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as equivalent to a French franc.* The expense of engaging a diligence between Petersburg and Moscow is considerably more than that of posting, and the additional cost was still greater for us, since we were only conveyed about two-thirds of the distance, while we had to pay for the whole. For strangers, however, who arrive in Russia without any carriage of their own, it is very convenient to travel in this manner.
The vehicle having been brought over-night into the yard of our lodgings, for the convenience of packing the luggage, by nine o'clock in the morning of the 1st everything was ready. The conductor, who spoke a little French, arrived ; four horses abreast were put to, and we started on our journey, having delivered to the conductor our passports, authorising us to leave St. Petersburg. After passing the barrier, where a handsome triumphal arch is in progress of erection, and will soon be finished, we found ourselves on an excellent macadamized road, which is completed all the way to Moscow. The bridges are handsome and solid, being built of granite, with a cast-iron balustrade of an open pattern, exhibiting the Imperial eagle, with helmets, swords, fasces, &c. The new bridges are not yet all finished, but the deficiency is in every case supplied by a safe, temporary wooden bridge.
At distances of from fifty to a hundred versts apart along this road, are handsome inns belonging to the crown, some of the apartments in them being reserved for the Imperial family, and only used for ordinary travellers in case of necessity. The innkeeper occupies the house on conditions which forbid his charging anything for the use of the rooms, which are kept always heated in winter: the traveller paying merely for what he orders, and the price of everything, from a cup of tea to a dinner, being fixed by a printed tariff in Russian, French, and German, which is hung up in every room.
These inns are a comfort and accommodation, for which travellers are indebted to the liberality of the late Emperor Alexander, who built them to replace the palaces which were formerly kept up along this road, at a great expense, for the use of the Imperial family,
* A few years after these letters were written, the silver rouble, worth about three shillings, was adopted, and still continues to be used as the standard of Russian currency, instead of the assignat rouble.
without affording any advantage to the public at large. We travelled from eight to ten miles an hour, and reached Torjok on the morning of the 3rd instant, after a journey of fortynine hours. The post-horses are in general miserable-looking little animals, but they are much better than they appear, and can go both far and fast. No sort of care is taken of them, and the manner of treating them would soon destroy less hardy nags.
The Russian postilions, istvostchiks, or rather yemstchiks, as they are called, always drive from the box. A great deal of time is lost in changing horses, an operation which we seldom performed in less than half an hour. There is always a great deal of bargaining and disputing as to who is to go, among the peasants who keep the post-horses, and the question seems generally to be decided by lot. We frequently were driven by a lad of fifteen; but they all seemed perfectly skilful in driving four-in-hand, though in a very different fashion from the team of an English coach. Our istvostchiks were, generally speaking, a gay, good-humoured set of people ; but one stage we had a very sulky fellow, who did not drive at all to the satisfaction of the conductor, who rated him, till at last the man, in rage, stopped, jumped down, and was proceeding to take off his horses, and leave us in the road. The conductor, however, was soon at his back, threatening him with the police, and abusing him most violently ; hitting him all the time tolerably hard over the head with a thick leather pipe, till the istvostchik, whom I at first expected to return his blows, at length remounted the box and proceeded.
The dress of the istvostchiks is that of the Russian peasant in general. They wear a shirt, usually red, made without a collar, and hanging outside a pair of loose trousers, or drawers, of blue linen or calico, which are tucked into a pair of boots reaching half way up the leg. The shirt is girded round the waist by a leather belt. Over this dress the Russian seldom thinks it too hot to wear his coat of sheepskin, with the wool inside ; this, however, he throws off when he enters a house. The hat is low crowned, with a large buckle to the band, and the crown projecting all round. Many of the istvostchiks adorn their hats with a peacock's
feather twisted round them. The use of a razor is unknown among the peasants, and the rough, untrimmed beards, in the colour of which red is apt to preponderate, give the people a wild, uncivilized appearance. The men wear the hair divided on the top of the head, and cut all round the neck like the edge of a bowl. They generally, when working, wear a band round the head to prevent the hair from falling into their eyes. The women as well as the men wear sheepskin coats and boots, and they generally tie a handkerchief round their heads, so as to conceal the hair—a most unfeminine and unbecoming attire.
We travelled day and night without stopping, for we were anxious to make
up for the time lost by our detention at Petersburg. Night journeying is, however, the ordinary practice in Russia, excepting for very weak and sickly people. Every one is accustomed to it, and post-horses are obtained by night as readily as by day. There is little accommodation for sleeping at the inns; and when it is necessary to rest on the road, as in the case of bad health, or of a very long journey, Russians always carry their own beds with them."
