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by rubbing the skin with snow till the circulation is restored; but if it is neglected, the effects of the frost are very painful, and sometimes a wound ensues which
end in mortification. If the skin is blistered, the application of gooseoil is considered an excellent remedy. Four years ago, I am told, that more than five hundred persons were frozen to death in this government, which, it must be remembered, consists chiefly of open steppes, where the effects of a high wind are most formidable, since the snow is blown from the ground and buries horse and man in the drifts, or else it obliterates the tracks, so that the traveller loses his way, and almost inevitably perishes on the unsheltered plain. From the scarcity of wood on these steppes, the inhabitants have little fuel, except straw and dried cow-dung; the latter, it is said, makes a very hot fire, and if properly managed, is entirely free from any unpleasant smell when burning. In the severe winter which I have mentioned of 1833-4, a complete panic was excited, and a prophecy was spread abroad which .gained credit, not only with the common people, but with some of a higher class, that on the first day of the new year there would be a hundred-and-ninety degrees of frost, and, of course, that man and beast would perish.
The papers have, no doubt, made you acquainted with the misfortune which has occurred at Peters
burg in the destruction of the magnificent WinterPalace, which was burnt to the ground* on the night of the 29th of December. Various reports have been spread as to the origin of the fire: it has been hinted that it was not altogether accidental, and that the authors of the calamity are no other than conspirators against the existing government. All such rumours, however, appear to be utterly groundless, and it seems that the fire undoubtedly originated in want of precaution on the part of those who were charged with the care of the stoves, some of which were out of order, so as to ignite the adjoining wood-work. This it is supposed had been smouldering for a day or two; and it is even said that a smell of burning had been perceived, and yet that no precautions were taken. Be this as it may, the fire broke out on the night which I have mentioned, while the Emperor and Empress with their grown-up children were at the theatre where Taglioni was dancing. A messenger was immediately sent to the Emperor, who left the theatre without alarming the Empress, under the pretence that a courier had arrived with dispatches for his own hand.
He found that the young Grand Dukes had been already taken out of the palace and placed in a car
* I found afterwards that this statement was not quite correct. The walls of the palace, from their great thickness and solidity, remained almost uninjured by the fire.
riage to await his directions: the valuable jewels had also been removed to a place of security: his Majesty therefore proceeded to his own private apartments, and with the assistance of his valet-de-chambre, packed up and secured his private papers, and when he had completed this important task, he sent to inform the Empress of the disaster. She immediately came to the palace, and after directing the removal from her own apartments of those articles which she prized most, and personally ascertaining the safety of all the ladies attached to the court, some of whom were saved not without difficulty, she went to the house of Count Nesselrode, on the opposite side of the Imperial place or square, and established herself at one of the windows, where she remained for two hours watching the progress of the fire, which gained ground rapidly, since, owing to the intense frost, (twenty-six or twenty-seven degrees of Reaumur,) the engines were useless for want of water. The flames continued to rage all night, and the loss is estimated at more than a million of pounds sterling. A considerable part of the magnificent furniture was saved, with most of the pictures and valuable curiosities. More might have been rescued from the fire, but as it spread, the Emperor forbade all further exertions, on account of the danger. The soldiers, however, who were engaged in removing the furniture, were so eager, that it was difficult to restrain them, and even the Emperor himself, as it is said,
had some trouble in enforcing obedience when he commanded them to desist. The following anecdote * is told of his Majesty's presence of mind on the occasion. Some soldiers were busily employed in taking down a magnificent mirror which stood opposite to a door: the Emperor was in the adjoining room, and looking through the doorway, saw that the cieling was cracking over the heads of the men. He called to them to desist and come out of the room, they, however, were so eagerly engaged in their work that they did not immediately obey, and the Emperor, perceiving that no time was to be lost, threw his opera-glass, with all his force, at the mirror, and broke it in the middle; and the soldiers perceiving it to be spoiled, though they scarcely knew how, gave themselves no further trouble about it, but left the room, the cieling of which fell in a few minutes afterwards. I, myself, think his Majesty is quite as likely to have aimed at the men's heads as at the mirror, by way of effectually exciting their attention; but whether I am right in my conjecture, or the more courtly version of the story is true, he undoubtedly appears to have saved the lives of the party by the expedient which he adopted. The palace was inhabited by fifteen or sixteen hundred souls, but I be
* I find that this anecdote is given by Lord Londonderry in his account of his visit to Petersburg and Moscow; I have, however, not thought it worth while to expunge it from my letter, since I heard it at the time, and on authority which I could not doubt.
lieve no lives were lost in the fire excepting those of four or five soldiers, who perished in the White Hall, from the roof falling in upon them.
Of all those who are exposed to the severity of a Russian winter, the washerwomen always appear to me most deserving of pity. They may be seen, daily, in numbers, washing clothes in the river at holes cut in the ice, rinsing the linen in the water, and then laying it on the ice and striking it with a wooden beetle, instead of wringing it. The linen is taken down to the river and conveyed home again on small sledges, which the women draw after them. These women, and, indeed, the female peasants in general, are dressed, in the winter, almost like the men, in sheep-skin coats and high boots reaching to the knee, with their heads wrapped up in handkerchiefs: the hands, however, of the washerwomen are necessarily undefended, and it surprises me that they can preserve the use of them, when they are wet and then exposed to the intense frost. The sentinels, at this season, in addition to their great-coats, have large sheep-skin pelisses or wrappers, which cover them completely, warm gloves, goloshes lined with fur, and cloth skull-caps, protecting the ears and the back of the head and neck, worn under the shako.
Since Christmas we have had a rapid succession of assemblies, balls and parties of various kinds; and coachmen and horses have been forced to brave the cold without, while their masters and mistresses were