their fidelity will be put to the test. You
see those other soldiers opposite; they cut but a poor figure by the side
of the Circassians. They are some of the infantry of the line; their
downcast, inanimate look, their thin and miserable forms, tell of the
many kicks and blows, the scanty rations of black bread and salt, the
life of drudgery and the shameful ill-treatment to which, poor wretches!
they are too much accustomed. “It is no wonder our soldiers are brave,”
said a Russian official to me; “they have so little worth living for,
that, as Grinion the author says, ‘they lose nothing when they lose their
life:’ the only way to make a good trooper is to make him care nothing at
all about his existence.” What abominable policy!

That little house at the corner of the street is inhabited by a
butitchnick or stationary policeman; he is placed there to keep the
streets in order: I am sorry to say he has not the reputation of being
very honest himself. So many stories are told and known to be true
concerning the police in Russia, that they really may be regarded as
the wolves instead of the watch-dogs of the community. Among the many
examples of what is here asserted, I remember two. The first was that
of a servant-girl who was the slave of a lady with whom I was slightly
acquainted, and who was one evening sent out to purchase something.
The girl, like the generality of domestics in this country, was not
of good character, and she stopped to talk with the butitchnick, who
invited her into his house. She was never seen again alive, and several
weeks passed before any trace of her was discovered. By chance, as
the police-officer was going his rounds, he entered the man’s cabin,
and looking round he caught sight of a very small portion of a cotton
dress that was jammed between the boards of the floor. He instantly
had them taken up, and beneath them was found the body of the wretched
servant-girl: the butitchnick confessed that the silver rouble intrusted
to her had tempted him to commit the murder. The second case was that
of a lady who went to take a walk in the Strogonoff gardens, at a few
versts’ distance from St. Petersburg. She was seen to enter them, but
she never left them again. Nothing was heard of her during nine months,
notwithstanding the untiring efforts of her friends and the large sum
offered by them for some information concerning her fate. Many of her
acquaintances were therefore reluctantly obliged to conclude that in
some sudden fit of insanity she must have committed suicide by throwing
herself into the water. The mystery was however, at length cleared up.
It so happened that a gentleman, a friend of this lady’s, while taking
a ride, was accosted by a butitchnick, who asked him if he would like
to buy a parasol. It immediately struck him that it was very similar to
the one which the unfortunate lady had in her hand when she so suddenly
disappeared. He therefore told the man to keep it until his return, which
would be soon, as he had only to call on an acquaintance. The policeman,
suspecting nothing, promised to do as he was requested, and the gentleman
rode on. The butitchnick’s surprise may be well imagined when he saw him
come back with the police-master and two or three of his men to take him
into custody. He soon met with the punishment he so well deserved: he was
knouted, and, if he survived, was afterwards to be sent to the mines. No
man in Russia can be punished unless he confess his crime, but means are
resorted to for making him do so. This man’s reason for committing the
murder was his being unable to withstand the temptation offered by the
lady’s handsome dress, and he unconcernedly lifted up a part of the floor
of his house and showed where he had buried her.

In winter the aspect of the streets of St. Petersburg is very different
from what it is in summer. Instead of the venders of lemonade, &c., we
see the itinerant tea-sellers furnished with a kettle well wrapped up
in towels to preserve the heat, and a whole row of glasses in a kind
of leathern rack in front of them, slung round their neck in some way
or other: their tea finds a ready sale among the groups of red-faced,
sheepskin-clad boys and men whom they meet in the street, and the shopmen
in the Gostinoi Dwor. Instead of droshskies, the sledges filled with
ladies, smartly dressed in gaily-coloured bonnets and fur-lined velvet or
satin cloaks, glide swiftly along the streets. The Nevsky Perspective is
crowded with belles and beaux, all anxious to display the newest fashions
from Paris. The innumerable officers saunter along equally desirous of
admiration. Here and there may be seen a nurse in the full splendour
of the national costume—gold embroidered head-dress, the resplendent
pavoinik and crasnoi sarafane, kasackan, and immense amber necklace,
which they wear “pour guérir les humeurs froides,” as they say. The
coachmen are conspicuous from their red velvet caps stuffed with wadding
and trimmed with gold lace, and their long caftan with red scarf tied
round their waist; their strangely cropped hair[2] and bushy beard, all
covered with frozen breath, appear as if they were thickly powdered
with snow; their horses’ backs are like fleece from the same cause,
and icicles hang round their mouths and from their eyelids. The canals
and river are frozen three feet deep, yet that does not prevent the
washerwomen from still following their occupation of rinsing the linen
in the holes made in the ice. One would think that their fingers would
freeze, but the fact is, the water is so much warmer than the air, that
they have no fear of that, yet they must surely suffer from standing so
many hours on the ice: their loud laughter and rude jokes, however, seem
to contradict this opinion. There is a crowd standing further down—what
has happened? Let us ask this shopman.

“It is only a man in the water, Madam: he has slipped down through the
hole in the ice, that is all.”

“But why do they not pull him out?”

“No one must touch him until the police arrive; it is their business.”

“Good heavens! the poor man will be drowned meanwhile.”

“Tchto delat?” (what is to be done?) answers the shopman, shrugging
his shoulders. And there _is_ nothing done, at least to the purpose;
for, of course, in the quarter of an hour or twenty minutes expended in
fetching the police, the poor creature has had ample time to be drowned,
and his body, when at last fished up from the water by the accredited
authorities, is set up on a droshsky with a butitchnick to hold it on,
and so is driven, a horrid spectacle, through the streets to the station.
This is one of the senseless regulations of the Russian police, that
everything must be done by their agency; surely it ought to be lawful to
save a fellow-creature’s life under any circumstances. When I was staying
at Twer, one of the men-servants, in a fit of jealousy, thought proper
to hang himself in an outhouse. One of his companions happened to enter
and saw him struggling; he did not dare to cut the cord, but ran to fetch
the authorities. They came, and poor Ivan was nearly cold. I recollect,
on the road to Nova Derevna, seeing a carriage tear along the stones as
if the horses were wild, and the coachman was lashing them like a madman.
It appears that he had accidentally run over a drunken man, and was so
afraid of the consequences of stopping a moment out of humanity to raise
the poor wretch, whose leg was broken, that he thus frantically drove
on. If the man had been killed he would have been punished as if for a
murder, and the carriage and horses confiscated; but in any case, had he
been caught, the latter part of the sentence would have been carried into
effect, and he himself would have been severely beaten.

Another stupid regulation also exists. If one man should happen to see
another lying murdered on the ground, and should be so unwary as to give
information of the fact to the authorities, he is in danger of being
himself detained until some trace of the real assassin be discovered. An
English person informed me that he was one day crossing the river on foot
at an early hour in the morning, and, to his horror, he saw the body of
a murdered man lying close to a hole in the ice. Apparently, those who
had committed the dreadful crime had been alarmed just as they were on
the point of sinking their victim in the Neva, and had fled and left him.
As for the Englishman, he did not dare to give information of it, as he
knew too well the penalty. Who can tell how many wicked deeds are done
in this gaudy capital between the setting and the rising of the sun on a
long winter’s night, or how many of the murdered have floated beneath the
ponderous ice, silently pursuing their frightful voyage towards the gulf!
Alas! many, very many, I have been repeatedly assured by those who had
every means of knowing the truth.

Yonder is a poor man’s funeral—how sad! There is not a single mourner to
follow him to his final place of rest; perhaps he was a common soldier
or a convict, for here one is almost as much respected as the other.
The coffin is nothing but a long, roughly-made deal box stuffed with
straw (a few pieces of which escape from under the lid), and is dragged
along on a peasant’s sledge with as much unconcern as if it contained
the body of a dog. How different from the magnificent funeral cortège
I saw only yesterday! it was that of the Prince L. The road was strewn
with branches of fir; numbers of men preceded the procession with flaming
torches in their hands: the bishop in his mitre, the priests in their
silver-bordered robes; the choristers chanting the funeral service in
solemn tones; the splendid coffin with its rich and beautiful mountings;
the glittering pall of cloth of gold; the magnificent canopy of crimson
velvet with white ostrich-feathers waving in the wind, as if they mocked
the lifeless corse beneath them; the footmen in their white-bordered
coats, cocked hats, and long streamers of red, blue, and white ribbons.
The innumerable carriages and sledges, marshalled in a long line by the
gensdarmes, closed the procession; the soldiers presented arms to the
dead. Yet all his riches and nobility could not free the proud Prince L.
from Nature’s heavy debt, nor prevent him from treading the same dreary
path as yon poor friendless wretch.

St. Petersburg never looks so beautiful as on a summer’s night; the
buildings are then seen to great advantage. The peculiar twilight of
these latitudes casts a softness yet a clearness over them, of which
those who have not seen it can have no idea: the utter silence of a
great city in what seems broad daylight gives a mysterious feeling to
the heart, and subdues the thoughts. I was never more struck with the
beauty of St. Petersburg than once when, on returning from a party at
a late hour, I was crossing the upper bridge from Kamanoi Oustroff: the
long line of palaces fading away in the distance, the magnificent quays,
the calm river, the unbroken stillness, all produced the effect of a
fairy-scene, as if they were fabrics of a vision too lovely to be real,
erected on the enchanting shores of a lake of liquid silver.

But, see! yonder is a strange group. They are prisoners being escorted
out of the town by soldiers. There is a Cossack of the Black Sea among
them. What a savage look he casts around! The long hairs of his shaggy
white cap almost fall into his eyes, and make him look even more
ferocious than he otherwise would; his legs are heavily chained, so are
those of his companions. The man next to him is a Cossack of the Ural;
his rough sheepskin cap, like those of the soldiers, and wild-looking
dress, mark him as a complete barbarian. It would be difficult to decide
which has the more villanous countenance of the two. We need scarcely
ask what their crimes are. That young girl cannot be more than sixteen,
yet she has been knouted, and is now sufficiently recovered to be able
to accompany the gang to Siberia; her crime was that of striking her
mistress: she will not be reclaimed by the wicked wretches with whom she
is marching. The charitable are bestowing alms on them, kindly wishing to
alleviate their sufferings as much as possible, and the money will enable
them to buy some trifling comforts on their journey. One of the convicts
seems to be the treasurer of the party, for everything is handed over to
him. There is kindness in that poor peasant who is running after them to
give them the little he can afford. The Russians are, generally speaking,
a good-hearted people, and would eventually become a noble nation under a
freer and better government. Many of their vices and crimes proceed from
ignorance and _fear_.

That fine carriage with six horses, the two first bearing postilions
in long frock-coats and prodigious cocked hats, putting us in mind of
our respected friend Punch on horseback, the two footmen behind in the
same becoming costume, and the coachman holding the reins _à la Russe_
with outstretched arms, contains the Metropolitan of St. Petersburg. He
is a venerable-looking old man, with a long snowy beard and straight
head-dress like a brimless hat, covered with white cashmere falling down
behind: his forehead surmounted by a diamond cross; his long loose robe
hanging in rich folds; his breast covered with crosses and stars, for
every profession has a military rank in Russia, give him a most imposing
appearance; if not exactly like that of an apostle, he may remind us of
the high-priest of Rome, when Rome was mistress of the world. The people
salute him, and uncover their heads with much reverence; he raises his
hand, and seems as if he were bestowing his benediction on them. But
let us stand on one side, for the Emperor’s sledge is coming; he is
dressed in a gray military cloak and leather helmet ornamented with gold,
precisely similar to that of any other officer. He has a fine face; his
fair complexion and the general cast of his features show his German
descent, but there is something peculiarly disagreeable about his eyes.
His noble figure amply fills the sledge, which drives at a rapid rate
past us. His majesty looks much older than he did a few months ago; his
hair is grayer and his shoulders rounder, yet he is a fine man still.
He acknowledges the low bows of his people by a military salute, and
leaves behind him as he advances many open mouths and wide-staring eyes
among the sheepskin gentry, who perhaps have but just come into St.
Petersburg with the “winter-loads,” and can scarcely gaze their fill
at the Czar, who, in their ignorance, they imagine a kind of God upon
the earth. Look! the Emperor is giving a military salute to some ladies
in a blue carriage, with two Cossacks in scarlet behind; it his her
Majesty the Empress and her daughter. The red uniform of the Cossacks
is the distinctive mark between her livery and that of the wife of the
heir-apparent, which is blue.

It must not be imagined that all the respect with which the Czar is
greeted is quite spontaneous. A Polish gentleman told me once an anecdote
of an acquaintance of his. He had recently arrived in the capital from
some out-of-the-way place in Poland, and, as the Emperor does not wear
his crown in the street, he of course did not know him from Adam; he
therefore committed the crime of not taking off his hat when the Emperor
passed. On his return home he had a notification that he must uncover on
meeting his Majesty. He did not fail to do it the next time, and saluted
him with two or three low bows quite down to the ground. He soon had
another visit from the authorities, ordering him out of the city, which
made him practically to understand that the Czar could have too much
respect paid him as well as too little. I need scarcely add that the
Pole did not delay his departure, and thought himself fortunate in being
able to return in safety to his obscure village in his own country.

Mais allons! Let us continue our walk down the Nevsky Perspective.
The carriages with scarlet liveries and lined with wolfskin are those
of families belonging to the court, of which there are plenty in
St. Petersburg. The shops, or magazines as they are called here to
distinguish them from the common Russian warehouses in the Gostinoi Dwor,
all have signboards with the articles their proprietors sell painted
thereon—a proof of the general ignorance, for, if the people could read,
such signs would not be necessary. Opposite, you see is a hairdresser’s;
he himself is represented on his signboard as exercising his skill on the
head of a very sentimental young gentleman dressed for a ball; he unites
phlebotomy with his other accomplishments, for vis-à-vis is represented
a very fine lady in a blue dress and pink bows looking very so-so, whose
arm is at the mercy of the operator, while a boy in a white shirt is
holding the basin.

Next door to the hairdresser lives a milliner, whose gay caps and bonnets
are duly delineated on her board. Yonder is a toy-shop, with a fine
painting containing the most artistic grouping of rocking-horses with
happy little boys on them for ever smiling, and Punch reclining wearily
on a drum, mixed up with swords and guns that will never kill Turks,
and helmets, shakoes, Cossack-caps, &c., destined to raise ambitious
hopes in many a childish breast. But we have reached the Anitchkin
bridge, which crosses the Fontanka. These four equestrian statues in
bronze have a fine effect; the human figures endeavouring to restrain
the fiery steeds are full of life and animation. There are some fine
buildings near; that large handsome mansion on the right hand belongs
to Prince Wasiliwitch; the long range that you see yonder to the left
is the Catherine Institution; it contains some hundreds of young
ladies belonging to noble families, and, like most establishments of
education here, is a government one. It is of no use going further than
the Amitchkin bridge, because there is absolutely nothing to see; the
houses beyond it degenerate greatly, so we will return. That large white
mansion is the palace of the Archduchess Olga, which she inhabits when
she visits the capital. Leaving the Gostinoi Dwor on the left, we look
down a street, facing which we see at a distance the Michael Palace,
a handsome edifice. Soon afterwards we reach the Kazane church; it is
built on the model of St. Peter’s in Rome, only on a diminutive scale.
We will finish our morning’s ramble by entering it for a few minutes and
examining the interior. It is large, and the space, unobstructed by pews,
appears even greater than it is; the fine marble pillars supporting the
roof are surmounted by gilt capitals; the pavement is tesselated; the
walls are covered with pictures, before which silver lamps are suspended,
and stands are placed, in which are stuck innumerable thin wax tapers,
reminding us of the joss-sticks of the Chinese. That portrait, before
which the ignorant lower class are performing their devotions, and
bowing so low that their foreheads touch the ground, is the likeness of
the Emperor’s daughter Alexandrine, who died some years ago. Alas! and
are the days of heathen apotheosis not yet passed away? Must we, in
the nineteenth century of the Christian era, see anything so shocking
as this? What difference is there between the adoration of Romulus by
the ancient Romans and this idolatry? Before that shrine opposite are
kneeling two nuns; one of them is only a novice, as shown by her black
velvet cone-shaped head-dress and gauze veil hanging down behind; the
other has a straight head-dress covered with black cloth; they are both
habited in gowns of black serge, and carry rosaries. A face, however
beautiful, could never look so in this unbecoming costume. Near them is
a poor woman decently clad, whose repeated prostrations, and the tears
coursing each other rapidly down her cheeks, show that true devotion,
and perhaps repentance for sin, can be felt even by one so humble and
ignorant as a Russian peasant-girl. The massive balustrade round the
altar, the gate of the Holy of Holies, and the candelabra are of real
silver, made, as they say, from the spoils of the “grande armée,” when
the French invaded the country; but who can believe all the Russians say?
We have often heard them boast, among other incredible triumphs of their
arms, that they took Paris in 1814, and they even had the assurance to
deny that any one else had aught to do with their entry into that city.
The large filagree silver doors that enclose the Holy of Holies are
shown to advantage by the crimson velvet curtains behind them. We ladies
are not allowed to enter the “sanctum,” so we must content ourselves
with the knowledge that there is nothing worth seeing inside, and with
admiring the portraits of the saints inserted in the gates; they are
really well executed, but “saint-painting” is a _profession_ in Russia,
something like that of the artificers of brass who worked for the great
temple of Ephesus. This royal-looking lady is St. Olga, whose only claim
to merit was that of introducing the Greek religion into Muscovy. Her
horrid cruelty and detestable immorality would lead us to think that she
deserved any other abode but that of heaven. These people, just coming up
the steps as we are leaving, are a party of pilgrims come on a devotional
journey to St. Petersburg; they have no cockle-shells or gourds, no
staves nor sandal shoon, as we generally see on the stage. They have all
the appearance of common mendicants, with a stout stick in their hands
and a wallet on their back; and such indeed they generally are, for
under the pretence of a pilgrimage they manage to make a very profitable
begging tour through the country.



CHAPTER VII.

    Places worth visiting—Peter’s Museum—The Czar’s
    works—Curious effigy—The war-horse—The Nevsky monastery—The
    saint’s shrine—Magnificent tomb—Superstition—The
    cemetery—Catherine—Imperial mausoleum—Description
    of the sarcophagi—Prisoners—Political offenders—Spy
    system—Bombardment of Odessa—Dumb spy—A spy of rank—Assemblée
    de la noblesse—Masked balls—Russian civilization—Love of
    money—Inebriety—Society in St. Petersburg.


There are many places well worth visiting in St. Petersburg: such as
Peter’s Museum at the Academy of Sciences, the Palace of the Hermitage,
the Monastery of Alexander Nevsky, &c. &c. The first of these (Peter’s
Museum) contains a great many relics of the Czar after whom it is named;
many of them are the work of his own hands—models of ships, a chandelier,
some iron articles, shoes, and little ivory figures. There are also his
tools and instruments, carefully preserved under a glass case. In another
apartment is the effigy of the great Peter himself, modelled in wax,
habited in one of his own court-dresses, having shoes on that he himself
made, and the head is decorated with his own natural hair made into a
wig. Unlike the Russians generally, he had dark eyes and hair, and his
features had more of the southern cast than of the northern. He must have
been of immense stature, for a rod was shown us which we were assured
was exactly his height, and its length was some inches more than six
feet. Another room contains the horse on which he rode at the battle of
Poltava, when the royal Swede “was taught to fly;” it is a wiry little
animal, of a light brown, much resembling in size and appearance one of
the small species ridden by the Cossacks, but quite out of proportion
to the gigantic Czar, whose feet must have nearly reached the ground. I
believe there is another museum also called after Peter the Great, but we
did not go to see it.

At the very end of the Nevsky Perspective, after passing a vast number
of miserable dwellings, we reach the Nevsky Monastery, from which the
street is named. Alexander Nevsky is an imperial and warrior saint, and
was Czar of Muscovy. After his death he was canonized for some reason or
other; and of course, with all his imperial and religious advantages, his
shrine is greatly visited and much reverenced by the people. It seems
a general rule, not only among the heathen nations of antiquity, but
with the Russians as well, that, when thoroughly tired of the “fantastic
tricks” played by their monarchs “before high Heaven,” they are content
to worship them as gods, though they might themselves have forwarded
them on the road to Paradise. The late Emperor Alexander, though not yet
dignified with the title of _saint_, has obtained the first step towards
it by being surnamed the “_Blessed_,” but why and wherefore no one could
ever tell us.

The Nevsky Monastery is a large pile of buildings painted white, with a
green roof; the road to it leads through an avenue of birch-trees, as
is generally the case in Russian monasteries. A large cathedral forms
the principal attraction, for in it is contained the saint’s shrine,
which is very magnificent and consists of an immense silver monument,
several yards in height, and placed against the wall: in the front is
a sarcophagus of the same metal on a raised dais; on its cover is a
full-length likeness of the dead, crowned by one of those circles of
radiant glory in pure gold which distinguish the Greek images,[3] and
further decorated with a wreath of artificial flowers. At the head of
the tomb a beautiful silver lamp is always kept burning, which casts
down on the features a soft light, and gives them a peculiarly pleasing
effect. At the foot of the shrine are seated two large figures of angels
in silver, and at each side of it is a military trophy consisting of
shields, spears, battle-axes, &c. &c., all of the same precious metal;
over the sarcophagus was thrown a magnificent pall of cloth of gold most
richly ornamented. I was assured by the Russian lady who accompanied me
that the body of the saint lay uncorrupted beneath.

“And do you really believe that Alexander Nevsky’s corpse is exempted
from the decay of other mortals?”

“Undoubtedly I do,” was the reply: “I have as little doubt of it as that
I see you now before my eyes.”

“But have you ever seen it?”

“No! that of course is not allowed, but the priests have done so, and
they tell us that he lies there just as if he were asleep; even his
limbs are not become rigid, and that is one of the great proofs that he
is worthy of being numbered among our patron saints.” Seeing me still
incredulous, she added, “I assure you that at Kiev there are numbers of
the uncorrupted bodies of our holy men and martyrs, which, if you went
thither, you could see yourself and be convinced.”

“But perhaps the monks have the secret of thus preserving them; I have
heard so.”

“I will not talk to you any more,” replied my friend; “you English
heretics will not believe any of our miracles.”

She quitted me, and went up the steps leading to the sarcophagus; and
devoutly kissing the hands and feet of the image, she repeatedly crossed
herself, whilst she muttered a few words in prayer; and having made
the offering of a piece of money, by slipping it through the top of
a well-secured box, she turned to accompany me out of the church. We
lingered a few moments longer to admire the rich canopy, supported by
massive silver pillars, that overshadows the tomb, and to read the name
of “Souvarof” on a small mural slab, and then proceeded to the cemetery
attached to the establishment. It was much crowded with monuments;
broken pillars, surmounted by a gilt cross, weeping female figures of
the purest white marble, and simple white crosses, were among the most
common and interesting of these offerings to the memory of the dead, made
by affection, ostentation, or hypocrisy. It was here that Peter III.,
the husband of the too famous Catherine, was interred, for she would not
even allow him to repose with his ancestors. Perhaps the idea of herself
being placed side by side with him of whose dreadful death she stands
arraigned, might not have been a very pleasant one. After Catherine’s
decease, Paul had his father’s body removed to the fortress, which
has been the mausoleum of the imperial family since Peter the Great’s
reign. I was told that he caused the nobleman who had actually done the
murderous deed to stand as guard the whole of the first night alone in
the church, between the tomb of the woman whose wicked orders he had
obeyed in the hopes of sharing the crown (of which reward she cheated
him), and that of the unhappy monarch whom he had murdered: the fearful
feelings of that night’s dreadful ordeal rendered him a maniac during the
remainder of his life.

We visited the chapel in which the members of the Romanof family are
deposited. Their resting-place is extremely simple, and is an ordinary
church. The tombs or sarcophagi are merely long boxes, standing in rows
before the altar, each covered with a crimson velvet pall, on which the
arms of Russia are embroidered. I was told that they were precisely
similar to the tombs of the Sultans in Constantinople, with the exception
of the turban.

Among other things we were shown the cushion on which Souvarof, the
half-barbarian general, reposed when in his tent; it was of leather,
stuffed with straw; but as I have no respect for the man, I was not
much interested in seeing it. On the other side of the river, opposite
the fortress, is a statue of him “_en héros_,” as our friend said; _en
barbare_ would have been more appropriate.

On leaving the place we perceived several of the criminals (it being the
state prison) peeping through the gratings of their cells; the whole
of one side of their heads was shaved, beginning with the line of the
nose, and finishing at the nape of the neck, presenting a most strange
appearance; the object of this is, that they may be recognised if they
should effect an escape. Beneath the fortress are the dungeons in which
the state prisoners are confined; I was assured that the dungeons extend
to a considerable distance under the Neva. How inconceivably wretched
such an existence must be!—in darkness, silence, and solitude, it seems
wonderful how they can survive, even for a few days. The church clock
chimes every quarter of an hour, which must be wearisome enough to
the unhappy creatures within hearing. At one time I was residing just
opposite to this place, on the other side of the river. One morning, at
about nine o’clock, I perceived a long line of sledges crossing the ice,
preceded and followed by a party of mounted _gensdarmes_: each equipage
contained a gentleman and one of the police. I found out afterwards that
these poor fellows, most of them quite youths, had been incarcerated
for some silly nonsense they had uttered about politics; they were then
being taken before the authorities to hear their final sentence. I do
not think that any of them escaped; they were hurried off to Siberia, in
the prisoners’ kabitkas that stood ready to receive them in the yard.
It appears that they had been to a supper-party, and had taken more
wine than needful, when they had talked pretty freely, of course. When
three meet together in Russia, you may safely count one of them as a
spy; it proved to be so in this instance, for information was quickly
given that some horrible conspiracy was being formed. The result we have
seen. A young _gendarme_ officer used to visit at the house of one of
our acquaintances; his presence always produced restraint, as they are
obliged by their duty to report whatever they may hear. _A propos_ of the
spy system: I was informed that, besides the secret police, there are
eighty thousand paid agents in the country, among whom, to their shame be
it spoken, are many Poles and foreigners. I am happy to say that I never
heard an instance of an Englishman being so employed. A great many women
belong to this hateful profession; even some of the French milliners
in St. Petersburg have the reputation of being agents of police. One
would wonder how politics could be brought on the _tapis_ while a lady
is engaged in trying on a new cap or bonnet; but these _marchandes de
modes_ have free admission to the masquerades, theatres, &c. &c., where
they can exercise their detective talents. It is no exaggeration to say
that a Russian subject scarcely dares to utter his true sentiments, even
to his own brother or familiar friend. I am sure that I have often been
present at conversations in which perhaps four or five would be taking
part, each knowing that his neighbour was telling a lie, and avowing
sentiments exactly contrary to those he felt; yet the subject under
consideration would be discussed with all the gravity and seriousness of
entire conviction. Take for example the recent bombardment of Odessa: I
was present in St. Petersburg at the time, and read the proclamation of
the Emperor announcing to his faithful people the astounding fact that
the allied fleets, mounting three hundred and fifty cannon, had fired for
twelve consecutive hours upon the town, killing only _four_ men, and that
the people were so well behaved, they did not let even the tremendous
cannonading interrupt their peaceful devotions! Added to which, they were
assured, after a few remarks on our fleet firing at too great a distance
to be within range of the battery guns, that the English ships retired
with great loss and damage. How this was caused when the Russian balls
could not reach them, the Emperor forgot to explain. I had an invitation
to dine with a family the very day on which the news came, and I would
not be absent, lest it should be ascribed to some feeling of annoyance
among the English. During the whole dinner (at which were some generals,
other officers, and ladies of rank), nothing was talked of but this
wonderful triumph of the Russian arms. I am convinced that there was not
one single person there present who believed it: but who could venture to
doubt the imperial words? Evil would have befallen him who had dared to
do so.

I remember, when in the province of Archangel, a deaf and dumb gentleman
paid the town a visit; he was furnished with letters of introduction
to some families there, and was well received at the governor’s table;
his agreeable manners and accomplishments, joined to his misfortune,
made him a general favourite, and caused much interest; he could read
French, German, Russian, and Polish; was a connoisseur of art, and
showed us several pretty drawings of his own execution. Two or three
times I was struck with an expression of more intelligence in his face
than one would expect when any conversation was going on behind his
back. It was not until three years after that I accidentally heard this
very man spoken of in St. Petersburg. He was one of the government
spies. It was no doubt for a very large sum that he had been induced
to put so great a constraint upon himself, and it must have required
long training to enable him to perform so difficult a part. This vile
system must have a dreadful effect in demoralizing all ranks of society,
producing hypocrisy, falsehood, meanness, and cunning, which are felt in
the minutest relations of life. On one occasion I was conversing with
a Polish lady and gentleman upon Count Custine’s work on Russia, which
is rigidly prohibited by the censor; in the midst of our conversation
a gentleman called, and by some _à propos_ accident asked if we had
read the book in question. I, being English, immediately replied in the
affirmative; but my Polish friends pretended that they had scarcely ever
heard even its title; and although only a few minutes previously they had
acquiesced in the justice of many of the Count’s remarks, they said “of
course they would not read a work condemned and prohibited.”

I will add another instance. A general officer visited the province in
which I was for some time residing; his rank gave him easy access to all
the best houses, and he was sure to be met with at any grand dinner.
Alas! he also was a spy. It was not until he had quitted the place that
this began to be whispered, and it was afterwards confirmed. I have heard
that professions learned and sacred, as well as honourable, all have
members who act as spies upon the rest.

Among the places worth visiting in the capital is the “nobility’s
assemblée,” at the corner of St Michael-street and the square. When I
first went to reside in St. Petersburg, these rooms were considered
quite the _mode_, but now they are no longer so, for public places soon
degenerate in Russia from the _comme il faut_ to the _mauvais genre_;
there were given balls and masquerades, at which the imperial family
were frequently present; the ladies wore dominoes after midnight, but
the gentlemen went unmasked. Any _lady_ could intrigue the Emperor
(no gentleman was allowed to do so), who frequently was surrounded
by a little gay crowd of _beaux masqués_, entertaining him with all
the chit-chat and _conversations légères_ peculiar to the style of
such amusements. I was informed that a great many Frenchwomen, even
milliners, were furnished with tickets gratis, their gay badinage and
cheerful manners serving so much to enliven the company. Among the
tales of scandal which, in the absence of politics, shares with actors
and actresses the honour of being made the subject of conversation in
Russian society, was one which I make no doubt whatever was a positive
fact, and, as it is _à propos_ to these _bals masqués_, I will relate
it. A lady, the daughter of an old general named B——, was one evening
at the masquerade; she intrigued a _personage_ of very high rank, and
while so doing was imprudent enough to touch upon some forbidden subject;
shortly after she left the assemblée and returned home, perfectly
unconscious that orders had been given not to let her out of sight until
her name and place of residence had been ascertained. The next morning
she was disagreeably surprised by a visit from an officer of the secret
police, who politely requested her to accompany him to Count Orloff’s
office. Such an invitation was, of course, not to be refused—she went
immediately. The gentleman who received her was _aimabilité_ itself;
he kindly pointed to a seat that stood near, and blandly proceeded to
ask her a few questions concerning the previous evening’s amusement,
to all of which the terrified lady tremblingly replied “the truth, the
whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” for no equivocation would have
availed her in that place. When the interrogation was finished, the chair
suddenly sank through the floor, and I am ashamed to say that from the
hand of some unseen person below she received a correction such as little
boys used formerly to be subjected to from the birch of old-fashioned
schoolmasters. I met this lady frequently in company, and knew her sister
well. I had the anecdote from an intimate friend of the family, and have
not the slightest doubt of its being true.

The same misfortune is said to have occurred about four months ago to a
certain noble princess from the south, who expressed some sympathy with
the cause of the Western Powers. I have often asked Russians, when they
were boasting of their great civilization, if this were a proof of it.
Once the reply was that “a great many of the Russian ladies deserved to
be beaten, and that it would do them a great deal of good.” At another
time, in speaking of the peasant-women being so treated, a certain Prince
A—— replied that “they were not worthy of the title of women, they were
no better than cattle!” Once, on complaining of the impertinence of
a servant, I was recommended to “box her ears well;” on my remarking
that such an action would be a greater disgrace to me than to the girl
herself, the lady, whose maid she was, answered, “If you do not do it, I
will;” she rang the bell, the footman was told to send Marousha, and the
instant she came, notwithstanding my entreaties, the lady administered
with her own hand a sound blow on each side of the poor girl’s head!

When abroad, the Russians invariably deny that such a state of things
exists; they will even sometimes attempt to hide it in their own country,
which shows that at the least they have the grace to be ashamed of it.

A stranger in walking through the streets in St. Petersburg, if he
understands anything of the language spoken, cannot fail to remark that
the general theme of conversation among the lower classes is _money_;
scarcely one of the men or women passes by without our catching the
words tchitvertack, grebinick, roup, &c. In no country is more avidity
displayed in the pursuit of gain; only speak of a piece of silver, and a
Russian’s eyes sparkle at the sound, and he is ready to do anything in
order to obtain it. Copecks and whisky are the two greatest temptations
of his heart. M. P——ski, a gentleman of education, assured me, only the
morning I left St. Petersburg, that they were in much more danger from
the pillage of the lower classes than from any exterior enemy; and he
expressed the greatest fears for the consequences of bringing so many
thousands of wild savages of soldiers into the town, for, if they rose,
it would be _en masse_, and he was fearful that the great temptation
offered by the sight of a civilized capital for the first time would
shortly prove an irresistible one; if they did have an outbreak, it would
sweep the upper classes away like a torrent.

In regard to the love of whisky to be remarked at every step, how can
we wonder that the Russian boor is addicted to drinking when there is
every inducement held out to him to do so? he is more to be pitied than
condemned. The government revenues are in great part acquired by the sale
of votku; there are people called brandy-farmers, who contract with the
authorities for the monopoly; they generally make great fortunes, and
the poor _people_ pay for all. The charge of inebriety among those of
superior rank is entirely false; a Russian gentleman seldom takes much
wine, and the ladies _never_; they have faults grave enough, but this is
not one of them.

The society in St. Petersburg is, of course, as varied and as much
divided into cliques as that of any other great city, and it entirely
depends upon which circle the stranger has the fortune to be introduced
into whether he be favourably impressed with what he sees, or the
contrary; from my own experience I should say that it is rare to meet
with more agreeable people. I do not speak of their knowledge, or what is
denominated mind, for there are not many lovers of deep study or profound
erudition among the Russians, either gentlemen or ladies; but of their
kindness, good-nature, and desire to afford pleasure to others, the
foreigner will have no reason to complain. It must, however, be confessed
that their feeling towards strangers has much changed since the present
state of affairs has commenced.



CHAPTER VIII.

    Winter amusements—The opera and French theatre—Hamlet—A
    true Russian play—Corruption of the police—Anecdotes—The
    hermitage—The museum—Dinner-parties—Russian hospitality—Want of
    information—The censor’s office: its restrictions.


The winter amusements in St. Petersburg are the same as those of other
capitals during the season—the opera, French theatre, balls, concerts,
_bals masqués_, &c. The opera is of course an Italian one, and the same
artistes perform there as in London. I was once at the opera when the
Emperor thought proper to applaud the cantatrice (Castellan I believe)
by clapping his hands; he had no sooner done so than somebody hissed;
he again showed his approbation—the unknown hissed a second time; his
Majesty stood up and looked round on the assembled multitude, and the
third time gave his applause; he was answered in the same manner as
before. I soon after heard a terrible scuffle overhead; the police had
discovered the hardy offender, and quickly dragged him out of the house:
I never learnt what became of him; doubtless he was made to repent that
he had dared to have an opinion different from that of the Czar.

A gentleman in our box suggested that it _must_ be a foreigner, for no
_Russian subject_ would have dared to act so.

The French theatre is extremely good; all the best artistes from Paris
are engaged for the season at enormous salaries. We were informed that
his Majesty once said to the Director that “he was one of his best
friends, because he amused society.” A great deal more was perhaps _sous
entendu_ than the mere words expressed. It is certain that, as long as
the government can get the people (that is the upper classes—there are no
“gods” in Russia) to wrangle and quarrel about the merits of an actress
or a singer, instead of thinking upon what great events are passing
around them, it is safe enough, and security is worth purchasing at
any rate. This last winter, as _very_ extraordinary affairs were being
transacted, Madlle. Rachel was imported: I forget the exact amount she
received, but the diamonds and jewels with which she was presented were
of enormous value, and her performance, the Czar’s generosity, and her
_conduct_ furnished all the nobility and gentry with a fruitful theme of
conversation. As the climax to all the compliments paid this actress,
the Emperor did the _Empress_ the _honour_ of presenting Madlle. Rachel
to her, and gracefully led her to his consort’s presence. Madlle.
Rachel in return wrote a flourishing letter to the Emperor (a copy of
which was shown me), containing innumerable highflown compliments on
his might and power, and she spoke of the tears of gratitude she shed
on her return to her lodgings, &c.: it was handed round with about as
much reverence as we should do an autograph epistle of Shakspere or of
Alfred the Great. Doubtless, the great tragedian laughed heartily at it
all, and thought the Russians a set of dupes. As politics are dangerous
subjects to talk about, and as people must have something to converse
on, the actors and actresses take the place of “whigs and tories;” their
performance, of some “new measure;” their manners and conduct, of “new
bills and reforms;” and the news of a fresh play, of “a change in the
ministry.” English people can only wonder how a society such as that in
St. Petersburg can employ all their energies about such absurdities.

There are translations of _some_ of Shakspere’s plays performed; the
two most frequently witnessed are Hamlet and King Lear; the class of
shopkeepers, who may be called the _people_ in Russia, for the others are
mere serfs, are those by whom they are chiefly appreciated, and Shakspere
is reverenced by most of them nearly as much as in England, although
they have read his works only in a translation; perhaps at some future
time his lofty thoughts will have a good effect upon their opinions
and conduct. When I was at Twer I saw the part of Hamlet exceedingly
well performed by a young actor, and the audience, even in this small
provincial town, seemed thoroughly to appreciate it. I once went to a
shop in St. Petersburg, when I remarked to a lady who was with me “that
the proprietor much resembled the portraits of Shakspere;” although
the remark was made in French, the shopkeeper understood it, and to
my astonishment made me a low bow and thanked me. It was only a small
fruit-shop, and we neither of us had the least idea that he had ever
heard the poet’s name.

Such of Shakspere’s plays as Julius Cæsar, and others containing
sentiments of freedom, are not permitted to be performed, and are not
even translated.

The Russian stage is very destitute of good pieces, but I saw one which,
being truly national, may serve to give an idea of their plays. It was
the best I ever witnessed on the Russian stage, and it gives too true
a picture of the unjust extortion and bribery which are also truly
national, for they pervade all ranks in an equal degree. I was in perfect
astonishment that the piece was allowed to be played at all; one would
think that pride alone would have prevented such an exposure of their
prevailing vice to the foreigners with whom the capital is crowded.

It was called the ‘_Reviseur_,’ that being the title of an officer sent
from time to time into the provinces to examine into the state of the
government, and to report concerning the manner in which it is carried on.

The play opened by a domestic scene, in which the police-master, his wife
and daughter, are all eagerly conversing on the shortly-expected visit
of the _Reviseur_, and we are let into the secret of various amiable
weaknesses and domestic plans to keep up an appearance of propriety,
in the midst of which the elder lady suddenly sees a carriage pass,
which she is sure can be no other than that of the great man himself.
An extraordinary bustle ensues: the police-master, in all haste, gives
various absurd orders to the _employés_ under him, one of which is that
“the soldiers should not on any account be seen without their coats,
as it would be then discovered that they had no shirts on,”—the money
furnished by the crown for providing them has of course been pocketed by
himself and the colonel. After taking all the precautions he can think
of, he hastens to inform the other principal men of the arrival of the
Reviseur.

The next scene introduces us to the servant of the supposed functionary,
who is no Reviseur at all, but a poor gentleman who is running away
from St. Petersburg, on account of certain bills which he has not the
means of paying. The miserable lodging, and the hungry lamentations of
the unlucky servant, give us to understand the state of his master’s
finances, that he has actually expended the very last of his cherished
rubles, nor does there appear to be any probability of his purse being
replenished: how they will be enabled to continue the journey is a
_casse-tête_. Thereupon the master himself enters, and, being quite as
famished as his man, orders him to go and get something for dinner, for
it appears he has been to an eating-house, and they refused to give him
credit. The servant refuses to go without the money. At last, with the
help of a great deal of blustering, he is persuaded to “try his luck:”
he soon returns; he has been successful in some measure, for he is
accompanied by the boy from the cook-shop, who has brought two dishes
and—_the bill_. The savoury smell of the soup and beef drives the hungry
pair almost mad, but the purse, unlike that of Fortunatus, is as empty
as their stomachs, and, unless the boy gets the money, he is ordered by
no means to leave the dinner. Now, here was a dreadful dilemma; but in
the midst of it the police-master arrives: the distressed traveller is in
fearful trouble, for he is convinced that the dreaded officer is come to
arrest him; “he has doubtless heard of his flight from St. Petersburg,
and has received orders to take him prisoner.” The police-master, on his
side, is equally sure that he is in the presence of the real Reviseur,
but that he travels thus in disguise that he may take them unawares, and
so detect their numerous acts of dishonesty and corruption: consequently,
a most laughable dialogue ensues—the official trembles as he addresses
the supposed great man, and is ready to cringe in the dust at his feet.
At last the latter begins to see “which way the wind blows,” and,
perceiving to what profit he may turn the mistake, informs the other as
a very great secret that he is really the Reviseur, and compliments him
on his extreme penetration, which alone could have discovered him under
such a disguise. No sooner has he done so than the police-master slips
an excessively heavy purse into his hand, the contents of which have
been furnished by himself and the other chief government officers, to
blind his eyes, and to act as golden spectacles. Here the boy from the
cook-shop re-enters to be paid for the dinner; the traveller takes out
his newly-acquired riches, and is on the point of paying for it, when
the police-master politely interferes, and orders the boy to put it down
“to his account;” the latter casts a terrified look at the two, and,
seeing what a powerful friend his customer has acquired, rushes off in
extreme dismay. The official, then turning to the traveller, expresses
the hope that they shall have the honour of his company at his house, and
respectfully begs permission to write a few words to his wife to inform
her of the intended visit; on its being graciously accorded, he sits
down and indites a note, in which he bids her strain every nerve for the
reception of the distinguished guest, for that she was quite right, it
was really the Reviseur that she had seen.

In the following scene the wife and daughter are gravely consulting
concerning the toilet proper for the occasion, as they have some sly
matrimonial designs on the stranger’s heart. The police-master returns
home accompanied by all the chief officials in the place; they have
been all “oppressors and unjust judges alike,” and every scheme is
canvassed to ensure concealment. The soi-disant Reviseur arrives, and is
received with all the slavish obsequiousness of which only _Russians_
are capable. The poor shopkeepers, who come, according to the national
custom, to present the bread and salt, and who have been fleeced by the
authorities, are summarily dismissed, and can obtain no hearing for their
complaints. As for the supposed Reviseur, he knows well the character of
his countrymen, and takes care to profit by it by receiving bribes from
every one. The inferior officers, whose turn to be introduced is not yet
arrived, are all assembled outside the door, determined to listen to what
is going on, and to see as much as the keyhole will permit them. Their
anxiety is so great that they push the door down and roll over each other
on the floor, to the great damage of their noses. Order being restored,
the Reviseur gives audience to one at a time: they have received such
severe contusions in the fall that most of them have patches on, and
one has a black one covering the whole of his nose. Each gives a bribe
to the great man, according to his rank: a great deal of laughter is
produced by the one with the black nose not being able to find more than
eightpence; but the Reviseur takes it, being resolved to get all he can.
After all these people are dismissed there is a grand flirtation with the
police-master’s daughter, whose visions of a splendid match can only be
equalled by the exultation of the mother.

Having obtained as much as he can, our traveller thinks it “high time to
be off,” lest by any untoward chance his deception should be discovered.
He pockets the money, in all eight hundred roubles, protests his entire
satisfaction of everything, his eternal devotion to the daughter, and
his fixed intention of shortly returning to marry her, in the midst of
which the kabitka drives up to the door; he takes his leave, and the
traveller’s bell is soon heard; everybody runs to the window to take a
last look at the retreating sledge; the tinkling of the bell becomes
fainter, and the act is finished.

The last act opens with a scene between the police-master and the
shopkeepers, whom he most bitterly upbraids for daring to complain of
his oppression, and refuses to be pacified until they have promised to
send him various valuable offerings, so many arsheens of cloth, and so
on, to act as peace-makers. At last, on this consideration, he consents
to “think no more of it,” and the poor people take their leave. They are
replaced by the numerous friends of the family, who have heard of the
intended marriage, and have come to congratulate them upon it. A shower,
or rather a deluge, of compliments greets them on all sides, in the
midst of which the police-master sneezes. When such an accident occurs,
the Russians always exclaim, “_I wish you well_.” It may therefore be
imagined what a chorus of voices, each desirous to be remarked above the
other; is heard simultaneously. Various grand plans are discussed for the
future couple, and the whole family seem ready to die with triumphant
exultation, when in comes the postmaster so much out of breath that he
cannot speak. On recovering his voice he informs them that he has opened
the letter that the traveller had forwarded to St. Petersburg, that he is
no Reviseur, and that he had turned them all into ridicule, calling them
asses, dupes, and fools, and had given a detailed account of everything
that had passed. The distress of the whole company is inconceivable; the
police-master is frantic with despair, the daughter and mother faint, the
ladies scream, the confusion becomes greater and greater the more they
have time to reflect on their position. In the midst of all this terror,
consternation, recrimination, and misfortune, enters a chasseur, who
announces that the _real Reviseur_ has just arrived. Their despair is now
excessive; it becomes deeper and deeper, whereupon the curtain drops and
leaves them to their fate.

The acting was admirable throughout. I forget the name of the artiste who
performed the first character, but he did it in a manner beyond praise.
The comic actors in Russia are excellent; there are not many first-rate
actresses; Mlle. Samoiloff was the best—she has since quitted the stage.

Perhaps it may be thought that the preceding play is but a burlesque, an
extremely exaggerated picture of what really passes in Russia. Far from
it. The Count Z. was sitting next to me, and we were conversing upon the
excessive truth of the whole, when Madame P. turned and entreated us,
“pour l’amour de Dieu,” not to pass such remarks, for if we were heard we
might have a visit from the police before the next morning; so we waited
until we returned home, when every one acknowledged that the picture was
by no means overdrawn.

We were once staying at the house of a provincial governor, and had many
opportunities of hearing and knowing what was going on. The police-master
was a colonel in rank; the pay that he received from the government
was not _forty pounds per annum_, yet he kept a carriage, four horses,
two footmen, and a coachman; his wife was always extravagantly dressed;
she had two or three children, and of course a maid and a cook, added
to which she paid a visit every season to the capital. On my expressing
wonder as to what miracle enabled him to support his family in such
luxury, when it was well known to everybody that he had no estates
and nothing besides his pay, I was told a little anecdote of him that
deserves to be recorded, if it be only to show to British tradesmen
that their brethren in Russia have a worse incubus than that of _taxes_
weighing on their hearts.