In point of view we lost little by travelling in the dark, for nothing can be more dreary or monotonous than the greatest part of the road from Petersburg to Torjok. After the first ten or twelve versts we entered a tract of forest, which stretched with but few intervals for more than a hundred miles. The whole distance indeed exhibits little but a succession of bleak open country and thick forest. The road runs generally in a straight line, and one proceeds for miles together along a dead flat, without seeing a human habitation. On each side a boggy space of fifty or a hundred yards wide is kept clear of trees, and beyond that lies an impenetrable mass of birch and fir wood, growing up so thickly that the production of fine timber is impossible ; indeed I hardly saw a tree which appeared to be more than twenty or thirty years old. Here and there, where the trees had been cut down, was a neglected space full of grey stumps, and of long drawn-up saplings, bending or broken for want of their former support, many of them black and charred by fire; while the general desolation of the scene was enhanced by heavy rain, which
fell almost incessantly.* A journey through these forests is like a sea-voyage; one spot resembling another so closely, that the traveller seems always to remain in the same place. The only part of the country through which we passed where the view is at all attractive is in the immediate neighbourhood of Valdai, a small town about two hundred versts from Torjok. Valdai stands on the edge of a handsome lake, in which is an island containing a monastery, and around the lake is some pretty broken ground covered with wood. The only two other towns of any consideration through which we passed were Novogorod and Vishny Volotchok. The former, though its name, if literally translated, would be simply New-Town, is one of the most ancient places in Russia. It is situated about two hundred versts from Petersburg, on a fine navigable river, the Volchova, over which is thrown a new and handsome stone bridge. The fortifications of Novogorod were in former times considered impregnable. The place sustained many a siege, but I believe that it retained to the last its reputation as a maiden fortress. There is in the town a ruined Kremlin, a name which seems to be generally applied to the fortified palace or citadel of a Tartar prince. A few miles south of Novogorod the road crosses a considerable river by a bridge of boats, which will soon be replaced by a solid structure of stone. Here, the last time M— was in Russia, travelling with her brother, she narrowly escaped a somewhat serious adventure. They were in an open calêche, and their istvostchik drove them, as these men usually do, at a gallop, down upon the bridge, without perceiving that it was opened in the middle for a boat to pass. M–, however, instantly remarked the danger, and, pointing it out to her brother, they both called loudly to the driver to stop. This, at the pace they were going, was impossible, and carriage, horses, and passengers would inevitably have been precipitated into the river, had not the istvostchik contrived to run the
* One night on our journey, as we were passing through this tract of forest, we saw a fire by the road-side and a number of horses standing with their tails to it (like English fire-worshippers). The smoke no doubt drove away the mosquitos, and the fire kept the wolves at a respectful distance, but the fire-side effect was absurd enough.
† A German driver always crosses a planked bridge or a bridge of boats at a foot’s-pace, a Russian dashes across at full speed.
pole into a waggon-load of hay which was fortunately awaiting the closing of the bridge.
On the road we met frequent droves of fine fat oxen on their way to Petersburg; they were mostly of a dun colour, and came from Little Russia and the southern provinces. The cattle of the country through which we passed were invariably small and poor, and the sheep and pigs long-legged and ugly. The sheep are of all colours, black, brown, and speckled, but seldom white.
An ordinary Russian village presents a dirty and cheerless aspect; but in some of those belonging to the crown, through which the high road passes, the wooden houses, especially when new, are very pretty and picturesque. They are built with a gable facing the street. - Across the front runs a gallery with a neat balustrade, and the weather-boards are very handsome, being carved in open work like lace. The windows have almost all outside shutters, which are gaily painted with flowers, and similar ornaments, in bright colours.
Near Novogorod is one of the military colonies established by the Emperor Alexander, who thus endeavoured, with doubtful success, to make the same instrument both sword and sickle, spear and ploughshare.
The results of the system remain to be seen, but the organization of an armed and disciplined peasantry is considered by many to be an experiment which some day or other may prove hazardous to the tranquillity of the empire. This colony has once already felt its strength in a most ferocious revolt, which, after a great part of the officers had been most cruelly put to death, was suppressed only by the presence and commanding firmness of the Emperor Nicholas in person. All that we saw in passing was a very long line of cottages lying parallel to the road. In the centre was a semicircular space, containing the church and the officers' houses. Behind lie the fields, which are tilled by these soldier-husbandmen.
Torjok is famous for leather embroidered in gold and silver, and in various colours, for reticules, slippers, and belts.
We were here to quit the Moscow road and the diligence, and we found that a coach and six, with another vehicle drawn by three horses, and called a tarantass, had been awaiting our