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Chap. cane arose, which, sweeping over the whole of the Baltic,
1824. Nov. 19.
strewed its shores with wrecks, and inflicted the most frightful devastation on all the harbours with which it is studded. But the catastrophe at( the capital was so i schnitz- frightful, that for some hours it was menaced with entire i"t n«- destruction, and all but accomplished a remarkable proAnn. Hist, phecy, made to Peter the Great when he commenced
vii. 386, f •" . , . , , , . . . .
387, its construction, that it would one day perish under the waves of the Baltic.1 * g3 To understand how this happened, it is necessary to Description obtain a clear idea of the local circumstances and situation tton of St "of St Petersburg. When Peter selected the islands at the Petersburg. moutlj of the river Neva, which, descending from the vast
expanse of the Lake Ladoga, empties itself in a mighty stream into the Baltic, for the site of his future capital, he was influenced entirely by the suitableness of its situation for a great harbour, of which he severely felt the want, as Archangel, on the frozen shores of the White Sea, was the only port at that period in his dominions. Carried away by this object, which, no doubt, was a very important one, he entirely overlooked the probable unhealthiness of the situation, where a metropolis rested like Venice on marshy islands, the highest part of which was only elevated a few feet above the branches of the river with which they were surrounded; the extreme cold which a must ensue in winter from the close proximity of enor
vii.n386; mous ice-fields,2 and the probability of its being exschnit»ier, posed Jq tue greatest danger from a sudden rising of the
waters of the river owing to a high wind of long con
* A curious incident, highly characteristic of Peter, occurred at this time. "When the foundation of his new capital was commencing on the desolate islands of the Neva, which are now covered by the fortress of Croustadt and the superb palaces of St Petersburg, Peter observed, by accident, a tree marked at a considerable height from the ground. Ho called a peasant of Finland, who was working near, and asked him 'what the mark was for V 'It is the highest level,' replied the peasant,' which the water reached in the inundation of 1680.' 'You lie !' cried the Czar in a fury; 'what you say is impossible;' and seizing a hatchet, ho with his own hands cut down the tree, hoping thereby to extinguish alike all memory of the former flood, and guard against the recurrence of a similar calamity."—Sohmtzler, i. 85-86.
tiuuancc blowing in the waters of the Baltic, and back Chap.
those which usually flow from the Lake Ladoga. It was 1_
this which had previously occurred on more than one 1824occasion, and which now threatened the capital with destruction.
Regardless of these dangers, and of the enormous con- ( sumption of human life which took place during the build- Continued, ing of the city, from the unhealthiness of the situation, which is said to have amounted to a hundred thousand persons, the Czar drove on the work with the impetuosity which formed so leading a feature in his character, and at length the basis of a great city was laid amidst the watery waste. On the spongy soil and low swamps, which had previously encumbered the course of the Neva, the modern capital arose. Vast blocks of granite, brought from the adjacent plains of Finland, where they are strewed in huge masses over the surface, faced the quays; palaces were erected, of more fragile materials, on the surface, within the isles; and the Perspective Newski is perhaps now the most imposing street in Europe, from the beauty of its edifices and the magnitude of its dimensions. The splendid facade of the Admiralty, the Winter Palace of the emperor, the noble Cathedral of St Isaac—the statue of Peter the Great, resting on a single block of granite of 1800 tons weight— the noble pillar of Alexander, formed of a single stone of the same material, the largest in the world, combined in a single square, now overpower the imagination of the beholder by their magnificence, and the impression they convey of the power of the sovereign by whose energy these marvels have been made to spring up amidst the watery wilderness. But the original danger, arising from the lowness of the situation, and its liability to inundations, still continues. Great as it is, the power of the Czar is not so great as that of the Baltic waves. From the main channel, where the Neva majestically flows through superb quays of granite, surmounted by piles of palaces, branch off, as from the great canal at Venice, numerous
Chap. smaller streams, forming by their intersection so many xm' isles, some covered with streets, and forming the most
