« ForrigeFortsæt »
country was henceforward laid open to a series of foreign incursions, which involved the Italians in innumerable distresses. Torn as the unhappy land had been by the tumultuous excesses of her own sons, she had hitherto escaped a foreign yoke; and though the armies of Germany and France had occasionally molested her territories, the intruders had been unable to accomplish a permanent footing. At the moment when the gathering storm was ready to burst upon her, Italy had attained the highest degree of prosperity. The country, portioned out among the several states, presented a healthy and improving aspect. Agriculture formed the employment of great part of the inhabitants; nor was this occupation confined to the rustics alone. Every city possessed an ample tract of land, which was cultivated by the citizens, who in time of peace issued from the gates to their daily labour, and returned again with the evening to the security of their walls. A larger portion of citizens were diligently engaged in the lucrative pursuits of trade and commerce, the profitable business of exchange with distant countries, and the hazardous negotiation of foreign loans. The Italian manufactures were in request in the East as well as in Europe. The brilliant glass and splendid mirrors of Venice, the glossy silks of Bologna and Modena, the gold and silver tissues and rich cloths of Florence, found a market in every civilized country; and the galleys of Italy returned laden with the produce and treasure of Arabia and India. In the fine arts, Italy had far outstripped her neighbours. The increase of population swelled the limits of a narrow town into an extensive and beautiful city; the mean and lowly hut was expanded into a commodious habitation; and architecture, no longer confined to the service of religion, was employed on the stately palaces of private individuals. The massive fabrics of Venice had begun to rear their heads as early as the tenth century; the noble Duomo of Pisa was commenced almost as early ; in the fifteenth century the labours of Brunelleschi were engaged in adorning his native Florence; and Bramante had already distinguished himself by his versatile powers. Painting was rapidly advancing to perfection; sculpture once more displayed her beautiful forms; and the mighty genius now burst forth, which, after raising the stupendous cathedral, could dye its walls with matchless designs, and adorn its shrines with magnificent statues. In letters this favoured country stood also pre-eminent."
The specimens we have presented demonstrate with what masterly ease Sir Robert Comyn sketches national and periodical epochs, whether these be in times of peace, when he has undertaken to give a correct picture of manners and institutions, or in seasons of transition and alternation-when he has to unravel the intrigues of faction and narrate the evils of commotion and war. Simple, unaffected, and earnest, he is in possession of the other rare qualifications which we mentioned at the commencement of our notice of his work; and it will be matter of just regret if he does not snatch whatever intervals may occur in his high calling, to enlighten and delight the world with contributions to history.
Art. XIII.-A Residence on the Shores of the Baltic : described in a
Series of Letters. 2 vols. Murray. These letters are by a lady, with whose name we presume the public will ere long become familiar. It appears that she left England to pay a visit to a sister who is married to an Estonian nobleman, and whom she had not seen for many years. The volumes narrate the incidents of her travel and of her sojournings from the time of her departure to her return. The voyage to Petersburg was stormy; so that the steamer was obliged to seek shelter, first in Norway and then in Denmark, affording the writer not only an opportunity of giving a sketch of her glance of Christiansand and Copenhagen, but to describe in remarkably vivid colours the tempest and the danger she encountered. Having reached St. Petersburg, the business of lionizing commenced under the escort of an officer of high rank; being thus enabled to have peculiar advantages as a sight-seeing stranger. She next undertook a winter's journey to Reval on the shores of the Baltic, the capital of Estonia, where she found herself fairly housed under the roof of her sister, and where she resided twelve months; the capital of Russia again becoming the subject of a variety of sketches as she returned.