On one occasion the Colonel was going to St. Petersburg, but he had not
a ruble in his purse, and how to find the money to defray the expenses
of the journey was a question. He was not long in solving it, for he hit
upon the following plan. There happened to be a rich iron-merchant in the
town; he called on him and ordered an immense number of poods of iron to
be supplied for the use of the government. To what earthly use could a
police-master put all this iron? The poor merchant knew very well that
iron was not the metal he wanted, and was glad to compromise the affair
by begging his acceptance of a good round sum of silver rubles instead.
As for the poods of iron, they peaceably continued to repose in the
store, and our “_brave homme_” went and enjoyed himself very much in the
capital.

Scores of similar anecdotes have fallen under my knowledge in every
province in which I have resided. It was no longer an enigma to me
in what way a police-master’s carriage and horses were paid for. I
remember going with a friend to the Persian shop in the Galitzin Gallery
in Moscow. Whilst we were there a servant came in and ordered several
silk dresses of the kind called canaouse to be sent to the house of the
police-master. Never shall I forget the rueful look of the poor Persian
as he gave them into the man’s hand, for he well knew that payment was
out of the question: he might send in the bill, which would be laid on
the table and postponed _sine die_, but he could not refuse to send the
dresses for fear of the consequences, as very likely some pretext would
soon be found for ordering his shop to be shut up.

The Palace of the Hermitage is a place of great interest, and contains
various beautiful vases in malachite, lapis lazuli, jasper, &c., of great
value. There is one enormous vase, I forget of what stone: it is of an
oval shape, and measures twenty feet in diameter. These objects are the
work of criminals, and are brought from the Ural Mountains and Siberia.
The apartments are very fine; the floors are particularly worthy of
attention, being curiously and most elaborately inlaid. The gallery of
paintings is good; those by Sneyder are excellent. I saw here Brulof’s
‘Last Days of Pompeii,’ but it certainly did not answer the expectations
I had formed of it from the immense praise previously bestowed upon it
by my friends. The Russians used to boast that he was the first artist
in Europe, but everything in Russia is “the first,” according to their
own account. Among the pictures here shown, the English stranger will see
with regret the splendid collection once at Strawberry Hill, which were
unhappily allowed to leave the shores of Britain: there are also some
good statues and a few antiquities that are interesting.

The Museum in St. Petersburg is very small; it contains some
badly-stuffed birds and animals, and very little besides, nor would it be
worth the trouble of visiting were it not for the celebrated remains of
the mammoth which are preserved in it. Some portions of the skin and hair
are shown; the former is like discoloured board, the latter resembles
enormous bristles.

A dinner-party in Russia differs little from our own, excepting that
_all the dishes_ are handed round, which is much more pleasant than the
stiff formality of the joints being placed on the table: the lady and
gentleman of the house are thus at leisure to enter into conversation
with the guests, and can attend to the minor _politesses_ requisite. I
was once at a large dinner-party in Moscow, and was surprised to remark
that the host and hostess did not take their seat at all at the table,
but walked about chatting first to one, then to another, recommending
this wine or that dish to the attention of their assembled friends. I
found that it was formerly a very general custom, but has now much fallen
into disuse; it had its origin doubtless in the anxious wish to perform
thoroughly the duties of hospitality, for which the Russians are justly
celebrated. There is one custom that might well be entirely abolished.
Each person washes his mouth out after dinner, and, after having well
rinsed it, empties its contents into the finger-glass: it certainly is
not pleasant to see a whole party thus employed. Immediately after coffee
the guests depart; they do not, as with us, remain the whole evening.
This is a good arrangement, as it gives the lady the opportunity of
going to the opera, or to a friend’s house, as she pleases. There is
little conversation worth remembering at a Russian dinner, efforts at
making those antediluvian solecisms called puns, or endeavouring to
say bons mots, repeating the last anecdote, real or invented, of the
Emperor, the Empress, or some fortieth cousin of the imperial family,
news as to who has obtained the cross of St. Anne, or that of Vladimir,
or of some other order of knighthood which the Russians are ready to
sell their souls to obtain, some great honour done to one of the party
by his Majesty’s having looked at him, &c., flirtation, and paying
personal compliments, are the staple of their “feast of reason.” We
have often remarked with astonishment the excessive want of general
information among the gentlemen; many of them seemed to know nothing
at all beyond the frontiers of the empire. Knowledge is decidedly at
a discount. Their showy exterior, their brilliant accomplishments of
music and dancing, their fluency in speaking so many foreign languages,
are apt to strike foreigners with surprise, and they give them credit
for knowing all those _solid_ acquirements which with us are the _sine
quâ non_ of a good education. An attempt to converse on any scientific
subject would astonish every one, for it would soon show how _very
little_ real knowledge they possess. There is also another peculiar trait
in the national character. A Russian will frequently pretend an intimate
acquaintance with a subject of which he is perfectly ignorant, yet so
well will he conceal this fact, that he will keep up the deception for
an incredible time, when all at once he will ask some extraordinarily
stupid question which shows you that he has not understood a single
syllable of all that you have been saying. To this general rule there
are of course many exceptions, but in speaking of a nation we take the
majority. I do not know how it can be otherwise in a country where so
absurd a department exists as that of the censor’s, through which all
books and papers must pass before they reach the hands of the community.
The extreme fear of the government lest the nation should become too
enlightened will some time or other meet with its reward, for they may
as well attempt to curb the waves of the Atlantic as to stem the tide of
civilization in its course round the world. It seems the rule with the
censor’s office to let all the books pass that are likely to increase
the demoralization of the nation, such as the detestable novels of
Eugène Sue and Georges Sand, the vicious works of Paul de Koch, and so
on, and to exclude all those that would tend to its enlightenment, or
would contribute to forward true and solid civilization. The overstrained
sentiments, the caricatures of affection, the degrading views of society,
and the familiarity with vice exhibited in these works, find their most
ardent admirers in Russia, and will undoubtedly have a fearful influence
at some future time when the “siècle de Louis XVI.” shall arrive: then
they will perform in action what they have learned in theory, and a
terrible retribution will fall upon the heads of their rulers for their
sin and wickedness in thus aiding their country’s degradation.

I remember well the lamentations of one of the best living authors in
Russia in speaking of his works, and his bitter regrets that the very
parts he had most valued were not allowed to be published. Among others
he mentioned a play, which really contained some most admirable speeches,
but when it returned from the censor’s office he showed us that they had
all been erased, leaving nothing but the light conversations and “parties
légères,” which alone were thought suitable for public amusement;
of course the play was never performed, for, as he said, “c’était
parfaitement ridicule.” How can a nation possess great poets, historians,
or other literary men when such an embargo is laid on mind and thought?
“Our cleverest men are in Siberia,” said a Russian one day: perhaps
the remembrance of its snows serves to chill many a rising genius that
would make his country greater than their vaunted army of a million of
warriors. We were told that Karamsin, the modern historian, was obliged
first to read over his pages in the presence of the Emperor before they
were allowed to go forth to the world; it may, therefore, easily be
conceived to what extent the truth of his statements may be relied on.
So exceedingly strict are the regulations of the censor’s office, that I
used jestingly to say that the introduction of foreign literature would
be, at last, restricted to the alphabet! A short time ago a gentleman
of literary pursuits, being anxious to write a play, the subject of
which was to be taken from English history, was making some notes on the
different events, but every one of them was either too expressive of the
love of liberty, or some equally well-founded objection was discovered.
“But why not, then, take the story of Elfrida, the daughter of the Earl
of Devonshire?” proposed I; “it is a thousand years ago nearly, and
cannot much influence the present century.”

“Impossible!” was the reply; “it would never be allowed to pass the
censor’s office, or be permitted to be performed on the stage here.”

“But what is the objection?”

“Why, they would never let a play be represented in which Elfrida’s
husband deceives the king.”

“But he was not the Czar of Muscovy.”

“That does not signify; the _act_ is still the same, and the possibility
of a crowned head’s being deceived would on no account be allowed.”

By this it may be seen how impossible it is for a Russian author to write
anything better than the silly farces and absurd comedies which are
nightly performed to amuse the public in St. Petersburg.



CHAPTER IX.

    Russian courtship—State of household
    servants—Anecdotes—Trousseaux—The matrimonial
    candidate—Matchmakers—Serfs’ weddings—Rich
    dowry—Matchmakings—Curious custom—Russian marriages—Blessing
    the threshold—Bridal parties—Statute-fair for wives in St.
    Petersburg—Habit of painting—Lottery of marriage, &c.


In Russia, especially among the lower classes, courtship and love-making,
as we understand the terms, are little known. Marriages, for the serfs,
are not “made in heaven,” but by the proprietors of the estates and the
land-stewards—the reason is obvious. As for the domestic servants, they
cannot marry at all without the consent of their master or mistress
(which is seldom given), or by purchasing their freedom at a price
fixed by their owners; for if a girl wed a serf belonging to another
proprietor, she must become the property of _his_ master.

“Do you think I am going to let Zouboff marry Ivan?” was the speech of
a lady one day: “why, I should never get another maid to suit me so
well; besides which, I apprenticed her, for which I paid good money
to Solavieff, one of the best dressmakers in St. Petersburg; and if
I were to let her marry I should lose her services entirely.” The
fearful immorality to which such a state of things gives rise may be
imagined, but not described: in fact, the vice of the lower classes can
only be equalled by that of the upper: in the former it proceeds from
their unhappy position and ignorance, in the latter from idleness and
corruption.

When staying, on one occasion, at the house of a lady of high rank in
Russia, I was present at a scene that would scarcely be credited in
England. The establishment was on a very grand scale; as many as sixty
men-servants were residing at the house, and in the lapse of time the
numerous boys, sons of these servants, had grown up into young men. The
nobleman, on looking over his list, seemed to think that so many were
not needed—at least, that they were wasting their time in town when they
ought, for his advantage, to be down at the villages and getting married:
he therefore ordered them into his presence—there were about twenty
altogether. He began by telling them that it was quite time they should
think of becoming settled in life, that it was their duty to be married,
and for that purpose he would give them a fortnight, at the expiration
of which he expected every one of them would have found a wife, and that
they must go down to their village to do so.

The young men stood for a few moments in silence with downcast eyes and
serious aspect; a little whispering took place among them, and then one
of them stepped forward and respectfully intimated that the shortness
of the time was such “that they were afraid they could not find so many
marriageable women in the village, and it would take them longer to look
about them, as they must make inquiries in the neighbourhood.” Their
master, therefore, granted them a week longer, with which they appeared
satisfied, and withdrew. I had the curiosity to inquire as to whether
they had succeeded in finding the requisite number of wives, and was
assured they had all got married, and within the time specified.

At Moscow we became acquainted with a lady whose husband was one of the
richest men in that city. She had the misfortune to lose her daughter,
an amiable young person, in her twentieth year. According to the custom
in Russia, her dowry had been prepared for her settlement in life:[4]
it was on a magnificent scale, and consisted in enormous quantities of
the finest linen, table-cloths, bed furniture, silks, jewels, plate,
everything that a rich bride is expected to possess. It is the custom
for the bride to furnish the sleeping apartment, the drawing-rooms, and
the kitchen, to find the linen, &c., besides her trousseau; and even a
dozen new shirts of the finest quality for her husband. Everything is
marked with the lady’s name, as in case of a separation she may reclaim
her dowry. The bridegroom has to fit up his own apartment and the
dining-room, in addition to which he purchases the carriages and horses.
This shows how very advantageous it is for the gentleman to enter the
state of matrimony, especially as in Russia he generally depends upon
his bride to find the _fortune_ as well; but, as a Muscovite once said
in my hearing, “On doit être payé pour les épouser, car elles sont si
ennuyantes!” It was on the anniversary of the young lady’s death that her
parents resolved to dispose of her trousseau, and with the proceeds to
find dowries for six young portionless girls, whose prayers they hoped
thus to secure for the repose of their beloved Marie’s soul. I was
staying in the house at the time, and I believe I saw all the candidates
for marriage in Moscow. It was announced that _any_ young person of noble
birth (that is, of respectable station—the offspring neither of slaves
nor of tradespeople) who wished to present herself would be eligible. I
need scarcely say there was no lack of candidates for the promised dowry.
I found that the lady’s consideration was infinitely greater concerning
the beauty of the six girls than their worthiness or their good conduct.
All the virtues under heaven could not, in her eyes, counterbalance the
want of personal attractions. She ran into my room one day, exclaiming,
“There are four more young persons arrived; pray come into the hall,
for I wish you would give me your opinion as to whether you think them
pretty.” I accompanied her: there were, as she had said, four girls,
decently dressed, the eldest of whom might have been twenty-two: one of
them was really good-looking; she was perhaps eighteen. I was astonished
to see the cringing baseness to which two of them stooped to obtain the
dowry. They prostrated themselves to the ground, and kissed the feet of
the lady. I was very glad that neither of them was chosen.

As soon as we had had an examination of the different faces we adjourned
to the next room, when my friend asked me what I thought of them. I
scarcely knew what to reply, but I decidedly gave my opinion against
the two that had so disgusted me. She herself made an objection to one
of them, by saying “that, as she had a handkerchief round her face, she
had, she supposed, the toothache, and she would not have one that had bad
teeth.” However, she settled the matter by sending for the best-looking
girl, and dismissing the others. On her entering the room the following
dialogue took place:—

_Lady._ “How old are you, young lady?”

_Girl_ (with a low inclination). “Just eighteen, Madame.”

_L._ “Have you any father, and what is he?”

_G._ “My father is dead, he was an _employé_; but my mother is still
alive, she lives near the Kousmitski most (Smith’s bridge).”

_L._ “Very well: what is your intended’s name?”

_G._ “I have none, Madame.”

_L._ “You have none! and yet you ask me for a dowry? How is that?”

_G._ (with a very low bow). “If you will promise me a trousseau, Madame,
_I shall be able to find one before to-morrow morning_.”

Incredible as it may appear, she actually _did find_ one, for the next
day she presented herself, accompanied by a tall, fine-looking young man
of about five-and-twenty, who came and examined the various articles of
which the dowry consisted: he carefully counted each dozen of linen, had
a strict survey of the six gowns and three bonnets, tested their quality,
and, having been thoroughly convinced that there was no cheating in the
case, consented to accept her “for better and for worse,” and _her_
marriage took place on the same day as that of the other five; when my
friend exultingly said, “that she was quite delighted at having found
six _pretty_ brides, for she should have been sorry to see such good
wedding-clothes thrown away upon ugly people.”

In Russia many marriages, even of people of rank, are made up by
professed matchmakers. In the villages an old woman is generally employed
by a young man to find him a suitable partner; he gives a correct
account of the prospect his wife may expect, both of the agreeable and
disagreeable; how much work she will have to do, whether his mother be
alive (for that is a great consideration, as the daughter-in-law is
entirely under her rule during her life), how great a marriage portion
he expects, &c.; even the number of gowns and shoes is specified. A girl
being found that will accept the terms, the courtship does not last long,
for the church ceremony takes place immediately, or as soon as possible.
When a general order arrives in a village from the proprietor, desiring
all the young men and women to get married, the priest makes very short
work of the religious ceremony, and marries a dozen couples or so at
once. A lady told me that she was present when twenty-five couples were
united by _one_ perusal of the mass appointed by the Greek Church for the
occasion.

Very frequently old women will go about begging from house to house
for the ladies’ left-off dresses, with which to make their daughter’s
trousseau, as they say, “unless she has a certain number, no one will
have her.” I have frequently myself thus contributed to a bride’s dowry,
for a Russian husband will take nothing by hearsay alone; he must be
convinced by ocular demonstration that he is not going to be cheated.

Among the upper classes the “trousseau” is always shown for several days
before the wedding takes place. I once saw one which was worth many
thousands of pounds: there were dozens of everything, all tied up with
narrow pink satin ribbon, quantities of table and bed linen, countless
dresses, mantles, and all the etcetera of a lady’s toilette, beautiful
jewellery and magnificent furs, everything that money could purchase, and
in such abundance, that in the longest lifetime it would be impossible to
wear them out.

I knew a lady of very high rank in Russia, at whose house I frequently
met some old ladies well known in St. Petersburg as a kind of
“matrimonial attorneys.” I was surprised that such persons should be so
intimate with her, but my astonishment ceased when it was announced that
“the Princess L. was going to be married.” I guessed how matters had been
arranged, and my conjectures were afterwards confirmed by the parties
themselves, and I found that it was a very common occurrence among the
aristocracy.

As soon as the conditions are agreed on between a Russian and his bride,
they go together to call at the houses of their friends and acquaintances
to receive their congratulations: the same is done the day after the
marriage ceremony has been performed.

The general rule in Russia that the lady’s friends should find the money,
which is of _rather more_ consequence than _the bride_, and that the
gentleman’s friends should find the man to accept it, may partly account
for the unhappy marriages and immoral consequences of them, by which one
half of the inhabitants are enabled to amuse themselves with the scandal
of the other half. I have frequently been told by the Russian ladies
themselves, that, if a young person has money, it needs only to become
known _for a certainty_, and suitors will present themselves even from
remote provinces: it matters little whether she be good, handsome, or
amiable; they make an offer after having seen her but once, and they are
married. It must, indeed, be a chance if they are happy.

One of the great reasons why the ladies in Russia are so extremely
desirous of being married is, that they really enjoy no freedom until
they are so: before marriage they are under so strict a surveillance,
that they can scarcely go from one room to another without being watched.
This excessive restraint only makes them abuse their freedom when they
get it, and doubtless much of their légèreté may be ascribed to it. As
soon as they are _Madame_ instead of _Mademoiselle_, they frequently
commence a life of dissipation that only ends when they are too old to
enjoy it: they then devote the remainder of their existence to Heaven,
hoping by the prayers of their age to efface the sins of their youth.
Yet it is but just to say that illustrious examples of excellent and
affectionate mothers, as well as amiable and devoted wives, are very
often met with among the Russian ladies; their natural kindness of heart
and charming dispositions cause them to centre their affections on their
families, and prevent them from falling into errors of which the highest
classes are guilty. “Le nôtre est le siècle de Louis Quinze,” said a
gentleman one day, in speaking of the society in St. Petersburg. Alas!
with too much truth. Yet if we take his as a true comparison, we should
find that _all classes_ in France, even under the reign of such a king,
at the head of such a court, were not equally corrupted.

I will add one more example of the manner in which alliances are formed
in Russia. A lady, who had adopted her nephew, being desirous of seeing
him settled, mentioned her wish one day to him. “Very well, _chère
tante_, and whom would you wish me to marry?”

“_Eh bien!_ there is Catherine ——; she is rich, of good family, and
would, I dare say, make you a suitable wife; I saw her some weeks since,
when we were down on our estate.”

“Is she handsome?”

“She is not bad looking, and she is twenty-six.”

“If you wish it, certainly, my dear aunt, I will go down to Tcheringoff
and make her an offer.”

He did so, and they were married.

In the northern provinces there is a curious custom. When a young
woman is going to be married, she invites all her companions to an
evening-party the night preceding the intended ceremony. When all the
company are assembled, the bride begins to weep and lament, expressing
the utmost sorrow at the change about to take place, and at her now being
obliged to bid adieu to the pleasures and friends of her girlhood. In all
her distress she is joined by her acquaintances, who each shed tears and
mourn with her. During all this time the bridegroom is probably in the
next room, and very likely catches a glimpse of his bride through the
open door for the first or second time that he has ever seen her. An old
woman always acts as the prompter on these occasions; her duty consists
in warning the young person as to the proper time to weep, what she ought
to say, &c., as until _she_ begins it is not the etiquette for the others
to do so. I imagine that this custom is confined to some of the northern
provinces, as I have frequently inquired about it elsewhere, and found it
was quite unknown.

The marriage ceremony in the Greco-Russian Church is full of form, as,
indeed, are most of its acts of worship.

The first Russian wedding I saw struck me as curious. A servant-girl of
the family was married to the gardener; they both belonged to the same
proprietor, therefore there was no possible objection to the match. As
the Russians are very anxious to have as many witnesses as may be at the
ceremony, the bride begged the honour of her mistress’s company, as well
as that of all those on a visit at the house. The lady herself assisted
in dressing the bride, and made her a present of a great deal of finery
for the occasion, among which was a white silk dress and a wreath of
orange blossoms: she was present when the ceremony of parting the hair
into two plaits[5] was performed, and appeared to take great interest
in the whole affair. We all dressed _en grande tenue_, to do honour to
the occasion, and repaired to the cathedral in which the marriage was
to take place. On entering we found the happy couple already arrived;
the bride was standing on the left hand of the bridegroom; she had two
bridesmaids besides the two _garçons de nôces_ necessary for the Greek
ceremony. A moveable reading-desk stood in the body of the church, at
which the priest took his place, assisted by the deacon or clerk. The
bridal party advanced towards it, the bridegroom presenting the two
rings (for among the Russians husband and wife each wear one) to the
clergyman, who, having blessed and changed them, held them above the head
of the kneeling couple, and made the sign of the cross; he then addressed
a few words to each, asking them if they had no greater love for another,
and if any objection existed against the marriage. On their replying in
the negative, he placed the hand of the bride in that of the bridegroom,
and led them thrice round the reading-desk, the two _garçons de nôces_
holding above their heads two silver-gilt crowns, ornamented with the
miniatures of saints. A piece of rose-coloured satin was laid down at
one part of the ceremony for the pair to stand on, and it is considered
a very unlucky omen if the bride step on it before the bridegroom. The
newly-married couple received the communion, and the priest, having read
to them the portions of Scripture addressed to those who take upon them
the holy state of matrimony, gave them his benediction, and the ceremony
was concluded. If a widow marry, the use of the crown is dispensed with.

After leaving the church we proceeded to the house of the bridegroom, to
witness the ceremony of the blessing on the threshold. The bride bowed
thrice, her brow touching the ground, and each time she was raised by the
husband’s friends; _his_ mother then, holding a loaf of black bread above
the head of her daughter-in-law, made the sign of the cross three times,
and bestowed her blessing on the union, whilst others went to the image
of the Virgin and Child, and lighted the lamp suspended before it.

A wedding in Russia is a general feast for all the friends and
acquaintances of both bride and bridegroom, and only differs in the
profusion and wealth displayed according to the means of the parties.
Among the rich a splendid supper and ball are given, because among them
the ceremony is performed in the evening; and when the newly-married
couple wish to retire, their desire is intimated to the guests by the
presentation of bonbonnières to each of them, when they immediately take
their leave.

I often met bridal parties in the villages. I remember near Twer
encountering a curious cavalcade, consisting of the wedding-guests of
a yemstchick. He and his male companions were on horseback, carrying
flags of different colours, or handkerchiefs tied to sticks; their hats
were decorated with peacocks’ feathers and faded artificial flowers, and
their crimson shirts fluttered in the wind; they had no saddles, and with
difficulty could keep their seats on the rough-coated wild-looking cattle
they bestrode: altogether they presented a rather picturesque appearance.
They seemed very merry, for they were singing with all their might some
of their national airs, which we heard at the distance of a verst before
we saw the party. As for the ladies, they followed behind, sitting _à
califourchon_, two on each droshsky, and appeared too much occupied
in eating gingerbread and cracking nuts to care much about the very
ridiculous figure they made. The whole of the company seemed to have had
quite enough whisky to make them not only gay but boisterous, and they
appeared determined to forget all grief and sorrow, and to spend at least
_one_ day of their life in complete enjoyment.

Even the imperial sledge makes way for a bridal party, so of course
we turned our horses aside to let all these gay people pass, which
complaisance on our part seemed to give extreme satisfaction, if I may
judge by the shouts of laughter on the occasion.

I once met a bridal party in a village in the province of Jaroslaf, which
struck me as being very interesting; they had just quitted the church,
and were apparently repairing to the young husband’s isba or cottage. The
bride was a girl of about seventeen, pretty and modest; she was slowly
walking with downcast eyes by the side of her husband, who was a youth
of twenty or so; their hands were clasped together, and the look of real
affection he cast on his companion proved that, in their case at least,
the marriage made at the command of their proprietor was not felt as an
act of despotism.

Among the various modes of matchmaking in Russia I ought not to omit to
mention that of Whit Monday. On that day a general meeting of lads and
lasses takes place, at least of all those who are desirous of taking upon
them the duties of a married life.

I went several times on such occasions to the summer gardens of St.
Petersburg to see “the brides.” Along the principal walk were two rows
of candidates: on one side were the young men, on the opposite side the
young women: they appeared to consist for the most part of shopkeepers
and servants, and were of course all of the inferior ranks in society.
They were dressed in a great deal of finery badly put on, and a great
many colours ill-assorted. The young men were, upon the whole, rather
good-looking, but an uglier assemblage of young women it would be
difficult to meet with anywhere, notwithstanding their painted faces and
silk gowns.

Speaking of paint reminds me of a curious custom in Russia, which may
serve to show how very common its use is among the people: when a young
man is paying his court to a girl he generally presents her with a box of
both red and white paint, as a necessary addition to her beauty. Among
the upper classes this habit is also very general, and I have often been
present when ladies have most unceremoniously rouged their face before
going into the drawing-room. The lower class use a great deal of white
paint, which gives them an extremely ghastly appearance, and must be very
injurious to the health, as it turns the teeth quite black; I was told
that it consists of a preparation of mercury.

But to return to the “brides” in the summer garden. There seemed to be
very little laughing or merriment among them; there they stood, silent
and almost motionless, with their arms hanging straight by their sides;
they had evidently come upon a serious business, and were heroically
intent on carrying it through. I noticed that behind the young people
were the elders of the family, to whom now and then they addressed a few
words.

Being anxious to know in what manner matches were made at this
“statute-fair,” I applied to an old lady of our party.

“Do you not see,” replied she, “that the parents and friends of the
candidates are behind them? Well, when a young man has fixed his
choice on one of the girls, he informs his mother or father of it, who
immediately proceeds to make all sorts of inquiries concerning her, as
to the amount of her marriage-portion, quantity of wedding-clothes, what
her household accomplishments are, &c.: having received the necessary
replies, and given information in return, if it meet with the approbation
of the parties the affair does not take long to be arranged to the
satisfaction of all.”

“But do you think they can be happy?”

“And why not?” replied my friend: “having once determined upon taking a
ticket in the matrimonial lottery, the chances are they enjoy as much
felicity as generally falls to the share of other couples. Marriages, you
know, the proverb says, are made in heaven.”

Those married in the Greek Church cannot be divorced, but I believe the
union can be dissolved by the Emperor for some particular reasons. I have
been told that, if the husband be banished for life to Siberia, the wife
is perfectly at liberty to wed again, as in the eye of the law the former
is to all intents and purposes considered as defunct, and has neither a
name nor family, being only designated according to the number by which
he may be classed, such as one, two, three, and so on. No one can be
married more than _thrice_ in Russia.



CHAPTER X.

    The abbess—The inmates of the convent—The wardrobe—A
    young Russian priest and his bride—The archbishop—Ancient
    manuscripts—Alexis, son of Peter the Great—Description of a
    monastery—Prisoners—The church, cemetery, and garden—Monastic
    serfs—The archimandrite—Superior and inferior class of
    Russian clergy—Peter the Great’s policy—Political use of
    religion—A modern miracle—General estimate of monastic
    institutions—Proscribed sects—Russian hermits—Hermitage at
    Kastroma.


Among my acquaintances was the abbess of a nunnery in the province of
Twer. Her reason for having embraced the sacred profession was one which
we found common enough in Russia: “Je n’avais pas de succès dans le
monde, ainsi je me suis faite religieuse,” was her candid confession.
She was of high family, but the generality of those who thus devote
themselves to a convent life are not of noble birth; indeed, we were
told that by so doing those who are of gentle blood lose their rank. We
frequently went to pay her a visit, and were always received kindly and
with true Russian hospitality; but as the monks and nuns of the Greek
Church are forbidden to eat any kind of meat, they can only furnish their
table with fish cooked in different ways, generally in oil, and with
pastry, sweetmeats, and so on; and, to confess the truth, I was not very
fond of dining at the convent. The abbess was a lady well accustomed to
the _politesse_ of the world; it made no difference to her that I was a
busermanca or heretic; she very politely took me over her establishment
and explained their mode of life: most of the nuns were either the
daughters or widows of priests.

“Those young girls,” said the superior, throwing open the door of a large
apartment, “are the orphan children of priests; they are being brought up
in the convent as the proper asylum for such. They are, as you perceive,
very busy in embroidering the church vestments.”

“But what becomes of them in after life, ma mère?”

“Oh,” replied the abbess, “some of them are married off to young priests,
for, of course, you are aware that no pope[6] can have a cure unless he
be married. Those who have not a chance of becoming so settled remain in
the convent, and when they are of the proper age they take the veil; but
as no one can do so until she is forty, they hold the position of novices
until then.”

The young girls were all occupied in embroidery. One was making a
chalice-cover; it was about three-quarters of a yard square, of crimson
velvet and pearls; in the middle was a resplendent cross, and the figure
of a cherub with its wings spread, painted on some peculiar substance,
was inserted at each corner. Another was engaged in ornamenting the
collar of a robe with spangles and gold lace, with here and there the
imitation of some precious stone. They seemed pleased at my admiration
of their skill, and the abbess kindly offered to show me the wardrobe
belonging to the church, which she assured me had been made entirely by
the inmates of the convent. On my expressing a great wish to see it, she
led the way through a long corridor; we descended some stone steps, at
the foot of which was a door, which my friend opened. Here I was shown
into several rooms surrounded by immense clothes-presses and chests
of drawers. Each was unlocked in succession, and innumerable suits of
vestments were displayed to view. Some were of silver tissue with flowers
of silk woven on it, others of silk with gold flowers, or of cloth of
gold enriched with pearl embroidery. Each seemed to me more magnificent
than the last, and the dresses were in such quantities that I thought
the holy sister who accompanied us would never have finished opening
and shutting the drawers. I inquired whether the splendid materials had
been presented to the establishment. “Yes,” answered the superior; “all
these vestments are made out of the palls thrown over the coffin at rich
funerals. After the interment they become the property of the church in
which the deceased is buried, and are put to the use you see. Many of
the dresses,” continued she, “are, as you may perceive, very ancient;
some were embroidered in the reign of Peter the Great, and others in the
time of Anne and Elizabeth. But you have seen enough of these; would you
not like to visit our infant-school?” So saying she opened a door on
the opposite side and led the way through the church. There was an old
nun standing before an image as motionless as a statue; she was rapidly
repeating in a low tone some prayers in Sclavonic, and then prostrated
herself several times and kissed the pavement. The superior smiled
approvingly as we passed, and then informed me that it was sister Marie,
“one of the most truly devout women in the convent, for no illness nor
any other reason ever prevents her from performing her religious duties
either night or day.” By this time we had reached a moderately-sized
apartment, in which about twenty children were being taught to read
by some of the nuns. They seemed happy and contented, and, to all
appearance, were well treated: these were also children of priests. We
afterwards visited some of the cells, which were very poorly furnished
with a small mattress, a deal table, and one chair: we then proceeded
to the refectory. It was their supper-time, being five o’clock, for the
nuns retire to rest at six, in order to be enabled to perform mass at two
o’clock A.M. The sisters were all seated at long tables, partaking of
the mushroom-soup of which the Russians are very fond, but which is very
distasteful to foreigners. We did not stay in the apartment, as we would
not interrupt their repast. My friend the abbess often expressed the most
enlightened sentiments regarding religious sects, and I always ascribed
great liberality to her on those points, but I was assured that they were
not her real sentiments, but that she very frequently uttered them merely
out of politeness when persons of another creed were present. Whether
that was the case or not I had, of course, no means of ascertaining,
but it must, I think, be allowed that the members of the Russian Church
are very liberal in their sentiments and conduct towards those of a
different religion. They never display the bigotry and narrowness of
mind too frequent among the Roman Catholics: they certainly prefer their
own road to heaven, but their doing so is no reason why they should deem
that _none other_ leads to it. No one who has lived among them can
really believe that the fanatical agitation so general at present in the
country can be ascribed to any other cause than to the unwise policy of a
government that thus influences the minds of the people.

One day, when I was at the convent, a young priest begged to speak with
the superior. He was of an interesting appearance, apparently about
twenty-four or twenty-five years of age; his beautiful hair was parted in
the middle and hung down in wavy curls a foot long over his shoulders;
his nose and mouth were well formed, but what gave extreme intelligence
to his countenance was a pair of bright black eyes with dark eyebrows:
altogether I had rarely seen a more prepossessing young man. He was
dressed in the long purple silk robe with loose sleeves, the extremely
becoming costume of the Greek clergy, and suspended round his neck was a
thick gold chain, to which was attached a crucifix of the same precious
metal. The abbess received him with much kindness, and after remaining
a few minutes in the drawing-room they retired together into another
apartment. A short time elapsed ere the superior returned: when she did
so, she informed me that her visitor was a young priest to whom a cure
had been offered, and, as no one can accept a cure unless he be married,
he had called to inquire of her if, among the orphan daughters of the
clergy in her convent, she could recommend him a suitable wife, “which is
very fortunate,” added she, “for there is a young girl named Annushca,
whom I have been wishing to get married for the last year; she is just
nineteen, and he could not find a better partner.”

“But is she likely to be agreeable to the match?”

“I think so,” replied the abbess; “but he is to come to-morrow morning to
see her.”

About a month afterwards we saw the abbess’s carriage pass our house.
There were three young persons in it; one we had no difficulty in
perceiving was a bride, by her orange-flower wreath and long white
veil—the two others were bridesmaids. In another carriage was the young
priest himself, looking as happy as possible, for on that evening he was
to wed Annushca the convent bride.

Among the Greek clergy it is absolutely necessary that the priest should
be married, but, if his wife die, he cannot wed a second, because they
interpret the phrase “having one wife” in its entirely literal sense:
should he have the misfortune to become a widower, he generally enters a
monastery, as he can no longer have the care of a parish.

The priesthood in Russia form a class almost entirely distinct from the
rest of the community: they mostly intermarry among their own families,
and the circle of their acquaintance is limited to those of their
profession. If a clergyman have no sons, an alliance with his daughter,
if there be one, is much sought after by the young unbeneficed priests,
as, on her father’s death, his living becomes her dowry: it may therefore
be readily imagined how many suitors are desirous of espousing a girl so
portioned.

Our friend the abbess frequently came to pay us a visit. She was always
accompanied by one or two nuns, who treated her with extreme respect:
they waited on her with great attention, and supported her as she walked
to and from the carriage as if they were servants. I was told that she
was a very strict disciplinarian in her convent, but, with two hundred
women to govern and to keep on the road to heaven, some severity was
perhaps necessary. If all the stories that I used to hear told of their
backslidings were true, she had no sinecure of it, poor old lady!

I had many acquaintances among the clergy in the provinces, especially
in Twer. I remember once I went to a fête given by the archbishop, and
a very pleasant evening I passed. There was no dancing, of course, but
we were entertained with singing and agreeable conversation. The young
choristers and monks possessed beautiful voices; they stood among the
thick shrubs and sang at intervals their charming national airs like so
many nightingales, whilst the brothers of the monastery handed round
refreshments of all kinds. Among the company were our friend the abbess
and the superior of another convent at some versts distance: they
were really very pleasant people. Our entertainer was a very reverend
personage; his appearance well befitted his sacred position; his long
snowy hair and beard, his benevolent countenance, and his stately figure,
habited in the flowing robes of his order, gave him a truly apostolic
look, and made us almost wish that the English clergy would adopt so
becoming a costume. His conversation was lively and interesting; he
spoke several modern languages, including Greek and Turkish, and amused
us greatly with anecdotes of his travels through different countries.
I remember that, in speaking of the monasteries near the Black Sea and
in other distant provinces, he informed us that many of them contained
valuable ancient manuscripts in Greek, Chaldaic, &c., which are most
jealously guarded by the monks under whose care they are, although the
holy men are ordinarily so ignorant that they cannot read them. He seemed
to think that many works now supposed to be lost may at some future time
be discovered in those unknown collections. On my inquiring in what way
the monks had obtained possession of them, he told us that at the siege
of Byzantium, and at the destruction of the library of Alexandria, many
persons fled into the remoter districts for safety, and carried with
them the manuscripts of valuable ancient writings, which in the dark
ages gradually became lost to the learned men of the West. Whether the
venerable archbishop was right in his conjectures, still, I believe,
remains to be proved.

On our taking leave, he bestowed his benediction on us all, but not
before he had made us partake of some excellent champagne, and I really
quitted the palace with much greater respect for the Greek clergy than I
had entertained before.

Among other estimable members of the priesthood may be mentioned the
archimandrite of a very large monastery in the same province, to whom
I frequently paid a visit. In this monastery Alexis, Peter the Great’s
son, was confined for a considerable time. I saw the apartments that were
appropriated to him: they had thickly-barred windows and strong doors,
well suited to a prison; the furniture was in the same state as when he
resided there, and consisted of a few tables and chairs clumsily made
of deal, ornamented with green and red streaks on the unpainted wood.
I could not help feeling compassion for the unfortunate prince, who,
whatever his faults might have been, was certainly unnaturally treated
and cruelly deceived by his father. I thought, as I stood in those small,
close rooms, how many weary hours he must have passed, and how bitter
must his reflections have been as, day after day, he gazed from those
grated windows on the never-changing scene outside.

A description of this monastery will serve to give an idea of those
buildings in general.

In form it was nearly square, and was surrounded by a high whitewashed
wall deeply dovetailed, having at each corner a small circular tower with
a pointed roof, furnished with numerous loopholes. A gallery ran along
the whole length inside, from which, in the time of the Tartar wars, the
men could shoot their arrows on the besiegers. The gateway was surmounted
by portraits of the Virgin and Child and those of other saints, before
which a lamp was always kept burning. On entering I found a well-kept
grass-plot, on two sides of which were buildings three stories high,
containing the cells of the monks, the superior’s apartments, and the
domestic offices. The lower range was partly devoted to a kind of
monastic prison, in which disobedient monks and those convicted of
bigamy were confined; for, in Russia, the punishment for men guilty of
that crime is imprisonment for life in some religious establishment: the
female convicts are, of course, sent to the nunneries. At the time of my
first visit there were _three_ criminals confined in the monastery: one
for having had three wives; another who had killed a man in self-defence,
and who, according to the law, was sent there for one year to atone
by repentance and prayer for the blood he had shed. One of the monks
informed me that the prisoner in question was quite a youth, being only
nineteen; that he was crossing the river very late one night on a hired
sledge, when, on arriving at a very solitary spot, the driver suddenly
turned and attempted to strangle him. He found means to draw his sword,
with which he gave a mortal wound to his assailant, who fell dead
instantly. He remained for a few minutes horror-stricken at what he had
done and uncertain as to the measures he ought to take. At last he lifted
the lifeless body on the sledge, drove back to the town, and presented
himself at the police-station. He was arrested, but, as there was every
probability that he had committed the act in self-defence, his punishment
was the being sent to the monastery. The third prisoner was a monk
accused of great immorality, who was shortly to be exiled to Siberia,
but, as the final decision of the superior courts had not arrived, he was
detained here in the mean time.

On the other sides of the square were the church, the cemetery, and the
garden. The church was ancient, and contained various extraordinary
old paintings of saints. Several monks were at their devotions when we
entered; their long black garments and silent demeanour, their frequent
prostrations, and the burning lamps, almost led me to imagine them to
be disciples of Zoroaster offering their adoration to the sacred fire,
whilst the darkness of the building gave an air of sombre mystery to the
scene.

The burying-ground was extensive, and I remarked some curious sarcophagi
of great antiquity.

After we had examined all that we thought interesting, we were shown into
the garden; it contained a great many fruit-trees and shrubs suitable
to the climate, such as apples, pears, currants, gooseberries, and
raspberries, a large bed of sun-flowers, and about twenty beehives, for
whose benefit the sun-flowers had, I imagine, been planted. On our return
to the superior’s apartments we passed through the large room in which
all the servants of the establishment, as well as the peasants from the
neighbouring village belonging to the monastic estate, were at dinner.
Their repast consisted of large bowls of buckwheat, with oil, black
bread, and salt, the whole washed down with quass, a kind of sour drink
made of fermented meal—a dinner not according to our taste, perhaps, but
nevertheless well relished by these poor people, who had acquired a good
appetite by making hay in the fields outside of the walls.

But to return from this long digression. The archimandrite was a
dignified-looking man of about fifty, and had lost his wife six years
previously, when, according to the custom, he had embraced the monastic
life. He had two sons, government _employés_, who resided with him in
the establishment. He was a man of great erudition, and had views on
religious points much too enlightened for his nation, as I was informed
that he had been imprisoned some time before on account of opinions he
had expressed concerning modern miracles, &c., but, in consideration of
his high character for learning and moral excellence, extreme severity
had not been resorted to. He always seemed much pleased at our visits,
and received us with kindness and hospitality. My Russian friends had
known him for many years, and respected him greatly. I was fortunate,
certainly, in being acquainted with so many worthy people belonging to
the Greek priesthood, and am glad to be able to speak well of a class
of men of whom favourable opinions are not generally entertained by
foreigners; but I believe that many speak ill of them upon false reports,
and judge lightly of the merits of the many from the disgraceful conduct
of a few, or from those ignorant, debased members of the profession who
are to be found in the remote villages and almost barbarous districts of
the interior. I remember accompanying a friend once on a visit to one
of her estates at about seven hundred versts from St. Petersburg; the
peasants came as usual to pay their respects to their proprietor. I was
not astonished at any display of _slavish servility_ on _their_ part, as
a long residence in different parts of Russia had too much accustomed
me to such conduct, but I was greatly shocked and disgusted to see the
priest descend to such meanness as to prostrate himself to the earth,
and kiss the lady’s feet: in fact he seemed not a whit superior to the
degraded boors amongst whom he lived. A Russo-French gentleman, who had
travelled over nearly every part of the empire, even to the interior of
Siberia, informed me that the state of the clergy in the remote country
places was inconceivably bad; that they were ignorant, slavish, vicious,
and drunken in almost an equal degree with the debased peasantry; that,
although it is strictly forbidden for a priest to be seen to enter a
whisky-shop, yet they are not ashamed to send one of their flock to
fetch spirits, nor do they blush to be seen intoxicated in the miserable
villages of which they are the pastors; that their wives and children are
ragged and filthy, and are scarcely as respectable as those of the serfs.
In what state of morality can the peasants be whose teachers are thus
degraded?

Notwithstanding the evil state of things in the retired parts of the
country, I was assured that great improvements have taken place of late
years in the clergy at large, owing to the seminaries established for
the education of priests, which are under the direction and management
of efficient superiors. In the neighbourhood of most large towns many
estimable and worthy members of the sacred profession may be found. It
is a pity that the priesthood do not occupy a higher position in Russia,
for, as everything is valued according to rank in the country, one
would imagine that more personal respect would increase their spiritual
authority. Peter the Great deprived the Church of most of its privileges
on account of the political use to which they were put, and perhaps his
successors have been unwilling to give too much influence to a body of
men forming so very numerous a portion of the population, and possessing
a great deal of power over an ignorant and superstitious people. Of this
power the government makes use to its own advantage as an instrument by
which to support its domination over the nation in the present crisis,
and by its means contributes to the fanaticism now so rife in Russia,
by wickedly appealing to the weak points in the national character, in
making the aggression on Turkey wear the semblance of a religious war.
Not only are prayers now daily offered in the Russian churches against
the “English heretics,” but even pretended miracles are resorted to in
order to make the people believe in the sympathy of Heaven. A gentleman
told me a short time ago that he had that same morning been present
in one of the gymnasiums in St. Petersburg, when the priest belonging
to the institution, in giving his wonted lecture on religion, informed
the young men and boys there assembled that God had vouchsafed, in a
wonderful manner, to show his gracious approbation of the imperial cause
by performing a miracle in the sight of men. He went on to say that a
child had been born during the previous week, which, to the astonishment
of all beholders, when only three days old arose and uttered prophecies
concerning the present war! Of course, this extraordinary little
monster only said what was favourable to the Muscovite arms, and to the
glorification of the Emperor and members of the imperial family; but will
it be believed that in the nineteenth century, the age of railroads and
electric telegraphs, any one would dare to utter such absurd blasphemies?
Think of the wickedness of thus lying in the face of Heaven to forward
the ambition of a man! But this man, be it remembered, is the head of
the Russo-Greek Church, and is considered as infallible in his spiritual
functions by the Greek clergy as the Pope of Rome is by the Romanists.

I found the monkish institutions by no means liked among the upper
classes in Russia. I have frequently heard them say, “Those lazy monks
and nuns, who pass all their days in idleness, ought to be abolished;
they are a burthen to the community, and only eat up the bread of the
industrious!” Yet those very people in their old age would, most likely,
be continually making rich presents to them for their prayers, by which
they hope to render more smooth their own path to heaven.

There are some sects of the Greek Church severely restricted by the
Russian government. When I was at Twer a whole religious society, with
their superior at their head, were arrested and put under judgment.
I could not make out what their peculiar tenets were; but they were
accused of shocking crimes and gross ignorance, perverting the
doctrines of Christianity as a pretence for vile actions more becoming
Indian idolaters than the followers of Christ. Dresses of black stuff
embroidered with hieroglyphics and mysterious symbols, veils something
like those worn by the familiars of the Spanish Inquisition, which have
two holes for the eyes, together with all the etcetera of their degraded
superstition, were brought to the governor’s house as so many proofs
against them. I believe the sisterhood were dispersed, and placed in
different convents belonging to the orthodox Church.

Notwithstanding the excessive severity of the climate, hermits still
exist in the immense and almost untrodden forests of the interior,
who are held in the same estimation as saints by the population. A
Russian noble informed me that in the province of Kastroma a curious
subterraneous chapel had been discovered on the estate next to his: it
had been dug out by the hands of one of these fanatics, and his skeleton
was found lying before the altar, as if he had expired in the midst
of his prayers. None of the peasantry of the district had ever seen
any person answering to his description, nor was there any tradition
concerning him extant; he must have lived and died unremarked and
unknown. Probably he was some escaped criminal or deserter, or perhaps
a monk who had become deranged with distorted ideas of devotion, and
was ambitious of aspiring to the honour of canonization. But how these
recluses can possibly exist during the intense severity of a northern
winter, where they can find the food to support them, or how they escape
becoming the prey of the numerous wolves and bears with which the country
abounds, is incomprehensible to me.

The Greek Church permits the New Testament to be read by the laity, with
the exception of the Revelation of St. John, but the Old Testament is
withheld. Children are taught religion by the priests, who are engaged,
just as the masters of languages are, to give a lesson once or twice a
week, for which they are also paid.



CHAPTER XI.

    Aspect of the country—Sketch of the peasants—Forebodings
    of evil—State of the serfs—Anecdotes of proprietors—The
    French waiting-maid—Shameful treatment of serfs—State of
    crime—Mutilations and murders—Revenge for a beating—Dreadful
    vengeance of the serfs—Pleasing anecdote—Wealthy
    serfs—Recklessness of the nobles—Selling slaves—The cook and
    his sorrows—Anecdotes—Serf apprentices—The old gourmand—A good
    bargain and a bad one—The gardener—A boorish audience—The
    peasants—Superstitions and ignorance—Anecdotes.