im' populous quarters; others adorned by beautiful villas and public gardens, the recreation of the citizens during their brief but brilliant summer. But these canals open so many entrances for the floods of the Neva or waves of the Baltic to penetrate into every part of the city. None of l- SS'oS. it is elevated in its foundations more than a few feet above p^niuier, the ordinary level of the water, and the spectator shud85.' ' ders to think that the rise of the flood, even in a small degree, may threaten the entire city with destruction.1 This was what in effect happened at this time. On Great inun- several former occasions the river had been much swollen: st Peters- once, immediately before the birth of the present emperor, No?,'19 it was ten feet above its ordinary level. But this was as mi- nothing compared to the terrible inundation which now presaged his death. All the 19th of November the wind blew from the south-west with terrific violence, and brought the Baltic waves in such a prodigious mass to the mouth of the Neva that its waters were made to regorge, and soon the quays were overflowed, and the lower parts of the city began to be submerged. This at first, however, excited very little attention, as such floods were not uncommon in the end of autumn; but the alarm soon spread, and terror was depicted in every visage, when it rapidly ascended and spread over the whole town. By half-past ten the water in the Perspective Newski was ten feet deep; in the highest parts of the city it was five. The Neva had risen four fathoms above its ordinary level, and, worse still, it was continuing to rise. The whole inhabitants crowded to the upper stories of the houses. Despair now seized on every heart; the reality of the danger came home to every mind; the awful scenes of the Deluge were realised in the very centre of modern civilisation. At Cronstadt a ship of the line was lifted up from a dry dock, and floated over the adjacent houses into the great square. At eight in the morning the cannon of alarm began to be discharged. The terrible warning, repeated every minute, so unusual
amidst the ordinary stillness of the capital, proved the Chap. terror which was felt by government, and augmented the YIIJ" general consternation. Ships torn up from their anchors; 1824boats filled with trembling fugitives; stacks of corn borne on the surface of the waves from a great distance; cattle buffeting with the torrent, intermingled with corpses of persons drowned, or at their last gasp, imploring aid; and immense quantities of furniture, and movables of every description, were floated on to the most intricate and secluded parts of the city. The waters continued to rise till four in the afternoon, and every one imagined that all who could not save themselves in boats would be drowned. The rush was dreadful, accordingly, into every vessel that could be seized on, and numbers perished in striving to get on board. At five in the evening the wind fell, and the water sunk as rapidly as it had risen, and by the next morning the Neva had returned to its former channel. The total loss occasioned by the wind and the inundation , Schnitzwas estimated at 100,000,000 rubles (£4,000,000); fives/; Ann. hundred persons perished in the waves, and twice that Smw"; number, sick or infirm, were drowned in their houses. stVlu^Such had been the violence of the wind and flood, that 2or|'1NoT' when the waters subsided they were found to have floated 1824.' from their place cannons weighing two tons and a half.1 At the sight of this terrible calamity, which for a time seemed to bid defiance to the utmost human efforts, the Noble' Czar in despair stretched forth his hands to Heaven, and ^mP°ror implored that its anger might fall upon his own head, andand noblesspare his people. He did not, however, neglect all human means of mitigating the calamity. Throwing himself into a bark, he visited in person the quarters most threatened, distributed the troops in the way most likely to be serviceable, and exposed himself to death repeatedly in order to save his people. All would have been unavailing, however, and the city totally destroyed, if the wind had not mercifully abated, and the waters of the Neva found their usual vent into the Baltic. Munificent subscriptions followed the calamity; the emperor headed the list with
Chap. fifty thousand pounds. The most solid houses were im%lu' pregnated with salt, and in a manner ruined; and a severe
1824. frosj. ^high se|j in immediately after, before the water had left the houses, augmented the general suffering by filling them with large blocks of ice. Even the most solid granite was exfoliated, and crumbled away before spring, from the effects of the frost on the humid structures. The people regarded this calamity as a judgment of Heaven for not 1 S89n!),zl-or' havmg assisted their Christian brethren during their recent Annalist. and frightful persecutions from the Turks—the emperor 388. as a punishment for sins of which he was more immediately concerned in his domestic relations.1 97 The year 1824 was marked by a ukase ordering a levy internal of two in five hundred males over the whole empire—a on»u' measure which brought 120,000 men to the imperial mentor the standards. As this measure was adopted during the conofKusaian test in Greece, and when all thought was turned towards Aug^T *ne liberation of its inhabitants from the Ottoman yoke, it was obeyed with alacrity, and even enthusiasm. The persons drawn took, their departure as for a holy war, amidst the shouts of their relations and neighbours; and from them, in great part, were formed the redoubtable bands which in a few years carried the Russian eagles to Varna, Erivan, and Adrianople. A dangerous revolt in the same year broke out in the province of Novgorod, owing to the peasants having been misled into the belief that the emperor had given them their freedom, and that it was withheld by their lords, which was only crushed by a great display of military force and considerable bloodshed. It was the more alarming, from its being ascertained that the conspiracy had its roots in the military colonies recently established in the southern provinces. The financial measures adopted in 1820 and 1822, for withdrawing a large part of the assignats from circulation, were continued with vigour and success—a circumstance which, of course, made a progressive rise in the value of money, and fall in that of produce, and added