Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

thirty handsome horses, chiefly for hamesis, are kept in good condition in the stables.

The Russians appear to be extremely devoted to cards, playing on Sunday as much as any other day. Whist is the usual game. They sit down before dinner, which is commonly at three or four o'clock, and, when it is announced, they leave their cards on the table, and resume their game the moment they return from the dining-room, continuing to play from that time till the party disperses; so that, excepting for those who are no card-players, there really is no conversation. I observe everywhere a custom which is in our eyes exceedingly slovenly, namely, that of marking the state of the game by scoring it in chalk upon the table-cloth, instead of using counters. Pieces of chalk, and brushes for erasing the figures, are always put on the table with the cards.

I will conclude my letter by a few remarks on the subject of Russian rank and title, which do not go together as in England. The Russians have but two titles of honour—that of knaize, prince or duke, and graf, count. There are also barons, but they are not originally of Russian extraction, but German, usually from Courland and Livonia. All these titles multiply themselves ad infinitum, * being enjoyed equally by every de-scendant of the possessor, in the male line, without any distinction in favour of the eldest branch: they are, therefore, of comparatively little value, except as procuring consideration in society. All legal rank, privilege, or precedence in Russia is either military, or is measured by a military grade. A prince who is an ensign must give way to the son of a shopkeeper who is a lieutenant, and the daughter of an untitled general will walk before a princess whose father is only a colonel. Though, however, titles are of no account, nobility confers great privileges. None but a noble can possess serfs, without which landed property in this country is of little value. The nobles are free from the conscription, which presses heavily on all other classes. They are in no case liable to the knout and other corporal punishments ; and they can always claim to enter the service, as under-officers at least, receiving a commission, or attaining an equivalent rank as civilians, in three years at furthest, excepting in cases of misconduct. I should add, that being noble in Russia, as in some other continental countries, corresponds to the being a gentleman in England, although the Russian assumes the coronet and full-faced helmet with closed visor, instead of the simple crest and side-faced helmet of the untitled English gentleman. The Russian noble does not, however, use supporters to his arms, unless they have been specially granted to his family. Nobility is earned by service or acquired by inheritance. Every one who serves the Emperor, either in a civil or military capacity with the rank of officer, is noble, and may, therefore, wear a coronet on his seal or carriage, whatever he may have been by birth. Unless, however, he was noble by birth, his nobility does not descend to his children if he has not reached, at least, the grade of major; after which his family is placed in the position of hereditary noblesse. *

* As an instance of this, I may observe that of the name of Galitzin only there are, at present, no less than three hundred princes. How many princesses there may be I do not know, but they must be very numerous.

+ There is, however, a title of Prince which is conferred rarely, and only for long or distinguished services, and which is therefore highly valuable. The Prince Volchonsky; Field-marshal Count Paskievitch, Prince of Warsaw; and the Prince of Italy, Count Souvaroff, are noblemen holding this rank. Princes of this class have the style of Highness, and the title descends only to the eldest son and to his heirs male; not passing to all the descendants, like other Russian titles.

A census is taken at certain intervals, and if, during three generations, any family from father to son have failed to enter the service of the crown, it loses its nobility, it is erased from the list, and its members are reduced to the class of ordinary peasants. Excepting the clergy, who in Russia are a class apart, the members of all branches of the liberal professions are, as I have already told you, considered as “ in the service ;” and each individual is classed with entire reference to military rank. One civilian has the grade of ensign, another of lieutenant, and so on, up to full general. From the rank of major-general upwards, all persons, with their wives and daughters, so long as the latter remain unmarried, have the style of Excellency. Their sons necessarily can enjoy no rank but that which they themselves attain in the service. A general's daughter ranks with a colonel's wife; but a lady, on marrying, loses whatever title or precedence she may have held by right of birth, or by an office at court, such as that of maid of honour, and can only assume that of her husband. Less fortunate than our honourable and right honourable young ladies, who retain their rank or title after marriage, the Russian general's daughter is no longer her Excellency when she has become the captain's wife, and Mademoiselle la Princesse * must descend to plain Madame if she weds an untitled husband.