In the summer-time the country in Russia is very agreeable; the
unconstrained hospitality of the proprietors, the manner of living, _sans
gêne_, is particularly pleasant. Of course where estates consist of some
five hundred square versts, and comprise immense forests and lakes, with
a very scanty population, it would be absurd to expect that cultivation
and flourishing appearance which we so much prize in England; yet there
is a great deal to like and admire, notwithstanding. The plains extending
far and wide, unenclosed by hedges; the bright green fields of flax or
waving corn in the midst of forests of sombre pine; the broad silvery
lake swarming with fish; the numerous eagles careering aloft in the clear
blue sky; the peasants in their gaily-coloured costumes, merrily singing
their native airs while at their work, or sitting down under the shade
of the birch-trees taking their frugal repast; whilst in the background
is seen rising from among the woods the white church with its blue
dome bespangled with gold stars, its tapering gilt spire and numerous
glittering crosses, all rendered doubly brilliant by the rays of an
unclouded sun—all this makes a scene peculiarly Russian, but not the less
beautiful. When the peasants have finished their repast, they devoutly
turn towards the church and make the sign of the cross as they bow in
gratitude for their daily bread; they will then throw themselves down
in the shade to take their midday nap of two hours during the excessive
heat:[7] this is not laziness, for the poor men generally get up at three
o’clock in the morning, and do not leave off labour until ten at night;
the continual twilight of a Russian summer enabling them to continue thus
long at their employment. Towards the evening, if it be the eve of some
saint’s day, or great national holiday, we shall see them lively and
merry enough, all dressed in clean shirts of the brightest hues, and gay
sarafanes, dancing in the space before their houses, singing their native
airs to the tinkling of their triangular guitars, as if slavery were but
a name and its burthens feathers. Alas! this is the sunny side of their
existence. Could we but see the oppression of the land-stewards and the
ill-treatment they meet with, we should soon discover how many clouds
cast a shadow on their daily course. Men and women in name, and children
in their thoughts and ideas, they are now governed like so many infants;
but when the day comes on which they will awaken to their true condition,
how fearful will be the retribution on the heads of those who have thus
oppressed them. “We all look forward to a revolution,” said a gentleman
of great talent one day; “we all look forward to a revolution; and when
it does break out, the French tragedy will be but a game of play in
comparison to it.” I often thought of his words when I saw the peasantry
with their axes stuck into their girdle, a national custom, and shuddered
to imagine the horrid deeds they will commit with these weapons when
their vengeance shall have been aroused for the many years of injustice
and cruelty to which they have been subjected.

Under the large landowners the lot of the peasantry is often tolerably
happy; and as they do not know what freedom means, slavery is not
greatly felt; but it is under the petty proprietors that they suffer the
most; then indeed they are to be pitied. It is among these that we are
continually hearing of such detestable actions as in any other country
would cause them to be excluded from respectable society.

I remember, among dozens of other instances, some little anecdotes which
illustrate this:—

A _lady_ (?) who was in St. Petersburg for the winter, and whom I met
two or three times at evening parties, was one day extremely unlucky at
cards: she had some servants (slaves) who possessed very beautiful hair;
and as she had not enough ready money to pay the debt incurred by her
losses, she actually sent to a barber and had all their long tresses
cut off, the sale of which enabled her to discharge it _honourably_! As
closely-cropped hair is a punishment for immoral conduct, and exposes a
girl to the jeers and mockeries of her companions, it may readily be
imagined what a bitter mortification such an act must have been to them.
I must, however, add that the person in question was a _Pole_; and as far
as I have been able to judge, the Poles are infinitely more unfeeling and
tyrannical to their serfs than the Russians.

I was once going to the opera in company with a Polish lady; she came
and begged me to wait a few minutes, as she was not quite ready; she was
magnificently dressed in dark crimson velvet, a profusion of jewels,
lace, and marabout feathers. I took a seat in the drawing-room, next to
her _cabinet de toilette_, whilst she completed her head-dress. Suddenly
I heard a tremendous noise in the adjoining apartment; mistress and maid
seemed to be endeavouring to outscold each other; but as they spoke
Polish I did not understand what it was all about. Presently a loud
crash, and the fall of a heavy body on the floor, announced that some
catastrophe had happened. Very soon after the lady made her appearance,
smiling with all the politeness possible, and expressing her regret at
having kept me waiting. I made no remark, of course, nor did she allude
to the mysterious fracas that had just taken place; but I afterwards
learned the facts of the case: the maid had not pleased her in her
coiffure; the lady scolded; the girl answered impertinently, which so
enraged her amiable mistress, that, with the chair on which she was
sitting, she knocked her down with so much violence that two of _her
front teeth_ were broken off in her fall!

An amusing anecdote was told me by a French lady. One of her countrywomen
was engaged as dressing-maid to a lady of rank in Russia: one day, while
combing out her mistress’s long back hair, she hurt her head; the lady
turned round and gave her a slap on the face. The Frenchwoman, who had
hold of her hair, which she was on the point of tying, so that it was all
gathered together in her hand, grasped it tightly, and then inflicted
a sound correction on the lady’s ears with the hair-brush. Perhaps it
may be thought that she was immediately punished by being taken to the
police, or at the least summarily dismissed from the household. Far from
it; the maid knew the character of the Russians well, and also what she
was about: she was perfectly aware that her mistress would not dare to
expose her, on account of the disgrace to herself; for it would be an
indelible one for a noble lady to have been beaten (in any place but
_Count Orloff’s_ office), and especially by a menial: she therefore not
only took the whole quietly, but presented the Frenchwoman with thirty
silver roubles and a new gown, to buy her silence; she was ever after
treated with much consideration, and at the time the anecdote was told to
me was still in the same situation.

When we were in the province of Vologda, I was one day walking alone in
the garden; presently I heard loud voice accompanied by a heavy thump
on somebody’s back frequently repeated. I stepped on one side, behind
the thick shrubs, for I recognised the accents of the lady at whose
house we were on a visit, and I thought she would rather not be seen
just at that moment; but I could not resist gratifying my curiosity
so far as to ascertain who the person was who had displeased her. I
found that it was the gardener, a tall athletic young man, who, with a
basket in his hands, was slowly walking down a path, followed by his
proprietress, who between every sentence struck him a smart blow on his
back with her clenched fist. The man was going forward with a downcast
look, like a great overgrown child, exclaiming at intervals, “Isvenete,
matutchka, isvenete, veno vat” (Pardon, mother, pardon; I am guilty).
As for the lady, when I gazed on her face inflamed with anger, and saw
her infuriated gestures, I could scarcely believe that she was the same
person whom I had seen in the drawing-room not ten minutes before, whose
graceful hospitality and amiable politeness had impressed us all with
admiration.

During our stay in Jaroslaf a commission was sent from St. Petersburg to
inquire into the manner in which the slaves of a neighbouring estate had
been treated by their proprietress. Her shameful conduct had driven the
unhappy serfs to such desperation, that some of them had found the means
to escape, and had fled to the capital; they threw themselves at the
feet of the Emperor, and implored him, in the name of God their common
Father, to be their friend and protector, and to do them justice, as they
had none other that would help them. His Majesty (who, if unbiassed by
evil counsellors and interested landowners, is always ready to listen to
the prayers of his poor peasants) promised that, if he found that they
were guiltless, and had spoken truly, he would see that they received
justice, and immediately gave orders that the strictest inquiries should
be made concerning them. The result was that the estate was taken from
the lady who had so ill-treated the peasants: she was allowed a small
pension, enough to keep her from actual want, out of the rents, and the
property was put under the care of trustees, that she should no longer
have the power in her hands which she had so disgracefully abused. Even
her daughters were removed from her guardianship, lest her example should
have a bad influence on them.

Many other instances have been mentioned to me in which the Emperor has
displayed as much humanity as justice; undoubtedly there would be fewer
abuses were it possible that the knowledge of them could reach him; but
thousands of vile and unjust actions are committed that are hushed up
and escape the punishment they deserve. The Russians stand infinitely
more in fear of the Emperor than they do of their Creator. The common
saying, “The Czar is near, but God is far off,” gives a good idea of
their feeling on the subject. I was once staying with a friend whose
husband had at that time a great deal to do with the judicial department;
and the horrible tales of crimes and cruelties committed by some of the
proprietors that came under his excellency’s consideration would not
be credited. It is true that there are badly-disposed people in every
country, but happily they have not, as in Russia, such power in their
hands. The very recital of such deeds was enough to make one shudder.
It is difficult to know the exact extent of the evil existing, as no
accounts really authentic are published. I may mention a few that came
under my _personal knowledge_.

When we were at Nova Derevna, not far from St. Petersburg, two hands
recently severed were found near our house in a wood: they were tied
together, but it was never discovered to whom they belonged, or who had
done the dreadful deed.

When we were on a visit on Count ——’s estate, the head servant found in
the garden the corpse of a woman who had evidently been murdered; the act
had not long been perpetrated, for the body was yet warm. In this case
also it was never discovered either who she was or who was the assassin.

One of the trials that took place before my friend’s husband was that of
a proprietress who had amused herself with shamefully cutting and maiming
several children on her estates; when asked what could have induced her
to commit acts of such demoniacal cruelty, her reply was, “C’était pour
me distraire!” She was exiled to Siberia.

It cannot be expected of human beings, although they be born bondsmen and
serfs, that they will _always_ quietly submit to a tyrannical master, or
that they will forego _revenge_ when they cannot obtain _justice_. Many
examples of the most dreadful vengeance have come under my knowledge
in different parts of Russia. The first anecdote I will give is rather
laughable than serious, and I mention it _en passant_, as it was one that
occurred in my presence.

I was once dining at the house of a provincial governor; eighty people
formed the party, including a vast number of officers, employés,
and their ladies. The feast was given in honour of the anniversary
of the Emperor’s coronation, so all the company were in full dress:
his excellency was in his general’s uniform, resplendent with gold
embroidery and stars. When the footman handed round the dish of roast
meat as usual, he cleverly contrived to upset all the gravy over his
master’s back, and in such a manner that epaulettes, facings, and all
were covered with immense spots of grease: it was evidently done on
purpose. The general rose in a great passion, but the man put on so
contrite an expression, and so humbly begged pardon, that there was
nothing to be done but to change the coat. I shall never forget the sly
look of triumph the servant cast on his master’s back as he followed him
officiously from the dining-hall, and the grin with which he returned
to it with his excellency, who was obliged to make his reappearance in
a plain black coat and civilian’s dress. I afterwards heard that the
previous day the footman had been severely beaten, for which he had thus
taken revenge.

The brother of a gentleman in a provincial town, with whom I was well
acquainted, had caused a peasant belonging to his estate to be flogged;
the man took the punishment quietly, and uttered no threats; but the next
time he met with M. P——ski he raised his axe, and with one blow clave his
skull from the forehead to the chin. It was not until two days after that
the body was found. The man was taken into custody, and accused of the
murder; he confessed it immediately, and was consequently banished to the
Siberian mines.

Some years ago I met a lady and her daughter in society: they were in
deep mourning, and, as I had seen them a short time before otherwise
dressed, I asked a friend what near relative of theirs had lately died.
“O, do you not know?” answered she; “I thought everybody was talking of
it. Marie Ivanovna is now a widow; her husband met with his death in a
shocking manner: he had ill-treated the daughter of a peasant belonging
to his estate, which so raised the anger of the girl’s father, that, when
he met him in the wood near his château, he attacked him with his axe
and killed him on the spot. Marie Ivanovna, finding that her husband did
not return home, went with her daughter into the wood to meet him, and,
catching sight of some strange-looking object at a distance, approached
it in order to see what it was. Her horror may well be conceived when
she discovered that it was the body of her husband placed in a sitting
posture, with his back leaning against a tree, and his hands on his
knees, on which was laid the head that the peasant had severed from the
trunk with his axe.” As it was well known that the man had had just cause
for vengeance, there was no difficulty in discovering the murderer, and
he was banished to Siberia. An instance was also related to me of the
slaves burning their proprietors in their beds in revenge for their
excessive cruelty.

A Swiss lady with whom I was slightly acquainted resided as governess in
the interior of Russia, with a family who had a large estate and several
villages. The three children slept in an inner room adjoining hers; they
were all very young; the eldest was a boy of eight, the two others were
little girls. One morning she arose; her young charge were dressed; and
as they generally breakfasted alone, they were not surprised that they
saw nothing of their mamma and papa; the servants attended to them as
usual, and they had no reason for suspecting that anything extraordinary
had occurred; but as the day advanced, they began to wonder that
everything was so quiet in their parents’ room; the servants expressed
the same surprise, and at last the Swiss lady determined upon knocking at
the door, for she began now to fear that something serious had happened;
obtaining no reply to her repeated knocks, she ventured upon looking in.
To her inconceivable horror and dismay, she beheld the lady and gentleman
lying in bed with their heads almost severed from their bodies. She had
the admirable presence of mind to prevent the children, who had crowded
to the door, from entering, and so mastered her emotion that she did
not scream or utter any exclamation that would betray her agitation at
the dreadful sight; but closing the door, she told them not to make a
noise, for their parents were ill, and led them back to their apartments.
She then summoned the household, to whom she communicated what she had
seen, and sent off to the neighbouring town for the authorities. On
the affair being examined into, it appeared that the murdered couple,
although tolerably kind towards their household servants, were extremely
oppressive and unjust in regard to the serfs on their estates; and these
latter, in order to free themselves from such tyranny, had committed this
fearful crime; yet in their revenge they still had some sense of justice;
they would not slay the children for the evil their parents had done.
So quietly had they executed their designs, that they had not disturbed
any of the domestics. This may be the more easily understood when it
is mentioned that all the rooms in the house were on the ground-floor;
and it being the summer time, the lady and her husband slept with the
windows open.

I heard of many more examples, but these will show that even the serfs of
Russia, ground down to the dust as they are, will not always writhe like
a trodden worm, but will turn and seek revenge.

I must not omit to relate an anecdote more pleasing than the foregoing,
which will serve to illustrate another trait in the national character.

Count B——, a gentleman of very extensive landed property in the south of
Russia, was left an orphan at about the age of seventeen, and, of course,
until he was of age he was under the direction of his guardians. On his
attaining his majority he determined upon visiting each of his estates
in succession. It was night when he reached the largest one in Little
Russia; he drove quietly to the house, as he thought unremarked by the
villagers, but not so; early the next morning he was awakened by great
noise and tumult; he looked out of the window, and to his dismay beheld
the whole yard crowded with the peasantry. A momentary fear presented
itself to his mind, that the serfs had risen and that they designed
his destruction. He determined, however, to meet the danger boldly; he
dressed, and hastened down amongst them. He was received with shouts
that did not re-assure him, and then a sudden silence succeeded. This
was broken by two or three of the oldest peasants, who advanced towards
him, and with great respect begged to know if it were true that he
was, as they had heard, deeply involved in debt. “Because,” said they,
“we do not wish to be disgraced by having a proprietor who is in such
embarrassment. We therefore hope that you will allow us to discharge your
debts, that you may be freed from it; for that purpose we have collected
together a million of roubles (_assignats_), which we have brought
with us, and which we entreat you to accept.” Some of their companions
then stepped forward, having in their hands heavy bags and rolls of
bank-notes, showing that they had the means as well as the will to ensure
the success of their plan. The Count was too much affected to answer them
immediately, but when he had acquired sufficient composure he thanked
them heartily, but assured them that they were mistaken. “It is true,” he
said, “that on my father’s death some of the property was mortgaged, but
my guardians, by a careful economy, have been enabled to free it from all
liabilities; and now not a single copeck is owing to any one.”

The peasants hesitated; they did not wish to doubt his word, but were
fearful lest he should have told them so because he did not desire
their money. It was only by repeated assurances that they were at last
convinced that it was a fact. They then begged he would accept the money
as a present; on that being declined, they would only be satisfied with
the promise that in case he should find himself in difficulties he would
apply for assistance to them and not to strangers.

It may seem strange to English people that serfs should be possessed
of so large a sum as a million of roubles (45,000_l._); but it must be
remembered that many of them are not mere field labourers, but rich
shopkeepers and tradesmen with large fortunes. Some of the slaves
belonging to Count S. (a nobleman who possesses one hundred and twenty
thousand souls on his estates) are among the wealthiest shopkeepers
in St. Petersburg, and have hundreds of thousands of pounds capital.
The question naturally arises, “Why do they not, then, purchase their
freedom?” They cannot do so without the consent of their proprietor; and
as he is not willing to give it, having a kind of pride in possessing
people of such enormous fortunes, they remain in the condition in which
they were born. It is said that very lately they have lent Count S.
above one hundred and fifty thousand pounds to pay off debts on his
property. The shopkeepers and merchants in Russia are now the richest
class in the country; the nobility every year are becoming poorer. The
policy of Catherine has worked well in that respect; for, they say, it
was she who began to lower their power, which has ever been dangerous
to the imperial family, and her successors follow in her steps. It is
astonishing how reckless the Russian nobles are of the consequences of
their extravagance. I was well acquainted with a family whose daughter
was to be presented at court; to my certain knowledge they pawned a part
of their hereditary estates to enable them to make a brilliant figure
for the season. As their estates are generally pawned to the crown, and
their improvidence and love of show make it very improbable that either
they or their children will ever be in a condition to reclaim them, the
consequences are not difficult to foresee.

It is not lawful in Russia to sell the serfs without the land, or to
separate individuals of a family unless the parents accompany them; it is
nevertheless sometimes done, for two or three instances have come to my
own knowledge, in establishments in which I was residing; and although
I was present on the occasions, and know the terms on which the sales
took place, Russians have often contradicted me, and assured me that such
a thing was impossible, as it was not allowed. It is true, indeed, that
it is _not allowed_ by the law, but, if the two proprietors consent to
the bargain, who is to complain? It certainly would not be the servant
so disposed of, as her existence would be wretched enough afterwards;
and we have often heard both male and female domestics beg another
owner to purchase them, if they dislike the family they are in. After
twenty-five years service in their master’s household, they can have the
choice of being free or not; but they do not often profit by it, for,
after the best years of their life have been passed in working for their
proprietor, they with reason think that their old age should be taken
care of by him; and that, if permitted, they would prefer passing the
evening of their days in the village in which they were born, and among
the scenes endeared to them by their youthful associations, to dragging
out a toilsome and precarious life among strangers or in a crowded city.
Many of the household servants are hired; they are furnished by their
owners with a passport; they can then go whither they please, and serve
whom they like, upon the condition of their paying the yearly abrock, or
poll-tax, to him; but as this sum is not fixed by law, and the amount is
entirely dependent on the will of the proprietor, he often abuses the
trust, and manages to exercise a tyrannical influence even on those of
his serfs who are at a distance and removed from his immediate power. The
chief _cuisinier_ in Madame-B.’s house at Twer belonged to a landowner
who lived in Kalonga, and who had furnished him with a passport.
The man was clever at his profession, and had served a seven years’
apprenticeship in a French house in St. Petersburg; he was therefore a
valuable acquisition to a large establishment; he had three other cooks
under him, and was very much respected. Madame B. was generous: his wages
were high, and in addition she kindly allowed him to superintend public
suppers and private parties in the houses of the neighbouring gentry,
for which he received so good a remuneration that he realized a handsome
profit. So far so good. By economy he might have saved in a few years
sufficient money to buy his freedom, and he would have done so, as he
was extremely anxious to marry one of the upper servants that lived in
the same family; but then there was _the abrock_, and his master was one
who never seemed to have enough. As soon as he found that Vassili was
making money, he raised the amount of the poll-tax, and, by adding every
year a little more to it, contrived to squeeze out of the poor fellow’s
hands almost all his earnings. Many and many a time have I seen the tears
rolling down his cheeks as he saw that his hopes for the future were
daily getting more indistinct, and that he had no prospect of becoming
free and wedding Grushia. One day we found him sobbing bitterly over an
open letter; he had just received it from his proprietor: it was, as
usual, demanding _more abrock_, but, worse than all, it was an answer, to
a proposition made by Madame regarding his purchase: she with her wonted
kindness wished to render all her household as happy as it lay in her
power to do, and had told Vassili to inquire what amount was necessary
to make him a free man. The sum named was so exorbitant that it was
beyond the lady’s means. Apparently his master was determined not to part
with a property that afforded him so great an annual profit and the hopes
of increasing it in future.

The way the Russians treat their household servants is sometimes very
amusing—exactly as if they were babies. One day the eight footmen,
and the five other men-servants at Madame R.’s, all had new liveries.
Being desirous to see how they looked, Madame ordered them all into her
presence; they came, with the porter at their head: the lady bade them
stand in a row, so that she might see the effect; and having had a good
survey of the waistcoats, commanded them to turn about, which they did
in true military order, and gave us a gratifying view of thirteen pairs
of broad shoulders, all covered with light blue broadcloth of the best
quality; they then marched out as if they had performed an exemplary
duty. At another time the family was increased by a raw recruit of a
lacquey, about six feet two high, who was endowed with the awkward
habit of letting everything fall that he took in his fingers. After he
had exhausted the patience of everybody in the house, he was told that
the next time he gave us a specimen of his _mal-adresse_, he should
be punished. The very next day, as he was handing the dish of fish to
Madame, down went the elegant silver slice; after having picked it up
with a very red face, he cast a terrified look on his master, expecting
some awful retribution on his head for the sin he had committed; when
the lady, turning to him, ordered him immediately to go and stand _in
the corner_ for the rest of the time we should be at dinner. He obeyed
with the most contrite face, and stood there like one of Madame Tussaud’s
wax-work figures, without changing countenance or moving in the least.
It was wonderful how the other servants could keep a serious expression.
We were all nearly choked with suppressed laughter, it was so perfectly
ridiculous.

It is frequently, indeed generally, the case for the proprietors to
place many of their serfs out as apprentices to different trades, some
as carpenters, others as hairdressers, shoemakers, tailors, cooks,
milliners, dressmakers, &c. After their time is out, if their services be
not required in their master’s house, they are furnished with a passport,
and pay the poll-tax like Vassili, of whom I have spoken. In many of the
châteaux the domestics are capable of doing all the work for the family:
one makes the shoes and boots; another his master’s coat; a third,
brought up as a coiffeur, is the valet; a fourth the head cook; a fifth
the confectioner, who attends to all the preserves, pickles, and bonbons
used in the establishment; his place is no sinecure, as the Russians eat
a great quantity of these things, especially in the winter-time. In very
large households there are serfs who have been educated as musicians and
singers. One family with whom I was acquainted in St. Petersburg had a
private theatre in which their own people performed operas in very good
style: the orchestra and vocalists had all been trained at the owner’s
expense expressly for his amusement.

There was an old _noble_ (?), an acquaintance of my friends in Moscow,
who was possessed of an enormous fortune, and who made it his boast
that he was the greatest gourmand in Russia; his whole conversation was
concerning savoury dishes and delicious meats, to the concocting of which
his entire mental energies (if he had any) were devoted. His dreams were
nothing but visions of soups, fricassées, and pâtés, varied with ragoûts,
jellies, and macédoines. Whenever he called we were sure to hear that
his genius had discovered some new combination of good things, which he
seemed to think redounded as much to his honour as Napoleon’s victory
at Austerlitz did to his, or as Newton’s discovery of the theory of
gravitation. By excessively high living he had attained so preposterous
a size, that the door of his carriage had to be made the entire width of
one side to allow of his getting in and out: his eyes were almost buried
in the fat of his cheeks, and his thick lips and heavy looks showed to
what an extent he pursued the gratification of his favourite vice.

This _estimable_ old gentleman, in order to have the cookery of every
nation in the highest perfection, hit upon the ingenious plan of sending
one of his serfs to each of the great capitals of Europe, in order that
they might be initiated in all the mysteries of the _cuisine_ of the
country. One was in Vienna, another in Paris, a third in London, and
the fourth in Naples. The sum this cost him was enormous, not only for
the journeys, but on account of the high premium demanded for their
instruction. The man sent to Paris was bound for three years; he was
the most intelligent of the four; his master built immense castles in
the air about him; he was never tired of talking of the great progress
the man was making in the culinary art, whilst the agreeable prospect
of innumerable good dinners, rich soups, and magnificent _entremets_,
solaced him and served to cheer him up whenever an attack of indigestion
caused him a fit of the “blues.” He did not know, poor man! that the
dreams of his distant serf were widely different from his own; nor
perhaps had it ever entered his mind, that, in learning “_la cuisine
Française_,” he might possibly learn the language, and imbibe French
notions of liberty as well—but so it was. The three years were out, and
the old gentleman was on the tiptoe of expectation; his delicious _rêves_
were about to become realized; he had invited a host of acquaintances
to dine with him on a certain day. But, alas! the very morning on which
he made so sure of welcoming with open arms his _chef de cuisine_ from
abroad, there came a letter, in which the _ci-devant_ slave politely and
delicately informed him that, owing to a great change in his views, both
social and political, he could not decide upon devoting the rest of his
days to _his service_; that he was going to be married to a charming
young grisette, and had resolved upon becoming a French subject, as he
was already one at heart. He concluded by returning his sincere thanks
for the protection and patronage his former master had afforded him;
sent the receipted bills for the expenses which had been incurred on his
account, which he assured him had been honourably paid in his name, out
of the money forwarded to Paris for the purpose, and finished with the
most amiable wishes for his health and prosperity.

The grief and dismay of the old gourmand were inconceivable, and such
an effect did the mortification take on him, that he remained in bed a
whole fortnight to lament in solitude his irreparable loss.

As for the other three, I never heard what became of them; but it is to
be hoped that they all followed the same laudable plan.

Most of the dressing-maids have served their time, and are milliners
and couturières by profession. I was present one day when a bargain
was struck for a dressmaker; it was at Jaroslaf, and a gentleman from
a neighbouring estate had just dropped in to dine. In the course of
conversation the host had accidentally mentioned that his wife was in
great want of a good dressing-maid.

“Oh,” said the guest, “if that be all, my wife has an excellent one that
she will part with; she has been several years with a French dressmaker
in St. Petersburg to learn the trade, and I am sure my wife would be glad
to let Madame D——f have her.”

“Eh bien!” replied the other, “and her price?”

“Two hundred and fifty silver roubles.”

“That,” answered the host, “is, I am sure, much more than we should like
to give for a servant; we had better hire one; Madame D. is going to
Moscow, and she must engage one there.”

“What do you say then to two hundred?”

“Still too much.”

“Well, then, listen, mon ami: you were talking of buying a new
instrument: will you give me one hundred roubles and _your old piano_?”

Both parties agreed to these terms, and it was arranged that the girl
should be sent in the course of the following week, and that the rickety
old piano should be duly forwarded in exchange. Madame D.’s dressmaker
arrived at the stated time; she was about twenty-five years of age and a
good needlewoman. After having served a month or six weeks her mistress
told me in confidence “that she thought she had made a fair bargain,” and
even seemed to intimate that the proprietor had cheated himself in the
affair. I ought to add that the girl herself was a consenting party to
the transaction.

At another time when I was in St. Petersburg, a young servant-girl of
sixteen came into the room and begged to know if her mistress would buy
her, for her proprietress wanted some money, and would be glad to sell
her.

“I really do not know what to say to it,” was the reply. “How much does
she ask for you, Marousha?”

_Girl_ (with a low bow). “Eighty silver roubles, Madame.”

“Well,” said the lady, “I will consult my husband about it, and will
give you the answer after dinner.” The girl made a low inclination
and retired. On the husband’s return there was a serious consultation
concerning the proposed purchase. His remark had better be expressed in
French than in English. “Quatre-vingt roubles argent! c’est beaucoup
trop; et outre cela la fille a tellement les humeurs froides qu’elle
serait chère même à un prix moins grand!” I do not know whether the
proprietress agreed to take less on this consideration, or how it was
arranged; but some weeks afterwards I learnt that the girl had really
changed owners, at which she showed much satisfaction.

It is not allowed by law for the masters and mistresses to beat their
servants, unless they be their own slaves; but it is easy enough to
get it done by sending them with a complaint to the police, and, if the
leaven of a few roubles be added, they will have as fair a quantum of
stripes as are displayed on the American flag, or were ever administered
in that land of freedom. The ceremony of whipping takes place in the
night, and is performed in a place at the station devoted to the purpose.
The reason given us was, that “the culprits cried out so loudly that it
was much better to do it at that time than when everybody was about.”
In Twer the head-gardener thought proper to get intoxicated three days
together; he had often been in the same state before, and the patience of
his master was quite exhausted: so when he met him in the yard, perfectly
unable to stand, he ordered the police-master (who happened to be then in
the office making his reports) to take him under his care and administer
a sound flogging, so that he might in future know what he would have to
expect.

The order was well attended to, and the gardener was led to the
station-house, where he suffered the penalty of his offence. The next
day I was surprised to see him in the entrance-hall, looking as sober
and demure as possible. He waited quietly until his Excellency appeared;
he then prostrated himself several times at his feet until his face
touched the ground, begging in the most humble manner to return thanks
for the great kindness he had been shown. I could not think why he was so
grateful, and asked the General if he had pardoned his late offence.

“Pardoned! not a bit of it,” answered he, laughing; “he is expressing his
acknowledgments for the sound beating I caused him to receive.”

I could not help expressing my aversion to such meanness.

“You judge wrongly,” said his Excellency; “the man, I think, displays
very good feeling on the occasion. He committed a fault, for which I have
had him corrected, and he now thanks me for my judicious punishment. You
see by this that our people bear no malice in their hearts.” He forgot
to add that fear might have had a great deal more to do with it than
gratitude.

It will certainly take many years, ay, centuries, for such a people to be
in a condition to appreciate the blessings of freedom, and perhaps they
are too Asiatic ever properly to do so.[8]

It is almost dangerous to endeavour to ameliorate their state. The cousin
of a lady with whom I was intimate, having just returned from abroad,
where he had witnessed the good effects of civilization, determined
to devote his life and fortune to the enlightenment of his peasantry.
The ignorant priest, however, made them believe that his design was
to destroy their ancient customs and to subvert the religion of their
forefathers. The consequence was, that the slaves formed a conspiracy
against him, and shot him one evening as he was reading a book in his own
sitting-room.

Some years ago a party of ladies and gentlemen, while spending the summer
in the country, determined upon getting up a succession of theatrical
amusements, just to try their effect upon the minds of the lower class.
They accordingly fitted up a hall with great care, took immense pains
to learn their parts, and when all was ready they invited the serfs as
their audience, and gave them a holiday for the purpose of attending. The
ignorant boors stood with open eyes and mouths wondering what it was all
about, and what the gentry could mean by coming in and going out, and
chattering so much to each other. After the play was over, the gentlemen
asked them how they liked it.

“O, very well, Barinia,” was the reply, “but we hope you will pay us for
the time we have lost in coming to see it!”

It need scarcely be said that the entertainment was not repeated, their
plan being thus stifled at the commencement.

In the autumn the women belonging to the estates have a very busy time;
they help to reap the corn, cut the flax, and pull up the hemp-stalks,
and then prepare them for sale by beating them with flat pieces of wood,
which is extremely fatiguing, but they enliven their work by singing
their national ballads.

In the winter both men and women employ themselves in weaving the Russian
linen and canvas; the girls also in some villages make a pretty kind
of lace. The produce of their winter industry is either sent to the
proprietor, who disposes of it to the shopkeepers, or the women carry it
about and offer it for sale in the same manner as the hawkers of Irish
cloth do in England. In the dark days or evenings, having no candles,
they make use of slips of pine-wood or the bark of the birch-tree,
which are very inflammable and emit a strong light that enables them to
continue their work. They make the thread in the ancient manner with the
distaff, which has quite a classic appearance.

In some of the villages all the females make lace, in others there is
nothing but linen manufactured. I saw some beautiful samples of the
former, the work of the peasants belonging to the Princess L., which
would be admired even in London or Paris; and a woman once offered to
sell me a scarf for sixty roubles (10_l._), which she assured me took her
three entire years to make.

Some of the serfs are trained as hunters on the estates: their whole
lives are devoted to killing and ensnaring game in the forests, which is
sold, and becomes a part of the revenue of the property.

When a very fine bear is slain, his skin is generally presented to the
proprietor, together with the head. The skin is made into a magnificent
rug, the head into a foot-stool, forming a handsome ornament to the
drawing-room.

The peasants one day sent us a young bear; he was not full-grown, but
he was so enraged at being made captive that he gnawed his paws to
pieces, and they were obliged to kill him. It is no uncommon thing to
see young wolf-cubs offered for sale even in St. Petersburg itself, but
I do not know to what use they are put. In the most northern parts, in
which lynxes and ermines, squirrels and sables are found, the hunters go
into the forests for weeks at a time. They are provided with a little
sledge, which they draw after them, containing the necessary provisions,
and which they fill with skins as the stock of provisions diminishes. I
was told that their quickness of sight is wonderful, and that they can
discern at an immense distance the little black tip of the ermine’s tail
on the wide plains of snow that it traverses.

Whoever has travelled in Russia cannot fail to have admired the great
skill of the peasantry in using their axes: it is no exaggeration to
say that a common boor can build and furnish his house with the help of
that instrument alone. Nothing can be more interesting than to watch a
number of these poor people engaged in constructing their dwellings,
and very much goodwill is also to be remarked among them in assisting
each other. All who have ever seen them must have felt the greatest
admiration and even respect for the serfs, who, with all their faults,
are really good-hearted, and possessed of natural talents which it is
a shame and a sin in the government to stifle or render useless by
keeping them in ignorance; but until slavery disappears from the land,
and they are taught the proper use of freedom, it is nonsense to hope
that great men will rise from the people. There was a poor man in Twer,
a slave belonging to M. M——ff, a land-proprietor, who was possessed of
a genius for painting that in any other country would have acquired for
him both fame and fortune. Better for him had he been born an idiot! To
him his talents were a dire misfortune, for his master, on learning his
love for drawing and his great natural gifts, perceived at once that
some handsome profit, by the way of _abrock_, might be realized for
himself in cultivating them. Accordingly he placed him with an ordinary
portrait-painter, where he was forced to learn a branch of the art
which, although the most likely to serve his owner’s views, was most
distasteful to himself, as he had genius for better things. He had no
sooner served his time than the amount of poll-tax was yearly demanded:
as everybody does not have a likeness taken, especially in a provincial
town, it was no small difficulty to pay it. When we last saw him he had
pined into a decline, and doubtless ere this the village grave has closed
over his griefs and sorrows, and buried his genius in the shades of its
eternal oblivion.

As superstition and ignorance generally go together, we need not be
surprised to find that, as the Russian peasants possess the latter, so
they have the former quality. Many of their ideas have changed but little
since their forefathers’ heathen state in days of yore. They have the
greatest faith in ghost-stories, sorcery, the evil eye, and the tricks
of a mischievous kind of Puck called the Domovoi or house-spirit, who is
a very useful being in a household, as everything that nobody wishes to
take upon himself is laid on this naughty sprite. If the horses become
thin, it is not because the groom sells the corn and hay; if the wine
diminish or the sugar vanish, it is of course not Grushia or Marousha,
but it is the ne’er-do-weel Domovoi; if the tray of china fall down and
the best set is destroyed, of course it is all _his doing_: in fact,
there is scarcely a wicked act that he _does not do_. One day some
cottages caught fire in the village near our country-house. Being only
of wood and very dry, the flames soon rose to a considerable height.
Suddenly I saw several men run out of the isbas opposite. At the first
moment I thought they were going to help in extinguishing the flames.
I was soon undeceived, for as fast as their legs could carry them they
rushed in exactly the contrary direction, but stopped when they had
reached the middle of a field, when they began beckoning and making the
most violent gestures with their hands.

“Are those men mad?” I asked of a gentleman who was standing near, “or
what are they doing?”

“O no, they are sane enough,” replied he; “but they fancy that by acting
so they will induce the wind to change, so that their own cottages may
not be destroyed by the flames.”

Another time we were passing through an immense village, every house of
which was burning. The peasants were standing in a group watching the
cracking walls and rafters and the long crimson columns of fire, as if
it were some raree-show got up expressly for their amusement: they made
no effort to save anything; perhaps they had tried the wind-conjuring
and did not find it answer; so they let things take their course, and
philosophically resigned themselves to whatever might happen. The only
words I heard them utter were “Vot tak posmaterite!” a common expression
among them, which may be translated “So only look!” and then with open
mouths they were again absorbed in watching the ascending flames.

The crown allows a certain sum to the people in the imperial villages,
if their houses are burned, to help to rebuild them. I was staying for
some time in the house of a provincial governor, and frequently saw the
peasants come for money to enable them to reconstruct their isbas.

One morning we were surprised to see the whole yard filled with the
peasantry; young and old were eagerly and loudly demanding to see the
governor: he soon appeared and asked them what they wanted. They said
that they had come to complain of the cruel treatment they had received
at the hands of their proprietor, and a most sad picture they drew of
their ills and grievances; they added that, driven to desperation, they
had all left the estate in a body to ask protection. The governor spoke
kindly to them, and promised them to make every inquiry, and that they
should be righted, but begged them meanwhile to return home to their
village. Some of the men stooped down, and, taking up a handful of earth,
placed it on their heads, swearing that they took Heaven itself to
witness that they had spoken the truth, and that, if they worked again
for their owner, they hoped that trouble and evil would descend upon
them like the dust upon their heads. The kind-hearted governor at length
succeeded in pacifying them, and they quitted the yard. The inquest was
begun but not ended when I left the province, so I had no opportunity of
knowing in what manner it was decided.

A fatal instance of the superstition of the lower classes took place five
or six years ago. A balloon ascent was announced to take place in St.
Petersburg, and a French gentleman was to go up in the car. Everything
went off admirably amid the gratified expressions of the citizens and
assembled company; it was a fine day with a little wind, and the enormous
ball sailed beautifully along until entirely lost to view. I believe it
was the last time that such a sight was seen in St. Petersburg, and it
certainly was _the last time_ that _this_ balloon was seen.

For a long time no one knew what had become of it and the unfortunate
aëronaut; every one concluded that it had descended into the lake either
of Onega or Ladoga, and nothing more was said about it. At last it was
discovered that it had come down in the midst of a field near a village
at some fifty versts from the capital, and that the peasants, who had
never seen such a thing before, had murdered the unhappy Frenchman, under
the conviction that he was a supernatural being, especially as they could
not understand a word he said.

The superstitions of the Russians are not wholly confined to the lower
classes: many a time when approaching a card-table have I been requested
“not to come too near, lest I should cast an _evil eye_ on the cards,
and so turn the luck;” and innumerable stories have been gravely told
me about children who have fallen ill or died from its effects. In very
few houses will they allow the number thirteen at table, and they will
either cause one of the party to sit apart, or call an upper servant to
dine, so that there may be fourteen; and they deem it unlucky to hand the
salt to any one unless both parties smile at the time. They have lucky
and unlucky days; if anything were to be begun on a Saturday it would be
attended with misfortune. No true Russian would ever think of commencing
a journey on a Monday, and on entering the court-yard of a house it is a
bad omen if the coachman turn the horses’ heads round.

Many also put the greatest faith in love-philtres and charms, talismans
and crosses; the belief in witches and the existence of sorcery is
universal. If a hare[9] run across the path, or if a person meet a
priest, it is an unfortunate omen that can only be averted by thrice
spitting over the right shoulder; indeed, in the latter case it is
thought better to return home at once, if the person be going on very
important business, unless he make a present to the priest and induce
_him_ to retrace his steps. “Alexis Ivanowitch,” said a gentleman to me
one day, “was going to see the emperor this morning, but just as he was
turning the corner he came upon three popes abreast. As the affair on
which he was to see his majesty was a very important one, he gave them
each five silver roubles to turn back, so that the ill luck might be
averted.”

“Why does not Cleopatra Gregorovna eat anything?” asked I one day of an
acquaintance at a dinner-party concerning a lady who sat opposite to me;
“she looks wretchedly pale and thin.”

“Oh, she cannot eat anything, she is condemned to a perpetual fast”
(_i.e._ to eat of lenten dishes only).

“Why so?”

“Because once, immediately after taking the sacrament, when she was a
child about nine years old, she had a violent attack of vomiting, and
the priests ordered that she should fast for the rest of her life, as it
could only be the Evil One, you know, that had possessed her and caused
so great a misfortune.”

At another time I was travelling with an old lady who was continually
taking a little sip of something out of a small phial. Of course I could
not ask her what it was, and to tell the truth I began to suspect her
very wrongfully. I was soon undeceived, for the next morning the maid
came to my friends in great tribulation, saying that her mistress had a
bottle of _holy water_, which she (the servant) had had the misfortune
to break in the night, and she did not know what would be said or done
to her if the old lady were told of it, for she had caused it to be
blessed before setting out in order to avert _their being overturned_,
so that, if any accident happened to us, she alone would be blamed
for it all, because she had spilled the holy water. As it was merely
a wine-bottle of the commonest description, we advised the distressed
girl to obtain another from the postmaster of the station, and to fill
it at the neighbouring well, promising at the same time the greatest
secrecy on our part. She followed our counsels, and her mistress, who
had not the slightest suspicion of what had been done, consoled herself
as before with the little sips, to our infinite amusement. The next day
we fortunately arrived in Moscow safe and sound, which she undoubtedly
ascribed to the virtues of the contents of her bottle.

During one of my visits to Moscow I went into the church of Ivan near the
Kremlin. I was astonished to see a stout-looking woman lying flat on her
face on the pavement before one of the shrines, and barking like a dog.
The priest was singing a mass, but his voice was nearly drowned by the
noise she made; the more loudly _he_ sang, the more loudly _she_ barked,
and she seemed determined, come what would, to have the best of the duet.
A crowd of people surrounded the altar, who stood crossing themselves
with the greatest devotion and bowing continually, but they did not seem
at all surprised at the strange scene they were witnessing. A priest or
deacon stood by with a tray in his hand, to whom many of the devout gave
offerings; and every time the chink of the money was heard, I remarked
that the din became greater. At last I asked a bystander what it all
meant, and what particular service was being performed.

“It is a woman,” answered he, “that is possessed of the devil. She has
lately arrived in Moscow from a great distance on a pilgrimage, and is
in hopes of being cured by the saint. _The priest is exorcising the evil
spirit._” I immediately left the church, and never learnt whether he
succeeded or not in driving out the demon, who doubtless disappeared when
no more contributions were made to the tray.

Among the superstitions of the country may be mentioned the blessing of
the cattle by the priest before they are sent out in the spring to graze,
and of the different kinds of fruit before they are allowed to be sold
in the market. The latter may be a wise law in the state of ignorance in
which the lower classes are at present, for they are just like children
and cannot govern their appetites, so they would infallibly render
themselves ill by eating unripe fruit, if their superstition did not act
as a check upon them.

The common people really believe that the pictures of saints can see
what they are doing. A lady told me an amusing anecdote of a servant
belonging to one of her acquaintances. It was during one of the two long
fasts ordered by the Greek Church. The poor girl was sorely tempted by
a can of fresh milk that was brought into the kitchen; the temptation
was too strong, she could no longer resist it; so she took off her apron
and threw it over the portrait of the Virgin (for in every kitchen, and
almost in every room, some picture is suspended), being very careful to
look that there was no hole through which she could peep. She then turned
her back and took a long draught of the delicious fluid, after which she
removed the apron and quietly tied it round her waist as before, being
perfectly convinced that Heaven had been blinded to her backsliding.

The four besetting sins of the Russian serfs are their propensity
for lying, their deceitful cunning, their want of honesty, and their
frequent intoxication. But undoubtedly their state of slavery, their
half-civilized condition, and the demoralizing effects of their
government have mainly contributed to these grave defects.

Lying is but the handmaid of cunning and deceit; and the two latter
being in every known land of despotism and slavery a distinctive mark
of the people, it would be absurd to expect that the Russians would be
exceptions. So deeply-rooted are these vices in the national character,
that it is rare to hear the truth spoken at all: even children will
continue stoutly to deny a most palpable fact, and persist so resolutely
in their falsehood, that neither threats, persuasions, nor coaxings
will induce them to tell the truth; no doubt fear is the origin of this
evil trait. When I was staying in the country at about twenty versts
from Jaroslaf, a quantity of plate was one day missed after dinner. The
domestics were all in consternation; the strictest search was made, but
no trace of it could be discovered, when all at once the housekeeper
remembered having seen a little village girl near the house: the child
used often to come in the kitchen to beg for small scraps of the good
things left, but had never excited suspicion. However, as every other
inquiry had been made, she was sent for and interrogated. She was only
eight years old, and she had been quite a favourite with us all; there
was something in her manner that made us think that she knew more of the
affair than she chose to tell, and it was decided that she should not
return home to her parents, but remain with the servants until she had
confessed it. The extreme obstinacy and firmness with which she withstood
every temptation of reward, and her constant denial of the truth, were
wonderful, and for four whole days she still persisted in it. At last,
finding that everybody was convinced that she knew the thief, and seeing
that we were determined not to let her go, she acknowledged that her
parents had instructed her to take the missing articles, and mentioned
where they were hidden. The starosta or headman of the neighbouring
village was sent for, search was made in the cottage, and there were the
spoons and forks under a plank in the floor, as the child had said.

We ought not to accuse the serfs in general of want of honesty. They are
very honest among themselves and towards their proprietor, nor will they
often steal what is _his_ property, excepting in the way of eatables,
to which they seem to think they have a right; nor do they consider it
a theft to take what they wish of tea, sugar, coffee, &c. In regard to
strangers and foreigners they are not so particular; from them they
take whatever is not likely to be soon missed; the laws of property are
totally forgotten but they are ordinarily so wretchedly poor, that the
temptation must be very great, and they have never been taught better
or shown a good example. The system of continual beating has never yet
succeeded in teaching any people.

In regard to their want of sobriety they must be judged with the greatest
indulgence. I have referred before to the inducements held out to them:
to these we must add their excessively cold climate, which renders some
stimulant almost necessary, and the love of excitement prevalent in
all ranks in Russia: in the upper classes this is gratified by public
amusements; but in the lower by the gaiety and forgetfulness induced by
intoxication. We must pity the poor Russians rather than condemn them,
and earnestly pray for the time when their rulers will see that true
power consists in their enlightenment rather than in their demoralization.

I remember, when the last revolution took place in France, and Louis
Philippe was obliged to fly the country, it became the topic of
conversation in a large evening party; the Russians there present
exultingly exclaimed that the two greatest nations in the world, namely,
Russia and England, in the midst of all the countries of Europe, were
alone tranquil and unshaken, even by the agitation and throes of
monarchies surrounding them on all sides.

“Yes,” said a gentleman near me, in an under tone, “his excellency says
truly, but he forgets to add that there is a slight difference in the two
people: yours is the repose of the living, but ours is _the slumber of
the dead_. Russia should have for its flag a death’s head and the motto
_Resurgam_.”



CHAPTER XII.

    Landed proprietors—Sketch of the country—The wolves: dreadful
    occurrence—A child lost—Winter amusements—Wolf-hunt—A
    cunning animal—Summer sketch—Russian costumes—The national
    dance—The peasants—Avarice of the landowners—Serfs and their
    treatment—Cruel and unprincipled proprietors—Opinion of the
    upper classes.


