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She immediately came to the palace, and directed the removal from her own apartments of those articles which she prized most, first personally ascertaining the safety of all the ladies attached to the court, some of whom were rescued not without difficulty. She then 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. 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, together 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 Emperer 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 the door, when the Emperor, who was in the adjoining room, saw that the ceiling was cracking over the heads of the men. He called to them to desist and come away instantly, but they 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. The soldiers, perceiving it to be spoiled, though they scarcely knew how, gave themselves no further trouble about it, and left the room, and the ceiling 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. Whether I am right in my conjecture,
* 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, ani on authority which I could not doubt.
or whether the more courtly version of the story is true, the Emperor 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 believe 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 those who are exposed to the severity of a Russian winter, the washerwomen always appear to me the most deserving of pity. They may be seen daily in numbers washing clothes, notwithstanding the bitter cold, at holes cut in the ice of the river, 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 sheepskin coats and high boots reaching to the knee, with their heads wrapped up in handkerchiefs. The hands 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, are provided with large sheepskin pelisses or wrappers, which cover them completely. They have also warm gloves and goloshes lined with fur; and they wear under the shako cloth skull-caps, protecting the ears and the back of the head and neck.
Since Christmas we have had a rapid succession of assemblies, balls, and parties of various kinds; and coachmen and horses have been forced to remain out of doors in the cold, while their masters and mistresses were amusing themselves in warm rooms within. The horses, however, are secured from harm by their own hardy nature and by their long rough coats; while the drivers are so well wrapped up in furs and sheepskins, as almost to bid defiance to the frost. Nevertheless in Petersburg and Moscow * all places of public amusement
* In these capitals during the winter large fires are lighted at night in the public places near the theatres and palaces, with screens from the wind, for the benefit of the coachmen and servants waiting with carriages.
are closed, from humanity to man and beast, when the cold reaches an extreme point; and Court festivities are, under the same circumstances, postponed.
It is not the fashion at Tamboff for entertainers to issue cards of invitation, or to engage their guests long beforehand. Instead of this, a lady who intends to give a ball or party usually goes round the town making calls, and inviting the ladies in person for the next day or the next but one; leaving a card or message for those whom she does not find at home. Her husband follows her in her circuit at a short interval to invite the gentlemen, who would not be pleased were this ceremony omitted. These calls sometimes begin as early as nine o'clock in the morning, and we often find cards on the breakfast-table which have been left before we were dressed.
About Christmas and the New Year the people appear to spend most of their time in hurrying from house to house, and paying a flying visit or leaving a card; as custom requires that on one, if not both, of these occasions they should take the trouble of calling on all their acquaintances with congratulations. On Christmas-day my brother-in-law was too unwell to admit visitors, and eighty-two cards were left at his house in the course of the morning. On New Year's day he devoted himself to the task of politeness in return; and he tells me that before he came home he had called at fifty houses. At Odessa, instead of making these calls in person, they put advertisements in the newspaper to the effect that Mr. A. pays his respects to Messrs. B., C., D., and the rest of the alphabet.
The ladies are in general very well dressed when they appear in public.* Indeed their toilettes must be the source of no inconsiderable expense, since it seems to be held necessary that a lady should not appear in the same dress at two balls in the course of the winter. In a society such as that of Tamboff, no one can hope to infringe this rule without instant detection on the part of her fair friends. Ladies of moderate fortune in Russia possess, generally speaking, more jewels than Eng
* Some of them do not equally deserve to be commended for personal neatness when unadorned for society.
lish women in similar circumstances. A valuable shawl, and diamonds to a certain amount, are considered indispensable requisites in the list of marriage presents from every husband to his bride. *
At evening parties, trays loaded with bonbons, apples, grapes, and sweetmeats, are handed round in great abundance, and ices are also served in profusion : but ladies ornamented with diamonds do not appear to advantage in society when munching unpeeled apples; nor does it quite accord with the dignity of generals, decorated with stars, to stuff their pockets with bonbons, and carry them away; both of which practices prevail. No plates accompany these refreshments, and, therefore, the floor of the room is quickly strewed with the papers in which the bonbons have been wrapped ; while apple-cores and grape-skins are thrown without compunction under the chairs. The sweetmeats are brought in numerous large saucers, but with only two or three spoons on the tray; a guest being, expected, after using a spoon, to restore it to the saucer for the benefit of his neighbour. In some houses, instead of laying cloths for supper, the plates are set down on the naked cardtables, scrawled all over with chalk; from the Russian fashion, which I have mentioned, of marking in this manner the state of the game. The suppers are very elaborate and good, but they seldom make their appearance till two o'clock in the morning, though we dine at three in the afternoon. The fact is that Russians have a habit of quitting the house where they are entertained the moment they rise from table, whether it be late or early; and the late supper is arranged with the hospitable intention of detaining the guests as long as possible.
I observe that in this society the young married women seem to possess greater attractions than the maidens. Indeed, Russian notions impose upon the latter so much restraint, that it sometimes appears difficult to keep up a conversation with them, as they can hardly be induced to take their fair share; and, I believe, the unmarried men are absolutely afraid of them. · Perhaps if a gentleman were to pay a young lady the attentions which, according to our ideas, ordinary politeness would
* Indian shawls and diamond ornaments were to be purchased in the shops at Tamboff. I inquired in vain for a nail-brush.
exact, he might here be expected to proceed further, and to offer his hand. The young ladies usually stand huddled together in the rooms in knots, and they are seated at supper like a set of children, at a separate table; without a single partner to enliven them. The young men naturally look equally dull in their state of isolation.
A pleasant and animated conversation is certainly more rare and more difficult to maintain in Russia than it is in England. The Censorship, as I have already remarked, places a great restraint upon literature; and there are few subjects to talk about of general interest, since political topics are entirely banished. No one likes, in general society, to hazard the most indifferent remark on any act of the Government, which is said, I believe with much truth, to have active spies among every class and in every quarter. Besides these unknown spies, there are, in every town, officers of gendarmes, or, as they are often called, of the secret police ; part of whose duty avowedly is to report to St. Petersburg all that is passing around them, even, as I am told, to the merest gossip. Count Benkendorf is at the head of this department; and all persons unite in declaring that nothing could render so odious a system tolerable but the manner in which it is organised by its present Chief, who has succeeded in acquiring much popularity notwithstanding the unpleasant nature of his office.
So strongly is the habit of prudent reserve imprinted on the minds of Russians that their natural curiosity and desire for information often seems to be stifled, and it is difficult to excite their interest in any public event. On the evening after the arrival of the post which brought intelligence of the Winter Palace having been burned, we happened to be at a small party, consisting of less than a dozen people; one of whom had received a letter from a friend at Petersburg, giving him an account of what had occurred. As no public papers had arrived that day, it would have been natural for this gentleman to impart his correspondent's information, and to tell us all he knew about an event of so much general interest. Instead of this however, small and private as the society was, it was merely mentioned in the room that a report had arrived of a serious fire at the palace, and no one ventured to enter at all