* The result naturally is, that nobility and penury are often combined. I have known the case, and it is by no means uncommon, of a lady’s-maid who had as good a right as her mistress to the display of a coronet.

* I ought perhaps to apologise for the occasional use of a French expression, since French is neither the language in which I am writing nor that of the people I am describing. It is, however, the language commonly used by Russians in their intercourse with foreigners, and indeed, to a great extent, in society among themselves. During my visit to Russia, therefore, I heard French phrases universally applied to persons and to things, and these I have in some few cases retained, where, as in titles of courtesy adopted by themselves, there appeared to be no exact English equivalent.

LETTER VII.

Exhibition of fire-engines — Fire establishments in the hands of Govern

ment — Account of the system – Village regulations - Frequent occurrence of rural fires — Visit to a monastery - Ex-archbishop - A Te Deum - Convent treasures - Origin of the use of images in the Greek Church — Visit to Riepinsk — Going to bed — Mayor of Riepinsk — Towing-barge — Project of establishing steam on the Volga — A name's day — Performance of mass by the archbishop-Mode of communicating the death of the Emperor Alexander to his mother - Treasures of the monastery at Yaroslav - Conclusion of visit at Yaroslav - Post-horse system - Feldt yägers.

Yaroslav, October 4th, 1837. We were much interested a few days ago by a little impromptu exhibition, which displayed the efficiency of the fire-establishment, and the alertness of the men: before, however, commencing any description of what we saw, I must give you a short account of the system.

The fire-establishments here are not, as in England, in the hands of insurance companies, but under the immediate control of government. The firemen are soldiers, and the horses, engines, &c., are the property of the crown. The whole, however, appears to be well organised, and the general regulations laid down by law to be extremely good. In the towns watchmen are stationed day and night on the tops of high towers, which are built in various quarters, so as to command the town; and at the foot of each tower is an establishment of firemen, horses, and engines, which are or ought to be always ready at a moment's notice. As soon as the watchman on the tower discovers a fire he rings a bell, which gives the alarm to the firemen below, while at the same time, by a telegraph, which can be used either by day or night, there being in the latter case a certain arrangement of lanterns, he points out the direction of the fire, and warns the establishments in other quarters of the town to send their assistance. As soon as the train of engines is ready, it proceeds at full speed through the streets, neither stopping nor turning aside, being preceded by a horseman, who gallops along, shouting and warning all persons to clear the way. If it is dark, the leading engine carries a bright light high up on a pole, which is easily distinguished, by its position, from the lamps of a carriage as it moves along. When a fire breaks out at St. Petersburg, it is the duty of the aide-de-camp in waiting immediately to inform the Emperor, even if the latter is asleep in bed. When a fire is at all considerable the Emperor always gets up and goes to it himself; in other cases the aide-de-camp is ordered to go to the spot, and at the conclusion to return and report what loss has been sustained, with the general result of the misfortune.

In the country the regulations are very good, and it is the duty of the starosta or bailiff of every village to see that they are enforced, though they are nevertheless in many cases totally neglected.

In the villages where the rules are carried into effect, every house has a small board affixed to it, on which is painted a number, and under the number is a figure of some implement useful at a fire ; on one being drawn a bucket, on another an axe, on a third a ladder or a pole with a hook at the end for pulling down burning thatch and rafters. The moment a fire is discovered in the village, the inhabitant of every house is bound to appear provided with the implement depicted outside his door. Besides which there are various regulations for establishing order in the operations, such as the appointing one man out of a certain number to be the captain of the gang, and to direct their proceedings.

If the rules were always properly enforced, it would not be easy in a country village to contrive better arrangements than these : since ready assistance with a proper number of all useful implements is provided in case of fire, and confusion is as far as possible avoided. It is the duty of the starosta to visit the houses from time to time in order to see that the implement belonging to each is ready and fit for use, and even that the buckets are supplied with water.

The necessity for such precautions is unfortunately exemplified by the frequent occurrence of rural fires. The peasants,

« ForrigeFortsett »