Mr. Oliphant, in his interesting account of his voyage down the Volga,
mentions having fallen in with a vulgar landowner, who was addicted to
habits of intemperance, and who was the envy of all because he was rich
enough to become intoxicated on English bottled porter. Undoubtedly
there are such low characters to be met with, but I believe they form
exceptions to the general rule, for I must say that, as far as it was
possible for me to judge, the landed proprietors in Russia are for the
most part a very different class of individuals; they are not perhaps
very refined or well-informed—far from it; and it is not possible that in
the existing state of things they could become so. Many of them live with
their families on their estates, surrounded by their serfs; their mode of
existence is monotonous enough, and only varied by an occasional visit
to the capital, or to the neighbouring town; the friends with whom they
are acquainted are similarly situated with themselves. When we consider
the immense distance the cities are apart, the total want of good roads,
and the wide extent of their estates, it would be ridiculous to expect
the high polish and great information that can only be attained by
constant intercourse in good society and in civilized capitals. Supposing
that a century ago, in the times of our fox-hunting squires, a traveller
had accidentally met one of them in an intoxicated state on board of a
Yarmouth hoy; he certainly, if he had no other opportunity of judging
of the state of civilization in the rural districts of England, would
have entertained anything but an exalted idea of its excellence. As far
as it has been possible for a lady to remark, I have every reason to
feel respect for the country ladies and gentlemen of the interior of
Russia. Their hospitality is unbounded; they are, for the most part,
humane to the serfs, are kind-hearted in the true sense of the word,
and exceedingly amiable and polite to foreigners. There is very little
ceremony, but much more heartiness in their welcome, and, rather than
allow their guests to return home at night, they will put themselves
to any inconvenience, and turn every apartment in the house into a
sleeping-room, cause beds to be made up on sofas and chairs, and find
accommodation for a couple of dozen acquaintances with as little care
about the trouble it gives them as if it were merely a shake-down of
straw in the stable: their principal concern is that everybody should be
as comfortable as possible and _sans gêne_ in their house; and what is
more, the guests are welcome to stay as long as they please—one night or
six.

The serfs are better off if the proprietor resides on the estate all
the year: it is the land-stewards that make the most tyrannical and
oppressive masters: being very often foreigners, generally Germans, they
have no sympathy for the Russian race, and have besides two pockets to
fill—their own and their employers’. They all seem to think that the
poor peasants are fair game, and it is their object to squeeze as much
out of them as possible. I have often accompanied my friends on visits
to the country seats in the interior, and I speak from experience.
In Novogorod, Jaroslaf, Kastroma, Vologda, Twer, Moscow, and other
provinces, I have found many estimable people, ready to offer the same
kindness and hospitality. Some of the proprietors undoubtedly abuse their
power, are cruel to their people, vicious, intemperate, grasping, and
hateful; of them I speak chiefly by report; they are not often met in
really good society, and their company is generally avoided by families
of respectability.

There is very little of _the country_ to be seen on the post-roads, which
generally run in a straight line through forests, plains, and morasses;
and there being few elevations, there are no extensive views. Were there
such, many beautiful spots might be discovered, widely separated from
each other it is true, but consisting of woods and lakes, with hills to
vary the scenery, verdant islands here and there in the broad sheets of
water, reflected as in a mirror in the clear blue surface. The white
house of the noble proprietor, half-buried amid the trees, and close by
the church with gilded dome belonging to the estate, in which both lord
and serf offer up their prayers every Sunday and saint’s holiday. It is
a different landscape in every respect from those in Old England, but it
is beautiful nevertheless, and somehow becomes more firmly impressed on
the memory than a more cultivated one, perhaps because there is more of
nature in it.

It is dreary enough in the winter, when the ice has closed over the
lake, and the trees have lost their foliage; when the snow lies three or
four feet deep, like a white sheet over all, rendering it impossible to
distinguish land from water, and silence and solitude hold their desolate
reign. Plenty of wolves and bears then infest the woods near the house,
and with stealthy step run across the frozen surface of the lake, while a
few melancholy crows and sparrows hover in the vicinity of the village.

The wolves are sometimes rendered so bold by famine, that they will
devour the dogs belonging to the villagers; and if an unlucky cow or
horse be left out of the byre, its bones are the only relics remaining
of it in the morning. One winter they even ate up a poor sentinel, whose
post was near the palace at Twer, and who had probably fallen asleep; but
they seldom attack men except when driven to desperation.

A dreadful anecdote was told me of a peasant woman and her children,
who were crossing the forest that stretched for many miles between her
isba and the neighbouring village. They were in one of those small
country sledges, in shape something like a boat, drawn by a single horse.
Suddenly they heard a rustling sound among the trees; it was but faint at
first, but it rapidly approached; the instinct of the affrighted steed
told him that danger was near at hand, he rushed on with redoubled speed.
Presently the short yelp of a wolf aroused the mother; she started up and
gazed around; to her terror she beheld a mighty pack of wolves sweeping
across the frozen snow, in full cry upon their traces. She seized the
whip, and endeavoured by repeated blows to urge on the fear-stricken
horse to even greater swiftness. The poor animal needed no incentive
to hasten his steps, but his force was well-nigh spent; his convulsive
gasping showed how painfully his utmost energies were exerted. “But
courage! there is hope! the village is in sight! far off it is true,
but we shall gain it yet!” So thought the unhappy mother as she cast a
look of horror on the hungry savage beasts that were following in the
rear, and saw that they were rapidly gaining upon her. Now they are
near enough for her to see their open mouths and hanging tongues, their
fiery eyes and bristling hair, as they rush on with unrelenting speed,
turning neither to the right nor to the left, but steadily pursuing their
horrible chace. At last they came near enough for their eager breathing
to be heard, and the foremost was within a few yards of the sledge; the
overspent horse flagged in his speed; all hope seemed lost, when the
wretched woman, frantic with despair, caught up one of her three children
and threw him into the midst of the pack, trusting by this means to gain
a little time by which the others might be saved. He was devoured in
an instant; and the famished wolves, whose appetite it had only served
to whet, again rushed after the retreating family. The second and the
third infant were sacrificed in the same dreadful manner; but now the
village was gained. A peasant came out of an isba, at the sight of whom
the wolves fell back. The almost insensible woman threw herself out of
the sledge, and, when she could find sufficient strength to speak, she
related the fearful danger in which she had been, and the horrible means
she had employed to escape from it.

“And did you _throw them all_ to the wolves, even the little baby you
held in your arms?” exclaimed the horror-stricken peasant.

“Yes, all!” was the reply.

The words had scarcely escaped from the white lips of the miserable
mother, when the man laid her dead at his feet with a single blow of the
axe with which he was cleaving wood when she arrived. He was arrested for
the murder, and the case was decided by the Emperor, _who pardoned_ him,
wisely making allowance for his agitation and the sudden impulse with
which horror and indignation at the unnatural act had inspired him.

When I was passing through a village in Olonetz, I remarked that the
people were in great agitation. Upon asking the reason of it, the
postmaster informed me that a child had been carried off by the wolves in
the evening, and that the parents were half-distracted with grief at its
loss.

Once I had a little adventure myself with one of these animals. It
was in the autumn, and I very imprudently went to walk in a wood at a
considerable distance from the house; presently I saw what I thought
was a village dog, for there is much resemblance between the two. I
wondered what it could do so far from a dwelling, and I noticed that
whithersoever I went the creature followed, keeping a watchful eye on all
my movements. I was engaged in picking hazel-nuts, and for a long time
the idea of its being a wolf never entered my mind; but all at once the
thought struck me: I however did not attempt to run away, as it would
have been highly dangerous to have done so; but gradually backed out of
the wood, keeping my face towards my companion. The animal advanced step
by step as I retreated; fortunately I had not long to play the part, for
I soon reached the open space; when I did so, and found I was no longer
followed, I hastened home as quickly as possible. Search was instantly
made by the villagers on the spot, and an enormous she-wolf and her cubs
were found close by. She was apparently watching my steps, to see if I
were going near her little ones; had I done so she would instantly have
attacked me. My friends all congratulated me on my escape, and indeed I
had reason to be thankful.

I do not know how true it may be, but wolf-hunters have often told me
that the pack is almost always led by a female: that when a he-wolf is
killed, the others will frequently stop and devour him; but if a she-wolf
fall, they have never been known to do so, and at the cry of a she-wolf
hundreds of animals will rush out of the forest to her assistance.

The _amusements_ of the country ladies in the winter are very few—driving
out in sledges, practising on the piano, and reading French novels, are
the principal ones, now and then varied by a visit to a friend’s house.
They find _occupation_ in their household affairs and in embroidery,
chiefly in Berlin work.

The gentlemen who are fond of sport make up hunting parties, their game
being bears and wolves: the former are hunted out by dogs and peasants
and then shot, but there are several ways employed to destroy the latter.
Sometimes a dozen sportsmen collect, and all go out in a large sledge
capable of containing the whole party: they are well provided with
powder and shot, a long rope, a bag of hay, a young pig, and plenty of
refreshments to keep them in good humour. When they have reached a part
of the country well known as being the resort of wolves they prepare for
the sport: the manservant who has charge of the pig gives its tail two
or three pulls, which has the desired effect of causing as many loud
squeaks; the bag of hay to which the rope is attached is then thrown out
behind and trails after the sledge. A few more pulls at the tail and
a few more squeaks as they go on cause the rushing sound of wolves to
be heard at a distance, and very soon the pack is in sight, all eager
to obtain the dainty bit of pork which the sounds warn them must be
somewhere near at hand; their peculiar yelp brings others out of the
forests, who all join in the pursuit. The repeated squeaks of the poor
pig convince them that it is right ahead, and they fancy it must be in
the bag of hay, consequently all their efforts are to reach it, whilst as
fast as they advance within gunshot they are picked off by the rifles of
the hunters: the bodies are left on the snow, but the peasants are sent
the next day to pick them up, as their skins are valuable to line cloaks
with.

An old gentleman with whom some of my friends were acquainted was so
fond of this sport that, even when years had rendered him too feeble to
take his place with the others, he often accompanied them in his close
carriage, and used to fire upon the wolves from the window. One day he
shot an enormous one, that fell, as he thought, dead on the snow: it lay
perfectly quiet and motionless; he saw that it was wounded, for its blood
had already dyed the ground, and the old sportsman, delighted with his
success, descended from his carriage, determined upon seizing his prey
to show it as a trophy to his companions, who were now a considerable
distance in advance. The cunning wolf let him come quite close without
showing the slightest sign of life; he then suddenly sprang up, seized
the old gentleman by the throat, and tore it so dreadfully before the
coachman could interfere that he expired almost instantly. The animal
had, it appears, only been slightly wounded, and was enabled to make good
his escape into the forest.

The summer amusements are agreeable in the country, and are enjoyed
with greater zest on account of the long dreary winter and the
weariness induced by continually gazing on snowy plains during the
previous six months. No sooner has the ice disappeared than summer
commences; the ground quickly becomes covered with verdure, the trees
with foliage, and numberless lilies of the valley and buttercups (but
no pink-edged daisies, alas!) are to be seen intermixed with what we
call Canterbury-bells and various other wild flowers: even the dog-rose
is often met with. There are no hawthorn-bushes, or May-hedges, or
honeysuckles, or wild vines, blue-bells, cowslips, or violets, such as
we see in the shady lanes of merry England; but the linden-flowers,[10]
the white blossoms of the mountain-ash, the bright flowers of the
flax-fields, the varied forest tints, from that of the sombre pine to
the light birch, the beautiful sky, and the majestic eagle floating
magnificently on the air, are sufficient to inspire us with admiration.

Immense quantities of strawberries and raspberries grow wild in Russia,
also red and black currants are frequently met with in the woods. In
the northern provinces there is a kind of yellow fruit, in shape like a
mulberry, called maroshca, which makes an excellent preserve, and is also
used medicinally as a remedy for the dropsy. Various wild berries, such
as cranberries, bilberries, &c., abound in the forests, and numberless
species of mushrooms; of all these they make preserves and pickles, which
they use in the long winter-season as a substitute for fresh vegetables.
The peasant-women and children gather them in great quantities and carry
them about for sale, by which means they obtain a little money for the
winter. A party of these villagers, with their prettily-shaped baskets
made of birch-bark in their hands, and wearing their national costume,
make interesting groups of figures, befitting admirably their native
landscape.

There is something quite classic in the Russian dress, and we frequently
stood to admire the people at their employment. The straight, half-moon
shaped head-dress of the girls is almost a copy of that on Diana’s brow;
the narrow band confining the hair of the men could find its counterpart
on many antique heads; the closely-setting folds of the women’s sarafane
are very like those in Greek paintings and on Etruscan vases; the loose
shirts tied round the waist worn by the men, their moustached and bearded
faces, look very like the figures on the friezes of the Athenian temples.
Perhaps the reader may smile at the idea of comparing the half-civilized
boors of Russia with the productions of the celebrated Phidias; but
let him see those people in their native villages, not wrapped up in
their sheepskin-coats, but in their summer attire, and he will alter
his opinion; or let him witness a “chariot-race” between two peasants
standing upright in their small country-carts and driving at the top of
their horses’ speed, holding the reins with outstretched arms, their
heads uncovered, their fine figures clothed in the red or white shirt
fluttering in the wind, and their faces, if not classically handsome,
not devoid of manly beauty, and say then whether it does not recall to
his mind the Greek chariot-races such as were depicted when Greece _was_
Greece.

During the summer the inhabitants of a Russian château live almost
entirely out of doors; they pass their time in sitting under the trees,
reading or smoking (for many of the ladies smoke), embroidering, and
chatting, or they stroll into the woods in parties to look for mushrooms,
which form a favourite dish at their tables. Nothing indeed can be more
pleasant than the life at a country-house; everything is easy and without
restraint. There is not that splendour and opulence which we see in
England; on the contrary, the rooms are but scantily furnished—only what
is absolutely necessary for use is kept there, excepting when the family
reside entirely on their estates, for the summer season lasts but two
or three months in the year, so it would be scarcely worth while to go
to the expense and trouble of keeping up an establishment there for the
other ten. The peasants have their own recreations, and very often on
Sunday afternoon they assemble before the proprietor’s house, all dressed
in their best, and dance and sing, not only for their own amusement,
but because they think it agreeable to their master and mistress, who,
with their family and guests, come out in the balcony to see them, and
to scatter apples, sweetmeats, bonbons, and small coin among them, which
they are quite as eager to scramble for as so many children.

Some of their dances are extremely pretty, and others are monotonous.
I remember at one of the village fêtes a handsome young girl and a
fine-looking man of about twenty-two stepped out from a group of their
companions and performed a pas-de-deux, _the_ national dance _par
excellence_.

The girl had on the peculiar head-dress, her long hair hanging in a thick
plait down the middle of her back; a crimson silk sarafane trimmed with
gold lace and gilt buttons up the front; her white chemise gathered into
a band round her shoulders and fastened before, the full sleeves tied up
with sky-blue ribbon: gold-embroidered shoes from Tajock completed her
costume. Her partner wore a crimson shirt confined with a narrow silver
band round the waist (the peasants wear the shirt outside) over very full
black velvet inexpressibles, the lower ends thrust into black leather
boots. The dance was descriptive of courtship. At first the advances were
treated with disdain; the suitor was not discouraged, he still hoped:
he again made advances; _she_ began to relent, then seemed pleased; he
inspired her with love, but resolved to punish her former contempt with
coldness. They at last become reconciled, and, after demonstrating their
mutual happiness, the performance finished. Another dance, of which the
villagers seemed very fond, was one in which a young man was enclosed in
a circle of girls, who all joined hands and prevented him from breaking
through the ring.

There is a game they very often used to play called garelki. They stand
in a long double column, one pair behind the other, with a single one
as leader. On the signal being given he runs forward as fast as he can;
the two next endeavour to catch him; he or she that succeeds has him as
partner, and the other takes his place, and so on in succession until the
whole party are tired.

If this appear too Arcadian a picture, it is at least a true one; but it
must be remembered that these are the bright hours of their existence.
God knows that they have many a stormy day, full of toil and trouble,
suffering and slavery, to counterbalance the few pleasures they have in
life, even though they should have the good fortune to be under a kind
proprietor, and it is a real happiness to see them joyous and merry
sometimes.

The serfs belonging to inhuman and cruel landowners, or ground down
by the merciless grasping of a steward, must suffer incredible
hardships—they are at the mercy of every one, and find none merciful.
I have heard tales of their wrongs and dreadful evils in the provinces
that it was impossible to listen to without indignation, and a hearty
detestation of those by whom they were inflicted.

A few years ago, during our stay in the country, there was quite a
famine in some of the provinces. Now, by the law, each proprietor must
have granaries on his estates, and keep a certain quantity of corn in
store, in order to be provided against such a misfortune. It was just at
the time that England was buying up large provisions of grain for the
Irish, and was consequently paying very high prices in foreign markets.
The landowners in Russia, tempted by this, actually sent millions of
tchetvas of corn out of the country, and left their own people in a state
of absolute starvation: they emptied the granaries, and the unhappy serfs
were reduced to dreadful extremities. It is true that the crown appoints
officers to visit the estates and see that the granaries are filled; but
any one who has been in Russia knows well how easy it is to bribe them,
and induce them, for the sake of a few roubles, to shut their eyes to
abuses and their ears to complaints. If the Emperor could have known
it, the poor serfs would have found a protector, but how was he to be
informed of it? The officers sent affirmed that the granaries were full,
and reported them as such to their superiors. Few of the slaves can ever
escape to make their complaints in person, and, even if they should do
so, the chances are that their owner has friends at court, who make out
that the accusation is false, that the serfs are discontented, lazy, and
disobedient, and deserving of punishment. I recollect seeing some slaves
once in the country driven to their work by soldiers with bayonets fixed,
and they had chains on their legs as if they were common convicts. We
were told that they had gone to St. Petersburg to make some complaint;
that the Emperor had caused inquiries to be made, and, finding them to
blame, had commanded that they should be sent back to the estate and made
to work in the condition in which we saw them.

The upper class of the land-proprietors are often estimable people, but
there are others unprincipled and immoral, intemperate and debased,
unworthy of the position they hold, and of whom fearful and disgusting
tales are told enough to make one shudder that they should possess any
power over their fellow-creatures. No wonder that the Russians look
forward to a revolution, for, let the people be ever so patient, there is
a measure of evil which cannot be borne for ever.

Among the upper classes there are several whom I have heard lament the
existence of slavery, and express their hope for the time when the name
of serf would no longer be known in the land, but they seemed to regard
it as a kind of necessary evil in the present condition of the nation.
Necessary it can scarcely be. One would think that as, in the course of a
few years under the enlightened government of England, the natives of New
Zealand were turned into an almost civilized community, the same period
of cultivation of the Russian mind would ensure amongst the people as
rapid an advance in the march of intelligence and intellect.



CHAPTER XIII.

    Government _employés_, their servility—Baseness, and its
    fruits—Duty of the senate—Dishonesty, bribery, and poverty—New
    way to pay old debts—Mistrust—Conduct of the ladies—Duties of
    those in office—The railway serfs—Police-masters in Russia—The
    military officers and the soldiers—The wretched fare of the
    army—Peculations of the colonel—Army regulation—A colonel in
    the Caucasus—Why _the people_ are created.


The most detestably mean class in Russia are certainly the government
_employés_. There is no baseness too base, no dishonesty too dishonest,
no cringing too low, no lie too barefaced, no time-serving too vile for
them. “Do you see those men in their gold-laced coats, cocked-hats,
swords, and ribbons?” said a governor’s lady to me one day; “they are
all coming to congratulate my husband. There is not one but would think
it an honour to wipe the dust off his shoes.” I fear, although severe,
she spoke the truth, and knew well how to appreciate the character of
her countrymen. There are, as far as we could learn, few exceptions to
this servility, and unfortunately it seems to run through the whole of
the different official ranks in Russia. It begins at the beginning: the
ministers cringe to the Emperor, the heads of the departments to the
ministers, the _employés_ to their chiefs, and so on down to the very
lowest writer or clerk receiving pay from the government; and, what is
worse, every one has his price according to his rank. When I was staying
at the house of a provincial governor, the Emperor paid a visit to the
place, and walked up and down in front of the station talking to his
Excellency. His Majesty had no sooner left the town than the heads of
the departments, the military officers, police, and _employés_ rushed
in full dress to the governor’s to offer their congratulations on the
occasion. If he had been promised the inheritance of the imperial crown
itself, they could scarcely have magnified the honour more, or proffered
a greater amount of flattery and adulation than they did on this event.

There were two of the _employés_ in the province of which I speak who
were exceptions to this: the governor respected them accordingly; they
were almost daily at his house, and he esteemed them highly; they were
the two principal adjutants, and were honourable men. Neither of these
gentlemen came to congratulate the governor upon the occasion to which I
have referred. One of them came in the evening, as usual, to take tea. He
sat almost in silence, and seemed much out of spirits: at last he arose,
and, complaining of a headache, asked if we would like to take a walk
round the garden. Madame declined, but I arose and accompanied him. As
soon as we had reached the broad avenue, I said,—

“I fear it is more than a headache that you are suffering from; you have
been annoyed by something.”

“You are right, Madame,” answered he; “I am vexed and ashamed when I
think that I am obliged to be the witness of such degrading baseness in
my own country-people as was shown to-day. What a dreadful thing it is
that men should so lower themselves, and vilify the image in which they
have been created!” He stopped suddenly, and he seemed overwhelmed with
sorrow.

“They will behave more nobly,” I said, “when more enlightened.”

“Never, never!” he exclaimed, “until a dreadful revolution has swept over
the land and destroyed every vestige of the government now existing and
of the corruption throughout every rank.”

“Hush! you must not talk so, Dmitri Ivanowitch; suppose any one should
hear you.”

“I am quite glad,” he replied, “that I have had an opportunity of telling
my feelings to some one: I know I am safe in speaking to an English
person. You can sympathize in our cause of grief, as yours is a free
nation.”

Poor man! such noble sentiments were almost a misfortune to one condemned
to serve in Russia.

“Without being base, it is impossible to get on,” was the remark of
another Russian to me one day.

The general rule certainly seems to be, that every encouragement shall
be given to slavishness, and none to nobility of soul. “Do you know,”
said Dmitri Ivanowitch one day, “do you know why there are so many mean
people? It is this: a young man, for example, enters the service with the
determination to keep up a character for honour and integrity, and he
does so for some time, and lives in poverty; in the mean while he sees
those whose meanness he despises rise over his head in reward for their
cringing; he gets no credit for being honourably poor; he wearies of the
pursuit of honour, and so gradually becomes as debased as the others.”

There is a senate of the empire; the senators assemble at the ministerial
department in St. Petersburg. Their duties cannot be very fatiguing, as
they consist in saying, “Sa Majesté a parfaitement raison” to everything
that is proposed. One would be apt to think, also, that the law must be
an easy study, as on the first page of the statute-book it is announced
that everything is according to the will of the Emperor.

I am certain that the dishonourable actions to which many of these
_employés_ are addicted, and which I myself have witnessed, would
scarcely be credited in England, where officers and gentlemen are
synonymous terms. One day we saw an officer boldly pocket some money
belonging to his neighbour, at cards. Another slipped some concert
tickets up his sleeve, that were the property of my friend. We both saw
him do it, but neither of us could accuse him to his face. Many a time
things were missing that could have been missing in no other way. One day
a young officer called while the family were at dinner. The footman very
carelessly had requested him to enter one of the drawing-rooms whilst he
went and informed his master. He came back in a minute or two, and begged
him to wait a little, but the officer politely said that he did not wish
to derange the dinner-party, and, as he had to call elsewhere, he would
shortly return. He then went away. No sooner had he done so than the
servant discovered that his lady’s watch had disappeared. The police were
not informed of it, out of respect to his uncle, who was of rank.

Bribery is everywhere practised. There are some honourable men among
the _employés_ undoubtedly, but they are generally so wretchedly poor,
that really the temptation must be almost irresistible. Their pay from
the government is so small that they can scarcely supply themselves
with shoes and gloves out of it; so the money must be obtained somehow
to enable them to make a genteel appearance. A few have perhaps private
property, but the major part have only their appointment.

From all that is told concerning them, the Russo-Germans seem to be the
most rapacious of any people in the country: they are the most cringing
when in an inferior station, and the most tyrannical and merciless when
in power.

“Immense numbers of our officers are Germans,” said a nobleman to me.
“They enter the service, and, as they have their fortune to make, they
will submit to all sorts of insults, cringe and curry favour with their
superiors, and do anything to get on. Now, _a Russian_ will not do that;
he will throw up his commission and leave the service upon a very slight
provocation.” My experience did not enable me to agree with him.

“Every man has his price,” is said to have been one of Sir Robert
Walpole’s axioms; had he lived in Russia, he would have nearly hit the
truth, and, he might have added, “every woman” too.

A lady in St. Petersburg, whose husband was indebted to the crown in
the sum of about ten thousand silver roubles, and had not the means, or
perhaps the will, to pay it, hit upon the following expedient:—It was
the anniversary of the marriage of a personage of the most exalted rank,
so she thought fit to address a letter of humble congratulations on the
occasion. Humble enough! for it began thus:—“If a worm crawling upon
the earth dare to offer,” &c. &c., through a couple of pages, all in the
same style. The letter deserved to be kept, were it only as a curiosity
of literature, and to preserve it as an existing proof to what grovelling
meanness a human being can descend. It was not in this light, however,
that it was regarded by the personage to whom it was sent, or by those
who had _the pleasure_ of perusing it. The entire household was in an
extasy of admiration for three whole days concerning Madame K—ska’s
beautiful address to the E——. The writer obtained what she so ardently
desired; the debt was remitted. When I state that this was the person
mentioned in a former chapter as having caused her poor servants’ hair to
be cut off, her character can be justly appreciated.

One day we went to pay a visit to an old lady. As all the drawing-rooms
were thrown open for the reception of visitors, I committed no solecism
of etiquette in rising to take a nearer view of some beautiful English
engravings of which I caught a glimpse in the next room. I was surprised
and rather annoyed to find that I was followed step by step by the old
lady herself, and that every movement of mine was closely watched by
her. I was so vexed that I returned to my seat without having had the
pleasure I expected. On going home I mentioned the circumstance to my
friend. “You must not be surprised at it, ma chère,” answered she, “for
really you do not know how many things are lost in such parties from the
too great admiration of the visitors.” At a ball it is quite disgraceful
to see the quantities of sweetmeats and fruit the ladies and gentlemen
put into their pockets. The rush into the refreshment-room, when it is
thrown open, is quite disgusting; it can be compared to nothing else than
a swarm of locusts, and they leave the same desolation behind them. When
the ladies go into the dressing-room they will often actually take the
packet of white gloves or hair-pins which it is the custom to place on
the toilette-table in case any of the visitors should require them. It
would really be an insult to the lowest peasant in England to suspect
him of such meanness as one meets with every day among the _employés_
and _soi-disant_ gentlemen and ladies in Russia. Dmitri Ivanowitch was
perhaps right in saying that nothing but the hurricane of revolution
could clear the social atmosphere of its corruption. Perhaps the figure
of Justice on the _outside_ of the ministerial department in St.
Petersburg is an unintentional satire upon the state of affairs within.

Everybody seems to think that he is placed in an office for no other
purpose than to fill his own pockets; and it is astonishing with what
rapidity he manages to do so, especially if there be any public work on
hand. We were staying in one of the provinces through which the railway
from Moscow to St. Petersburg runs. While it was being constructed, the
fortunes made by the engineers and _employés_ were astonishing: from
having nothing at all, they soon acquired estates, and became quite rich,
and that at the expense of the crown and of the _miserable serfs_ that
laboured on the road. Once, when the trains began to run, we went to a
picnic by one of them. When we stopped at the station we found about four
hundred of the workmen assembled. They eagerly asked if the governor
were of the party. Being told that he was not, but that his lady was
among us, they earnestly begged to see her. She very kindly came at their
request. We then heard a sad story, showing the way in which these poor
people were treated: they had not been paid any wages for six weeks;
their rations were bad; and, more than that, a dreadful fever, something
like the plague, had broken out among them, which had not been reported,
and they said that their companions had perished by scores, and had been
buried, like so many dogs, in the morasses along the line. The wretched
looks and half-clad bodies of these ill-used men bore witness to their
unhappy state, and showed too plainly how they had been wronged by the
rapacity of the government _employés_.

The police-master and the officer of _gensdarmes_, with some of the chief
engineers, were of the party. They pretended utter ignorance of the whole
affair, and wished to make every one believe that they were quite shocked
to hear of it; but undoubtedly they knew well whither the money had gone.
They made so plausible a tale, and put so fair a face on the matter,
telling the poor serfs that they would see it all righted, that one would
have deemed them their guardian angels, instead of their robbers: not so
thought the unhappy peasants, if one might judge by the look of despair
and hopelessness that they cast on each other. They too well knew that
vengeance would fall on them for daring to make the complaints we had
heard, and that they had only rendered their condition infinitely more
wretched than before.

At another time a large body of the serfs from the railway came to the
governor’s house, and made similar complaints; they waited and saw his
excellency themselves, and he immediately caused their wages to be paid.

As for the police, they have been spoken of elsewhere, but I cannot avoid
mentioning in what manner the chief master of the provincial police is
regarded by the governor. He seems to be a kind of head lacquey, who is
expected to run about as an errand-boy, and to perform all the dirty work
of the government.

The police-master of a provincial capital in which we were residing was
a colonel in the army, six feet high and stout in proportion; yet, when
he used to come to make the daily reports, he stood with the humility of
a servant before his master, and bore all the insulting speeches and all
the opprobrious names that the governor chose to bestow upon him, without
showing the least indignation at them. He looked just like a great
overgrown schoolboy being scolded by a little old pedagogue.

In regard to the military, if they are gentlemen by education _and
fortune_, they behave as such; but the major part, having nothing but
their pay, resort to the same unjust means as the government officials,
and the poor soldiers suffer dreadfully from the injustice of their
superiors. I believe their lot is not quite so miserable in the capital
as in the provinces, because by chance abuses _may come_ to the Emperor’s
knowledge; but it is a fact that sentinels on duty have frequently as
we were passing begged in an under-tone a few copecks to buy themselves
bread; they saw perhaps, poor men! that we were foreign ladies, and not
likely to tell. One of them assured us (and from all that I know to be
true there is no reason to think he spoke falsely) that he was really
more than half-starved, and was so continually tormented by incessant
craving, that it nearly drove him mad.

How many of the grand dinners given by the colonel are paid for by the
hunger of the unhappy soldiers of his regiment, his conscience (if a
Russian colonel have one) can best decide. Russians have often said in
my hearing that they would prefer being colonels to having the rank of
general, because the former have so many more advantages in a pecuniary
view. It is true that there is an army regulation, that, when a general
is sent down from St. Petersburg into the provinces (which takes place at
certain intervals) to review the troops and to inspect military matters,
he can call any man he pleases out of the ranks, and, taking him aside,
ask him questions as to whether he has any cause for complaint regarding
his rations, clothing, &c., against his colonel or commanding officer. It
is supposed to be strictly confidential, and to be kept a great secret.
The plan is certainly a good one, and was established for a humane
purpose, to remove abuses as much as possible, and would doubtlessly act
as a check if there were any trust to be reposed in the generals; but,
from all that we have heard, _that man_ must be a bold one who would
dare to tell the truth: there would be too many opportunities to make
him feel his commander’s vengeance in case it should be believed. I have
heard Russians relate the most dreadful tales of the way in which the
poor soldiers in the Caucasus are treated. Some years since the brother
of a lady we knew in St. Petersburg (it was the same who suffered from
the birch in Orloff’s office) was under judgment for his conduct in the
Caucasus; he had so starved his miserable regiment, and given such bad
food for the men’s use, that a pestilence broke out among them, and _ils
se mouraient comme des mouches_, as it was said. It took half his fortune
to bribe the authorities to hush the matter up. In fact, from all that
is seen and heard in Russia, one would think that the lower classes are
created expressly to become the prey of the upper, just as we see the
smaller fish serve to support the larger, or to be regarded merely as a
breed of sheep whose fleece the farmer takes whenever he pleases to do
so.



CHAPTER XIV.

    Description of churches—A devotee—Saints’ portraits—The
    lower class of worshippers—Infant communion—Administering
    the sacrament—A funeral—Customs of oriental origin—Tartar
    burying-ground—A wake—Prayers for the dead—Horror of death—A
    baptism—Authenticity of Christ’s portraits—A procession
    in Moscow—Miraculous portrait of the Virgin—Religious
    processions—Aquatic procession—Pilgrims—A pilgrimage—The
    miraculous image at Jaroslaf—Angelic artists—Monks and money—A
    holy tradition—Religious ceremonies—Confession in the Greek
    Church—Representation of Christ’s interment—High mass in the
    Kazane church.


The Russian churches are much decorated internally; in some, indeed most
of them, the walls are entirely covered with the pictures of saints,
the Virgin and Child, and, the Protestant will be shocked to see, of
the Creator also, who is generally represented under the figure of an
aged man with long white hair and beard, having the triangle or symbol
of the Godhead either in his hand or above his head. He is sometimes
represented as sitting on the clouds, with his foot placed on the earth
or globe; indeed so depicted it appeared to be merely a copy of the
heathen Jupiter or the northern Thor. Sometimes our Saviour and the
Virgin Mary were painted one on either side. The circle of glory round
the brows of the saints is ordinarily of silver gilt, but very often of
pure gold, set with pearls and precious stones. Many of the dresses are
of metal (either gold or silver gilt), and they so entirely cover the
space that only the face and hands of the figures are visible out of
the mass of rich settings of innumerable pearls, rubies, and diamonds.
An anecdote was told us by the head of a judicial department, of a very
devout lady, who was so exceedingly assiduous in repeating prayers, and
in earnestly embracing the portrait of “Our Lady” in the Kazane church,
that the priests began to suspect that so much unction was not purely
spiritual; they therefore set the police to watch, and “sure enough” they
discovered that the devotee had actually succeeded in dislodging some
of the valuable diamonds with her teeth: she was punished by being sent
on a pilgrimage to Siberia. Many of the saints’ portraits are extremely
ancient, and costly as regards the materials of which they are composed,
but they are executed in the most barbarous taste, and possess no
artistic excellence whatever. Some of them are so blackened by time that
at first sight the face and hands appear merely dark spaces left in the
brilliant surface; but the older and uglier these Virgins are, the more
they are adored and the more miracles they are said to perform.

There is an immense deal of gilding about the churches, which, with
rows of saints, all in their gold and silver dresses, lighted up by
the innumerable little lamps suspended before them, the small tapers
stuck in stands here and there, and candles of gigantic circumference
in silver sconces, near the shrines and altars, makes a very glittering
appearance, and harmonizes well with the splendid robes of the priests
when they perform mass. More enlightened nations are apt to look with
contempt on all these gewgaws, but undoubtedly they have their use in
impressing a people so uncivilized and illiterate as are the lower
classes in Russia, with respect for a religion which they are not yet
in a condition to understand by precept alone. It is like teaching
children to read by means of a pictured alphabet. Many and many a time
have we seen deeply-felt devotion among the poorer portion of a Russian
congregation; certainly they _do_ frequent their places of worship much
more than their brethren in more polished countries, and believe what
their pastors teach them. In the Greek Church, even the babies in arms
communicate. I was present at a mass in which a child of about three
months old took the sacrament. The reason given is, that they follow the
command of Christ, that the children should be brought to him, from the
text, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not.” The
infant above-mentioned was that of a gipsy-woman, who, with a party of
her tribe, had come to worship at the cathedral of Novogorod.

The manner of administering the sacrament in the Greek Church differs
from that of ours. The priest holds the cup in his hand, and presents a
portion of the wine in a spoon to the communicant, together with a small
loaf, something in the shape of what we call a cottage-loaf, which is
always made either by a nun or a priest’s widow, but never by less sacred
hands. A very small triangular piece is cut out of the loaf, which the
communicant takes with the wine.

Everybody in Russia is expected to take the communion once a year at the
least, and those in the government employ must produce a certificate from
the clergyman to that effect.

We once went to witness the ceremony of electing the mayor of a town:
it took place in the cathedral. The bishop, a venerable-looking old man,
was standing in the front of the altar when we entered; on his right hand
was the golden cross, borne by a priest, and the Bible placed on a stand.
Each officer in succession first kissed the cross, then the book, and
lastly the prelate’s hand, as a token of his faithfulness to the chief of
the commonalty. The address of the bishop and his benediction terminated
the election.

There is a very curious painting on the walls of the cathedral in
Archangel. It represents the parable of the mote and the beam; the
former is depicted as a large branch of holly, stuck in a man’s eye;
the latter as an immense rafter traversing his neighbour’s head. On the
other side is a large view of the place of final punishment, in which
hideous-looking devils, with birds’ claws in lieu of hands and feet, are
engaged in punishing the wicked.

A Russian funeral, if it be that of a rich person, is a very splendid
sight. An old lady of rank, with whom I was acquainted, died suddenly.
A description of her interment may serve to convey an idea of such in
general.

No sooner had it been ascertained that life was extinct, than the body
was carefully washed, and dressed in the handsomest gown she possessed
when alive, together with all the remaining articles of toilet, even
to the satin shoes and silk stockings, the beautiful lace cap trimmed
with flowers, and the white kid gloves, just as if she were going to an
evening party. Sometimes the face is painted, as it was not long ago in
the case of a certain prince in St. Petersburg; but in the instance of
which I speak this was not done.

The body was then placed in the coffin, which is not like those used
in England, but more resembles an ornamental box,[11] highly decorated
with silver lace and large bullion tassels at each corner, and laid on
the table in the great hall of reception. Priests came and sang mass
incessantly night and day until the fourth morning, which is the time
fixed by law for the interment.

During all this time the friends and acquaintances of the family came
and stayed with them in succession night and day, so that they should
not be left alone with the corpse for a single instant; and even for
a considerable time after the funeral, as they have a belief that the
soul still haunts the abode for a stated period previous to taking its
flight to the place of eternal rest. In all cases of domestic misfortune
and trouble the Russians are unequalled in their display of kindness
of heart and sympathy towards the sufferers, and unwearied in their
endeavours to lighten the sorrows of their friends—a most estimable
trait in the national character. It is at such times as these that their
amiable qualities, their charity, and affectionate feelings ought to be
witnessed: they serve to counterbalance the grave faults and errors of
which they are guilty.

When the day of interment arrived, the cover of the coffin was placed on
it, but was not fastened down—that is done at the very last moment; the
coffin was then placed on an open hearse, a rich pall of cloth of gold
was partly thrown over it, on which a silver cross was embroidered.
But previously I should mention that a piece of paper was placed in the
hand of the corpse, a kind of certificate from the priest, a passport to
heaven. This may remind the reader of the Egyptian custom of judging the
dead and the story of Charon.

When all was ready the procession set out; although it was midday,
several men with lighted torches preceded it. They were dressed in long
black cloaks, with very broad-brimmed hats, ornamented with streamers of
white ribbon. Then followed the bishop, wearing his mitre, and carrying
a golden cross, accompanied by several priests and deacons, habited in
black velvet robes, trimmed with silver lace, bearing church banners and
pictures of saints, followed by a number of choristers chanting a part of
the mass for the dead. After them came the hearse, drawn by four black
horses, covered with cloth, escorted by more torchbearers: immediately
following were the nearest relatives; a long line of carriages belonging
to friends and acquaintances closed the procession. After the interment
was over, the priests and acquaintances returned to the house and partook
of a magnificent repast, which it is the custom to provide on these
occasions. I believe that it was on the fortieth day after the death
that the nearest relatives went to the church, and made an offering of
rice, bread, and salt, the reason of which they could not tell us, but
said it was an ancient rite that ought to be attended to. Probably, like
many of their customs, it is one derived from the East. The ceremony of
blessing the waters twice a year, which has been so often described, the
reverence shown to doves and pigeons, although ascribed by the Russians
to a Christian origin, must (if Asiatic travellers tell truly) have had
a similar one.

The same may be said of their driving out to meet the summer, which
seems to find its counterpart in China; and the presentation of the
egg at Easter might have been derived from the Hindoo religion, as we
are told that the Brahmins affirm that the Creator was floating on the
surface of the waters under the form of an egg. It is certain that some
superstitions regarding this object must have a more ancient origin than
the Christian era, so many traces of it having been found in Egyptian
tombs; nor can it have been since that time confined to the Christian
Church alone; for when we were at Twer a new road was being cut close
to our house, and the men in digging came to a Tartar burying-ground;
hundreds of coffins were removed, and in many _eggs_ were found; some of
them were brought to us. The bodies were all enclosed in strips of the
birch-bark, but a few had the remains of the Tartar costume. In speaking
on this subject I may mention that in one coffin a large bottle of some
strong liquor was discovered, which the workmen had no sooner opened than
they drank the whole of its contents, which they pronounced as some of
the best they had ever tasted! It had probably been some centuries under
ground.

We were once at a grand festival given in honour of the memory of a rich
proprietor on the anniversary of his death: it lasted three days, and
was in fact a “wake,” as the Irish call it. It differed in no way from
an ordinary rejoicing, excepting that we went in the morning to church,
in which all the peasants belonging to the estate were assembled. In
the afternoon the villagers danced in front of the edifice, just as
they would have done at a wedding, whilst the friends of the gentleman
at whose house it was given dined together. There were all kinds of
delicacies and every description of wine—champagne, œil de perdrix,
burgundy, claret, &c.

A family with whom my friends were acquainted had the misfortune to
lose their mother. The friends and relatives of the deceased as usual
assembled to keep the survivors company, and the people below stairs
actually played at cards, whilst the clergy above were singing the
mass over the corpse. The reason given us was “que c’était tellement
ennuyant à s’asseoir et ne rien faire;” but this was an exception to the
general conduct on such occasions. The Russians believe in the efficacy
of prayers for the dead, and for the good of souls in the intermediate
state, but they do not seem to have any very definite ideas about
purgatory. Indeed the Greek religion only teaches that there are two
places: one for the good, and the other for the bad. Yet they attend to
the annual performance of a mass for those that are departed, and hold
the communion of spirits in its literal sense. They endeavour by every
means to render the prospect of death less terrible, yet perhaps there is
not a nation upon the earth that contemplates it with so great horror and
dread: like the ancient Romans, they cannot endure to hear it even named
before them, and frequently, when death becomes accidentally the subject
of conversation, they will beg that the subject may be dropped as being
too disagreeable.

One morning the porter found a basket on the snow in front of the house
in which we were residing, and brought it to the princess. To our
astonishment, on removing the numerous wrappings on the top, a little
baby of not more than a few days old was exposed to our view. Madame,
although she had six children of her own, immediately, with all the
kindness of a Russian, declared that she would adopt it. “She would
not,” she said, “on any account show such inhospitality to the little
distressed stranger as to send it away; it had been evidently destined
by Heaven that it should be left at her gate, so that she might afford
it the protection its own unfortunate mother was unable to give it.” She
therefore immediately sent to a priest, and requested him to christen
the child, and she and the prince stood as sponsors. It is a curious
thing that among the Russians the _father_ and _mother_ of an infant not
only cannot stand as sponsors to it, but they are not allowed to _be
present_ at its baptism. The godfather and godmother, by answering for
the child, become related to it, and to _each other_; and a lady and
gentleman who have stood as sponsors to the same child are not allowed to
marry each other. The form of christening differs materially from that
of our Church. The priest takes the child, which is quite naked, and,
holding it by the head, so that his thumb and finger stop the orifices of
the ears, he dips it thrice into the water; he cuts off a small portion
of the hair, which he twists up with a little wax from the tapers and
throws into the font; then, anointing the baby’s breast, hands, and feet
with the holy oil, and making the sign of the cross with the same on the
forehead, he concludes by a prayer and benediction.

In regard to the authenticity of the pictures of Christ, I have often
asked my Russian friends how they could prove that the portrait before
which they bowed really in any way resembled the Saviour or the Virgin.
“In respect to that of Christ,” was the reply, “we are convinced of its
being like him, for, when he had wiped the apostles’ feet, to show a
still greater humility, he immediately after removed the moisture from
his own face with the same cloth, and his likeness became instantly
miraculously reflected thereon. It is from this towel, which some say is
still preserved, that all the portraits have been handed down to us.”

“Well! but you have not accounted for that of the Virgin; we have no
record of her wiping the feet of any one.” “How you heretics talk!”
exclaimed they; “why, have you never heard how many miraculous pictures
of her have descended from heaven? they must needs be like her, for they
were painted by the angels themselves who attend on her.”

It appears that there are a great many of these portraits dispersed about
Russia, for we saw several miracle-working ones in different parts of the
country. In Moscow I frequently met a carriage and six, with postilions,
coachman, and two footmen behind, all with uncovered heads, though it
might have been in the depth of winter. It contained a portrait of the
Virgin placed on the seat of honour, with two priests sitting facing it.
All the people along the streets took off their hats and made the sign of
the cross as it passed by, and seemed to regard it with as much respect
as they would have done the Czar himself. During the time of the cholera
I frequently used to see this carriage pass, and my Russian friends
informed me that the presence of the image served to raise the spirits
of the people, who believed that the dreadful scourge became lessened by
it. I was even assured that, when taken, as it frequently was, into the
chamber of the dying, their faith in it was so great that they had been
often known to rally their failing energies and recover from a hopeless
sickness, even after they had been entirely given over by the doctors
that attended them. “But as it costs a great deal of money,” continued my
informant, “to cause a miraculous portrait to be brought to a house, of
course only the rich can afford it.”

In St. Petersburg there are very often processions of these pictures when
the cholera is about, or any great event takes place: I saw them many
times. The priests in their magnificent robes, bearing golden crosses and
sacred banners, and several deacons carrying some miraculous portrait
or other, go round the town accompanied by a band of choristers singing
mass, and followed by immense crowds of the poorer classes, who consider
themselves to be thereby performing an act of great devotion, every man
having his head uncovered during the whole time. The picture is generally
taken to some church, wherein mass is performed in its presence. When I
was staying in Jaroslaf one spring, I had an opportunity of seeing the
extent to which the superstition of the people and their reverence for
these pictures prevailed.

As soon as the Volga was cleared of ice, hundreds of pilgrims and
peasants from all parts of the country poured into the town, and they
might have been seen in groups lying asleep on the bare ground, both men
and women, there not being lodgings sufficient for their accommodation,
but they probably preferred the open air, as they frequently sleep by
the roadside on their marches. The custom of going on a pilgrimage is
very general in Russia. We had a servant who went from St. Petersburg
to Jerusalem and back again on foot. She went to the holy sepulchre
to return thanks for her son’s recovery from sickness, and was absent
a year. There is really something very affecting in such an act of
gratitude and devotion.

The object of the pilgrimage to Jaroslaf was to assist in the procession
of a wonderful miraculous picture of the Virgin, which was shortly
expected to arrive from a monastery distant about eighty versts down the
river.

The day at length came. Several barks with streamers flying and sacred
banners displayed were seen from afar. On their nearer approach the
sound of monkish hymns floating on the air caused a lively excitement
among the people, who began crossing themselves with extreme assiduity.
At last the Virgin disembarked: she was received by the governor with
intense respect, who, together with the vice-governor, the maréchal
de noblesse, the military, the police, and all the employés, were in
their most magnificent uniforms. Those who had stars and crosses (which
are about as plentiful in Russia as gingerbread-nuts at a fair, and as
valuable) displayed them in their full splendour on this occasion in
rows along their breast. The mayor and shopkeepers, and about twenty
thousand of the lower classes all in their gala dresses, the pilgrims,
and large numbers of children, accompanied the picture in the procession
round the town, the governor walking next to it and the rest following
according to their rank. It was then placed in the cathedral, where it
was to remain for some weeks in order to receive the adoration (_and the
money_) of the devout. Hearing so much about this wonderful portrait, I
was induced to pay it a visit also. It was some time ere I could make my
way into the cathedral, so great was the crowd, but at last my friend and
I reached the altar on which it was placed. Certes, if the angels are
no better artists they would assuredly starve on earth, for nobody, and
certainly no _lady_, would wish her likeness taken in the same style.
It could be compared to nothing but to a piece of a brown saddle, with
some dark lines for the eyebrows, added to which the unfortunate Virgin
had no nose—great age had deprived her of every trace of it. As usual
in these old pictures, nothing but the face and hands were visible: the
crown and robes were sheets of gold set with precious stones. A priest
was standing near singing mass, another by his side had a tray in his
hands, a third had charge of a powder-puff and a bowl of flour. As soon
as the worshipper had contributed to the tray, the priest with the puff
powdered the Madonna’s hand, and then the former was permitted to have
the consolation of kissing it, which he did with many bows and crossings;
he then retired with the air of being highly edified with what he had
done: hundreds of people in succession performed the same ceremony. The
clergy must obtain immense sums of money by means of these miraculous
portraits, for I am afraid to say how frequently, even during the short
time we were in the cathedral, the tray was filled by the offerings and
taken to a chest placed against the wall, and secured by three locks,
into which its contents were emptied. To be sure, a great deal of the
coin was in copper, but there was also a fair quantity of silver.

The history of this Madonna may serve to give an idea of the traditions
taught not only to the common people but to those of education.

It was in the fourteenth century, they say, that a holy pilgrim, on
his way to Jerusalem, rested a night on the banks of the Volga, and
lo! whilst he slept a vision appeared unto him and told him that under
a certain tree on the opposite side of the river he should find the
portrait of the “Mother of God.” In troubled agitation he awoke, for he
knew that he had seen the blessed Virgin herself. On looking round him
he perceived, to his unspeakable astonishment, that he had been conveyed
in a miraculous manner across the rapid waters in the night, and that he
was reposing under the very tree described in his dream. Near him was the
heavenly portrait mentioned by the spiritual visitant. He gazed on it
in silent extasy, but on reflection he felt convinced that he ought to
make known the event to the proper authorities: he therefore proceeded to
a neighbouring monastery and informed the venerable abbot and brothers
of the facts. They immediately set out in grand procession to the spot,
singing joyfully on the way, and there, as the pilgrim had said, was the
miraculous portrait, now guarded by two bright angels, who instantly
vanished. The abbot and the brotherhood interpreted the vision as the
desire of Heaven that a church should be built on the spot, which was
accordingly done, and the wonderful picture was reverently placed in it.

The service in the Russian Church is neither in Greek nor in the vulgar
tongue, but in Sclavonic, which has about the same resemblance to Russ as
the old English has to the modern. Religious ceremonies are used on all
the ordinary occasions of life; in removing from one house to another,
when the priest comes and sprinkles the doorposts and the threshold,
blesses the images, and says prayers; on the reopening of a school after
the vacation; on the anniversary of alleged victories, when perhaps a
dozen enemies have fallen and the rest run away; thanksgivings for having
taken a flag from the Turks (which is then paraded round the town with
a band of music playing); Te Deums for such triumphs as that of Odessa,
when, indeed, they might have had good reason to praise Heaven that their
foes were _too merciful_; &c. &c.

Confession is one of the sacraments, but it is by no means of so
particular a kind as among the Roman Catholics, but in a much more
general sense, and is ordinarily made but once a year, during the first
or last week in Lent. The six or eight days preceding the performance
of this duty the penitents attend mass twice a day very strictly and
fast conscientiously in order to prepare themselves for it. They assured
me that it was not necessary to name any particular sin, but that, in
acknowledging themselves guilty of having broken the commandments,
they are exhorted by the confessor and advised to repent. The rite is
generally performed at home, the priest attending for that purpose, and
not in the church, but they go thither the next morning, or perhaps the
same evening, to communicate: even the merest children are expected to
confess, but it is not necessary that they should fast.

On Good Friday the ceremony of Christ’s interment takes place: it is
conducted in exactly the same manner as if it were a real funeral. I
witnessed this ceremony at one of the cathedrals.

First came the priests and deacons bearing sacred banners, on which
were depicted the lying in the sepulchre, the Resurrection, and various
other incidents in the history of the Saviour; next two clergymen, who
preceded the archbishop, a fine old man with a long silvery beard; four
others followed him, who bore the coffin on their shoulders: the whole of
the officiating clergy were dressed in black and silver. I followed the
procession into the cathedral, and the service immediately commenced by
the choristers chanting a psalm whilst the supposed body was being placed
before the altar. On that being accomplished, the archbishop advanced and
prostrated himself thrice on the pavement, each time being raised by the
attendant priests, after which he kissed with great reverence the hands
and feet of the image on the cover of the coffin, walked three times
round the bier and bowed, signing himself with the cross at each corner;
he then concluded the act of worship by prostrating himself as before.
After the archbishop had retired, the different members of the clergy
advanced two and two and performed the same devotions. The prelate then
seated himself on a throne, a priest advanced and read a discourse to
the people, which contained some excellent moral advice, and the service
concluded with the usual benedictions.

The high mass in the Kazane church in St. Petersburg is well worthy of
the stranger’s attendance, especially when the metropolitan officiates.
His venerable figure standing before the altar offering incense, the
prostrations of the clergy, their splendid dresses, the beautiful voices
of the two bands of choristers alternately making the responses whilst
the high priest is in the seclusion of the Holy of Holies interceding
with Heaven for the sins of the people, have an imposing and solemn
effect. Although their creed may not be ours, still it is impossible to
assist at such a service without being edified, or without feeling that
it is the house of the great Father of all in which the prayers are being
offered; but this feeling of reverence was greatly diminished by the
scenes that were enacted on our leaving the church. The lower class, as
usual, rushed forward to kiss the metropolitan’s hand, when the police
made a charge on them in a body, and there was such a scuffling and such
a shower of blows given right and left as would have been a disgrace to
a den of thieves. At last, with great exertions, a space was cleared,
and the prelate, surrounded by the officials, was hustled out more like
a criminal than aught else, and safely lodged in the carriage. We then,
amidst a crowd of whining beggars and mendicant nuns and monks, with
difficulty made our way into the open air. It was really a pleasure to do
so, for the smell of the incense, the smoke of so many lamps and candles,
the bad odour that there always is in a Russian crowd (perhaps from the
sheepskins), made the fresh breeze outside particularly agreeable.



CHAPTER XV.

    The carnival—Amusements at the fair—Curious
    procession—Palm fair—Whitsuntide—The Resurrection on
    Easter-night—Easter-day—Easter privilege—Anecdote of
    the Emperor—Bell-ringing—Kindness of heart among the
    Russians—Household gods—Christmas—Midsummer-eve—Heathen
    custom—New-year’s eve—A Russian election—Unfortunate
    orator—Russian maypole—Characteristic dance by a soldier, its
    beautiful execution—Military picnics—Disagreeable traits of
    character—Shopkeepers’ balls—Splendid festivals—The Kremlin
    illuminated.


The Carnival in Russia, although not so gay and animated as in Italy,
has its pleasures nevertheless. There are continual parties, visits, and
feasting, almost in as great a degree as during the Easter week. There
is a grand fair held for the amusement of the people, in the great place
opposite the Admiralty, in which whirligigs of all fashions, swings,
ice-hills, and theatres _à la_ Richardson, form the delight of their
hearts. The Russians of the lower class are just like overgrown children:
they are as much pleased with a ride on a wooden horse, or in one of
the boats of a whirligig, in a swing, or down an ice-hill, as a party
of school-children would be. In the grand theatre this last Carnival
they have been intensely gratified with the “glorious battle of Sinope,”
fought over for their amusement about twelve times every day, in which
not a single Russian got wounded, although the heads of the poor Turks
were rolling by scores in all directions. It was, as they said, really
a special Providence that nobody was hurt at all, and only shows _how
just their cause is_. Of course the pleasant sight of the destruction
of so many unbelieving dogs of Mahometans gave immense satisfaction
to everybody, and tended much to their self-glorification, and the
conviction of the Emperor’s might, and so on.

[Illustration: The Carnival at St. Petersburg. Russian Mountains.

page 215.]

The “ice-hill” is an amusement peculiarly Russian. A framework, with
steps up one side, is erected, and on the upper part is a small stage,
covered with an ornamental roof supported by four pillars, and a rapidly
inclined plane on the other side, which terminates in a long run, both
of which are paved with blocks of ice, and rendered perfectly smooth by
pouring water down, which quickly becomes frozen. The pastime consists in
going up the steps and then sliding down the descent on small sledges. At
the other end are a similar inclined plane and a similar flight of steps,
which enable the slider to return to the first, and so on to and fro.
The Russians are extremely fond of this amusement, and often have these
ice-hills erected at some village at a little distance from the town,
whither they repair in picnic parties to enjoy the game for a few hours.

During the Carnival week everybody feasts on blinnies, a kind of pancake,
something like our crumpets, which are eaten with sour cream or melted
butter. There are blinnies at lunch and blinnies at dinner, whilst the
lower classes do nothing but regale on them all the day long.

“Well, Grushia,” I once said to the servant, “and how many have you had
to-day?”

“Thirty-four, Madame; but I am going to have some more.”

The custom of going about masked from one friend’s house to another’s at
the new year and in Carnival time is no longer _bon genre_. It was some
time since very fashionable to go thus disguised, and dance a polka or
quadrille in one place, and then proceed to another, and so on until they
were weary of the amusement. I believe the various articles missing have
contributed to render the custom obsolete.

During the week of the Carnival there is the grand promenade round and
round the place where the fair is held. Everybody that keeps a carriage
or a sledge joins in the procession, which consists in a long line or
single file of vehicles following each other at a foot’s pace, marshalled
by mounted _gensdarmes_. I could never, for the life of me, imagine what
pleasure could be discovered in it, excepting that of staring at one’s
acquaintances and envying their new bonnets. But it pleases the Russians,
_et cela suffit_.

I remember when in Archangel seeing a curious kind of procession at this
festival. A large sledge, made to imitate a ship, having many stuffed
animals on board, with skins and other objects, and accompanied by men
in various disguises, was drawn round the town, in the same manner as
our chimney-sweeps have their public show and Jack-in-the-green, raising
contributions on the spectators, which they spend, _à la Russe_, at the
whisky-shop. In no other part of the country did we ever see such; and
I think somebody told us that it was not a national custom, but one
introduced by settlers many years ago.

The day before Palm Sunday another fair is held in the Nevsky
Perspective, close to the Gostinoi Dwor—indeed, a part of it is under
the piazza—where are to be seen immense quantities of toys, including
little figures of John the Baptist lying asleep in a mossy cradle, with
a cross by the side; the queerest-looking dolls that it is possible
to imagine,—some of them swathed up like mummies, and forming close
imitations of Russian babies, for the nurses in the country confine the
infant’s arms down to its side, and wrap it up so that nothing but the
face is visible, giving it the appearance of the papouse of the savages.
Added to these are endless varieties of military toys for juvenile
warriors, and palm-branches for the morrow’s festival. These branches are
variously ornamented, but the most common have the figure of a cherub
with its wings spread, stuck on a small branch of artificial leaves,
roses and lilies, &c. Small boughs of the downy buds which our boys call
catkins are also very generally used for this purpose. In the evening the
priest comes to bless the palm-branches, when he presents one to each of
the family, which he or she is expected to carry to church on the next
day, in commemoration of the entry of Christ into Jerusalem.

At Whitsuntide the servants always place a large bough of the linden
at the head of every bed, and also in the corner of the rooms, men
carrying them about in carts to sell, in the same manner as they do the
holly-branches at Christmas with us.

Easter is the greatest of the Russian Church festivals, and is a season
of universal rejoicing, for the long fast of Lent is now over, or will
be so when midnight strikes on Easter-eve. Everybody is dressed in his
or her finest clothes: rich and poor, great and small, the Czar and
the humblest serf in his dominions, men, women, and children, are all
joyfully preparing to celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord. Service
is performed at midnight in all the cathedrals. The sacred corpse that
was supposed to have been buried on Good Friday will rise again at that
hour, amid the songs of the choristers and the joyful thanksgiving
of the people. At midnight the mass begins. The archbishop is in the
Holy of Holies, praying for the pardon and absolution of the multitude
that are waiting in silence in the body of the cathedral. Every one is
standing, for there are no pews or seats in the Russian churches. The
splendid silver doors are thrown open; the devotions of the archbishop
are concluded. He appears standing on the highest step of the altar; he
raises his hands towards heaven, and bestows his benediction upon the
people. Descending from the altar, he advances towards the bier, and,
raising the cover of the coffin, he discovers that the body of Christ
is no longer reposing therein; he announces it to the congregation, and
then leaves the sacred edifice, at the head of the procession of the
clergy. The people wait in silence, for he is gone to seek the body,
which is no more “where it was laid.” The sound of solemn voices is heard
at intervals from without, whilst the procession makes the circuit of
the cathedral three times in the search. Amid the breathless silence
of the expectant multitude the procession re-enters. The archbishop
then, remounting the steps of the altar, and standing upon the highest,
in front of the Holy of Holies, pronounces, in a voice whose tones
reverberate to the remotest corner of the edifice, and thrill like
an electric shock through the hearts of his congregation, the words
“Christos vos chris” (Christ is risen). In an instant the singers burst
out into a joyful chorus; every one lights the taper in his hand;
universal delight pervades the people, who turn and congratulate each
other upon the happy event, and return thanksgivings to Heaven. The
archbishop, bearing incense, followed by the priests, goes among the
congregation, still proclaiming the welcome tidings; and, amid the
cheerful voices of the choir, the fumes of incense, and the brilliancy
of a thousand lights, moving with each inclination of the people, the
gratitude of the Russians for their salvation ascends doubtlessly to the
throne of the Creator, who, we are taught to believe, will not reject
those that worship Him. The form of celebrating the resurrection of the
Saviour is not according to our Protestant sentiments; but we must not
condemn the Russians, who have been taught from their youth to reverence
such ceremonies. The hour for a Sclavonic Luther is not yet come.

The service is concluded by reading a portion of the Scriptures in twelve
different tongues; and then the benediction is given by the archbishop.

No organ or instrument of any kind is used in the Greek Church; the
whole of the music is vocal; it is not joined in by the multitude, but
is entirely performed by the clergy and the choristers. The celebration
of the mass is really splendid: the innumerable lights, the magnificent
robes of the clergy, the brilliant uniforms and costumes of the
congregation, and the beauty of the psalms and choruses, make a _tout
ensemble_ that easily accounts for its taking so strong a hold on the
minds of an illiterate and semi-barbarous people.

On returning from the church a magnificent supper is always laid out.
Each family, like the Jews, holds a kind of Passover feast, at which
twirock (a sort of white cheese), ham, hard eggs, and butter made in
the form of a sheep with gilt horns, form necessary dishes. The ham,
the Russians say, is a _sine quâ non_ at Easter, because the eating of
it is a proof that they are neither Jews[12] nor Mahometans; the butter
represents the paschal lamb, and the eggs are in remembrance of the
persecutions of the early Christians, who recognised each other by the
presentation of one as a symbol of the Resurrection.

It is quite an amusement for the ladies and children to prepare these
eggs, by staining them of different colours, by boiling them in pieces
of silk several days previous to the festival. Very beautiful ones, made
of china, sugar, chocolate, and various other materials, are sold at the
shops, for Easter presents, and they frequently contain some valuable
article of jewelry, such as a pair of diamond ear-rings, a broach, &c. &c.

If a Russian die during Easter, his soul is supposed to ascend
immediately into heaven with Christ; and it is always rather a source of
rejoicing than of sorrow when the decease of a friend takes place at this
season, as a sojourn in the intermediate state is thereby avoided.

The lower class in Russia have a curious privilege during the whole of
Easter week, that of becoming intoxicated with perfect impunity; it may
therefore be easily imagined how many drunken men are to be seen at that
season reeling about the streets.

On Easter-day everybody congratulates everybody: the ministers and
nobility go to pay their respects to the Imperial family, the _employés_
to their chiefs, the servants to their masters, and acquaintances to each
other.

We were told that His Majesty the Emperor kisses one man out of every
regiment on this day.

One morning, as he was leaving the palace, he accosted, as is his custom,
the first man he met, which happened to be a private soldier, with the
usual phrase, “Christos vos chris.” The latter turned instantly, and
denied the fact, saying that Christ was not risen. “How!” exclaimed the
Czar, in great astonishment; “who and what then are you?” “I am a Jew,
your Majesty.”

The manner of offering congratulations at Easter is to present an egg,
saying, “Christos vos chris.” The party accepting it answers, “Christ is
risen indeed.” Both then embrace, kiss each other thrice on the cheeks,
bow, and retire.

The bells of the churches play a prominent part in all these grand
festivals; and, as each place of worship prides itself on the size,
number, and loudness of its peal, it may well be imagined what an awful
din they make; added to which, the boys and men think it quite a treat to
pull them, and are privileged to do so on every particular occasion, such
as Easter, the Ascension, &c. In Moscow we were nearly stunned with the
noise, for there are about three hundred and sixty churches, and some
of their bells are enormous; so, when they were all ringing at once, the
tintamarre was terrific.

On all these occasions of public rejoicing, the stranger may remark how
kind and hospitable, how friendly and sociable, the Russian people are.
Their hospitality is unbounded; from the highest to the lowest they
will give what they can afford. They display their good will by making
presents to those about them, to their relations and acquaintances, and
their charity by freely giving alms to the poor. The clergy receive gifts
from the members of their congregations: it is a period of pleasure
and of profit to them; and they are frequently so extremely poor that
it ought not to be grudged. They go about from house to house to sing
hymns and consecrate anew the saints’ pictures with which almost every
room is furnished. From all the opportunities that I had of judging, I
am convinced that there are many estimable and conscientious men among
the superior grades of the Greek clergy, who religiously believe the
creed they teach, and endeavour to set a good example to their flocks.
In regard to the attachment of the people to their crosses and saints’
pictures, although it may seem strange in a Protestant to say so, yet it
appears to me a very natural feeling, and we ought not to be surprised
at so great a reverence paid to objects which from their birth they have
been taught to regard as holy. “I would not have a post removed which
I had been accustomed to see,” was the remark of a French philosopher:
how much greater then must be the affection that these poor people have
for these sacred things! besides which, they may feel that they have
a friend always near at hand whom they can address in their grief and
trouble, and who will not _betray them_.

I never saw a peasant carrying his picture of the Virgin and Child from
one isba to another, holding it as carefully in his arms as if it were
some treasure of incalculable price, without being reminded of the
household gods of antiquity,—the Lares and Penates of nations that now
exist no more. We have heard many turn these superstitions into ridicule,
because to them a clearer faith has rendered such unnecessary; but let
him that does so consult his own heart, and ask if he also have not some
object that he regards with love and reverence, and prizes almost as
highly as the Russian does his saint’s picture.

In Russia, Christmas is not so great a feast as that of Easter, nor are
there any national dishes set apart for that season, but the New-Year’s
Day is a very high festival. Similar congratulations between inferiors
and superiors, friends and acquaintances, take place as at Easter, whilst
hospitality, generosity, and charity are shown in an equal degree. On
Midsummer Eve a custom still exists in Russia among the lower classes
that could only be derived from a very remote antiquity, and is perhaps
a remnant of the worship of Baal. A party of peasant-women and girls
assemble in some retired, unfrequented spot, and light a large fire,
over which they leap in succession. If by chance any one of the other
sex should be found near the place, or should have seen them in the act
of performing the heathenish rite, it is at the imminent hazard of his
life, for the women would not scruple to sacrifice him for his temerity:
I was assured that such instances had often been known. Numberless charms
and acts of sorcery are supposed to succeed on this eve, among which may
be mentioned the sitting alone for about an hour before midnight with
the eyes fixed on a looking-glass, in order to see the reflection of the
future husband’s face thereon when the clock strikes.

On New-Year’s Eve the Russians “try their luck” in a great many ways.
They pour melted wax or lead into water, and exercise their imaginations
regarding the varied forms that it assumes; they fill two bowls with
water, one of which is for the men and the other for the women, and stick
slips of paper round them, on each of which is a name, either male or
female as the case may be: a wax taper is then set afloat on the surface,
and those whose names have the good fortune to be burned will be married
ere the next year. The ladies send out their servants and the gentlemen
their valets to watch at midnight for the passers by; the first one that
is perceived is asked his or her name, which, of course, will be that of
the future spouse, &c. &c.

Numerous superstitions of this kind are practised, and too often believed
in, by the upper as well as the lower classes.

Among the festivals ought to be mentioned the elections, which, even in
despotic Russia as well as in Britain, are attended with speeches, votes,
and opposition.

I was present once at one of these public ceremonies; it was the election
of the Maréchal de Noblesse, a kind of officer chosen in each province
from among the landed proprietors. His duties are various, but the most
important one is his guardianship of orphans whose fathers have died
intestate: he is a kind of provincial lord-chancellor, and, next to the
governor, is the most important personage in the county.

The election is perfectly free, and supposed to be entirely unbiassed by
the government authorities: even the governor himself is not allowed to
be present or to have the least voice in the matter.

The ceremony takes place once in three years, and is looked forward
to with as much interest and anxiety as the choice of a member of
parliament could be with us, and perhaps even more so, for it is the only
opportunity the people here have of making a _free election_ of anything.

On the morning of the election the carriages of the pamestchicks
or landowners rolled into the town from all parts of the province.
Innumerable gentlemen descended therefrom and entered the assembly-rooms,
in which the extraordinary event was to take place, with all the
_manière affairée_, the bustle, the importance, the seriousness, and the
chattering of the members of a “Constitution République” or a Congress.
Two or three were gravely consulting upon somebody’s pretensions to
the honour; two or three in another place were laughing him and his
pretensions to scorn. The noise was so great that I could only catch a
word or two here and there, which, rising above the din, reached the
ladies up in the gallery. “We won’t have him, he’s a rogue”—“A most
amiable man”—“Don’t let S——ff speak”—“Hold your tongue, S——ff is the
man”—“Hush! N——toff is going to make a speech”—“Speak more loudly, we
can’t hear”—“What does he say?” and so on.

Amid all this noise and confusion, a gentleman placed his chair on a
table and mounted thereon, intent on addressing, not _the people_, for
there were none, but the _free and independent_ electors. Scarcely a word
of what he said reached us; whether he proposed himself or anybody else
it was impossible to make out, but, apparently, his speech did not meet
with general approbation. He however became more and more excited, made
frantic gestures with his arms, tossing them above his head as if he
were mad. His speech was suddenly cut short by his rapid disappearance
from the table, chair and all; whether intentionally or accidentally
there was no evidence to show, but he got up again as well as he could,
and, amid shouts of laughter from the audience, he was glad to hide his
diminished head among the crowd. The next speaker was a little, round,
bald-headed old gentleman, who made a long and energetic discourse upon
the moral excellences of one of the candidates. The audience listened to
it with attention, so probably there was truth in it. The third was an
orator who, by all appearance, was “unaccustomed to public speaking,” &c.
&c., for he quickly got into a labyrinth, and did not know for the life
of him how to get out of it: he soon descended amid intense and general
disapprobation. Several others “trespassed upon the time and attention
of the assembled electors,” and put their patience to a sore trial,
some with greater and others with very indifferent success, after which
the meeting was adjourned until the following morning. The second and
third days offered but a repetition of the scenes of the first: at last
the election was referred to the ballot, and the candidate who had the
majority of votes was declared duly elected.

The whole affair terminated in a grand dinner and ball, whereat the
opposition and the maréchal side seemed equally to enjoy themselves.
The next day the landowners and their carriages left the town: they had
all had their say, they had strutted in “brief authority,” and were now
going home to bury themselves in their woods and forests for the next
three years, until another such opportunity of exercising the freedom of
election should occur.

Among other ancient customs of Oriental origin is a species of maypole
dancing, but it has little or no resemblance to what was once the delight
of the merry lads and lasses of Old England. The peasant-women and girls
fix upon a small fir-tree or bush; they then attach streamers to it
of as many gay colours as they can obtain; the ends are held in their
hands, and they continue to walk round and round the maypole, singing a
monotonous chant one after the other until they are tired.

The different provinces in Russia have dances peculiar to each as well as
different costumes. I remember at a picnic we were all greatly delighted
with the picturesque dances of some soldiers from Malo Russia. One dance
in particular, executed by a private soldier to the singing of his
comrades, was descriptive of the love and occupations of a peasant-girl.
It began by a song, during the performance of which the supposed maiden
was seated on the ground, imitating the making of thread so well that we
could almost fancy we saw it between her fingers and the distaff in her
hand. Presently she pretends to be listening to the chorus, the subject
of which is her absent lover. Her fingers move faster and faster as she
becomes agitated. At last she throws away the distaff in despair and
weeps bitterly. The chorus goes on to describe the warlike exploits of
the loved one, the thoughts of her and his far-off village that occupy
his mind. Hope begins to spring up; joy reanimates her features; the
spinning is resumed; she makes responses to the singers, who tell her
that a horseman is in sight, that he comes nearer; they perceive it is
the absent warrior. She can no longer contain her emotions: she springs
up, dances a beautifully descriptive pas-seul, and then rushes among
the chorus as if for the purpose of welcoming the supposed lover to her
cottage.

It is perfectly impossible to convey an idea of the charming manner in
which the story was told by the very expressive and graceful movements of
the dancer, or the wild and beautiful air to which the whole was executed.

In speaking of this picnic I may mention, just to show how everything
in Russia is _à la militaire_, and how the love of the wild life of
their nomadic ancestors is not yet banished from the hearts of their
descendants, the way in which these amusements were conducted, at least
all that I witnessed.

On some place being fixed upon, little tents of boughs were erected, and
a number of watch-fires lighted, round which the company were seated in
groups: there was always a military band and a great number of soldiers
hired to sing the national airs, to dance, and to amuse the guests. They
stood in parties at a distance, one composed of the musicians, and the
others of the dancers and singers. As soon as one party had finished
their performance another commenced, and so on during the whole time.
Whilst we were at supper the band marched round the wood and played the
soldiers’ war-song, and the others stood as sentinels and videttes. It
was really a great treat for foreigners to go to one of these military
picnics, and they seemed never to lose their novelty. One of the
principal amusements at them was firing pistols at a mark, and, from
the display of skill on these occasions, I should say that the Russian
ladies are much cleverer at it than the gentlemen. There were generally
several officers of rank present, yet the ladies hit the target certainly
four times as frequently as _they_ did. Parties of the peasantry always
formed the spectators of these scenes, and they came in for the remains
of the good things that happened to be left. On the national festivals,
such as the coronation-day, the Emperor’s birthday, &c., as well as at
Easter and the new year, the governor of a province holds a levée, as
the representative of his majesty, and receives the congratulations of
the military and government _employés_. It is at such times that the
Russian character shows to the greatest disadvantage: respect sinks into
slavishness, politeness into fawning, civility into adulation, and the
conversation throughout is a mass of hypocrisy and deceit. Heaven only
knows how many centuries it will take to teach the Russians to speak the
truth. The wives and grown-up daughters of the _employés_ congratulate
the governor’s lady just as the husbands do his excellency, when it
is customary to invite them to a ball and supper in the evening. The
government allows three hundred silver roubles per month to pay for their
entertainment. The same ceremony takes place on the anniversary of the
governor’s birthday as on that of the Czar.

Balls in Russia are much the same as in other civilized countries, but
it is a disagreeable fact that it is absolutely necessary to burn scent
in the rooms. “I will really speak to the police-master’s daughters,”
said the lady of a governor after one of these general balls; “and I will
advise them to put on _clean linen_, otherwise I will not invite them to
the ball!” There is also another disagreeable custom, that of leaving
the lady in the middle of a room after the dance is over, instead of
escorting her to a seat.

[Illustration: Imperial Ball.

page 231.]

I went several times to balls given by merchants, generally on the
occasion of a daughter’s marriage; they were all in the same style. It
seemed to me that the grand object in view with the shopkeepers’ wives
and daughters was not to dance, but to show off their finery. They sat in
a straight line all round the room, dressed in a most splendid manner,
with magnificent diamonds, rubies, and pearls, their hands folded over
each other, loaded with valuable rings; just as if they were so many
portraits or waxen figures, placed there for exhibition. They scarcely
moved, excepting when they partook of some refreshment handed round. A
very few of the younger portion danced, but the sole amusement of the
remainder seemed to consist in criticising and admiring the costume
and jewelry of each other. A room was always on these occasions set
aside for the governor’s family. As soon as we entered, the host and
hostess stepped forward, and respectfully indicated with many bows and
inclinations the apartment prepared for our reception; it was sure to
contain several tables completely loaded with refreshments of all kinds,
immense cakes, trays of fruit, preserves, bonbons, &c., twenty times as
much as it was possible to require. Nothing would ever induce the host
and hostess to sit down; they came in occasionally to entreat us to do
honour to the feast and to show their hospitable wishes for our sakes;
they appeared never so pleased as when they saw us eating; indeed, they
seemed to expect us never to leave off for a single instant from the time
of our entrance to that of our departure.

The most splendid fêtes at which I was present during my stay in
Russia were two given by the Emperor: the first was on the occasion of
the Archduchess Olga’s marriage, and the second on the twenty-fifth
anniversary of his own accession. The former took place at Peterhoff, the
marine palace, not many versts distant from Cronstadt. The banqueting,
illuminations, and rejoicings lasted three whole days, and cost, as
the Russians said, “des millions de roubles.” The bride was one blaze
of diamonds, but she looked anything but happy. All the riches and
magnificence of the court and nobility were displayed on the occasion:
the variety of national costumes, Georgian, Circassian, and others; the
glitter of the innumerable military uniforms, belonging to every regiment
and race in the Czar’s dominions; the foreign ministers and visitors—all
formed a _coup-d’œil_ of extreme splendour: not the least conspicuous
among the throng were the negroes belonging to the court in their rich
and picturesque oriental costume.

The court-ladies wear an uniform taken from the national dress; the
_married ladies_ of honour wear a train of green velvet embroidered with
gold over a white robe, and the _maids_ of honour a train of crimson
velvet; the head-dress is in the shape of a crescent, similar to that
of the peasants, only much enriched with diamonds and other precious
stones; on the shoulder is a bow of blue ribbon, in which are the
Empress’s initials in brilliants. A long blonde veil is thrown over the
head and descends in folds behind. Notwithstanding the richness of the
costume, there is a stiffness about it, and there are not many faces to
which it is becoming, as it can be so only to classic features. There
were very few handsome or pretty women in the whole assembly; indeed,
generally speaking, beauty is rare among the Russians. It is very
uncommon in every rank, yet, perhaps, no people value exterior appearance
so much as they do, or are so vain of their persons. One proof of the
latter failing may be seen at every step, for there is not a single shop
in St. Petersburg in which a looking-glass is not placed for the benefit
of the customers. Mirrors hold the same position in Russia as clocks do
in England; with us time is valuable, with them appearance.

Every night during the festival the gardens of the palace were
illuminated; Russians said that there were ten millions of lamps.
Perhaps there were two or three millions at the most; but they always
multiply every number, like the Orientals, who slay tens of thousands,
when probably a few hundreds only are meant. Twenty thousand soldiers
were engaged in relighting the wicks as they became extinguished by
the wind. Walls of light were on each side of the walks and avenues,
pyramids and obelisks from fifty to seventy feet in height, resplendent
stars seemingly suspended in mid air were everywhere to be seen, but
the most beautiful sight of all were the fountains. The palace is
built on an elevation, and the water falls in artificial cascades from
this height, forming a pretty stream. Below, in the hollows of the
overhanging rocks, rows of lamps were placed, over which the fluid rushed
from the cascade like a shower of diamonds, whilst the flashing lights
beneath had an indescribably brilliant effect; the fine bronze figures
untarnished glittered like statues of gold in the rays of thousands of
beaming stars; the long avenues of splendid pines that border each side
of the artificial stream below were also illuminated; and the view was
terminated by an enormous sun, sixty feet in diameter, that appeared to
be hovering over the sea in the distance, invisibly suspended in the
air. There were not many coloured lamps, and those were placed among
the flowers in the gardens, which had an extremely pleasing effect. The
others did not resemble those used in England, but were merely little
earthenware saucers, filled with grease, and furnished with a wick;
these were placed on a framework of wood, painted black, and made into
various designs. Soldiers stood at intervals on it, or were mounted on
ladders behind, in readiness to relight the lamps that might accidentally
become extinguished. One little fact connected with this magnificent
festival deserves to be recorded, if it be only to show that enthusiastic
cheers and delighted shouts can be made to order, and according to the
regulations of the police, by which everything in fact is conducted in
Russia. A general assured us that there was a number of men stationed
among the crowd whose duty it was to shout in extasy whenever the signal
was given them on the appearance of any person of rank on the balcony
whose position demanded notice. This was the key-note for as many as
liked to join in the chorus, otherwise they did not dare to make any
exclamations of pleasure or satisfaction. Disapprobation was of course
entirely out of the question, as the least sign of it would subject the
delinquent to disagreeable consequences. There were also a great many
spies doing duty among the crowd, who were placed there in order to hear
what might be said of the whole affair.

The second festival, that on the anniversary of the Emperor’s coronation,
took place in Moscow. A description of it would be merely a repetition of
what has just been stated. There was one sight, however, that could be
seen nowhere else but in that city, and that was the Kremlin illuminated.
Its numerous churches and towers decorated with what appeared from
below to be a vast number of brilliant little stars,—the gilded crosses
glittering in the dark azure sky,—the high and massive walls covered with
one immense design resembling embroidery in light,—the Alexander gardens
below, illuminated with thousands of lamps,—the showy costumes of the
Circassian guards,—the gay dresses of the people,—the bright uniforms of
the military, as they passed in crowds to and fro,—formed altogether a
splendid sight, well worth the trouble of a journey from St. Petersburg
to Moscow to behold. The illumination was at the expense of the city
merchants and shopkeepers, who subscribed an enormous sum for the
purpose. Magnificent though it was, yet for the large sum subscribed it
ought to have been more so; but as it was necessarily under the direction
of the police authorities, they doubtless took a good percentage for
their trouble.

Illuminations in St. Petersburg are paid for by a kind of tax which
the police demand of each house; and as the Russians illuminate for
everything, they must form a good source of profit to these “honourable
men.” Not a single baby belonging in the fiftieth degree to the imperial
family can either be born or christened without a round of five hundred
cannon and an illumination; not a score of Turks can be killed, or half
a dozen guns taken, without a similar demonstration of public rejoicing.
The latter may be a “make-believe,” very convenient in the time of
defeats and retreats to blind the nation’s eyes to the truth, especially
as no authentic accounts are ever published for the people. The manner
of illuminating in Russia is different from ours. Little grease-pots are
placed at intervals along the kerbstone of the pavement, at about the
same distance apart as are our lamp-posts in London. The effect is not at
all imposing; besides which, they are at the mercy of the wind and rain,
which generally cause an ugly hiatus here and there.

Whilst speaking of illuminations I must not omit to mention one that we
saw in Archangel; it was certainly not to be compared to the two already
described, but it had a very beautiful effect from the lamps being placed
in holes made in the snow. The weather was very cold, and the damp had
frozen in crystals on the trees, so that it looked like a scene in
northern fairy-land, or as if some silver grotto of the gnomes had been
suddenly thrown up on the surface of the earth.

The night on which the news reached St. Petersburg that the Russian army
had crossed the Danube, there was a great illumination by order of the
authorities. The weather was fearful; the high wind and beating storm
soon effaced all traces of the lights, and the streets shortly became as
dark and as desolate as before—an evil augury of the misfortunes so soon
to follow.



CHAPTER XVI.

    Travelling in Russia—Monotony of scene—Want of animation—Style
    of dwellings of the nobles, the gentry, and the peasantry—Poor
    gentry—Pride and poverty—Peasants’ isbas, the furniture they
    contain—Vermin—The breaking up of the ice—The Dwina—Distressing
    occurrences—The peasant and his dog—The aged peasant—The
    commandant’s gold cup—Native barks: the peasants on board of
    them—Neva boats—Concerts al fresco—Numerous imperial palaces.


I have given no account of our various journeys in Russia, as it would be
merely a repetition of the same terms, in which forest, sand, and morass
would figure as the leading objects, and would indeed be only wearisome
to the reader. Not but that there are some pretty places here and there,
but they are very wide apart, and the trouble of wading through two or
three hundred versts of monotonous travels over the unchanging post-roads
would be but ill repaid by being told that on such a spot stands such
a town or such a village, the name of which is never heard beyond the
frontiers of the province in which it is situated, and which possesses
no interest whatever for any one but the traveller himself, who in
journeying through the country is apt to hail the sight of an inhabited
place with much the same feeling as he who in making a voyage across
the ocean welcomes the appearance of a strange ship in the offing: so
inconceivably wearying is the constant view of the endless tracts of
forest-land and waste. Descriptions of provincial towns would be almost
as tiresome as those of pine-woods and marshes; the same style of
houses, the same kind of churches with green roofs and gilt domes; the
streets badly paved, or rather unpaved; the same unvarying background of
firs and sky—in fact “_sameness all_.” Besides all these objections to
a detailed account, so many descriptions have already been published,
that the road from St. Petersburg to Moscow must be almost as well known
as that from London to York. Nothing perhaps is more striking to a
foreigner travelling through Russia than the utter want of animation in
the people; there are no merry laughs ringing joyously on the ear from
some light-hearted maiden; no lively bustle at the post-stations when the
diligence stops to change horses, such as was seen on similar occasions
when stage-coaches ran on the level roads of England, when the arrival
of the London mail caused quite an excitement in the village. The sound
of songs may be everywhere heard, it is true; but they can scarcely be
called joyful ones—they are almost always sad and mournful, being in
the minor key; their melancholy cadences, as a French writer remarks,
“might be said each to contain a tear.” The peasants’ downcast looks and
inexpressive faces—their cowed manner, as if they were shrinking from an
uplifted lash—the want of intelligence which the absence of civilization
causes in their countenance, give them an almost brutish appearance, and
cause a painful sensation in the stranger’s heart. Even the cattle seem
to want that air of life which makes our fields and meadows so gay; there
are no snowy flocks and frisking lambs, no shepherd’s dog with joyous
bark, no robin on the flowery thorn: it is, as my friend remarked, not
the “repose of the living,” but the “slumber of the dead,” that reigns
over the land of Muscovy.

A nobleman’s mansion contains as much beautiful furniture, as many
articles of taste and luxury, as we could see anywhere else; the
apartments are, generally speaking, much larger and loftier than with
us; the whole of them are thrown open for the reception of guests and
for the free circulation of the air; and a long suite of rooms thus
disclosed has a very pretty perspective effect. The floors are not
covered with carpets, but are composed of parquet, or inlaid oak; very
often each room has a floor of a different design; the doors are shaded
by rich portières, matching the window-curtains of each room; splendid
chandeliers are everywhere suspended from above; many of the ceilings
are richly painted in fresco, and a great deal of gilding adds to the
effect; the chairs and sofas are covered with velvet or flowered silk
of the most beautiful and delicate colours; marble statues and elegant
vases are placed here and there, with objects of virtù, &c. The lady
of the house has a boudoir which is often a complete gem; the splendid
furniture, covered with light blue or rose-coloured satin or brocade;
the inlaid floor partly covered with a Persian carpet; the tables in
marqueterie, enamel, and ormolu, on which elegant trifles of the most
exquisite taste are placed; fine and valuable pictures decorate the
walls, which are probably covered with flowered silk or satin, instead of
paper. The gentleman’s cabinet is but plainly furnished in comparison. I
do not know where I read, some time since, ‘A Description of the STIES
of the Russian Nobility.’ It was certainly with indignation that I did
so: whoever wrote the description could never have seen or entered the
house of a nobleman either in St. Petersburg or Moscow; nor is it fair or
just to speak so of a people, merely because our nation is at war with
them; the truth ought not to be affected by any sentiment of hostility
we might feel to the government. The above description may serve to give
a slight idea of what _really_ exists. The less wealthy of the nobility
take a suite of apartments (flats as they are called in Scotland) in some
large hotel, built on the plan of those in France. Some of the extremely
poor gentry do, it is true, live in a very comfortless state, of which
an anecdote has already been given in these pages; their pride of birth
preventing them from gaining a livelihood by following any profession,
for fear of losing caste; and their natural indolence making them
prefer a life of poverty, and almost of want, to the doing anything to
increase, by their own labour, the slender means furnished by the serfs
of some insignificant estate, who generally are doubly miserable from the
pressing indigence of their owners. To these people and their dwellings
the names of _sties_ and their usual occupants may be justly applied, for
they live in dirt and discomfort, in the midst of filth and vermin that
could only find their equal in an Irish lodging-house; they sleep on the
sofa, which is so dirty that the silk with which it is covered is almost
invisible; their clothing is so abominably unclean, that it is quite
offensive; and they live “littéralement de pommes de terre,” as we were
often assured. Yet when these people go out their filthy underclothing
is hidden by a showy silk gown and cloak _à la mode_. They pay visits
in their own carriages, which are wormeaten and worn, with four horses
half-starved—a coachman, footman, and postilion in miserably soiled
and tarnished liveries; they look down with contempt upon respectable
merchants and shopkeepers, and, to use a vulgar expression, they turn up
their nose at the industrious, “parce que leur naissance est noble.” I
shall never forget the disdain with which one of these second-rate people
mentioned one day at dinner that an English merchant in St. Petersburg
had made her daughter an offer; “but how was it possible?” she said, “un
homme qui n’est pas noble!”

The sleeping apartments in the houses of very rich people are elegantly
arranged and separate from the drawing-rooms; but in many they form a
part of the suite of salons. They are divided by an ornamental screen
from the other part of the room, so that a stranger may frequently
have been in them without having had the least idea that they were the
sleeping-rooms. Each room is heated by a kind of oven, which, when the
wood is burned to ashes, is shut down so as to confine all the warm air
and prevent it from escaping, and thus an equal temperature is ensured.
If this stove happen to be closed too soon, the vapour diffused through
the apartment is extremely injurious, being the fumes of charcoal, which
find no egress from the double windows, and produce a terrible headache,
and a sensation as if water were running over the brain: it is soon cured
by being a short time in the open air.

The isbas, or cottages, are constructed by the peasants themselves;
the exterior is formed of balks, cut of precisely the same length and
thickness, laid horizontally one above the other, the ends of which cross
each other at each corner of the building; the interstices are filled
with moss and tow; the roof is somewhat like that of a Swiss châlet
(indeed, in general appearance an isba resembles one); the eaves are
decorated with wood-work _à jour_; pretty balconies are very often to be
seen, and windows round which the same ornament is carried; these are the
cottages of the wealthier peasants, but the poorest isbas are destitute
of any of these gay decorations, and sometimes even of windows, and
consist of merely a small balk cottage, with a plain roof. The furniture
inside is in almost every case the same: a wooden settee, a deal table
and a chair or two, a samovar or tea-urn, a few earthenware pipkins and
basins, some bowls of birch-wood and spoons to match them, and a picture
of the Virgin or of some saint, which is always suspended in the corner;
and, if the peasant be rich enough, a lamp filled with oil is burning
before it. The bedroom in a cottage is the one in which the inmates live
and cook; the bed for the family is the flat top of the stove, where
they enjoy their sleep and fairy dreams in company with the cockroaches,
tarracans, and brown beetles, in a heat that seems sufficient to bake
them, and in an air foul and close enough to stifle any one but a
Russian. We were once travelling near Velsk, and stopped for a short time
at one of the cross-road stations; it was in the middle of the night when
we arrived. On going into the room we looked around, and at the first
sight we all thought that the walls were papered, a small tallow candle
alone serving to make darkness visible; but on approaching nearer, to our
horror and dismay they were completely covered with insects that must
not be named to ears polite; myriads swarmed even upon the ceiling. We
rushed breathlessly down the stairs, and, when we had reached the asylum
of our carriage, we trembled lest we should unwittingly have transported
a colony on our dresses.

In the summer-time the peasants sleep on the bare ground, and generally
in the open air. When the weather is not wet they throw themselves down
anywhere, in their ordinary dress and sheepskin, and usually turn their
faces to the earth.

When the foundation of one of their isbas becomes decayed, they raise the
whole of the upper part by means of beams inserted between the balks, and
reconstruct the lower part, which operation renders the cottage almost as
good as it was before.

To a stranger one of the most interesting sights is the breaking up of
the ice on the large rivers. As spring advances, everybody is anxiously
expecting the day when it will take place. Groups of people may be seen
standing along the quays or banks, with their eyes all fixed on the same
object, giving their opinion from past experiences, drawing inferences
from the black and watery appearance of the ice, and gravely debating
upon the probability of its disappearing “either to-day or to-morrow.”
Gentlemen bet wagers on it, ladies chatter about it, peasants quarrel
over it; every person is interested concerning it, and, when it is first
seen to move, pleasure is expressed on every face.

The breaking up of the ice of the Neva is by no means so magnificent a
spectacle as that of the Volga or the Northern Dwina, although the whole
of the frozen masses from the lake of Ladoga descend by its stream.

How delighted I was when, for the first time, I saw the breaking up of
the ice in the Dwina! Sometimes the immense blocks seemed to assume the
shape of a lion, a dog, a swan, and every kind of figure, beautiful or
grotesque, according to the fancy of the spectator. The rushing and
crashing of the enormous masses in their onward journey to the ocean;
the force with which they became heaped one on another, as if they were
really endowed with life, and were struggling to obtain the foremost
place in the watery race; the deep blue sunny sky that had succeeded the
cloudy canopy of the dreary winter months; the flocks of wild swans; the
solitary sea-mew, skimming with snowy pinions the liberated waves—formed
a scene altogether strange and beautiful. Sometimes some huge bark would
float by, like a wreck vainly struggling with its fate amid the sea of
ice, and carried along with irresistible force; sometimes an uprooted
pine or sombre fir might be seen dashing against everything in its way.

Many fatal accidents occur at these times. I remember a sad day we once
passed at Jaroslaf when the Volga was breaking up. The ice is a long time
floating past, from the immense length of the river and the numerous
tributaries that empty themselves into it. We used, when the weather was
fine, to go in a party to the shore to enjoy the sight. It was on one of
these occasions that we perceived a bark rapidly descending the stream.
On its nearer approach it was discovered that there were several people
on board. It came so close to the shore that the men could hail it. To
our horror they informed us that they had been seven days on board, and
that they had eaten up all their provisions “three days ago.” They
begged and prayed that some help might be given them, for they had not a
single piece of bread or any other article of food remaining. Loaves were
instantly brought, and every exertion was made to throw them on the deck.
Some men even drove at full speed along the banks, so as to precede the
vessel, and have the better chance of succeeding; but, alas! all was in
vain. Every attempt failed; and the bark, with the ill-fated peasants,
was carried away by the rapid current far out of sight.

“And what will become of these poor men?” I asked of one of our party.

“The probability is, that they will be driven with the ice down into
the Caspian Sea, unless, as sometimes happens, a stoppage may occur by
the masses being jammed together in some narrow part; they will then be
saved; but, if not, nothing but starvation is before them.”

Can any one imagine a death more dreadful than to be dying of want while
passing through so many inhabited places, within a stone’s throw of them,
seeing crowds of people on the shores, all anxious to afford aid, yet
unable to do so?

Apparently the waters were unusually high that year, for several isbas
also floated by that had been swept away by the flood, indicating that
one or more villages had been overflowed. At Twer the flood was so great
that the governor’s family all went in boats, with hundreds of loaves in
each, down the centre of the streets, and the servants were employed to
throw them into the windows of the poor people’s houses, lest they should
be starved. In Petersburg there are stones inserted here and there with
the date 1824 inscribed on them, to commemorate the dreadful inundation
of that year. During it thousands of people perished, whole villages were
washed away, the coffins of the dead were seen floating down the streets,
and the names of those enclosed therein were read on the plates as they
passed by. Each spring the capital is in a similar danger. One other like
misfortune would be almost the ruin of it. A lady told me that she was
residing on the quay at the time, and mentioned a curious circumstance.
The countless rats infesting the banks suddenly made their appearance by
thousands, and sat on the window-sills, or any place where they could
be in safety, until the waters had subsided: they then as suddenly
disappeared, and were seen no more.

It seemed that we were destined to witness misfortunes on the day above
alluded to on the shores of the Volga, for we were just on the point
of returning home when another bark hove in sight. We waited, out of
curiosity, to see it pass by. Only one man was on board: he and a dog
were standing together on the deck. At last, perceiving how near they
were to the shore, he resolved to make a desperate attempt to reach it.
He seized a pole, and, calling to his companion, leaped upon a large
sheet of ice that was floating past. The people on shore, admiring his
courage and agility, cheered him to the utmost, and, with shouts and
acclamations, stood ready to welcome him to land. The poor dog, having
less boldness than his master, or warned by instinct of the imminent
danger, remained for a few seconds upon the fast receding bark, whining
with grief and dismay, and then made up his mind to run the same risk.
He soon stood by the side of the man, whose steps he followed as he
leaped from one sheet of ice to another by the aid of the pole. All
eyes were eagerly watching their movements. They really seemed to have
a chance of success. Another and another leap, and they were now within
twenty yards of the shore. “Courage!” shouted the multitude; “there
is but one leap more, and the danger is over.” The man looked at the
crowd of eager faces, all anxious to extend a helping hand, when he was
seen to hesitate, and he trembled violently. Was it possible that at
the last effort his heart failed him? The dog had already leaped the
watery space, and had reached the shore in safety, on which he stood
barking encouragement to his master. “Courage!” again shouted the people;
“Courage!” The piece of ice on which the man was standing was floating
on: there was but one chance, and that was going from him. He summoned
all his energies. A cry of despair was heard, answered by one of horror
from the spectators, as the body of the unhappy peasant was swept rapidly
past us down the river, impelled onwards by the crashing masses under
which he had disappeared. Poor fellow! the ice that had been strong
enough to bear the weight of his light-footed companion, gave way with
his, and the fate he so earnestly sought to avert overtook him at the
last.

A friend of ours related to us that some years before, being at Peterhoff
when the Neva was breaking up, she was at the window one day, when she
thought she perceived an object at an immense distance off on the ice.
By means of a telescope she was enabled to see a poor old peasant on
his knees, his white hair streaming in the wind, his hands raised in
imploring despair towards heaven, apparently praying for that aid that
none, alas! could render him. His horse and telega were standing by, soon
destined to become the prey of the rushing waters that surrounded them.
He was swept gradually from her sight, but, as long as it was possible
to discern him, he still remained on his knees, in the same attitude of
devotion.

In St. Petersburg, as soon as the ice has disappeared, the commandant
of the fortress crosses the river to the winter palace on the opposite
side. Several boats, with flags flying and bands playing, form a kind
of aquatic procession. The custom was, that, on the commandant’s
presentation of a gold cup on this occasion to the Emperor, his Majesty
should return it filled with ducats; “but,” said General P——, “his
Majesty, perceiving that by some unaccountable means the cup became
larger every year, was under the necessity of limiting the number of
ducats to a fixed sum, since which time no change has been observed in
the size of the cup.” It is not until this ceremony has taken place that
any boats are permitted to cross the Neva, as the rapid descent of the
ice may cause fatal accidents.

Immense numbers of native barks come down from the interior as soon
as the river is clear. They are large, unwieldy, flat-bottomed
boats, constructed in a very primitive fashion, with an enormous
barbarous-looking helm, at which a long-bearded peasant, in loose shirt
and trowsers, is generally standing. Several others propel the vessel
with long poles, which must be very fatiguing, as they are obliged to
walk to and fro incessantly. A gallery is often erected outside, on the
upper part of the large corn-barks, with a long wooden seat, on which
the men can sit when the vessel is at anchor. When a couple of these
boats run foul of each other, the people on board run hither and thither,
shouting and bawling with all their might, making clumsy attempts to get
free, and perform a frantic pantomime, as if the accident had driven them
completely mad. At last, _slavo Bogen_! they part company with their
bulky friend, and are in no more danger from his awkward embraces, so all
goes on as before, until a similar event again occurs, when they become
animated by another _accès_.

These poor men have perhaps come a thousand versts or more from their
native villages, pursuing patiently their toilsome and weary journey,
pushing themselves onwards with those long thin poles, walking three
times the length of the whole distance in going to and fro as we see
them now, to bring the produce of their proprietors’ estates—corn, flax,
linseed, deals, and hides. Their cargoes are destined mostly for the
English market, and will be taken in this manner down to Cronstadt,[13]
where they will be transferred to British vessels. Theirs must be a
dreary life, one would think; yet on the banks of the Volga I have often
passed an agreeable hour in listening to their wild songs, is the sounds
were borne to the shore from the strange-looking barks, during the calm
evenings of a Russian summer.

The little ferry-boats that ply on the Neva are slight, dangerous-looking
things, with a very elevated stern, painted with all sorts of colours,
and in every device that may suggest itself to the owner’s fancy:
sometimes there is a fine landscape at the back of the seat, sometimes
extraordinary tulips and marvellous roses, most unhappy-looking fish,
or a melancholy lady and gentleman staring at each other. The boatmen
are like the peasants, with long beards and loose shirts, and generally
civil and obliging; indeed, it must be allowed that the lower class of
the Russians are remarkably so, not only to their superiors, but to each
other. The most unpolished boor in the country will always take off his
hat when he meets a companion or acquaintance, and that with quite as
much respect as to a person above him in rank.

A little pleasure-trip in these small boats to some of the numerous
islands in the vicinity of St. Petersburg is extremely agreeable on a
summer’s evening. These islands are formed by different branches of the
Neva and by canals, which serve to drain the marshy ground of which they
are composed. Although everything about them is purely artificial, Nature
having done little enough to embellish them, yet the effect produced is
very delightful. Pretty little country houses, or fancy isbas, built of
wood and fantastically decorated, show themselves here and there among
the foliage of a forest of trees and shrubs; a Chinese temple or Turkish
kiosk placed on some little promontory arrests our attention; a Greek
statue or Corinthian column ornamenting some sequestered spot, and half
buried in the creeping plants that twine around it. The whole scenery is
entirely flat, there are no hills or even elevations, and its chief charm
consists in the bright-green verdure with which the islands are covered,
the clear blue streams everywhere meeting the eye, and the glorious sky
of a northern summer. Bands of musicians play in various spots on certain
days: they are mostly Germans. These al fresco concerts are excellent,
the pieces (generally selections from operas) are admirably performed,
and crowds of ladies in beautiful dresses, and gentlemen in country
costumes, repair in the evening to attend them. Now and then there is a
benefit-night, otherwise the amusement is entirely gratuitous. As the
entertainment takes place in the open air, even the humblest classes can
enjoy it, and numerous groups of the people may be seen standing at a
respectful distance among the trees, for they are very fond of music. No
disturbances ever take place in Russia, even when a crowd is assembled;
but then, as Count Custine said, when the remark was exultingly made to
him by a Russian nobleman on some public occasion, “Mon cher, c’est très
bien, mais je ne vois pas de peuple!”

Yalagen is among the islands, and is a very favourite place of resort:
the grounds belonging to the palace are beautiful and the flower-garden
charming.

Pavlofski is another place whither many go to reside during the summer:
there is a palace there also and a Vauxhall, whereat concerts and balls
are given. Tzarskoselo is a large estate belonging to the crown, the
grounds of which are laid out in the English style: of course there is
a palace there also. At Gatchen there is another; indeed there seems
no end to imperial residences. Go where you will, there is a country
house belonging either to the Emperor, the Empress, some grand-duchess
or other, nephew or grandchild of Nicholas the Czar. They almost seem to
have descended in some hailstorm, they lie so thickly on the ground. The
expense[14] of supporting them must be almost equal to that incurred by
the “million of men,” the mighty boast of the Russian nation, which is
not yet enlightened enough to perceive who pays for them all.



CHAPTER XVII.

    Education—The highest studies—Russian history—Infallibility
    of the Czar—Moral excellence—Devotedness of a young
    lady—Profiting by instruction—Noble culprits—Education
    of the serfs—The University—The students’ costume—Naval
    school—School for the deaf and dumb—Academy of Fine
    Arts—Priouts—Education of boys—Studies—Ladies’ institutes—Plan
    of education—Uniforms—Private education—Remarks on education in
    Russia.


Education in Russia, unless strictly private and superintended by
tutors and governesses at home, is entirely under the surveillance and
control of the government, in which undoubtedly there is great policy.
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will
not depart from it.” This is a truth from too high an authority to be
called in question, and it is on this principle that the government
acts, justly judging that what is instilled into the mind of youth
is the most difficult to efface, and possesses an influence in after
years that can never be entirely shaken off, although it may become
weakened. Even ordinary schools are visited by inspectors appointed by
the authorities, who examine the pupils, the branches of instruction
studied by them, the books used, &c. By this means they possess immense
power over the rising generation, as of course only such an amount of
knowledge as the government approves of is allowed to be taught—history,
in which the names of the Czars and the dates alone can be regarded as
true, the remainder being merely an historical romance written for the
glorification of Russia and all that appertains to it or to the imperial
family, in which every prince that ever reigned in Muscovy, excepting the
false Dmitri,[15] is recorded as having been possessed of all the virtues
under heaven, while not the slightest notice is taken of their violent
exit from the world; geography and statistics, which magnify every object
within the frontiers of the empire, giving the most fabulous account of
all the possessions and might, the resources and riches of the Czar, and
diminishing those of every other country; and so on of every other study
that can be turned to advantage by the government.

Religion is also taught by priests at all public establishments, and it
must be confessed that one of the chief uses to which it is put is to
inculcate the most slavish reverence for the Emperor, who, according to
them, is infallible in all spiritual and temporal matters, and as holy as
the Pope is in the eyes of fanatical Roman Catholics.

Submission and obedience, or rather slavishness and servility, are
qualities infinitely more valued by the authorities than any other
virtue. On making inquiries of students concerning rewards, &c., we were
always answered, “O, good conduct (_i.e._ submission) is the first
consideration, much greater than the progress we make in our studies.”

All St. Petersburg was in extasy some months ago at an anecdote that
ran the round of the court, and was cited everywhere as the very climax
of moral perfection. It was this. A young lady in one of the first
Institutes of that city, whose brother had been slain at Kalafat by
the Turks, received one morning the news of his death. On its being
communicated to her she smiled and said that she was “rejoiced to hear
it, as he had died for the Emperor.” A sentiment so elevated and noble
was of course repeated to imperial ears, and the pseudo-Spartan damsel
was handsomely rewarded by a splendid dowry, and the assurance that her
future fortune should be cared for. “Pour encourager les autres,” as
Voltaire said on another occasion. When such encouragements are given to
youth of both sexes, and what we should consider as a vice is held up as
the highest point of excellence, and inculcated from the earliest age,
when the heart can be moulded to any form, it would be worse than useless
to expect a just sense of moral independence, nobility of soul, or true
sentiments on liberty, from men and women so educated. To do the Russians
justice, they have “minded what their teachers said,” and have perfected
themselves in the lesson, for, notwithstanding many good natural
qualities which they undeniably possess, I think it would be impossible
to find in any country so much baseness, deceit, and hypocrisy as are to
be met with every day in Russia, and especially in the capital.

One of the greatest punishments to the nobility is the being banished
from St. Petersburg and from the light of the Emperor’s countenance. I
remember, a few years ago, when four ladies of rank, one of whom was,
they say, a Countess O——f, thought proper to go to a masquerade and
afterwards to a restaurant, where they all became “tellement ivres” that
they were taken home by the police on droshskies. Two of them were exiled
to their estates for five years, and it was remarked, _par les mauvaises
langues_, that his Majesty had shown his usual discrimination, for the
two who were endowed with pretty faces were allowed to remain in the
capital (where I believe they are still an _ornament_ to his court), and
the others were sent away.

The government, in its excessive care regarding instruction, has
established colleges and schools for every branch and for every rank in
society excepting _the serfs_, who, poor people! know very little more
than the cattle they drive, or beyond their own name and that of their
village. It is not an exaggeration to say that they do not know their
grandfathers, for among the serfs there are no surnames; like a dog,
they only bear one name while alive, and leave none behind them when
they are dead. Nine out of every ten cannot tell you how old they are,
so it may readily be imagined what the extent of their knowledge is. In
speaking of this wronged and “evil entreated” class, I may mention, as _à
propos_ to the subject of education, that I once went to a school which
M. S——, a gentleman of the province of Twer, boasted he had established
on his estate. He was possessed of nearly four thousand souls (_i.e._
men), so, of course, I expected to see a noisy crowd of merry boys all
busily engaged in learning their A B C. I was shown into a small room
in which were six or eight young lads standing with a dull and heavy
look over some dirty books, the contents of which I had the curiosity to
examine. The first one I took up was a Latin catalogue of the names of
plants, with the pronunciation in Russian letters and the translation on
the opposite page. No wonder, poor boy! he looked dull and heavy, to be
obliged to con over those long botanical names in a language of which he
knew nothing, and to repeat them like a parrot to the master, without
feeling the least interest or meaning in the study. I expressed my
surprise at his having to learn out of such a book, when I was informed
that the lad was destined to be a _gardener on the estate_! and every
one of those eight unhappy youths was only being taught to serve his
owner’s interest. One was to be a steward, another a village apothecary
for the serfs, and so on, just as if they were so many machines of flesh
and blood which might be put to any use that their master pleased. This
circumstance accounted sufficiently for the absence of the others, for,
as they were destined to be merely field-labourers, it was not thought
worth while to teach _them_ any more than the horses and oxen on the
estate!

The University at St. Petersburg is a long white-faced building on the
quay of Vassili Ostroff. The students are taught as much as it is thought
proper for them to know, and their studies are conducted under the
watchful eye of the authorities; from all I could find out, astronomy
seems the only science that is permitted to be thoroughly investigated by
Russian subjects;[16] for the revolutions of the stars have not much to
do with those of monarchies, nor the precession of the equinox with the
advance of civilization.

Some years ago I was told an anecdote, which I was assured was a true
one, and my informant affirmed that he knew the parties well. I will
relate it here, as it may serve to show how matters are conducted in the
Russian _alma mater_. I premise that the students do not reside under the
roof of the university, but have to find lodgings elsewhere, and that
many of them are extremely poor. Among the latter class was a young man
of more than ordinary talents, who by great perseverance and industrious
application had twice merited the prize; but there were two obstacles to
his receiving it; the first was his poverty, which forbade him to offer
any of those golden bribes which cause the superiors to discover wisdom
in a fool and talent in an idiot; the second was the dislike one of the
professors bore to him and his jealousy of his talents.

The young student, having been twice cheated of his just reward, was yet
determined upon making a third effort to obtain it. His finances were
become so reduced, that it was only by great privations and excessive
economy that he could manage to exist, and pay for the humble lodging he
occupied; indeed it was almost beyond his means to remain long enough
to pass his examination. He was sure of the prize if it depended only
on the knowledge required to obtain it; and it may readily be imagined
with what anxiety he awaited the day which was to decide his fate.
I should remark that more than the actual honour was involved; his
daily bread, his very rescue from utter starvation, depended upon his
passing the ordeal with credit; as so doing would entitle him to some
post under government, which would furnish him with at least the means
of subsistence. The time at last arrived; the examination was passed,
and nothing remained but the receiving of the reward which he had so
justly earned. All the professors, excepting the one before-mentioned,
had testified their approbation; _his_ voice alone was necessary to
complete the votes that would decide the affair. All eyes were turned
on him, when suddenly he arose and announced his intention of retaining
his “suffrage,” making some remarks concerning the conduct (_i.e._
submission) of the student as the excuse for his hateful injustice. The
unfortunate young man, before whose eyes starvation and want presented
themselves in grim and terrible reality, who had been buoyed up to the
very last moment with the certainty of reward, now saw all his hopes
scattered to the winds, his prospects for the future dashed to the
earth, his plan for his own support and that of his mother (for he was a
widow’s son) crumbled into dust. Indignation at the injustice, grief at
his loss, anger, rage, and despair, seized upon his heart, and, urged by
an irresistible impulse, he rushed forward and struck the villain whose
envy and hatred had caused him so great a misfortune. He was immediately
arrested, brought to trial, and condemned by the Emperor himself to
receive a thousand lashes of the knout.

This instrument, which happily is unknown out of the Muscovite empire,
inflicts so dreadful a chastisement, that a single blow, when struck on
particular parts of the back or side, is sufficient to deprive a human
being of life; and I have often been assured that, if the criminal be
rich enough, he pays the wretch destined to be his executioner[17] to
put him as speedily as possible out of his pain, by striking him in a
vital part. When the day arrived on which the unhappy young man was to
suffer for his imprudence, the whole of the students and professors were
ordered to be assembled to witness his punishment, the horrible details
of which can scarcely be conceived; at every blow of the barbarous knout
a long line of flesh flew off, until the bones were quite bare and the
heart was exposed to view. Of course long ere this the unfortunate
victim had ceased to breathe, but the sentence was a thousand lashes,
and, whether he was alive or dead, the number must be given. Several of
the horror-stricken students, the spectators of this disgraceful sight,
were lying insensible on the ground, having fainted with dismay; and my
informant shuddered as he mentioned that a piece of flesh fell on his own
sleeve as the knout was uplifted. The Almighty will be the judge between
this wronged man and his assassins; but what real civilization can exist
in a land where such savage acts are done? Scenes such as this are
sufficient to show from their cruelty the barbarous state of the nation
at large, and would do more to retard its enlightenment than a whole
university of professors could contribute to its advancement.

Whilst speaking of this horrible punishment I may mention another
execution which took place in St. Petersburg, although it has nothing
to do either with the university or education. A certain _gentleman_
(?), who was rich in “blood and ore,” employed his faculties in the
invention of what may be designated a truly “infernal machine” for
the castigation of his slaves: it was constructed in such a manner
that, when the unfortunate delinquent was placed in it, so that he
could not move, a piece of mechanism, ingeniously contrived, was put
in motion and inflicted severe blows on his back. The slaves, at last
driven to desperation at being made victims for his amusement, one
day placed _him_ in the machine, and let him feel by experience the
pain he had so often out of mere wanton cruelty caused them to endure.
How he escaped from their hands I never heard; but he did find means
to do so, and immediately lodged complaints against them; they were
cited, and condemned to be knouted. An eye-witness of their punishment
assured me that the same fearful details took place as those mentioned
in the preceding example; but he also added that carriages filled with
ladies (to their shame and disgrace) were drawn up in a line, and their
occupants were the spectators of this diabolical execution. Well might
our friend have pronounced that “c’était le siècle de Louis Quinze,” for
does not this remind us of the crowd of ladies of _his_ court who were
witnesses to the awful punishment of his would-be assassin, and of the
_amiable_ countess who so _feelingly and gracefully_ gave a description
of the horrid scene at an evening party on the same day on which she had
seen it?

But enough of these horrors; let us return to the subject from which
their recital has formed a long digression. The University men eschew
the long black gown and square-topped cap of Oxford and Cambridge, and
have an uniform assigned them in which a cocked-hat and sword figure
as the most remarkable features. As regards the hat, there is nothing
against that, as we may suppose a cocked one answers the purpose of
covering the head as well as any other; but the utility of the sword is
incomprehensible. A great number of the students are Germans, or rather
Russo-Germans, and some of them are excellent musicians; they give a
concert about once a fortnight during the winter season, for the benefit
of their poorer brethren. These concerts are well worth attending, not
only for the pleasure of contributing to a laudable purpose, but also
from the excellent manner in which the music is performed.

There is a naval school at the Admiralty, in which maritime affairs are
taught by theory, and fresh-water sailors manufactured.

“Have you ever been to sea?” I asked of a young officer of
three-and-twenty.

“Oh, yes!” was the reply, “certainly; I have been to Helsingfors!”

There is a corps forestier, an establishment in which the mode of
cultivating land, planting trees, &c., is taught. The gardens belonging
to this corps are about four miles from St. Petersburg, and are very
interesting; they contain a great variety of shrubs and flowers, to
which much attention is paid. The grounds are laid out in the English
style.

Not far from this college, on the Viborg road, is one for the deaf and
dumb. I frequently saw the boys out at play in the garden attached to
the establishment. The utter silence reigning among so many unfortunate
youths had a mournful and oppressive effect, but they seemed happy and
even merry. I had no opportunity of learning anything touching the mode
of instruction pursued, or to what occupation the young men were destined
upon quitting; perhaps the government finds them _useful_.

In St. Petersburg there is an academy for actors and actresses, near the
Alexander Theatre; they are educated at the expense of the crown, and for
the first fifteen years after completing their training they are obliged
to give up the greater part of their salaries to the government; this
arrangement cannot be very gratifying to the artistes one would think,
for those fifteen years must be the very best in their lives, supposing
that they commence their histrionic career at the age of eighteen. After
the expiration of the above term they are free to retain for themselves
all they earn by their engagements.

A large square building in Vassili Ostrof is the Academy of the Fine
Arts, where the productions of modern painters are exhibited every
year for a certain length of time. Great encouragement is given by the
government to the students, and he who gains the first prize is sent at
the expense of the crown to travel in various countries for the space of
two years, so that he may have the advantage of seeing the works of men
of genius, and of profiting by them.

As the Russian government is a military one, there are of course
innumerable establishments for the education of officers: there are the
Gymnasiums, the Corps des Pages, and fifty others, in which warlike
studies are pursued. “Notre Empereur aime à jouer aux soldats,” said a
Russian; “ce n’est pas sûr qu’il FAIT des soldats.”

There are commercial schools for the bourgeoisie, and priouts, or
establishments on the Bell and Lancaster system, for poor children, such
as those of petty shopkeepers, domestic servants, and such like. Immense
numbers of the scholars in all the colleges and different establishments
are maintained at the expense of the crown; others are paid for by their
parents.

The boys are always under the embarrassing restraints of a strict
surveillance; even young men of seventeen and eighteen cannot go home
or return from school unless they are attended by a relation or a
servant. This plan, although it may be thought proper for young ladies,
seems excessively ridiculous for young men; and of course, as a natural
consequence of such a measure, as soon as they become their own masters
they do not know how to govern themselves; and this is doubtless the
cause of a vast deal of evil in Russia.

The study of the greatest importance in the Russian code of instruction
is that of modern languages,—French, German, and English. The classic
tongues are but little studied. Very few gentlemen know Latin, and still
fewer have any acquaintance with Greek. Although it is agreeable to be
able to converse in all these different languages, yet upon the whole it
must be a defect in the plan of education to learn so many at once; for
the time thus taken up in acquiring so many words and grammatical rules
would be better employed in obtaining useful and solid information in
one’s own, and that is what the Russians are extremely deficient in. A
great many really know nothing beyond the frontiers of their own country.
The appearance of knowledge given by the facility of chattering fluently
in so many languages is a kind of imposition unless accompanied by the
acquirement of the wisdom contained in each.

The establishments set apart for young ladies are under the surveillance
of the authorities in an equal degree as those of the other sex. The
principal colleges, or institutes as they are called, are—the Catherine,
in which none but girls of noble birth are admitted; the Smolnoy, which
is divided into two parts, one of which is for noble children and the
other for the bourgeoisie; the Patriotic, for ladies of inferior rank;
the Elizabeth, for the daughters of merchants, employés, &c.; the
Foundling, for orphans and others; and the different Priouts, similar to
those for the education of boys.

The branches of study are various. As usual, languages take the first
rank, followed by geography, religion, ancient and modern history (_à
la Russe_), physics, &c. &c.; for each of these there is a professor
appointed by the crown. Music, drawing, dancing, and singing form the
accomplishments, to which much time is devoted.

In the Catherine Institute there are nearly four hundred young ladies of
rank, and it is an excellent establishment, admirably conducted, under
the direction of a lady of high rank who is responsible to the Empress;
she is assisted by three ladies who have the title of inspectresses,
and surveillantes, called dames de classe. The directress is always
designated Mamma by the pupils, which has a pleasing social sound. The
ladies who conduct the establishment are obliged to wear an uniform,
which consists of a dark blue dress and lace cap: the pupils, who are
divided into two great classes, have also their uniform; the high class
wear a puce-coloured stuff frock, the lower a dark green; but they all
have white aprons, sleeves, and tippets, similar to those of our national
schools.

The young ladies enter for six years, three of which are passed in the
lower class, and the remainder of the term in the upper. During the
whole of this period they are not allowed to be absent on any pretence
whatever; they never go out for a walk, and only twice a year for a
drive, and they live quite as retired from the exterior world as if
they were buried in a convent. In the establishment there is a church,
an hospital, and a splendid ball-room, and attached to it are a priest,
a comptroller of the household, an architect and carpenters, a band of
musicians, a guard of soldiers, and an immense number of servants, who
have been educated for the purpose. The greatest order and regularity
prevail; but the influence of a military government is felt even in a
school for young ladies, which gives a kind of mannerism to those brought
up under this system, as every action has its drilling before going on
parade. One day when I was there I noticed an unusual shouting in the
ball-room; one of the inspectresses was continually entering and quitting
it; each time she did so I remarked the same simultaneous cheers as
before. Curiosity led me to inquire what it meant. “Oh!” I was answered,
“it is only the young ladies practising the salutation to the superior
when she arrives, for she is to come the day after to-morrow from the
country, and they are therefore rehearsing ‘We hope you are well, Mamma,’
so that they may all say it together.”

Notwithstanding the brilliant education that the young ladies receive by
the aid of so many first-rate professors, and the care and trouble taken
in their surveillance, it is still a question whether it is wise to have
so many young people together; at least, it does not agree with the ideas
usually entertained in England. There is another great defect in this
plan; the pupils have so very little leisure that they can take neither
exercise nor recreation; the only unoccupied time they have is one
hour after dinner, which they spend in walking up and down the immense
corridors which run the whole length of the building. The even tenor of
their existence is varied by balls among themselves on the anniversary
of an imperial birthday, that of the coronation, the saint’s day of the
Institute, &c. On these occasions the invitations are restricted to
female relatives of the young ladies. They have also a long recess during
the summer; but they often used to tell me in confidence “that they
would rather the masters came, for it made a little variety.” A sortie
or breaking up takes place once in three years, when the whole of the
upper class leave the school, and then the lower take their place and
become the first. A public examination takes place on these occasions, at
which most of the imperial family are present; prizes are awarded, the
highest of which is le chiffre or the Empress’s initials in diamonds, and
the others consist in gold and silver medals. The young lady who gains
the first prize becomes immortalized by having her name inscribed in
golden letters on an oval board, painted dark blue, which is suspended
in the ball-room, which the others have the pleasure of reading every
day, and which serves to incite them to obtain a like distinction. She
is also honoured by a kiss from the Empress. At the sortie the friends
and relations attend, when some excellent performances on the piano,
beautiful singing by the pupils, and the examination of their drawings
and embroidery, form a part of this interesting ceremony.

In addition to the studies and accomplishments before mentioned, there
is a week at certain intervals in which the young ladies are taught to
embroider, and attend in the kitchen to learn the culinary art. I have
taken the Catherine Institute as an example, as it is the first in the
empire, but the others are conducted nearly on the same plan. The Smolnoy
Institute contains a greater number of pupils, because several classes of
society are received: there are eight hundred in the two divisions. In
the Patriotic there are three hundred and fifty, in the Elizabeth three
hundred, in the Foundling six hundred. There are similar establishments
in Moscow.

Everything is found for the use of the pupils by the crown: their
dresses, linen, shoes, even their pocket-handkerchiefs. The
surveillantes, or dames de classe, are “de service” every alternate day,
the other is entirely at their own disposal.

Private education, that is education conducted under the parent’s roof,
is in almost every instance directed by foreigners—French, English, or
Germans. If the family be rich, generally an individual of each nation
is resident in the house, by which means the practice of speaking the
three languages is ensured. It is very rare that a Russian is engaged
either as tutor or as governess. The Russians are extremely kind to those
who undertake the education of their children. Certainly in respect,
consideration, and _manière d’être_ towards them, they set an excellent
example which might with advantage be followed elsewhere; for they judge
truly when they say “that, if they be wanting in these points themselves
towards those intrusted with the care of their children, they could not
expect those children to profit from their instruction or respect them
as they ought to do.” In speaking of education in general I should say
that in Russia there is a great deal too much restraint and watching,
leaving the young person no time for reflection by which the mind may
be strengthened, and by this means so much distrust is displayed in the
conduct of a youth of either sex, that, as a natural consequence, lying,
deceit, and cunning are produced, for no human being likes to know that
his every action is the subject of an established espionage, and he will
inevitably resort to meanness to avoid detection. Too much attention
also is paid to exterior and showy accomplishments, such as dancing,
music, &c.; if they make a good figure in these, _peu importe le reste_.
In Russia there are few, it must be confessed, whom we should call
well-informed people, among either the ladies or gentlemen.

The whole system of education in Russia seems to have been, indeed,
expressly devised for stifling all feelings of independence in the
heart of youth, so that they may submit without a struggle to the
despotic government under which they have had the misfortune to be
born. Their minds are formed to one pattern, just as their persons are
by the military drill; their energies are made to contribute in every
way towards the aggrandizement of the Czar’s power, and to render more
solid the chains of their country. “We can have no _great men_,” said
a Russian, “because they are all absorbed in the name of the Emperor:”
meaning that _individual_ glory could not exist. The Mussulman teaches
his child—“There is but one God, and Mahomet is his prophet.” The Russian
as piously inculcates the precept that “Nicholas is his general.” “God
and the Czar know it,” is often the reply of a Muscovite when he can give
no direct answer to a question. A gentleman was one evening giving us an
account of the Emperor’s journey to Moscow, and of the manner in which
he had been received on the route. “I assure you,” continued he, “it was
gratifying in the extreme; for _the peasants knelt_ as he passed, just
as if ‘c’était le bon Dieu lui-même.’” Whatever pleasure _he_ might have
felt on the occasion, I could not help regarding with astonishment and
intense disgust a person who could thus exultingly speak of the moral
degradation of his countrymen.



CHAPTER XVIII.

    Moscow—Poushkin’s verses—The Moscowites—Dislike of
    foreigners—Antipathy to the St. Petersburg people—Ancient
    devotees—Places of amusement—General remarks—The Kremlin—The
    churches—General view of the city—Napoleon—The miraculous
    image—Ivan and his recompence for genius—The Gostinoi Dwor—The
    shopkeepers’ brides—A wedding coach—The Tartar—The Persian—The
    Metropolitan of Moscow—The Jews—The shopkeepers—Smoking—The
    Tiramà, or ancient palace—The new palace—The Treasury—The
    diadems—The Tartars of the present day—The church of Warsaw—The
    last fight for freedom—Various curiosities—Spoils of the
    _grande armée_—The officer’s widow—French refugees: their
    gratitude—The model of the Kremlin.


Although this is no book of travels, but merely a sketch of the Russians
and Russian life, yet, as I have frequently spoken of Moscow, perhaps
a description of it may be acceptable. This beautiful city strikes the
stranger with admiration, as much from its fine situation as from the
semi-Asiatic barbarism of its splendour. Poushkin, the national poet,
speaks of its gardens and its palaces, its crosses, and its cupolas that
“form a crescent,” and appeals to the hearts of his countrymen in some
beautiful stanzas that find their echo in every Russian breast, for there
is no place in the empire for which they have so great an affection.
“Mother” Moscow is the endearing epithet they bestow on their ancient
capital; and they would rather see St. Petersburg buried in the morasses
on which it is built than that any evil should befal Moscow. Patriotism
in every people is to be admired; and certainly the love the Russians
bear to their country, although mixed up with much fanaticism, is worthy
of our respect. Moscow has all the prestige of a holy city, and is still
regarded by the _nation_ as the capital. The Moscowites themselves look
down on the inhabitants of St. Petersburg as a kind of _parvenus_ and
mushrooms,—people of no caste, and a race of mixed blood, descended from
foreigners and adventurers,—whilst they hold themselves up as the true
sons of Old Russia, and are in every respect much more truly Russian
than the St. Petersburg people. The feeling against foreigners, although
their society is much courted by the upper classes, is, as a national
sentiment, very strong. Were a revolution to break out, I have heard it
said a thousand times, they would be the first to fall victims to the
people’s rage, for they are looked on as heretics, and subverters of
the manners and customs of their forefathers, to which they cling as
tenaciously as any oriental nation. If the lower class were to rise,
as some fear they will do, a Russian massacre of St. Bartholomew would
inevitably ensue. The English _were_ the most liked and respected by them
before the late events; they are now the most intensely hated of any.

The general rule appears to be, that what is liked in St. Petersburg
should be hated in Moscow, and _vice versâ_; if, therefore, an actress
or singer _fait fureur_ in the western city, she is immediately hissed
in the eastern. If people be in an extasy of delight at some grand
discovery, such as table-moving, which has occupied the _powerful_
intellect of the inhabitants of St. Petersburg for the last year and a
half, it is, of course, but coldly received in Moscow; and so on. In
religion the Moscowites are in everything the most orthodox “Greek.”
It seems an established rule that old ladies superannuated from society
should go to reside in Moscow, in order to spend their last years among
the ancient churches, bigoted priests, monks, and nuns, with which the
city is perfectly crowded. When the world has lost its charms for them
(or, rather, they have lost their charms for the world), they retire
thither, and assiduously fast, pray, and _pay_, in the hopes of more
surely paving the road to heaven, and removing the brambles of youthful
sins and follies out of their path. The time that was formerly spent by
them at balls, the opera, and card-tables, they now devote to nightly
vigils in the churches, attending mass, and in visits to the convents and
their musty inmates. The money which they used to throw away in gambling
and extravagance, they now employ in making rich gifts to religious
houses, in purchasing dresses for the priests, and in giving presents to
pilgrims; so that, as may be supposed, the prospect of living merrily in
Moscow is rather clouded; but fortunately there are people neither so
old nor so bigoted but that they have amusements of their own. There are
an opera, a French theatre, assembly-rooms, which are very splendid, and
every social entertainment the same as in St. Petersburg; but the truth
must be told, they are all in very second-rate style. The streets in
Moscow are irregular, narrow, and badly paved, but there is an Asiatic
look about them and the inhabitants that pleases from its novelty. Some
of the houses are magnificent in appearance, and the elevated situation
of many of them adds greatly to their effect: they lie scattered here
and there among gardens, which serve greatly to embellish the general
aspect of the city. The views presented by almost every opening are
really beautiful, and possess so great a variety that they never cease
to delight the eye. The churches are extremely curious; many of them
are very ancient, and, were it not for the gilt crosses on the top,
they might be mistaken for oriental mosques. Some of them have the most
strange galleries on the exterior, the most extraordinary embellishments
of paint and colours, twisted towers, and wonderful roofs, that can be
imagined. But let us take a walk into the Kremlin, and have a general
view of the whole city. We are now passing down the Kousmitski Most,
or Smiths’ Bridge, which is the principal street, the Pall-Mall of the
Moscowites; there are some good shops, nearly all French or Italian, yet
everything bears the stamp of a _second_ capital. The faces we meet are
quite in a different style from those we saw in St. Petersburg: some of
them are extremely pretty, and others very much the contrary. I believe
it was in Moscow that I saw the most frightful countenance I ever beheld.
There are not many pedestrians: the Moscow people are too Asiatic to
be fond of exercise. The carriages that pass contain numerous portly
old ladies and gentlemen, some of them with very Tartar-like faces,
and looking solemn and grave. A few minutes’ walk, and we are at the
far-famed Kremlin itself. Its massive walls, and curious towers tapering
to the sky, with small loopholes and windows, the terrace of earth on
which it is built, may all recall to our mind the time when it formed
the stronghold of Muscovy, when men fought with bows and arrows, and the
besiegers were repulsed from lofty battlements. The general appearance
almost reminds us of the pictures of the old palaces of Hindûstan, so
perfectly oriental does it seem. What a number of churches crowded
together! What a variety of domes, cupolas, and crosses, all glittering
in the sun! That long, narrow garden, which forms a walk under the walls,
was formerly the moat which rendered the Kremlin a more secure abode for
the Czar, for here is still the ancient palace of the Muscovite monarchs.
That huge white building yonder, audaciously lifting its staring front
over the walls, is the new imperial residence, which joins on to the
old one. It certainly spoils the picturesque _ensemble_ of the Kremlin,
and looks infinitely more like a range of barracks than aught else.
Crossing the sloping way over the Alexander Gardens, we perceive that
the wall encloses within its precincts not only innumerable churches and
convents, but an arsenal and casernes, before which are displayed, in a
very prominent manner, several handsome guns, a part of the spoils of the
_grande armée_, as they say. As we proceed we see a variety of curious
old churches, each more quaint and interesting than the last; and now we
have a good view of Ivan Veliki (or the Cathedral of John the Great),
the pride of the Moscowites, in front of which is the celebrated great
bell of which everybody has heard or read. Several monks sweep past us
in their long black gowns, and innumerable military men saunter about,
making a fitting group in the foreground. If we stand and look over this
wall on the side of the walk, we shall have a view that is worth coming
a thousand versts to see. Below us lies the city; what a gay-looking
place! The gilt domes and golden crosses, the star-bespangled cupolas,
the belfries with their lofty spires, the palace-like buildings, the
gardens, the gaily-painted roofs, the very irregularity of the streets,
lend an additional beauty; the hills on which the city is built, rising
from the Moskwa’s banks, succeed each other until lost in the distance.
The only object wanting to render the panorama perfect is water. What a
pity that the river is so narrow and scanty! The view of Moscow, for an
inland town, if it only had the broad Volga running through it instead of
this poor shallow stream, which scarcely serves to float the river-boats,
would be unequalled, excepting perhaps by the city of Mexico, which
filled Cortez and his iron warriors with so much delight. That enormous
square building with a church in the centre, that we see yonder to the
left, is the Foundling Hospital: it contains some thousands of inmates;
the children are brought up to serve the crown, or as servants and
needlewomen, according to their sex. The present state of affairs in
Russia renders such establishments necessary, in order to prevent the
crime of infanticide, which would otherwise be a common one. Far away to
the right are the Sparrow Hills, a very pretty place of resort for picnic
parties, &c.

It was near the spot on which we now are that Napoleon the Great is said
to have stood and gazed on the flames of the burning city beneath him,
in whose red glare of fiery light he read, as Belshazzar did of old upon
the wall, that his empire had passed away. Why did not Nicholas learn of
a mightier man than himself how dangerous it is to invade the hearths and
altars of another race, when ambition and not justice prompts the deed?

We could remain here for hours and yet never be tired of gazing on this
beautiful tableau; but there are many other objects to see, and so we
will continue our promenade.

In crossing the space within the Kremlin we pass more churches and more
barracks until we reach the Holy Gate: the picture of the Virgin and
Child is above it—of course it is a miraculous one. One of the greatest
miracles it ever performed was the remaining where it is when the French
invaded the city; for that gay and frolicsome people tried, so the
Russians say, with all their force to remove it, but in vain; so, _sous
entendu_, it could be nothing but a supernatural power that kept it fixed
where we now see it. We heretics may imagine, from its shabby appearance,
that they let it stay because it really was not worth their while to take
it away. The Russians regard it with extreme reverence, and the sentinel
placed near has strict orders to let no one pass through the gateway
unless he uncover his head. We ladies are exempted from this penalty, and
having unceremoniously walked through the arch we reach the large space
in front of the Gorod or Gostinoi Dwor. That strangely-built church to
the right, painted of all sorts of colours and twisted into all sorts
of contortions, is one that was erected at the command of Vassili the
Blessed, or, as some say, Ivan the Terrible, the Muscovite Caligula,[18]
who was so enchanted with it when it was finished that he ordered the
architect’s eyes to be _pulled out_, lest he should ever construct
another similar in beauty. What a pleasing encouragement to genius!

That heavy statue in front of the Gostinoi Dwor was, they say, cast to
commemorate the defeat of the Poles when Poland was more powerful than
Russia. That ponderous arm appears disproportioned to the figure. The
Gorod is much larger than the Gostinoi Dwor in St. Petersburg, but it
is neither so clean nor kept in so good order: I think the shopmen are
still more tiresome with their “What do you wish?” Some of the shops
contain things of great value, although not displayed to view. That
decent-looking woman is inspecting real cashmere shawls. “How much is
this one?” she asks.

“Seven hundred silver roubles” (110_l._); and he adds, “not a copeck
less.”

That young girl standing near her is her daughter; she is going to be
married, and one of these expensive shawls must always form an item
in the dowry of a shopkeeper’s bride. Generally, the most extravagant
furs, brocades, jewels, and satins are to be seen worn by the women
of this class: they frequently have no bonnet, and wear merely a silk
handkerchief tied tightly round the head and fastened in the front with a
diamond brooch. That splendid carriage with six horses, three postilions,
coachman, and two footmen behind, all richly bedizened with gold lace,
and having cocked hats trimmed with white ostrich-feathers, is one
sent to fetch another bride of the merchant class: she is probably the
destined wife of one of the shopkeepers in this Gostinoi Dwor. I remember
once seeing the dowry of one of these people; it was being carried by
on the heads of about sixty men one after another. Such quantities of
fine things, enough to raise the envy of all the damsels in the city.
Certainly there was nothing hidden under a bushel, for every article
was frankly displayed to the greatest advantage in midday and in the
public streets. Formerly it was the custom to marry the daughters at
twelve and thirteen: there are many now alive who were married at that
youthful age, but an ukase has since been published forbidding any girl
to be espoused before she has attained her seventeenth year. That man
with a covered dish is selling hot blinnies (pancakes); he seems to find
numerous customers. The one next to him is a Tartar; his shaven head is
covered by a light-coloured felt hat, and he wears a long blue caftan,
which is their usual costume: he is vending Kazane soap, made of eggs,
and very much prized by the ladies. Like all Mahometans he abominates
pork. We used to see the village children, as one was passing, hold the
two corners of their apron in their fingers, imitating the shape of pigs’
ears, which invariably filled them with unutterable disgust, and which
they always showed by spitting several times over the shoulder. The man
opposite, standing in front of an eastern-looking shop, is a Persian:
notice his high black sheepskin cap of a conical shape, such as those
seen on the Nimroud sculptures, and his long open sleeves tied in a knot
behind his back: he is speaking to a countryman of his in a language that
seems to equal the Italian for its softness. His Asiatic countenance and
elegant appearance form a marked contrast to the group of peasants near
him, who are standing admiring the shoes and boots of coloured leather
embroidered with gold and silver, for which the town of Torjock is
celebrated.

Yonder goes the metropolitan of Moscow in his coach and six, exactly
similar to the one we saw in St. Petersburg. They say that he would not
be long primate here if his Majesty had the power to remove him, for
even _his_ authority finds a check in the reverence and respect with
which his Eminence is regarded by the Russian people. He is the author of
several theological works, and bears besides so exemplary a character for
piety and good works, that it is no wonder they look upon him as a saint:
indeed there are many so designated in the Greek kalendar who have not
merited the title half so well.

Many of those whom we meet have the unmistakeable traits of the Hebrew
countenance, yet there are no Jews allowed to reside either in Moscow or
St. Petersburg unless they produce the certificate of their baptism. Can
it be that the temptation of gain has caused them to _call_ themselves
Christians and to forswear the creed of their fathers?

The people of Moscow seem even greater lovers of tea than those of St.
Petersburg, for almost every shopman is comforted by a glass of it, which
is constantly standing on the counter beside him. On the other side
you may remark a small frame with strong wires stretched across it, on
which wooden or ivory heads are threaded, by means of which he makes his
calculations very rapidly, the Russian money being in decimals. It is
most probably an invention introduced by the Chinese, as Mr. Davis speaks
of an instrument exactly similar in common use in the Celestial Empire,
and very likely the merchants from that country, at the great fair of
Nishni Novogorod, might have first taught the Muscovites its utility. It
is true that with this instrument they can instantly calculate any sum
of whatever amount, but it must be a bad practice after all to do so, as
without its aid they can do nothing in arithmetic, and appear quite at a
loss in counting the most trifling sums.

That gentleman opposite is making a bargain with our friend the Persian;
he wishes to buy some narghilés. See what a number of pipes he has
brought out, of all fashions and prices; some of them are beautifully
ornamented: he finds a ready sale for them, the Russians being as much
addicted to smoking as any Oriental nation, but it is strictly forbidden
to do so in the streets; any person seen so occupied would be taken to
the police-station. There is a story they used to tell in St. Petersburg;
I do not know whether it be a true one, as so many anecdotes are invented
about the Emperor. One morning he was walking down the Perspective, and a
French gentleman, who was on a visit to the capital, was sauntering along
with a cigar, the tip of which was as red as a ruby, and pretty wreaths
of smoke were gaily ascending in the frosty air. The Emperor looked at
him, and he in return looked at the Emperor. He then, with all the grace
for which the _grande nation_ is celebrated, accosted him in elegant
French, and turned to enter into a little chat. His Majesty took it all
in good part, and they continued their walk until they came near the
palace; but on the way he mentioned to the stranger that the strictest
orders were given concerning smoking, and asked if he had heard of them.
The Frenchman replied that he believed somebody had told him something
about it, but he was going to leave Russia in a day or so, and he would
not care even if he met Nicholas himself. Just at that moment the guard
turned out and saluted his Majesty. “Ah!” said the Frenchman, “and who
are you, mon cher?” “I _am_ Nicholas himself,” answered the Emperor. The
gallant Français immediately put his cigar in his pocket.

The Kremlin we have just visited contains, among other interesting
buildings, the Tiramà and the Treasury. The first mentioned is the
ancient palace of the Czars. Among other apartments shown are those
formerly occupied as a kind of harem. The Russian women in former times
were kept as secluded from the world as are the ladies in eastern
countries: they were veiled and jealously guarded, and were not allowed
to quit the palace even to go to church: the place on which they were
accustomed to stand to hear the mass sung in the adjoining cathedral
was pointed out to us. The rooms in the Tiramà are small, with vaulted
ceilings, the whole of which, as well as the walls, are completely
covered with arabesque paintings exceedingly rich and curious: they were
executed by Byzantine artists: the doors are _à jour_ and similarly
decorated.

The chair, table, and Bible of the Czar Alexis, father of Peter the
Great, are carefully preserved in one of the apartments: the book was
securely locked, so we could not see in what language it was written,
probably in Sclavonic. The window still exists out of which the so-called
false Dmitri leaped when the insurgents had effected an entrance into the
palace in order to assassinate him. The story of this unfortunate prince
still remains an enigma in history: certainly it was greatly to the
advantage of Shuisky, his immediate successor, and of those that followed
him, to endeavour to prove that he was an impostor. Outside of the
palace is the terrace on which the Czars appeared after their accession
to the throne, to show themselves to the people in all the pomp and
circumstance of imperial power.

The church adjoining the Tiramà is curious and very ancient: there are a
great many paintings and ornaments in the old Byzantine style.

Connected with this antique palace is the new one built by the present
Emperor: it is certainly magnificent in the interior, from the immensity
and splendour of the suite of state apartments, each of which is
designated after one of the orders of knighthood. I do not know which
is the most imposing of these grand halls; each one is perfect in
itself and of its kind, but the largest is that of St. George.[19] The
walls are completely covered with gilt arabesque carving, relieved at
intervals by the insignia of the order; enormous chandeliers depend from
the ceiling, and the floors are of inlaid oak. Even in the daytime the
effect of so much gilding was dazzling, and when the lamps are lighted
it must be almost overpowering. So much glitter and overcharged ornament
do not accord with our English taste, accustomed as we are to Gothic
architecture and buildings of simple grandeur; but the Russians are
extremely fond of show and barbaric splendour, so that perhaps they look
with equal _dégoût_ on our public edifices.

The treasury contains a great variety of interesting objects. In the
jewel-room, placed on pedestals, are sixteen crowns, among which is the
imperial diadem of Russia, the crown of unhappy Poland, and those of
Siberia and Astrachan. Both of the latter are extremely curious, and
resemble a highly-ornamented skull-cap of gold, trimmed round with black
fur. Whilst gazing on these, it is impossible to avoid reflecting upon
the vicissitudes of nations. I remember when we were staying near the
Volga, in the summer-time, we frequently took a walk along the upper
bank, whence we could look down on the river and watch the numerous barks
heavily laden with corn and other raw produce, being tugged up the stream
by gangs of Tartars; they were harnessed together like so many cattle,
sometimes as many as forty in a company, with a headman or driver. Now
and then they were allowed an hour or so for rest, and, just like so many
beasts of burthen, they threw themselves, leashed together as they were,
upon the bare ground, and were soon asleep. When the leader thought that
they had reposed long enough, he went about from one to another, kicking
them up with as little ceremony as if they were merely slumbering dogs.
Having received a sufficient number of these gentle admonitions, the men
arose, and immediately re-commenced their toilsome journey, singing with
sharp piercing voices the barbarous songs they had learned far away amid
the plains of Tartary, and with which they awoke the echoes in a land
where their forefathers once caused their scarcely less savage war-cry to
resound. The very cities through which they were wearily marching bore
the monuments of their ancestors’ triumphs, and many a high wall of earth
or solid tower pointed out the spot over which they reigned in other
times as the conquerors of the land. In gazing on these Tartar slaves,
whose faces had no more expression than that of a brute, one could
scarcely believe that these were the descendants of a race at whose name
not only all Asia but the whole of eastern Europe trembled, who founded
empires and dynasties, who overran kingdoms and carried monarchs away
captive, and who have left the traces of their conquests from the Yellow
Sea to the Neva. Among other objects to be seen at the Treasury are the
throne of Poland, her sceptre, and, alas for her! the keys of Warsaw. How
sad must be the feelings of a Polish heart at the sight of the spoils of
his miserable country! When I was at Warsaw I saw the church at which the
unhappy people made their _last_ stand against the overwhelming armies
of Russia. When every other part of the city had fallen into the hands
of the enemy, the Poles shut themselves up in the church that is to the
right as you enter from the St. Petersburg road, determined in their
despair at least to sell their lives as dearly as possible, and to perish
rather than to become the degraded slaves of the hated Muscovites. They
fought until, faint and weary, they could defend the place no longer;
they were forced to give way, and the Russians entered. Heaps of the
dying and the dead, weeping women who were on their knees praying for
the aid of Heaven, infants wildly clasped in the arms of their frantic
mothers, wretched girls shrieking with terror or vainly begging for
mercy, wounded children and bleeding patriots were presented to the sight
of the savage soldiers in their _career of glory_! The victors did not
remain long in the church, and when they quitted it there was not a man,
woman, or child left alive within its walls—“thus was _Warsaw_ lost and
won!” The lady who was with me spoke in guarded whispers as she recounted
the sorrows of her country, and looked round several times in fear lest
she should be heard by some passer by, so dangerous is it to speak the
truth under Russian rule.

Perhaps the time will come when the blackened walls of this doubly sacred
edifice will be replaced by a glorious monument which shall proudly meet
the gaze of the Muscovite traveller in future years, when Poland shall
be again a country, and the Poles a people; for surely so much patriot
blood has not fallen like rain upon the soil, though now trodden down
by the iron heel of oppression, without bringing forth a rich harvest
of noble hearts who will sweep the name of Russian from their land, and
restore that land again to its place among the nations. It is to be hoped
that the days of adversity have not been entirely lost, nor the lesson
taught by it unheeded; perhaps the chastisement has been dealt them by
the hand of Heaven, that the evils may be swept away, and that they may
rise once more a wiser nation and a better people. How many scores of sad
and mournful tales have been told me by my Polish friends, showing the
miserable state of their country! The brother of one of them, who was in
the revolution of 1830, was obliged to take refuge, with another patriot,
in the wild forests of the west of Poland: they remained there during
several days, subsisting on berries and crude fruits; at last the latter
was determined to make an effort to leave the country, but previous to
so doing he wished to obtain an interview with the young lady to whom he
was going to be married, as he could not think of quitting the country
without informing her of his fate, lest she should imagine that he had
been slain. He accordingly found means to let her know that he would meet
her on the next night at a peasant’s cottage, and when the hour came he
set out for the purpose. My friend’s brother accompanied him as far as
he dared, but he had scarcely left the forest, and was not out of sight,
before some soldiers suddenly appeared who had been sent to scour the
country in search of them: they seized him immediately, and shot him dead
before the eyes of his companion, who hastened to quit the spot. How he
crossed the frontier I was not told, but he did find an opportunity to do
so, for my friend informed me that he was then in the service of France.
The last time that news was heard of him he was with the army in Algiers,
and perhaps ere this he has taken part in those grand struggles now going
on between the soldiers of freedom and the slaves of despotism, in which
he will have a noble opportunity for avenging the death of his brother
patriot.

The Treasury contains many other remarkable curiosities besides those
I have mentioned—the coronation robes of Peter the Great, Alexander,
and the present Czar, together with the canopy borne at the ceremony; a
curious chair richly set with turquoises and precious stones; an ivory
throne, &c. In glass cases were a number of bâtons, crosses, stars of
knighthood, and insignia; a quantity of plate was also displayed on
shelves round the room of a very ancient appearance—forks that must have
been made about the time when they were first invented, the prongs of
which were three inches long, so that they looked much more like warlike
instruments than any destined for the festive board. Another apartment
was appropriated to curiosities in armour and weapons. Some wax figures
upon pedestals were dressed in the ancient national costume, which
did not much differ from the modern, and also in that of Muscovite
warriors; their shirt of mail and the formidable axe might recall the
armed figure of some Norman knight. This warlike instrument, which the
soldiers formerly _threw_ in battle with so unerring an aim that they
rarely missed cleaving the enemy’s skull, resembles in every respect the
axe of the modern Russian peasants. There is something very Saxon about
the features and figures of these effigies, so that one might almost
imagine that the supposition of some historians is a true one, that the
original race of Sclavons was nearly related to the one from which we are
descended, but the admixture of the Tartars has changed the Russian face.
I do not know how true all these suppositions of the learned may be,
but the Highland Scotch whom I met in Russia have often assured me that
Russ resembles Erse so much that they found it extremely easy to learn;
according to them the numerals are almost the same. As I do not know the
Celtic language, I could only judge by the sound, and certainly, when ten
were counted, I had no difficulty to understand the words.

In a room further on we were shown a collection of muskets, pistols, &c.
&c., which we were told had been taken from the French: they had most
likely been collected after the terrible retreat from Moscow in 1812.
I was acquainted with a lady whose first husband was an officer in the
_grande armée_; her history would furnish ample incidents to make an
attractive romance. She was only sixteen when she crossed the Borodino
sitting on a telega, with a baby a few weeks old on her lap, and was
present in that battle, or rather she was left in her husband’s tent: she
never saw him more; and in the evening, when she was anxiously expecting
his return, she was terrified by the appearance of several Cossacks, who
with their drawn swords rushed into the tent: they were on the point
of seizing her and her infant, when she pulled out a pistol which she
always had by her loaded, and, boldly taking aim, she vowed that she
would fire at the first who dared to touch her: the savage soldiers did
not, of course, understand what she said, as she spoke only French, but
they easily guessed her intention, and drew back. Just at that moment
M. K., a Russian officer of rank, happened to pass near the spot, and,
hearing a female voice, entered the tent. Struck with the lady’s youth
and beautiful countenance, as well as with her courage, he ordered the
Cossacks out of the place, which command they reluctantly obeyed, and
then, as he spoke her language, requested an explanation. She informed
him who she was, that her husband was a French officer, and begged M.
K.’s protection. A soldier belonging to the army of Napoleon entered
whilst she was speaking, and informed her that her husband was killed,
and that he himself saw him fall. Her situation was now really desperate,
for she was alone in an enemy’s country, ignorant of their language, with
an infant in arms, and destitute of means. M. K., sincerely pitying her
misfortunes, offered her the shelter of his mother’s roof until she could
be forwarded to Paris. She accepted gratefully his kindness; he procured
a country cart with a sufficient escort, and she was enabled to reach
Madame K.’s estate in safety. When the campaign was over, the gallant
Russian returned home, made an offer of his hand to the young French
widow, and they were married. He died of the cholera in 1832, and she
again became a widow. I am still in correspondence with her daughters,
and therefore am well acquainted with the family.

Another old lady with whom we were intimate often gave us the most
fearful accounts of the scenes she had witnessed during “la retraite,”
and of the dreadful sufferings of the unhappy French soldiers. She told
us, among other anecdotes, that she herself had sheltered some officers
and men who came to her once in the depth of the night to beg her aid.
They had been flying before the Russians for several days, and had at
last reached her estate. It was awfully cold, and the poor foreigners
were nearly starved; so her womanly compassion, surmounting her antipathy
to the enemies of her country, prompted her to afford them assistance.
She did so at the imminent hazard of her own life, for the people were
so exasperated against the invaders, and so infuriated against those who
offered the least protection to them, that they would infallibly have
sacrificed her as a traitor. The utmost caution was therefore necessary:
she bade the unfortunate Frenchmen to go away for the present as quietly
as they could, lest any of the household should hear them, and directed
them to a wood not far from the mansion, where they would find a hut
filled with hay, promising them that she herself would come to relieve
their necessities. They did as she requested, and she instantly slipped
on her fur cloak and hood, and, filling a basket with all the cooked
provisions and wine she could find without the aid of her servants, she
fearlessly left the house and hastened alone on her mission of charity,
although the neighbourhood was much infested with wolves rendered
ravenous by the excessive inclemency of the weather. The gratitude of the
poor refugees may well be imagined, and every night, let the weather
be what it would, she repeated her kind visit for a long time, until
by heavy bribes she found the means to get them across the frontiers,
and they returned in safety to their beautiful France. It was not until
some years after that she heard what had become of them, when one day
she received a splendid piece of plate illustrative of the Retreat, on
which was an inscription expressive of the most grateful remembrance of
her benevolence, and accompanied with many prayers for her happiness and
prosperity.

By the side of the spoils of the _grande armée_ were some richly
ornamented saddles set with turquoises, pearls, and diamonds, with
frontlets and bridles to match, mostly of Persian manufacture.

In the lower story of the building is shown the model of the Kremlin[20]
as Catherine II. wished it to be re-constructed; but although the long
line of Greek columns would have had a fine effect, it would neither have
been so picturesque nor so truly national as the present structure.



CHAPTER XIX.

    English people in Russia—Sudden change of sentiment—Intolerant
    feelings of the Russians towards them—Opinions of the
    people—Ideas of the Russians on the English ministry—Their
    hope of aid from the Americans—The lower classes—Losses of the
    Russians—Disagreeable remarks—Their manner of speaking of the
    French—Political ideas—The Americans in St. Petersburg—Invented
    news—Odd ideas of a war-ship—The English in fault—Mr. Pim’s
    designs—Russian disgust at the new warlike inventions—Dread
    of the British—The serfs—The troops in the capital—Vanity
    of the Russians—Their disappointment about Turkey—False
    ideas—Evil effects of the conscription and slavery—The
    recruits—Deserters—Dissatisfaction—The Czar’s ambition—Aspect
    of St. Petersburg—Wretched recruits—Embarrassments of the
    Russians—A bivouac—The dying officer—March of the army—The
    future of Russia—A review—Anecdote of the Emperor.


The English in Russia have always been much more respected than liked;
and latterly they have become most intensely hated, from the political
position in which Great Britain stands towards that country. Among us,
if a Russian were in company, it is not probable that he would find
any difference in the manner in which he was received because the two
governments are at war; but the Russians are really not enlightened
enough to separate the individual from the nation, and think it a proof
of patriotism to show their resentment to any son or daughter of England
whom they may chance to meet. As soon as the Declaration of War was
known, there was a marked and very disagreeable change in the manners
of even my oldest and most attached friends: it seemed that those few
words were sufficient to sever the bonds of amity, and to place a
barrier of ice between those who had previously been on the closest terms
of intimacy; indeed, I verily believe that they would just as readily
have touched a toad as have shaken hands with an English person. This
intolerant feeling of course found vent in words, as well as in silent
indications; and at last it reached so great a height, that it became
almost impossible for any one to remain in the country who was obliged to
come into daily contact with them. No opprobrious term was too coarse for
us: “those dogs,” “those swine the English,” were expressions so general,
that we were not surprised to hear them even from the lips of ladies of
rank and education. Added to this was the impossibility of making any
reply, unless in the most guarded terms; for the immense number of spies,
and their excessive pleasure at catching a stray word or so, would have
subjected either a lady or a gentleman to the most disagreeable visits
of an emissary of the secret police, and a summons to Count Orloff’s
office. Indeed I was told of two Englishmen who were requested to present
themselves at that place, for speaking disrespectfully of the Russian
journals in a coffee-house, and expressing some well-founded doubts of
the veracity of their contents. I was informed that they received a
severe reprimand, and were _ordered to believe_ all that was written
under the government sanction—a thing extremely difficult to do, seeing
the extraordinary falsehoods inserted in the papers, and the wonderful
triumphs of Russian valour recounted; but to be sure the word _victory_
is as easily written as the word _defeat_; and it certainly sounds much
more agreeably to the ear. Although we English did not believe the
accounts published, yet it was extremely annoying to hear the exulting
remarks of the Russians on the supposed advantages obtained by their
armies. The majority of the people professed to believe the accounts
given, and very likely they really did so, as only a select few are
acquainted with anything like the truth. I was told that even the Emperor
himself is not always informed of the extent of his losses, because so
few have the courage to tell him of them. A friend of mine accidentally
heard two military generals[21] talking of the great reverses the Russian
arms had experienced; they were speaking in an under-tone, but she
distinctly heard the words—

“It is very strange that three generals should have fallen, and so few
soldiers slain!”

“How!” exclaimed the other, “few? why, we have lost altogether forty
thousand men!”

This was before the fatal siege of Silistria, or just at its
commencement: so the thousands that have perished altogether by the sword
and pestilence must amount to a fearful number. Even while I was at St.
Petersburg, it was affirmed that the Russians had lost since their entry
into the principalities, at the lowest estimate, seventy thousand men.

The absurd falsehoods daily published for the amusement of the Russians,
and the abuse of our nation, we can well afford to laugh at in England;
but it is widely different to one standing alone in a foreign land, and
among the enemies of one’s country. None but those who have been placed
in such a position can have any idea of the grief and heartburning it
causes, nor how very difficult it is to remain silent on hearing such
expressions as, “There will be plenty of English blood shed this year,
thank God!” “We must have some new hospitals built for the wounded when
the British fleet is destroyed!” “Count Besborodku has made a present
of cannon to the Emperor, to shoot those swine when they approach us!”
“There won’t be many of the British that will ever return home again!”
“The first victory we gain over those dogs of islanders,” &c. &c. Amid
all their resentment and hatred towards the English, it was strange to
remark how tenderly the French were treated, as if they were a people too
insignificant and helpless to merit any other sentiment but that of the
most profound pity and compassion, the victims of English policy, and
as if they were merely a cat’s-paw to serve the turn of our government.
The Russians expressed the greatest contempt for them in the light of
antagonists: “We have beaten them before, and we will beat them again,”
was a phrase a thousand times repeated, for they vauntingly boast of
having defeated _la grande armée_ in 1812, and of having hunted the
French out of their country as if they were sheep; but all Europe knows
what truth there is in Russian history.

The Russians expressed great friendship for Lord Aberdeen, and intense
hatred of Lord Palmerston, whom they blamed as the prime mover of public
affairs, and as the author indirectly of all their misfortunes. I may
mention _en passant_ that the names of Napier and Palmerston inspired the
lower classes with so great a terror, that the women used to frighten
the children by saying that the English Admiral was coming! And among
the common men, after exhausting all the opprobrious terms they could
think of (and the Russian language is singularly rich in that respect),
one would turn to the other and say, “You are an English dog!” Then
followed a few more civilities, which they would finish by calling each
other “Palmerston,” without having the remotest idea of what the word
meant; but as the very climax of hatred and revenge, they would bawl out
“Napier!” as if he were fifty times worse than Satan himself.

There was an English lady of influence in St. Petersburg, of whose great
wit and penetration the Russians stood in the most profound dread and
awe. I shall never forget the unbounded rage with which they related
an anecdote of her, which showed how deeply they felt the cut they had
received, and how true they knew her words were. Soon after the _Battle_
(?) of Sinope, one of the Russian nobles was so obliging as to call on
her, expressly to hear what she would say concerning that _glorious_ feat
of valour or cowardice, and in the course of conversation remarked that
it must be very disagreeable to her to reside on the quay.

“Why so, your Excellence?”

“Because,” replied he, “it must be so annoying to you to hear the cannon
fired in honour of our victories!”

“Oh! dear, no!” was the reply; “not in the least; it happens _so very
seldom_.”

The Russian, finding he was no match for the English lady, remained
silent, and was soon glad to beat a retreat to hide his discomfiture.

In revenge we were told that “she would not be invited to their balls,”
as if to be excluded from their dull feasts of frivolity were a severe
punishment and an irremediable misfortune. It was really ridiculous
to see what puny efforts the Russians made to show their anger at the
English: they would pass you in the street, and not bow, although they
had previously been well acquainted with you. It may be judged to what an
excess they carried their resentment, when I mention that even children
behaved in the same manner. I was well acquainted with a lady who resided
at one of the Institutes in St. Petersburg, and I was in the habit of
frequently calling to see her; before the Declaration I was always met
with smiles, and, according to the established custom, the young persons
used to bow as they passed us; but as soon as they knew that the war had
commenced, we heard them continually make the remark one to the other,
“Ne la saluez pas, ma chère, c’est une Anglaise!”

All the shop windows in St. Petersburg were filled with plates inscribed
“The Glorious Battle of Sinope,” as the Russians are pleased to call that
fearful act of cowardice. On my arrival in London I found the very same
representations, or fac-similes of them, displayed, with the far truer
designation of “Horrible Massacre!”

Among the upper ranks the most ridiculous ideas concerning the war were
prevalent; they were kept so entirely in the dark by all the government
accounts, and by the absurd severity of the officials at the Censor’s
office, who carefully erase every article that has any reference to
political affairs or to Muscovite losses, that it is no wonder that their
conjectures were sometimes laughable, and if related in England appear
incredible. The Emperor in their eyes was a martyr, and the English his
persecutors; they blamed them as the most cunning of people, nor could
they conceal their spite and vexation at having been outwitted by our
government. They were convinced that the union with France could not
possibly last, and that the Americans would come to their rescue; that
English money was the chief instigator in the whole affair; and that
it was mainly the curry-favouring spirit of our people, who hastened
to congratulate Louis Napoleon on his being elected Emperor, that had
prevented a friendship between Russia and _la grande nation_. “Ah, quel
malheur!” exclaimed one of the Czar’s aides-de-camp, “that our Emperor
did not call him ‘mon frère;’ how different it would have all been!” To
hear them talk, one would imagine that all the evils existing in the
world are to be ascribed to British influence, which at least proves
how very powerful they must deem it. It was usual to hear them affirm
that the revolution in China was all our doing, and that we were trying
to raise Poland against Russia; that the Indian empire was in imminent
danger from their army in Asia, which they declared had been sent against
Hindûstan; that we were on the point of learning a great deal from their
teaching in military matters, meaning by that, that our soldiers never
had so powerful an enemy to contend with as the Russians. “Deceitful
England” was to receive condign punishment. “If,” said an old general,
“Napoleon the Great called England ‘Perfide Albion,’ our Emperor should
name her ‘Fausse Angleterre:’” a sentiment that met with universal
approbation. The Greeks, according to them, were a nation of saints and
martyrs, who were worthy of the utmost admiration, and the French were
to be despised and pitied for being so led astray; yet, notwithstanding
their pretended disdain of the latter people for their inferiority to
themselves in every respect, they still had a dash of hope that they
would ultimately be induced to change sides and serve the turn of Russia.

It was extraordinary how the Russians clung to the idea that they had
secured the aid of America[22] to save them from their embarrassments.
They spoke of the help they were to receive with as much assurance as
if a treaty had already been signed on the subject, and they appeared
to regard the President of the United States with as much respect as a
sailor does his sheet-anchor in a storm. To do the Americans justice,
they took all the advances in perfectly good faith, and rather encouraged
the hope: they were courted in all companies, feasted, petted, and, as
they say, “made much of,” and seemed rather pleased than otherwise. It
is odd that citizens of a republican nation such as that of the States
should have so great a reverence for titles, orders, stars, and the like
trumpery, for surely, if a person _be_ a gentleman in the proper sense of
the word, it is not necessary that he be ticketed as such like a prize-ox
in a cattle-show; and in Russia, above every other country, a glittering
star, or a cross suspended by à scarlet ribbon round the neck, would be a
most fallacious criterion that the wearer merited so high an appellation.
Indeed it often happens that the subjects of the Czar, the breast of
whose coat is like a cushion, on which all the family jewels are pinned,
have the vilest souls and the blackest hearts, together with the most
empty heads, in his dominions. I do not know if a foreigner would not
really form a more correct estimate of their character if he judged of
their baseness by the number of orders they display. The Americans in
St. Petersburg did not seem to think so, for, the very morning I left
it, one of the attachés of their embassy showed my friends, with the
greatest exultation, the Easter eggs with which the Princess so-and-so,
the Countess such-an-one, and several officials of high rank about the
court, had presented him: he also exhibited the portraits of the whole of
the Imperial family, which he intended to hang up, he said, “as household
treasures, when he returned to New York,” whither he was going “right
away,” as he assured us.

The Russians, upon the strength of their hopes, were always threatening
us with the American fleet in the Baltic, which would place the Allied
fleets between two enemies. Is the old adage about extremes meeting
really so near the truth? Whether there were any substantial foundations
to all these castles in the air, we had no means of knowing. The French
have a proverb, “Il n’y a pas de fumée sans feu.”

Almost every morning we were hearing news of the discomfiture of the
Allies, the destruction of at least a part of the fleet, and so on. One
day I went to call on a lady, and an elderly gentleman there present
informed her, as a piece of pleasing intelligence, that _four more_ of
the ships in the Baltic had been sunk. As this was about the tenth time
that reliable information had been received of a similar event, upon a
fair calculation there were already forty of them put _hors de combat_.
In speaking of Sir Charles Napier one evening, I was informed, “He is the
most savage monster breathing; he never shows mercy to any one, because
he really does not know what the word means; and as the parliament has
ordered him to spare nothing that is Russian, God knows who would live to
speak of the scenes we shall witness when he comes to St. Petersburg.”

Notwithstanding the terror which was universal, they still affected to
laugh at the idea of a naval invasion. “Look at Odessa; what did the
fleet do except making themselves ridiculous, and what is that place
compared to Cronstadt and our other forts?”

We were much amused once by the account an old gentleman gave a whole
company concerning the manœuvres of the Allied fleets near Denmark.
According to him, the splendid “men” of war now floating on the Russian
seas were constructed somewhat in the fashion of hens and chickens; for
he gravely told us that the hulls were made to open, and a whole progeny
of little gunboats made their sudden appearance, which, after having
fired off the cannon and done all the mischief they could, ran back like
lightning to the shelter of their great parent’s wing, the hull of which
opened and closed by means of machinery, and were thus enabled to place
all the young fry in safety!

Instead of the Russians being the aggressors and the cause of the war,
the English were always accused of it, and, according to the people in
St. Petersburg, our Queen would have declared war long before she did so
had our government been sure of the co-operation of the French. “Vous
prenez la France par la manche, because if you do not guide her she may
turn against you.” At another time we were told that the chief object
for which the English made war was that of obtaining possession of the
gold-mines in Siberia. In England people would scarcely credit that
anything so absurd could be believed even in Russia, yet it undoubtedly
was so. I remember when Mr. Pim, the naval lieutenant, came to St.
Petersburg, proposing to cross overland to the north of Siberia in search
of Sir John Franklin, all the Russians were convinced that he was sent
merely as a spy to look out for the gold-mines,[23] whilst some went so
far as to say that his designs were to corrupt the nomads of Asia, only
they forgot to add what we intended to do with them when we had them.

We heard a Russian gentleman remark that, in fighting with the
Anglo-French powers, they should at the least have the advantage of doing
so with people more enlightened than themselves, and, gain or lose, they
should still profit, for, even if they were beaten, they should acquire
greater civilization; and he adduced Prussia in illustration of the
proposition, “for she would never be the nation she is were it not for
her wars with France.”

Intense indignation was also expressed on account of the new warlike
inventions. “Look at those long-range guns and asphyxiant balls; it is
a perfect disgrace to any people to invent such, and it is cowardice
and baseness to make use of them.” The knowledge of the superiority
of English mechanism and wonderful machinery, of which even the lower
classes in St. Petersburg have some idea, seemed more than anything
else to inspire them with terror, and by them nothing was considered
impossible for the English to perform. I heard a common man say one day
to another, with a grave shake of his head, “The English, ah! there is no
getting on against them!” and such seemed to be the universal impression.
I was informed that many of the lower classes in the capital had the idea
that, if the English conquered them, they should be no longer slaves,
and not have a poll-tax to pay. If this be true, and I was assured it
was so, who can calculate what the consequences of such a belief spread
among the populace might be, or how soon the hollow fabric of the Russian
government would fall into ruins? If this conviction once enter into the
national mind, the nobility may soon find that they have a greater enemy
in their oppressed peasantry than in a foreign army. They have a thousand
years of wrongs and slavery to avenge, and, like the heaving of ground in
an earthquake, they will shake and topple down the mighty strongholds and
towers of those who vainly hope to tread them under their feet for ever.
It was the opinion of many when I left St. Petersburg that the eighty
thousand soldiers (as the Russians said) bivouacked in the streets
and billeted on the houses, were a great deal more for the purpose of
ensuring peace within the barriers of the town than for that of repelling
a foreign invader _au dehors_.[24]

Everything that could be done by the government for raising the anger
and fanaticism of the people against the English was resorted to, and it
was nothing uncommon to hear many of the lower classes declare that they
would cut the throats of all the heretics within reach as soon as they
heard the sound of the cannon at Cronstadt, as the sacrifice of a certain
number of them was necessary in order to ensure the victory on their
side. A pleasant prospect for our poor countrymen left in the capital!
But it is not astonishing, taught, as they are, that we are heretics,
that all their fanatical feelings are raised and all their barbarian
antipathy set in antagonism to us and the French.

The upper classes were equally enraged against us, and even in society
they sometimes could not restrain the expression of their anger and spite
within the bounds of politeness or propriety. One day I called on a lady
of rank, and I had scarcely entered the room ere she began to attack me
in a rather violent manner concerning the present war. It was in vain
that I assured her that I knew nothing at all about it, and that it was
the affair of our government. “Ah!” said she, “you pretend to be very
cool and unconcerned now, but you will tell another tale when you see
the Russian flag flying over the Tower of London!”

Before the war began the Russians were always boasting of their navy and
the excellence of their seamen. “Our sailors,” said the senator L——ski
one day, “are, you must allow, quite equal to those of England—le mâtelot
Russe ne cédera jamais à qui que ce soit.” Since the Declaration of war
they have wisely been silent. It is strange, however, that a people
possessing nautical qualities in so admirable a degree should be glad
to run behind stone walls and keep there whilst the enemy’s ships are
sailing merrily over their seas. “What inconceivable insolence,” said
a court lady once, as she was reading the gazette, “what inconceivable
insolence of those English to call their squadrons by the names of the
‘Baltic fleet,’ the ‘Black-Sea fleet!’ the seas are our Emperor’s, and
not theirs.” I had a great mind to ask her why they did not assert it in
a stronger manner than by words only; but I reflected that I was in an
enemy’s land, and the vision of Count Orloff’s office and the birch had a
great deal to do with my prudence.

The boastings of the Russians are intolerable. To hear them talk you
would think that, like the Khan of Tartary, their Czar bids all the kings
and potentates of the earth to eat their dinner; and I do believe, if St.
Petersburg were demolished by the Allies, and Moscow in ruins, they would
still declare that they were invincible. If their Emperor is not exactly
the brother of the sun and moon, he is Heaven’s first lieutenant at the
very least. Perhaps this fanfaronnade is a remnant of their Asiatic
habits, which may possibly shortly be cured by European remedies.

How much soever the Czar might have sought to disguise his intentions
concerning Turkey and Constantinople, his nobles did not attempt to do
so, and that even two years ago, long ere this war was certain.

“Quant à Constantinople, nous l’aurons; soyez tranquille,” said a
nobleman one evening.

“But perhaps it would be advisable to ask the permission of France and
England,” I remarked.

“It is not necessary,” replied he; “what could your fleets or the French
with their armies do against our brave troops?”

“We shall see that perhaps some time or other.”

“We shall, but Turkey is ours!”

This is a phrase I have heard them repeat scores of times, even before
the English dreamt of a war, with as much confidence as if the double
eagle were already stretching his black wings over Stamboul and the
Bosphorus, and the Czar were issuing imperial ukases from the Sublime
Porte itself.

When the Anglo-French fleets entered the Black Sea and a few troops were
forwarded to Constantinople, nothing could then exceed their rage and
indignation. “There is no such country as Turkey now,” said they, “and no
longer a Sultan, for henceforward the game will be played by France and
England.” The Russians would not believe that England seriously intended
to declare war against them. “It is not possible,” said they; “she
will never do it; how could she ever exist without Russia and Russian
commerce?” This was the illusion they had; in fact, they really seemed to
imagine that all our national prosperity depended upon the flax, hemp,
tallow, and corn of their steppes and fields; but when the news came at
last with a copy of the Queen’s declaration, there was a complete panic.
I was informed by an acquaintance that the merchants on ’Change looked
perfectly aghast and were silent with terror, for they and the nobles
equally felt how serious the effects would be to them, and with the
continual draining of the young men from the estates, and the money from
their pockets, ruin and distress stared them in the face. No one can have
any idea of the effect on the population these continual conscriptions
produce unless he has seen it. When we were leaving the country we
passed through nearly twelve hundred versts of Russian and Polish land:
excepting recruits, we scarcely saw a young man in any of the villages.
There were only very old peasants with the women and children; even young
lads were drawn away, and the chaussées or post-roads were all being
mended by women and girls. What desolation will reign in these districts
ere the war is over it is impossible to imagine. But the loss of life
is not the only evil that attends the wretched system of a military
despotism; the dreadful effect it has on the morals of the people will
be felt generation after generation. These young men, totally ignorant
and illiterate, are drawn away from their homes and families in all
probability for ever; they have no means of communicating with their
relations or wives, as they do not know how to read or write, and the
loosening of all social ties, the forgetfulness of duty and affection,
causing them to feel that none sympathize with them or even know that
they are still in being, produce a fearful amount of vice and crime that
will be an inheritance for many a year to come. I remember hearing a
Russian noble say that “true communism is only to be found in Russia.”
From that assertion it may be imagined what the state of morality must
be in the villages. The condition of slavery must also contribute to
this evil state of things; for the domestic servants, who are often
separated from their parents when very young, perhaps apprenticed or
taken to some place hundreds of versts distant from their native village,
entirely forget each other, and for years consecutively never hear or
know anything concerning their relations. Most of the men-servants are
married, and many of them have their wives in the country, whom perhaps
they do not see even once a year. When the young men are taken for
soldiers, their relations do not even expect to see them again. One
morning a poor woman came to me crying most bitterly, and saying that
her two nephews had just been forced from her house to go into the army.
I tried to console her, saying that they would return when the war was
over, but this only made her more distressed. “No, no,” exclaimed she in
the deepest sorrow, “they will never come back any more; the Russians
are beaten in every place.” Until lately the lower classes were always
convinced that the Emperor’s troops were invincible, but it seems, by
what she said, that even _they_ have got to know something of the truth.
A foreigner in St. Petersburg informed me that he had “gone to see the
recruits that morning, but there did not seem to be much patriotism
among them: there was nothing but sobs and tears to be seen among those
who were pronounced fit for service, whilst the rejected ones were
frantic with delight, and bowed and crossed themselves with the greatest
gratitude.” The most distressing scenes may be seen in the streets
among the bands of recruits—they, their mothers and sisters, or wives,
all weeping together as they walk along; for the women, with innate
tenderness, accompany them for many miles out of the town, unwilling,
until the very last moment, to bid the objects of their affection adieu
for ever, whilst the latter, in entering the Russian army, like the
condemned in Dante’s ‘Inferno,’ leave all hope behind.

Before the war began it was the universal custom among the landowners to
send all the worthless characters into the army, and, as men of _any_
size are eligible to serve therein, it was a convenient manner of getting
rid of those that were idle or disobedient. I have often been present
when a lady or gentleman, in writing to the steward, would say, “Since
you can do nothing with Vassili, Ivan, or Gregory, you can hand them over
to the recruiting-officers at the next conscription.”

“Do you know,” said one of these proprietors, “if you say to one of our
serfs, ‘I will send you for a soldier,’ he will tremble at the words,
and not forget them either for two years at the least.” By this we may
form some idea of the light in which the honourable profession of arms is
regarded by them, and of the treatment they expect when they are forced
to embrace it.

Desertions are, of course, extremely frequent, and since the commencement
of the war they are fifty times multiplied, if one may judge from the
numerous groups of miserable wretches, heavily chained, met with almost
hourly in the streets of St. Petersburg. I am sure it was enough to
make one’s heart ache with sorrow and indignation to look on their
grief-stricken faces and thin figures, which seemed as if they had been
wandering with the wolves in the wilderness to escape from the cruelty
of their fellow-men. Once or twice I met a group even more horrible than
these. Several soldiers with fixed bayonets were walking on each side of
a droshsky, on which was seated one of their comrades holding in his arms
what was certainly the _corpse_ of some unhappy deserter who had just
received the punishment for his fault, his head shaking listlessly from
side to side, and his arms hanging straight and rigid, the livid shadow
of death on his sharp and painful features, showing that the heavy lash
had at last released him from his misery. In looking round on the broad
streets of the capital, and seeing, in contrast with so much suffering
and misfortune, the gaudy carriages of the nobles and their gaily-dressed
occupants, who seemed so wholly busied in the pursuit of pleasure that
they could not spare a single moment to reflect on the unhappiness of
their fellow-creatures, I was often tempted to ask myself whether, if
entreaty were made, as in times of old, “to spare the city for ten’s
sake,” the domes and towers of St. Petersburg would still stand to cast
their shadow on the earth.

The numerous conscriptions levied since the Russians entered the
Principalities have taken away not only the worthless slaves but the very
flower of the estates, and great was the dissatisfaction even openly
expressed by the proprietors: “Notre Empereur se trouvera en face de
son peuple,” said one of them; from which an inference may be drawn.
On all sides universal disapprobation was heard; but they were careful
not to lay the blame on the Czar, so their anger was vented on the
English and Lord Palmerston, whom they still persisted in saying was
the prime mover of all, and on whom, of course, their own government
was glad to throw the odium. It was not known, nor would it be believed
when affirmed, that the Allied Powers had caused the rights of the
Christians to be recognised in Turkey; and even when the “Confidential
Correspondence” was published, they actually, with the Emperor’s letter
before them, declared that the whole was a forgery and a tissue of
falsehoods.[25] In consequence all their hatred, anger, and fanaticism
were roused against the English as abettors of infidels and downright
liars; their monarch was a martyr, and the English his persecutors. At
last, when they could no longer shut their eyes entirely to the truth,
the upper classes said that they supposed the Emperor wished to acquire
the surname of Great, and that he was willing to become the admiration
of future ages and be spoken of by posterity. If the latter reason be
a true one, there is every probability that his expectations will be
realized, only in a manner rather contrary to what he desired. Perhaps
the illusion concerning the wonderful power of Russia will be further
dispelled when they have been enlightened by a few flashes of the cannon
of the Allies, and have been made to feel that of France and England,
for as yet scarcely any of them are acquainted with the resources of the
two countries, thanks to their education and the government books of
instruction. They are truly like people walking in darkness, and are now
moved like chessmen anywhere that the player pleases.

One morning I went to call on a lady, and as usual the parties present
were railing at the English. At last I asked my friend why they did not
say something about the French as well. Her answer was naïve enough:
“Oh, we don’t mind them; but I believe they talk about the English
so much because they fear them the most. Our people you know,” she
continued, “are accustomed to think of the former as a nation they
have vanquished, but they were not prepared to see your countrymen in
the light of enemies, the two countries have been so many centuries
friends.” Certainly the communication with England has existed from time
immemorial; even in the remotest ages commerce was carried on between
the two countries, although it was only _established_ in the reign of
Ivan IV.; and it may be remembered by the reader of Russian history that
the daughter of Harold the Unfortunate married a Russian prince.[26] I
remember a gentleman near Orenburg informing me that, in digging among
the ruins of an ancient Tartar city near his residence, fragments of
English pottery were frequently turned up, yet the very name of the town
had disappeared and was forgotten. An English gentleman in Moscow once
showed me a gold coin, half the size of a fourpenny-piece, of Ethelred,
or Ethelbert, I am not sure which, that had been dug up or found near
the lake of Ladoga, and, as he supposed, had been dropped there by some
British merchant on his way to the fair of Nisny Novogorod, which has
been annually held at that place for centuries beyond record, and was
in former ages the grand emporium of Europe and Asia, whither merchants
of both continents repaired to exchange the manufactures and produce
of each. It is still held in the month of July, and lasts six weeks,
and is also still resorted to by dealers from most of the nations of
Europe to purchase cashmere shawls, &c. I was once very near the place
during the time of the fair, but, as it is not considered “comme il
faut” for a lady to be seen there, I did not visit it. It is the grand
market for tea, which is brought thither by the Chinese to exchange
for Russian money. Formerly the Russians gave their own manufactures
of cloth instead of paying in coin for the chests of tea, but I was
assured that their speculations on that head had been entirely ruined by
themselves; “for,” said my informant, “with true Muscovite dishonesty
they, finding that the Chinese did not unroll the bundles of cloth, hit
upon the ingenious plan of making the first few arsheens of good quality,
and the remainder of the veriest rubbish: the unsuspecting Celestials
took them as usual without much examination at the word of the western
merchants, and carried them back to China, the Russian cheats meanwhile
laughing in their sleeve to think how they had taken them in. But they
were severely punished the next year, and have been ever since, for the
Chinese tea-dealers were not to be duped a second time; they attended the
fair with their well-packed chests, but obstinately refused to receive
anything but silver money in payment; so the Russians, who had prepared
a vast quantity of cloth, were obliged to carry it all back again; and
as the people cannot do without tea, they were forced to purchase it for
ready cash, and bear the loss as they best could.” Any one that knows the
Russian character and their want of foresight will have no difficulty in
recognising this anecdote as a true trait of the national mind.

In London we may walk through every street, and, from any indication we
see of the fact, we should never guess that the nation was at war with
anybody. It was far different in St. Petersburg when I left it; there not
only every street but every house gave some intimation of the struggle in
which they are engaged: trade was almost at a stand-still; scarcely any
of the shops had customers in them; everybody seemed to be economizing
their money lest poverty should come.

Long lines of cannon and ammunition-waggons were drawn up here and there,
outworks were being thrown up, parks of artillery were being dragged
through the streets continually, regiments marching in and marching out,
whilst whole armies were being sent to the Baltic provinces, which I
was informed were to be occupied by four hundred thousand troops, but,
as the authority was a Russian one, there is no reason to believe it.
Every morning, look out of the window at what hour I would, hundreds, nay
thousands, of raw recruits, torn from their villages perhaps a thousand
versts off, were tramping wearily along, with all their worldly riches
in bundles at their back, with dresses wet and muddy, and faces stricken
with grief, as they marched in the direction of the palace in order to
receive the Emperor’s approval. I know not what the feelings in that
man’s breast can be as he deliberately scans the downcast countenances
of so many miserable wretches, and then sends them down to the seat of
war, really and truly for nothing else than to become food for cannon,
and the prey of vultures and jackals. Does he ever reflect that for each
life he thus sacrifices for his ambition he will be called to account and
stand arraigned as a murderer before the judgment-seat of God, who has
committed them into his hands that he may be the protector and not the
slayer of his people?

Reviews were held almost daily: Cossacks, Circassians, guards, and the
line, all had their turn and their destination assigned them. I was
told that the Czar, in reviewing a number of troops previous to their
being forwarded on their march to the south, was struck with the sad
and dejected air of the poor men, and even the officers. “Hold your
heads up,” he angrily exclaimed; “why do you look so miserable? there is
nothing to cause you to be so!” Perhaps the soldiers saw more plainly
than he the evils that threatened them. From all that I could learn,
the government was at its wit’s end to know what to do with the forces:
they were marched hither and thither, to and fro, according as some
fresh intelligence arrived, bringing news of intended attacks just in
the opposite points to those reported before, and by this means wearing
out the men’s strength and spirits, until they would be too happy to
surrender as prisoners to whoever would have the charity to take them.
The daily expense of supporting all these myriads amounts, as a Russian
informed me, to about a million of silver roubles, or rather more than
a hundred and fifty-eight thousand pounds. To the English, who pay
their troops more liberally, and feed them with better rations than the
detestable black bread and salt with which the Russian warriors are
furnished, this may seem a small sum for so vast a number as they boast
of possessing, but perhaps, with the national failing concerning numbers,
they might have put in a stray figure or so to look well on paper.

[Illustration: Reception of the Imperial Family at a Review.

page 314.]

In speaking of the Anglo-French invasion, the Russians declared that,
if the enemy took Cronstadt, they would themselves burn St. Petersburg,
as they did Moscow in 1812. Indeed it looked somewhat as if they had
the idea in view, for all the great families were sending their jewels,
plate, and valuables into the interior, whilst many of them went to
their estates with the intention of remaining there a whole year. I
was informed that the treasures from the palace were also taken away,
and, among other articles worthy of removal, the state prisoners from
the fortress, who were transported to some unknown place at a distance.
There was also a grave discussion as to the propriety of forming another
capital near the ancient city of Novogorod, which in former times, under
Rurick, in the ninth century, was the metropolis of his dominions. If
they do so they will incur the danger of falling into the _status quo
ante_ Peter’s reign, for, if cut off from easy communication with Europe,
civilization, which is still but an exotic in the country, and has not
yet taken a firm root in its soil, will die away, and barbarism, which
is the normal state of Russia, will assert its supremacy. In short,
the Russians are in that agreeable position that any prospect would be
preferable to that which they have before them.

Perhaps the sentiments of a gentleman in St. Petersburg, concerning the
present state of affairs, may be interesting: he is of Polish descent, a
man of talent and education, and one of the best authors in the country.
A great many visitors were assembled, and during their stay my friend
assented to everything that was proposed; but when they had all departed,
he frankly told me that he was convinced the Russians had no chance,
and that he was sure they would be dreadfully beaten. On my asking him
what he really thought of the whole affair, he replied, “In a few words
I will tell you. This Emperor Nicholas seems to me to have been placed
by Heaven on the throne in order to punish the wickedness of his people:
how otherwise could he have been tempted thus to risk his country, crown,
life, and all, upon a single turn of a card? vous verrez qu’il sera
flambé. No one has ever yet stood against Lord Palmerston, and neither
will he. Look at Louis Philippe; who caused him to repent of kicking
against the pricks? And that Queen of Spain—you will see how long she
will rule. Lord Palmerston is one of the greatest statesmen the English
have ever had, and you may be sure he would not be so much hated in
Russia were he not feared, and with good reason too.”

I remarked that it was a pity the Emperor did not withdraw ere it was too
late.

“He would be glad to do so,” was the reply, “but he dares not; he has
raised a legion of demons that he cannot lay. What would the proprietors
say? What would the ruined merchants say? and what would become of him
if he were thus publicly to acknowledge that he is in the wrong? No; now
that he has advanced so far, he is obliged to continue, and leave the
bill he has drawn to be dishonoured by those that come after him.” He
also expressed the conviction that the allies could take St. Petersburg
if it suited them to do so. “But in regard to that,” he said, “they would
do well to destroy what the efforts of barbarians have erected. This
city,” continued he, “is but a false imitation of a civilized capital.
What barbarism has planned and fostered, let civilization demolish: we
shall then perhaps see the nation reduced to a savage state, and so
much the better, as they will have to learn by experience, instead of
having the outward appearance of a civilized people thrust upon them by
a despot’s sword. Peter the Great made an enormous mistake that it will
take centuries to correct.”

On my expressing regret that so many fine buildings should be destroyed,
“It seems so at the first sight,” replied my friend, “but it ought to be
done for more than one reason, for the sake of the human race thousands
of years to come, who would bless the hands that had dealt chastisement
to a tyrant, and had shown an example that would be felt to the end
of time.” He finished by presenting me with a copy of the imperial
proclamation concerning the miraculous preservation of Odessa, which he
laughingly bade me keep as a precious document, one of the most wonderful
productions of the age, and a most astonishing proof of the extent it was
possible to lie in the face of Heaven. I believe that, although I had
been acquainted with the family seven or eight years, my friend would not
have dared to speak so freely, had he not been aware that the next day I
was to leave Russia probably for ever.

Whether my friend’s ideas be just or not, I cannot tell; but how can
we expect that a blessing will be on a city, every stone of whose
foundations was laid at the cost of a human life?[27] The Russians
themselves have ever had a foreboding that St. Petersburg will not long
exist, and that evil will befal it. Perhaps they feel that the myriads
whose clay has long ere this mingled with the morasses into which they
were thrown, still cry for vengeance unto Heaven, and that they will be
heard at last.

When I was on the road to Warsaw, I saw the large army that Russia was
sending through Poland to the south and the Principalities; as nearly as
I could calculate there were about sixty thousand men, chiefly infantry
of the line, in three divisions, perhaps at the distance of fifty
versts apart. It was not without a feeling of sincere compassion that I
gazed on the poor people’s faces, and thought how few, how very few, of
all those would ever return again. One division of many thousands was
bivouacked on the plains _à la belle étoile_; most of them were fast
asleep on the bare ground, their arms piled up near them, with sentinels
guarding different points; videttes were stationed at a distance, looking
in their dark coats like bronze statues, with the twilight sky in the
background. Here and there were watch-fires, with a few soldiers sitting
around; scores of ammunition-waggons and gun-carriages were at a little
distance further on, with men standing under arms, and the horses grazing
on the scanty grass of the fields close by. I came up with the second
division early on the next morning; the soldiers were all marching
merrily along to the voices of those in the van of each regiment, who
were singing the war-song of the Russian army; and they really seemed,
in the excitement of the moment, to have forgotten the scanty rations
and infamous treatment they receive, and for which they are compensated
by the munificent pay of _nine shillings per annum_! I remarked that
the officers were dressed precisely the same as the privates; a small
piece of twisted gold lace, from the neck to the shoulder, was the only
distinguishing mark by which they were known. The reason of their being
so attired was because so many had been shot by the enemy, who, it was
affirmed, took aim at their more showy uniforms; but from all that I was
told, the rifles of the Turks are not the only ones of which they need
stand in fear, nor are the Turks their only enemies; their oppression has
caused them to find both among their own ranks.

At one of the stations an officer belonging to this division got into
the mail-coach; he was evidently in a deep decline, and was so extremely
ill that he could scarcely stand: it was truly sad to hear him talk. He
informed me that he had received orders to join his regiment, living
or dead, and that he was obliged to obey, although he feared it would
only be to leave his corpse on the route, as he could be of very little
service to his country in the state in which he was. It was plain enough
that he would never again be able to bear arms in the field; but he was
going to the war, nevertheless, although he must have perished not many
days after I saw him. His brother officers appeared very kind to him, and
rode several miles by the side of the diligence, cheering him with their
conversation, and endeavouring to instil some hope into his heart, but in
vain; he smiled faintly, and shook his head with mournful significance,
for he felt that his march in life was over, and that ambition and a
soldier’s name had found an early grave. But he seemed resigned to his
fate; and when we stopped at the wretched village in which his company
was to rest for the night, I doubt whether he ever quitted it again,
and most likely rose no more from the miserable bed in the peasant’s
isba to which he was supported. We were all very grieved to see him, yet
perhaps some of his gay companions have ere this met a worse fate still;
for they may now lie with thousands of their poor fellow-soldiers in
their dismal graves amid the pestilent marshes of the Danube, or in the
ghastly trench that forms the grave of thousands on the heights of Alma—a
horrible sacrifice made to the hateful ambition of their imperial master.
The third division was crossing the Vistula in flat boats and rafts at
the time we were doing so; indeed many of the men and horses were on the
same raft with us: their cannon, and ammunition-waggons were drawn up in
a long line on the opposite bank. I asked some of them whither they were
going, but I met with the usual answer of the Russian boor—“Ya nisnaiu”
(I don’t know); on listening, however, to the conversation of a group of
officers who stood near me, I concluded that a part were to remain in
Poland, and the remainder to proceed further south.

There must have been immense numbers of soldiers wounded in the affairs
of Oltenitza and Kalafat; for, go into whatever house you would in St.
Petersburg, the ladies and children were all occupied in preparing lint,
by unravelling linen rags, for the use of the army; and all the ladies
in the Institutes were so engaged by order of the Crown: the enormous
quantities they made, and the repeated demands for more, proved how many
poor men had been sufferers for the Emperor’s sake.

The check that the Russian arms are receiving at our hands, we may be
well assured they will neither forgive nor forget; and even centuries
to come, they will, if they have the power, take their revenge for it:
it is their national character, and they will never rest until their
thirst for vengeance is slaked, if it be possible. How fairly soever they
may speak—how plausibly soever they may act—they will ever be on the
watch, like a cat for its prey, for the slightest weakness, or the least
slip, that could give them the most trifling advantage, or tend to the
attainment of their object. Remember the taking of Moscow by the Poles,
and see for how many centuries they were lying in wait for Warsaw, and
how patiently generation after generation they set traps and pitfalls to
catch the Polish people tripping, although their enemies were at that
time one of the most civilized and powerful states of Europe, whilst they
themselves were scarcely recognised as a nation, and were almost unknown
to the west. Like drops of water undermining a bank, they venture little
by little, and work in silence until their object is gained—then woe
and desolation to those that fall! But now that “vaulting ambition has
o’erleap’d itself,” let us hope that the children’s children of England
and France may bid defiance for ever to their schemes of vengeance!

One of the most splendid sights in the world is perhaps the _grande
révue_, in St. Petersburg, of the troops, previous to their proceeding
to the summer encampment; it lasts nearly a whole day, and takes place
on the _Champ de Mars_, a large space in front of the summer gardens.
We went several times to see it; on the last occasion there were eighty
thousand men assembled—a hundred thousand, a gentleman who was with us
affirmed, which he pronounced “affrayant pour le monde entier.” There is
usually a great crowd to witness the spectacle, but we were so fortunate
as to have seats secured for us at a friend’s house, whence we could have
a good view of the whole field. On reaching the _Champ de Mars_ my first
feeling was one of disappointment, for I could scarcely believe that so
great a multitude of men and horses would have occupied comparatively
so small a space. The square is not more than one-third of a mile in
length, yet there seemed ample room left for performing their military
evolutions. The men were all standing under arms, awaiting the arrival
of his Imperial Majesty and staff—they and the horses immoveable as
statues of bronze; the solid squadrons of Cossacks, like a dark cloud,
were drawn up at the further end of the field; their long spears held
quite upright had the effect of an endless line of palisades, so even and
motionless did they appear. The Czar was expected every minute, so we
anxiously kept our gaze fixed in the direction of the palace; at length
he arrived: tremendous indeed was the effect of the salutation which he
received from the multitude of warriors; He, followed by his glittering
staff, passed close to the spot where we were seated, mounted on a black
war-horse, his noble figure dressed in the full uniform of the guards,
his brow surmounted by the magnificent helmet with a golden eagle,
whose widely-spread wings form the crest; he looked like another Attila
reviewing the descendants of the Huns. It was with a feeling almost of
sorrow that I gazed on that brilliant group as they swept proudly along
the serried lines of the living mass, and thought that, long ere another
century had fled, not one of all that mighty multitude would exist to
speak of that splendid sight, and that the magnificent pageant of that
day was doomed, like thousands of others that had passed before, to fade
away like a shadow, and be remembered no more.

It was only when the masses began to move that I could form any idea
of the myriads assembled; then indeed the sight was magnificent. As to
the military evolutions, of course I could not attempt a description of
them, but the beautiful costumes of the various nations, the handsome
uniforms, the glittering casques and flashing swords, the wild strains
of the martial bands, formed a scene that could perhaps be only equalled
by the _Champ de Mars_ in Paris on a similar occasion. Now would come
sweeping past a regiment of Circassians, like a hand of warriors from
some gay tournament, heroes of song and romance awakened from their sleep
of ages into a new and stirring life; presently a squadron of the guards,
their eagle-crested helms flashing in the sun; then would rush by the
sombre cloud of Cossacks, their lances couched as if to attack the ranks
of an enemy, their rough-looking horses galloping at the top of their
speed; then again regiments of infantry, until there seemed no end of the
long line, their martial tread sounding like the rushing of a mountain
stream, and until the eye was weary of watching their (to me at least)
inexplicable movements. A gentleman with whom my friends were acquainted,
and who ought to know, if anybody could do so, informed me that the
Emperor was a very timid horseman, that he never mounted but mares of the
gentlest and most docile temper, and that numbers intended for his use
died ere they were sufficiently broken in. I do not now remember whether
it was three or five years that he mentioned they were in training, but,
to use his own expression, “les pauvres bêtes se brisaient le cœur;” they
died of grief, in fact, being wearied out with the trial.

An incident took place at one of these grand reviews in St. Petersburg
which is greatly to the Emperor’s honour. I will therefore relate it,
especially as I had it from good authority: indeed so much has been
said against him of late, that a short anecdote in his favour will, I
hope, prove an agreeable change. During the performance of some military
evolution the Czar despatched a young aide-de-camp to an old general
with a particular order. Whether the officer was confused, or timid, I
do not know, but he gave an exactly contrary one to that which he had
received. The astonishment of his Imperial Majesty may well be imagined
when he perceived that the grandest movement of the day was entirely
defeated by some unforeseen stratagem of the general’s. The Emperor is
naturally _très emporté_; indeed I have heard that he is subject to fits
of ungovernable rage, similar to those that Peter I. was so frequently
attacked with, and, as may be supposed, his anger was unbounded on this
occasion thus to be humiliated in the face of all the officers. He
commanded the general to his presence, and before the crowd of military
there present he called him “Durak!”[28] The venerable old warrior drew
back; his grey hairs were insulted, and his veteran experience called
in question; the angry flush mounted to his brow, but, remembering that
it was the voice of the sovereign that had dared to utter such a term,
he made a martial salute and was silent; but, complaining of sudden
indisposition, he was allowed to retire. The review was nearly over, so
the Emperor returned to the palace. Early the next morning the young
aide-de-camp presented himself, and earnestly begged an audience of his
Majesty. On its being accorded, he in the most frank and manly manner
confessed the error of which he had been guilty, and, expressing sincere
regret, entreated that he might be degraded from his rank, or suffer any
punishment, rather than his venerated general should be thus disgraced.
The Emperor heard his account in silence, and on its termination bade
him return to his barracks and report himself under an arrest. What
reparation could now be made by a Czar to the old man whom he had thus
insulted? To the astonishment of the military, another review was ordered
to take place, at which the same regiments were to attend; and when the
whole were assembled, the Emperor, calling the veteran general to his
side, made a public apology for his late conduct, embraced him, and,
kissing him on each cheek, presented him with a star which he himself
had worn. I heard some call this a theatrical representation; I do not
believe it was so: why should the Autocrat of all the Russias not have
the credit of possessing noble sentiments in common with any other
gentleman, though he be the enemy of our country, and though his heart be
proud and ambitious? The young aide-de-camp was not disgraced; indeed,
the action redounded so much to his honour that he became an especial
favourite.

After the grand review of which I have before spoken, the troops left the
ground by different routes, and in half an hour the _Champ de Mars_ was
as silent as before; the only trace of the lately assembled host was the
marks of the horses’ hoofs by myriads in every direction deeply cut into
the sand.



CHAPTER XX.

    Foreigners in Russia—The Poles—The oath of
    allegiance—Disgraceful treatment—Want of cordiality—Polish
    exiles—Greek and Roman churches—Difference of
    creed—Saints—Christmas custom—Warsaw—Polish cottages—Peasants:
    their treatment—Germans in Russia: their customs; their
    mode of life—New-Year’s eve—Pleasing custom—Character of
    the Germans—Variety of foreigners—The French—The Turkish
    renegade—Mixed society—Conclusion.


In writing about Russia, some notice of the foreign residents will not
be out of place, as they form so great a proportion of the inhabitants
of all the large towns. The most numerous among them are the Poles and
the Germans: the former are dispersed all over the empire, being obliged
to serve as _employés_ and in the army. Centuries of warfare and mutual
cruelties have caused these two great divisions of the same race to hate
each other with an intensity that would have satisfied the great Dr.
Johnson himself. Every Polish gentleman is forced to take the oath, in
which he calls on Heaven to witness that he will shed the last drop of
his blood for the Emperor’s sake. It must be galling indeed to have to
pronounce these words, with the recollection of the wrongs of his country
weighing on his heart, and, perhaps, the remembrance of an outraged
mother or sister who might have been publicly flogged for instilling
sentiments of patriotism into his soul. Let it not be thought that these
are merely idle words. Many a time have I been told of Polish _ladies_
who have been sufferers from the executioner’s lash, not many years ago,
in the very capital of their country. A hundred instances have been told
me, with the names of the unfortunate women who were the victims of such
brutal treatment. To them we may give our pity and compassion—the eternal
shame and dishonour will fall on the head of those at whose command such
acts were done.

Among my acquaintances abroad I numbered a great many Poles, and I
asked a noble one day how he could conscientiously take the oath above
mentioned. “We wait patiently,” replied he, “for the time is not
yet come. As for the allegiance, we make a reservation to ourselves
concerning it; but hope leads us still to expect that the hour for
Poland’s resurrection _will_ arrive. What can _we_ do at present?”
Notwithstanding that the Poles are everywhere received in society, there
is very little cordiality in regard to friendship: many have, it is
true, intermarried with Russians, but they are not, for the most part,
of the superior class of gentry, but are merely petty _employés_, or
people of no “family” in the aristocratic sense of the word. In almost
every part of Russia Polish people may be met who have been banished
from their native land for some political offence, either proved or
suspected. Many have assured me that they were taken away in the middle
of the night from their own house, and perhaps dragged from their bed,
merely on suspicion of being disaffected. It was impossible to refute
the accusation, because, according to the wise laws of despotism, they
had never been confronted with their accusers, or even knew who they
were: very probably the information had been given by some government
spy, the name of whom is “legion” in Poland. One of these victims was a
gentleman who, with his wife, had been imprisoned four months, when they
were hurried away from Vilna to the interior of Russia, and they assured
me that they had not the remotest idea what the crime was of which they
were accused. Added to the antipathy the Poles and Russians naturally
feel for each other politically, the difference in religion contributes
to their animosity; for although the Greek Church and the Roman may
appear in the eyes of Protestants to possess few points of difference,
yet, perhaps for that very reason, their hatred to each other is the
more intense. As far as I could learn, the chief differences between the
Greek and Roman belief consist of a trivial distinction, scarcely more
than verbal, in the doctrine of the equality of the three persons in the
Trinity, of the denial by the Greeks of the necessity of their priests
remaining unmarried, and of the substitution of pictures for images as
objects of worship and reverence. It is true that, since the division of
the Christian Church into the eastern and the western, a vast number of
extra saints have been added to each, which may have caused considerable
jealousy between them. If so, the Russians must triumph, for they have
about twice as many as the Romanists; but, on the other hand, they are
not quite so select.

I once went to dine with some Polish friends on Christmas Day, and I
remarked a quantity of straw scattered under the table. On my begging
to know why this was done, I was informed that it was in commemoration
of the Saviour having been born in a manger: the Russians have not this
custom.

Warsaw is beautifully situated on the Vistula, and contains a great
many buildings erected in former times; but it must be very vexing and
grievous to the people to see the monument in their “grande place”
supported by Russian eagles, publicly reminding them of their loss
of nationality. The Vistula is so extremely shallow that the sand
is everywhere visible through the water. As to the general aspect
of the country, it much reminded me of some parts of England; even
the whitewashed cottages with thatched roofs looked very like those
we see at home, but the peasants bore no resemblance to our sturdy,
independent-looking countrymen. _They_, poor people! with their sullen,
downcast faces, too plainly showed, even more so than the Russian serfs,
how hardly they fared, and how they were ground down by the oppression
of their conquerors. It seemed to me that every Muscovite, dressed in
a little brief authority, was at liberty to play the tyrant over them,
and I used to feel quite indignant at the merciless manner in which the
post-guards treated them. The blows they inflicted seemed almost enough
to break the back of any human being, whilst the screams they elicited
frequently broke the silence of the night, filling our party with horror
and dismay, and made us sincerely pray for the time when retribution
shall fall on the heads of their oppressors, and Poland shall be free
again.

The Polish dishes are not at all according to the English taste; they
contain too much garlic and sour cream, and are much too coarse to be
pleasant. In all the provinces of Poland through which I have travelled
the bread was extremely bad; even in Warsaw, at the hotels, although the
waiters presented us with what they called English loaves, they bore
very little resemblance to the white bread of London. Perhaps the best
bread in Europe is made in Moscow: it is perfectly delicious.

The Germans in Russia are extremely numerous; they have spread themselves
over the whole country and have monopolized a great deal of the trade.
“There are only two patriotic nations in Europe,” said a Russian admiral,
“Russia and England; the French are partisans of their party; but as
for those Germans, their country is where they find they can gain most
money.” In regard to his judgment on the French, it must be a false one,
for in their history we see many proofs of real patriotism, which show
that, in respect to _them_, he was in error; but his assertion touching
the German people, especially those in Russia, was probably the truth.
They are not liked by the Russians, who look upon them with all the
antipathy of race; added to which, their penurious habits and desire for
accumulating wealth, qualities so different from the national character
of the people among whom they dwell, and their excessive severity as
officers and overseers, cause them to be detested by the lower classes,
while the upper classes look down upon them with disdain, and consider
them as a sordid, money-getting nation, who possess no nobility of soul,
so that with them the name German and “nobody” are synonymous, although,
owing to the German predilections of the Emperor, many of the very
highest places in every department are filled by people of that race.
Among the lower classes they go by the name of sausage-eaters, from their
love of that viand. The Germans in St. Petersburg are mostly from Livonia
and Esthonia, countries long under the Russian rule: indeed the same
may be said of those scattered over the empire; some of them are from
Prussia, but, upon the whole, there are not many from the true Teutonic
states. They live mostly in small colonies, mixing but little with the
Russian society; indeed many of them, although they have been born and
educated in the country, do not speak Russ at all well. They retain
the manners and customs of their ancestors as well as their religion;
they have their Christmas-tree on the eve of Christmas Day, their
commemoration of Luther, and their festivities at the New Year in their
own fashion. The Christmas-tree, with its gay decorations and hundred
lights, the presents laid round it for the children and relations, and
the croque-mitaine, so formidable to baby offenders, are all now so well
known in England that a description of them is not necessary. The Germans
are a social people among themselves, and they enjoy life quietly—_mais
ils mènent une vie ennuyante_. Their society, however agreeable, still
wants that gay animation of the French, which makes even trifling
subjects interesting in conversation.

A great many of the medical men in Russia are Germans, and people of
that nation may be found in every town: I believe I may say, without
exaggeration, that nearly all the bakers’ shops, as well as those of
chemists, are kept by them.

The ladies are exceedingly good housewives, but, as a French person of
my acquaintance remarked, “Elles sont ou des heroïnes de Werter ou des
ménagères.” One of their greatest pleasures consists in going once a
week to the Singanstalt, or singing-club, to which nearly all the young
persons of both sexes belong: the evening is passed in singing German
Lieder, and the choruses from operas and oratorios by national composers,
which they perform in very agreeable style.

One of the most delightful New-Year’s Eves I ever passed was at the
house of a German friend. The family was a very large one, and all the
members of it were assembled, even down to the third-cousins—grandmamma,
grandpapa, all their married sons and daughters, with every one of the
children, those of a few months old included, cousins, nephews, and
nieces, not one was absent. After spending the evening in various social
games, in which both great and small took part, the whole company took
their seats round the room a little before midnight, and waited in
silence until the clock struck twelve, announcing that another year had
passed for ever, and that a new one had already commenced. All those
who could sing stood in a group at one end of the hall, and the instant
that the last stroke had solemnly sounded they burst into a chorus of
thanksgiving. Each then sang a verse in turn, the grandfather, although
past sixty, commencing in a fine tenor; after him sang the eldest son,
and then the eldest daughter, and so on. The words, which are really
beautiful, were partly composed by Voss; other verses had been added by
the singers themselves. They began by thanking God for the renewal of
another great division of time, expressed delight that so many were thus
joyously assembled, with hopes for the welfare of those far away: but in
the midst of their rejoicings they affectingly referred to the dead, who
were sleeping in solitude, wrapped in their cold and silent graves, and
whose place on earth was no more seen; and much emotion was excited by
the following verses:—

    “Wer weiss, wie mancher modert
    Ums Jahr, gesenkt in’s Grab!
    Unangemeldet fodert
    Der Tod die Menschen ab.
    Trotz lauem Frühlingswetter
    Wehn oft verwelkte Blätter.
    Wer von uns nachbleibt, wünscht dem Freund
    Im stillen Grabe Ruh, und weint.”[29]

Tears fell fast from many an eye as each gazed round that circle of
friends and relatives, and all seemed to dread that some beloved face
would be missing ere another New-Year’s Eve found them there assembled;
they were scarcely dried ere the two concluding lines echoed cheerfully
through the hall—

    “Wohlauf, und: Gut seyn immerdar
    Sey unser Wunsch zum neuen Jahr.”[30]

And then the grand chorus of thanksgiving was sung in gratitude to Heaven
for the hope of an eternal re-union hereafter.

As soon as the New-Year’s hymn had been sung, the sons and daughters
embraced the aged mother and father, and then the grandchildren came
forward to do the same; after them the other relatives, according to
their proximity of relationship, and finally the friends who had been
invited. Champagne was then handed round; universal congratulations and
affectionate embraces followed, after which a merry supper restored the
gaiety and cheerfulness of the whole party.

Although I have mentioned the general character which the Germans bear
among the Russians, it must not be concluded therefrom that they are
not very frequently most estimable people; indeed many of them merit
the utmost respect and admiration. It must be borne in mind that the
lower class in Russia hold _all_ foreigners in detestation, and the
Germanic race more than any other. Until the present war broke out, all
strangers to their country were designated by them “Germans,”[31] for
the petty distinctions of French, English, and so on, were not known to
the half-barbarous serfs; they only knew that they were not Russians,
and concluded therefore that they came from Germany. _Now_ all other
nations of Europe are swallowed up in the designation of English, which
at present is a word of hateful import to them, as our country-people are
held up as the most to be feared and detested.

The French people, as well as the English, live in societies quite
distinct from either the Germans or the Russians; but the French, being
more liked in company, and considered more agreeable, from their gay and
lively temperament, associate much more with the Russians, who take them
as the established model for _bon genre_ and politeness: their language
also is as much used in society as it is in France, for everybody speaks
it; so that, in making friends and acquaintances, our neighbours get on
a great deal better than we do. Among the Russians the English _were_
certainly greatly _respected_ by the upper classes, and were perhaps (if
it be possible for the lower classes to like _any_ foreigner) preferred
by them, especially in matters of business.

There are many Italians and Greeks established in the country; the
latter visit a great deal at the houses of the nobility, their common
religion being a bond of union between them. There are some renegade
Mahometans also in the Russian service. I remember once dining at a
friend’s house where I met several; one of them was a general, who
had previously served the Sultan, and was himself a Turk by birth. In
throwing aside his nationality he seemed also to have thrown away his
natural characteristics; for his laugh was the loudest, and his jest
the merriest, in the whole party. He gave good proof of eschewing the
doctrines of Mahomet, by drinking two bottles of champagne; and when one
of his neighbours took the liberty of reminding him of the prohibition
against wine, his reply was that the Prophet had never tasted champagne,
or he would have ordered the faithful to drink nothing else. There are
of course a great number of Mahometans in the Russian army, as many of
the tribes of the South of Asia profess that religion; also a vast number
of Jews, and even gipsies, are to be found in the army, as no one in
the empire is exempt from military service. I was told that all creeds
are respected by the government. There are not many Englishmen in the
imperial army; I believe the greater part of those so designated are
either Scotch or of Scotch extraction.

Perhaps in no country in the world does one meet so great a variety
of foreigners: almost every nation has its representative in Russia;
from the Norwegian and Swede to the Albanian and Turk, from the
Spanish adventurer to the Moldavian and Wallachian, they are all to be
encountered in society. At an evening party natives of perhaps ten or a
dozen countries may be met, and that not by any remarkable accident, but
merely in an invitation to one’s general acquaintances. French is the
medium by which all these people hold communication with each other, and
interchange ideas; but it is necessary to understand German and Russian
to enjoy a conversation, as it very often lapses into one or the other,
according to the majority of people of either nation in the company. It
is exceedingly disagreeable for those who speak only the French language,
as very frequently, when some interesting anecdote is being recounted, a
chance remark made by some one in German will cause the conversation to
be continued in that tongue, to the great disappointment of the listener.

Having said thus much of Russia and the Russians, I have but few words
to add. Of the character of the people I leave the reader to draw his
own conclusions, from the anecdotes with which the preceding remarks
are illustrated. That the Russians possess most excellent and amiable
qualities of heart, no one can deny who has ever resided in their
country, or had the pleasure of knowing them. Their virtues are their
own, and many of their grave defects may be ascribed to the evil system
of government under which they have so long suffered. Centuries of
slavery and oppression are enough to change the characteristics of any
people, and to infuse into the national mind all the meanness, cunning,
and moral cowardice of a Helot. Wild though the country be, it is no
inhospitable shore, and the warm-heartedness of the people richly
compensates for the coldness of its clime. It is that which throws a kind
of charm over the remembrance of Russia in the mind of one who has long
resided on its snow-clad plains, and gives an interest to everything
connected with them. There is much to love and little to esteem—much
to admire and little to respect—in Russia and the Russians; and should
these pages ever fall into the hands of my friends there, I entreat them
not to consider what is herein written as ill meant. If I have remarked
upon what is evil, I have not omitted to note that which is good. I have
“nothing extenuated nor set down aught in malice;” and the greatest proof
I can give of my attachment for them is the assurance of the sincere
regret with which I bade adieu to the Russian shores for ever, and of
the anxious and earnest desire with which I look forward to the time
when a change in their system of government shall free them from the
withering thraldom under which they now suffer, and shall enable the many
good qualities of their nation to expand and come to maturity under the
fostering influence of free and enlightened institutions.



GENERAL REMARKS.


In examining the ancient mythology of the Slaves the reader will be
particularly struck not only with the great resemblance it bears to
that of the classic Greeks, but by the apparent engrafting of many
of its superstitions and forms of worship on the Christian religion
as professed in Russia and Greece. Perhaps this affinity between the
ancient Pagan creeds of the two nations may be the cause why both have
so easily embraced the same form of Christianity. The similitude which
is so plainly seen between the Russo-Greek Church and the heathen system
of former ages may also be the reason why mythology is forbidden to be
studied in the schools throughout the empire. Paganism indeed seems not
yet to have entirely disappeared from the land, and it is curious to
remark how easy it is to trace some of the acts and ceremonies of the
Russian Church to their heathen origin. Almost every god and goddess
of antiquity has a corresponding saint in the calendar, and many of
their high festivals are apparently merely those of their Pagan creed
under another name; so difficult is it to eradicate the idolatrous
superstitions of a nation, or to instil into the hearts of a people the
sentiments of a pure religion. The extreme reverence with which the
images of the Virgin and Child are regarded, and their rich settings, are
most probably only the adoration of their former much-loved idol the
Zolotaïa Baba, or the golden woman; who, according to their mythology,
was the mother of the gods. It was highly gilt, and held in its arms the
figure of a child. In the Russian Church the Virgin is never, I believe,
represented without the infant Christ.

The blessing of the waters, which is performed twice a year, although now
regarded as a Christian ceremony, is one very likely to have been derived
from the adoration of the great rivers by the Sclavonic races, especially
the Bog, the Don, and the Danube. The first-named was, according to
the historian, who quotes Procopius as his authority, held in the most
estimation by them; they never approached its shores without fear and
trembling, and they drank of its waters with awe, as if by so doing they
profaned the sacred stream. Lomonosof, the author, even asserts that the
Russian name for God (Bog) is identical with its designation.

The great attachment of the people to the pictures of their saints,
on which the rich, especially of the merchant class, lavish immense
sums, may be traced to the domestic gods of their ancestors, which were
called Domovi Doukhi, or house-protectors, the Lares and Penates of the
Slaves.[32] In every wealthy shopkeeper’s best apartment there is a place
assigned for the patron saints of the family, generally in the corner,
in which is fixed a closet with a glass door, entirely filled with them;
their settings are very costly, generally of silver, gold, and precious
stones. Every shop possesses at least one image, and in the piazzas of
the Gostinoi Dwor there are large portraits of the Virgin suspended,
before which lamps are continually kept burning. In the nobility’s houses
the saints’ images are usually placed in the sleeping-room.

The Russians say that on St. Elias’s day it always thunders, which they
religiously believe is caused by the rumbling of his chariot-wheels among
the clouds; as according to their account the saint takes a drive in
heaven on his name’s day. Undoubtedly this superstition must have been
derived from the worship of Peroun, the Sclavonic Jupiter, which was
formerly celebrated on the day now set apart for the above saint. The
form of this idol was almost identical with that of the classic deity,
and, like the Olympian Jove, he held lightning in his hand and announced
his will in thunders. His statue had a silver head, moustaches and ears
of gold, and feet of iron. Before it a sacred fire was ever burning,
which if the priests neglected they would have been put to death. The
profane representations of the Godhead remarked in a preceding chapter
seem to be merely that of Peroun; the only difference is, that in the
former the figure holds a triangle in his hand instead of lightning. The
heathenish rite mentioned in a preceding chapter, as being performed
by the village women on Midsummer Eve, if it had not its origin in the
worship of Baal, was probably derived from that of Koupalo, the god
of the fruits of the earth, who was adored by the Slaves with a like
ceremony. Perhaps indeed the Sclavonic races, in migrating from the East,
brought with them the idols and traditions of their forefathers: in that
case Koupalo and Baal may have been the same principle. I believe that
the common people still call the rite by the name of Koupalnitza.

Many more instances could be cited, but the above will suffice to show
that the remembrance of their Pagan creed still exists among the Russians.

When free access can be obtained to the various collections of ancient
manuscripts that are preserved in the monasteries and cathedrals in
Russia, much light will probably be thrown, not only on the belief of the
Slaves, but on their social state, their laws and civilization, of which
so little is at present known in Europe. A Russian gentleman assured me
that he had seen and examined many of these collections, which he thought
were well worthy of the notice of the learned.

There are not many readers of the ancient Muscovite history; indeed, I
believe that few would deem the dry records of the Russian race very
interesting, until the policy of Peter I. and Catherine II. forced the
name of Russia upon the attention of Europe. It is a pity they have not
been more generally studied, as perhaps they would have afforded a kind
of key to the designs of the northern autocrats.

Probably nine out of every ten persons in England imagine that
civilization was almost unknown to the Muscovites anterior to the reign
of Peter the Great, and are not aware that the most powerful republic
in Europe had for its capital the city of Novogorod; and that, until
the ninth century of our era, its wealth and might caused it to be so
respected among the neighbouring states, that the saying, “Who would
dare to attack God and Novogorod the great?” is still a proverb in
Russia. One would be apt to imagine that Peter’s object in building St.
Petersburg was to extend and strengthen his frontiers, and to forward
more effectually the designs of his predecessors; yet perhaps he
committed the greatest error in endeavouring to turn aside the slowly
but surely advancing course of Muscovite civilization (which, although
more Asiatic than ours, would probably have been more solid than it now
is, because gradually acquired), by forcibly and prematurely introducing
that of another race upon his people, teaching ideas that they could
not understand, and making changes that they could not comprehend. The
civilization of England and France was not certainly owing to the swords
of the Romans, for the inundations of the barbarians swept away almost
every vestige of it: the work had to be begun afresh, because it was
not based on a solid foundation. Peter I. made the Russians _polished_,
but not _civilized_; the heart of the nation was not prepared for the
change; they therefore made more progress in learning that which is evil
than that which is good; they were infinitely more apt at acquiring the
vices than the virtues of those set over them as teachers, and from being
simple they became corrupted.

Perhaps it would not be an error to assert that, excepting the nobility
about the court, many of whom are not of Russian descent at all, but
derived from foreign parvenus, and some of the upper classes, the nation
still regrets the innovation of western civilization, and, if they could
have a free choice, they would rather return to the good old times when
Moscow was the capital of their country. The old Russian party, whose
strength is centred in that ancient capital, are daily becoming more
powerful, and may indeed be destined to cause a reaction against the
artificial refinement which has polished a certain portion at the expense
of the community at large. Perhaps it is possible to dam up the waters of
the Volga for a time, but they would inevitably break their bounds, and
find the way to the sea at last through their own natural course.

       *       *       *       *       *

The republic of Novogorod[33] must have existed for many ages, and
had attained a considerable advance in commerce, and consequently
civilization; for towards the middle of the ninth century we are told
that it declined, and, being attacked by enemies from without, and
weakened by dissensions within, the inhabitants, who could no longer
defend themselves, were obliged to apply to Rurick, the chief of a race
residing on the shores of the Baltic Sea, to become their general, and
to assist them with his soldiers; and just as we see in our own history
that Hengist, Horsa, and Cerdic established themselves as princes on the
shores of Britain, so did Rurick, and his two brothers Sinaf and Trouvor,
become the sovereigns of Novogorod and the immense territories belonging
to the republic; thus laying the foundation of the Russian empire, A.D.
862.

Rurick died in 879, and left a son only four years of age.

       *       *       *       *       *

The best historians say that the Slaves are not the same race as the
Russians, but that the former assumed the name of their conquerors;
the origin of both is so obscured by the mists of time, that the
learned alone can decide upon the validity of their claims. According
to Herbelot, who quotes the Tartar historian Aboulgasi Baïadour, the
Russians trace their descent through a long line of ancestors to Rouss,
a son of Japhet, whilst the Slaves claim to be derived from Seklab, or
Saklab, another son of the same remote progenitor.

I have heard the Russians frequently assert that they derived their name
from the colour of their hair, which is of a peculiar yellow tint that
I do not think is met with in other countries; indeed those of the true
Russian race, in many of the villages, have hair of a light straw-colour.

       *       *       *       *       *

Even so early as the ninth century, and probably long previous to that
date, the Novogorodians had much commercial intercourse with the Greeks
of Constantinople. We are told that in their voyages thither they
descended the Dnieper; that on coming to rocks they lightened the weight
of their ships, by discharging the cargoes, and carrying them on men’s
shoulders along the shores; they re-embarked when the danger was passed.
On reaching the mouth of the Dnieper, they waited for a fair wind, and
then coasted along the western shores of the Black Sea, until they came
to the Greek capital, which in their language was designated Tzargrad,
or the City of the Cæsars. Oleg, the guardian of Rurick’s son, is said
to have made a successful attack on Constantinople, and committed
fearful ravages in its vicinity. Leo the Philosopher was then Emperor
of the East, and, being too enervated to defend his capital by arms,
he purchased the forbearance of the Russians by the payment of immense
treasures and costly stuffs, the display of which on their return home
struck their fellow-countrymen with astonishment. Perhaps that event was
the origin of the restless longing and excessive desire of the Russian
people to become the conquerors and possessors of Constantinople; for it
is curious to remark how, ever since that time, they have, generation
after generation, kept their eyes steadfastly fixed on the south, and
have slowly advanced towards the attainment of their object. Treaties of
peace and commerce are still, according to the historian, extant, which
were made between some of the Greek emperors and the early princes of
Novogorod.

       *       *       *       *       *

Olga, who reigned as regent over the Russians from 945 to 955 A.D., was
thought worthy of being canonized by the Russo-Greek Church because she
went to Constantinople and became baptized as a Christian; but religion
does not appear to have been the sole object of her journey: like a true
Muscovite, she had other designs hidden under its cloak, for we are
expressly told that commercial views as well as pious ones induced her
to go to the Greek capital. Constantine stood as sponsor at her baptism.
The revenge this princess took on the Drevlians, a people who dwelt near
the lake of Ilmen, was certainly anything but saintlike. Olga’s husband,
Igor, having invaded their country, was slain by them: the widow, after
having caused the members of two embassies sent to her by their king
to be murdered, would not be appeased unless she took still greater
vengeance on the nation: to do so she dissimulated her hatred, spoke
fairly to them, and expressed her willingness to forget what had passed,
on condition that for every house in their town they should present her
with three pigeons and three sparrows. The deceived Drevlians joyfully
agreed to the terms; they brought the birds and then returned home; but
Olga caused lighted matches to be attached to them, and then let them go;
they naturally flew back to their nests, and thus set the city on fire.
The inhabitants, in endeavouring to save themselves from the flames, were
put to the sword. Yet before the portrait of this cruel and wicked woman
the Russians of all classes bow and prostrate themselves to the earth,
and beg her intercession for them at the throne of Heaven.

       *       *       *       *       *

Alexander Nevski, the description of whose tomb has been given in these
pages, reigned in Russia from about the year 1255 to 1264 A.D. The
Russian Church has also thought proper to consider him as a saint, for
no other quality, one would think, than that of his savage cruelty. His
odious barbarities exercised on the inhabitants of Novogorod, after their
struggle to resist their Tartar tyrants, must render his name hateful
to any but to Russian ears. He cut off the noses of some, the ears of
others; ordered their eyes to be pulled out, their feet and hands to be
chopped off; and committed all the actions of cruelty and wickedness he
could think of in respect to them. Yet this wretch is revered and adored
as if he had been a true benefactor to the human race.

In noticing the Nevsky monastery I forgot to mention that it was founded
by Peter the Great near the spot where he had vanquished the Swedes,
and he caused his relics to be transported thither: the costly tomb was
erected by the Empress Elizabeth.

Perhaps Peter saw in Alexander Nevsky’s conduct much resemblance to his
own, and wished to increase his own power over his people by holding up
to their adoration a Czar similar to himself in his actions.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dmitri, surnamed by Russian historians “the False,” was, according to
them, the Perkin Warbeck of Muscovite history. They affirm that his real
name was Jachko (or in English James) Otrepief; that he was brought up in
a monastery, and assumed the habit of a novice at the age of fourteen.
He himself asserted that he was the son of Ivan the Terrible, or Cruel,
and the legitimate heir to the crown. His history, which is perhaps the
most interesting one in the Muscovite annals, is too long to be inserted
here, but, after having obtained the protection of Sigismund and the
Diet of Poland in 1603, he at last ascended the throne of Muscovy. There
are many circumstances that would lead us to conclude that Dmitri V. was
no impostor. Chuiski, his successor, aimed at the imperial crown, and,
having murdered the Czar, it was to his interest, and to that of _his_
successors, to proclaim that Dmitri was the false heir, lest he might
have left one to inherit his title. Was it not also to the interest of
Michael Romanof, the founder of the present dynasty, still to keep up
the belief.

       *       *       *       *       *

Michael Romanof, the ancestor of the present Czar, was the son of a
Boyar, or Muscovite noble, named Phedor Nikititch. He was not a _prince_,
or of _Russian_ descent; but they say his forefather was a Prussian
named Andrew, who emigrated to Russia towards the end of the fourteenth
century. He was elected Czar in 1613.—_Levesque, from a MS. on the
imperial family._

       *       *       *       *       *

Siberia was conquered by Yermak, an Ataman or Hetman of the Don Cossacks,
between the years 1577 and 1580, and by him secured to the Czar Ivan IV.
Yermak was drowned in the Vagai, one of the tributary streams of the
Irtish, 1583.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Samoïdes, or Samoyedes, are a race of people inhabiting a wild marshy
country in the extreme north of Siberia, its shores being washed by the
Frozen Ocean. The word Samoïde, Samoïede, or Samoïade, means a cannibal
according to most authors, but it does not appear that they merit such an
appellation: they pay a tribute of skins yearly to the Czar, but, like
most of the nomads of Siberia, they _govern_ themselves.

       *       *       *       *       *

The custom mentioned in the fourteenth chapter regarding the offering of
bread, &c., made to the Church after a funeral, is apparently derived
from Shamanism, for it is also a rite performed by those who profess that
religion, and also on the fortieth day. Shamanism is still professed
by immense numbers of the nomads, although its doctrines are now much
corrupted: it was formerly an universal belief, even so far west of the
Ural mountains as Jaroslaf.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Russian language is one of the richest and most beautiful in the
world: it is soft and agreeable in sound, and has not the defect of the
Italian in being too effeminate; it contains many words that express
the same ideas. If ever a Sclavonic Milton or Shakspeare arise, he will
find an inexhaustible treasure in his native tongue wherewith to express
his thoughts, but at present there is scarcely any national literature,
owing to the deadening influence of the government. The principal Russian
authors are Poushkin the poet, Karamsin the historian, and Kriloff the
writer of fables. In the alphabet there are thirty-six letters, of which
a great number are vowels: many of them are purely Greek characters.
A friend who understood the classic tongues assured me that a great
similitude existed between Russ and Greek; the resemblance to Erse
remarked by my Highland acquaintances has already been mentioned.

The words which appear to be spelled with so many consonants merely
contain letters of which we have not the equivalent,—such as shtch, cz,
tch, which are each expressed in Russian by a single character.

In the preceding pages, whenever Russian words occur, the true
orthography has not been given, but they are written according to the
sound as nearly as possible.



FOOTNOTES


[1] A verst is about five furlongs. A verst and a half, with the addition
of six yards, makes a mile.

[2] I was informed that they tie a string round the head and then cut the
hair in a straight line: the poll of the neck is shaved quite bare.

[3] The Greek Church forbids any carved images, although it allows
painted ones: they say “graven images” are expressly forbidden; how
they get over the ensuing “nor the likeness,” &c., they could never
satisfactorily explain.

[4] The Russians begin preparing a dowry for their daughters almost as
soon as they are born, and they accumulate an immense quantity of things
by the time they are marriageable.

[5] The unmarried girls have their hair done in one long thick plait
hanging straight down the back; the married have two, which are twisted
under the head-dress.

[6] The priests are so called in Russia.

[7] The heat is so great for some weeks in the summer that I have heard
people who have just arrived from India declare it is more insupportable
than anything which they had experienced in that country.

[8] So absurdly anxious is the government to prevent even the faintest
echo of the voice of freedom from being heard in Russia, that it is a
positive fact that the librettos of the operas of Masaniello and William
Tell were ordered to be changed lest the subject should be too exciting!

[9] In Russia there are many superstitions regarding this animal; the
people never eat it, as they consider it unclean. Perhaps this might have
arisen from their ancient Pagan creed, as one of their idols had the body
of a woman and the head of a hare.

[10] The Russians make a kind of tea out of these blossoms, which they
take as a cure for a cold; also of dried raspberries, which is used for
the same purpose—a decoction of either producing a violent perspiration.

[11] The coffin for an old person is generally covered with black and
trimmed with silver, but for a young person it is pink or white, with a
quantity of gold ornaments; wreaths of flowers, according to the age of
the dead, are laid on the top.

[12] The Russians have a strange idea that the Jews steal children to eat
them, especially at the time of Pentecost, and no reasoning will persuade
them of the absurdity and falsehood of this idea.

[13] Cronstadt, the celebrated port of St. Petersburg, although strongly
fortified, which of course is to protect the capital, is in itself a
wretched town; most of the houses are of wood, the streets unpaved, and
containing scarcely a single handsome building. There was much talk of
immense batteries and mines under the water; but people who had resided
there for years assured me that it was not possible that it could be true.

[14] The expenses of the Russian Court, we were informed, amount to
about forty millions of silver rubles per annum, or rather more than six
million three hundred and thirty-three thousand pounds sterling.—_From a
Russian authority._

[15] This unfortunate prince, although thus named, might have been the
true heir: there are many more circumstances to prove that he was so
than that he was not; his extreme resemblance to his father, his public
recognition by his mother, and the cross that had been placed round his
neck at his baptism, &c. But it was too much against the interest of his
successors for them to acknowledge his rights; his name is still yearly
anathematized in the Russian churches, to keep up the belief in his
imposture.

[16] A learned Russian traveller assured me that even the account he gave
of his journeys in the north of Asia was not allowed to be published;
only those parts wherein the desolation of the land was not exposed were
permitted to be printed.

[17] The executioner (it is said) is always made intoxicated before
inflicting the punishment of the knout.

[18] It is almost a compliment to Ivan IV. so to call him.

[19] St. George with the dragon is the insignia of the Russian order, as
well as of the garter in England.

[20] Kremlin is a Tartar word; it means a fortress.

[21] In Russia civilians, as well as military men, have the title of
general; it is, therefore, usual to distinguish them by the designation
of military or civil as the case may be.

[22] Yet they always spoke of the United States as a half-savage country,
and of the Americans as half civilized.

[23] A Russo-French gentleman, who is the possessor of large property in
these mines, assured us that the idea that the Emperor derives much from
them is entirely false; that the expense of working them is enormous, and
the time that they can be excavated in each year is very short; added to
which is the charge of transport; and, above all, the necessity of their
productions passing through the hands of the _employés_, who, according
to Russian custom, rub off a great deal in the process. “It is true,”
said he, “that sometimes large amounts are forwarded to the capital,
which make a figure in print, but they omit to say what expenses were
incurred in obtaining them. You may be sure that very little in the way
of profit reaches the Imperial Treasury, but private speculators make
them pay better because they themselves superintend them.”

[24] In order to ensure the fidelity of the Finnish people, the Emperor
took a journey to Finland, and, after having exerted all his talents
_pour faire l’aimable_, he promised them fifty years of immunity from
taxation, &c.

[25] So little do the Russians know of the true state of affairs, that,
since writing the above, I have received two letters from Russia, in the
first of which my friend begs me to “excuse the faults, for she is so
much interrupted by the cannonading in honour of their _great victories_
over the Turks.” In the second it is stated that “thirteen thousand
English have been slain near Anapa!” which, according to the writer, took
place about a month before the army left Varna; and I was further told
that “the manner in which we treat the prisoners of war, in giving them
neither food nor money, is disgraceful to a Christian country.” To one of
these epistles is a postscript, giving me to understand that the British
fleet were too frightened to remain before Cronstadt, &c.

[26] Vladimir, Prince of Novogorod.—_Nestor._

[27] Peter the Great caused immense levies to be made throughout his
dominions to furnish men sufficient to construct his capital; crowds
of Cossacks were also brought from the Ukraine after Mazeppa’s defeat,
who, together with the prisoners of war taken from Sweden, were all
employed in the work of excavation; and in laying the foundations
hundreds of thousands, it is said, perished from fatigue, pestilence, and
ill-treatment. One hundred thousand died from famine alone.

[28] A fool, an ass.

[29] These lines may be thus translated:—

    “Who knows how many wither
    In a year sent to the tomb,
    Summon’d unwarned thither
    To meet their final doom,
    In spite of th’ warm breath of spring,
    Which often faded blossoms bring?
    Ah! which of us shall stay to mourn for those
    That lie wrapp’d in the silent grave’s repose?”

[30]

    “Cheer up! and good be ever there,
    Shall be our wish at this new year.”

[31] German in Russ is _niemetz_, from _niemoe_, dumb. The Slaves always
so designated those who could not speak their language. According to
some authors, the name of Slaves is derived from _slovo_, a word, and
_slovene_, _i.e._ men who speak. The letter _o_ in Russian frequently
takes the sound of _a_. Others say that the name is derived from _slava_,
glory.

[32] I have myself seen in the remote villages grotesque figures painted
on the wall outside of the cottages, or else a frightful demon on the
apex of the roof in front, which the peasants called a domovoi or
house-guardian.

[33] The city of Novogorod alone, it is said, contained four hundred
thousand inhabitants.


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