The letters bear the form of epistles addressed familiarly to a relative, and are singularly graceful and spirited. They may be said also to be original beyond any compositions of the kind that have lately come under our notice: original not only because much of the field is new which the lady has gone over, but on account of her keen observation, quick fancy, independence of sentiment, and picturesque colouring. At the same time many ideas on a first reading seem novel, which are merely commonplace; the writer's smartness or her poetical skill having been rather elaborately applied. She is frequently more brilliant than natural; and the sentimentality, though generally feminine and sweet in no ordinary degree, is sometimes too artificially witty. But as a whole the work is exceedingly charming : it is full of information and entertaining instruction. She paints scenery with a felicitous hand; her characters are breathing and active individuals; her incidents are frequently romantic and always worth telling, or at least rendered so by her engaging and exciting manner; while, above all, her pictures of homely scenes, of domestic life, as well as of national manners, are as graphic as, perhaps, ever were penned. But we must no longer withhold from our readers portions of the rich and plentiful treat which these volumes contain; taking it upon ourselves to offer such observations, and to make such abstracts in the course of our paper as may appear to us proper.
We shall not allow ourselves to be detained by the account of the
hurricane on the lady's outward voyage, nor of her transient glimpses of Norway and Denmark; but at once arrive along with her at Cronstadt. Here, a visit from an officer and a few subordinates, "whose beauties truly lay not in their exterior," was the first initiator into Russian manners; for “a more uncouth, ill-mannered set never were seen.” “ What they did on board would be difficult to say. They usurped a great deal of room in our saloon, and produced an immense number of sheets, of a substance which Russia has agreed to call paper; and the subordinates wrote as fast as they could, and the superior flourishing his sword-arm signed the same, with a mysterious concatenation of dots and dashes after. Then everything on board was sealed with lead seals, from the hatches over the cargo to the minutest article of the passengers' baggage.
They soon embarked in a small steamer for the capital:
“About our three hours' passage to Petersburg I can't say much. The air above was very keen, the couches below very soft, and the scene on either hand being a mere dismal swamp, many of our party dozed most comfortably till such time as Petersburg became visible, when we all hastened on deck to take the first impressions of this capital. Behind us Cronstadt had sunk into the waters, and before us Petersburg seemed scarcely to emerge from the same, so invisible was the shallow tablet of land on which it rests. The mosque-like form of the Greek churches-the profusion of cupola and minaret— with treble domes painted blue with silver stars, or green with gold stars, and the various gilt spires, starting at intervals from the low city, and blazing like flaming swords in the cold rays of a Russian October setting sun, give it an air of Orientalism little in accordance with the gloomy, grey mantle of snow clouds, in which all this glitter was shrouded. The loftiest and most striking object was the Isaac's church, still behung with forests of scaffolding, which, while they revealed its gigantic proportions, gave but few glimpses of its form. Altogether I was disappointed at the first coup d'ail of this capital—it has a brilliant face, but wants height to set it off. The real and peculiar magnificence of Petersburg, however, consists in thus sailing apparently upon the bosom of the ocean, into a city of palaces. Herein no one can be disappointed. Granite quays of immense strength now gradually closed in upon us, bearing aloft stately buildings modelled from the Acropolis, while successive vistas of interminable streets, and canals as thickly populated, swiftly passing before us, told us plainly that we were in the midst of this northern capital ere we had set foot to ground. Here all observations were suddenly suspended by a halt in the Pyroskaff, which ceased its paddles and lay motionless in the centre of the stream. In our simplicity we had imagined that the Cronstadt precautions had sufficed to qualify us for entering Russia, and reckoned on drawing up alongside the quay, and being allowed, after our many dangers and detentions, quietly to step on shore. But we were sad novices. Half an hour passed thus away, which to people, cold, hungry, and weary,—what should we have done without that nice nap?—seemed interminable ; when a rush of fresh uniforms boarded us from another vessel, who proceeded to turn out the gentlemen's pockets
and the ladies' reticules, and seemed themselves in most admirable training for pickpockets. Then one by one we were led across a plank to an adjoining ship, where they hurried us down to a committee of grave Dons sitting below, who scrutinised first our passports and then our features, and proceeded to note down a descriptive table of the latter of such a latitudinarian nature, that, in the scrawled credentials of identity which each received, no mother would have recognised her child. Colours, complexions, and dimensions were jumbled with utter disregard of private feelings.Every gentleman had une barbe noire, every lady la figure ovale, and it was well if these were not reversed. These were accompanied by printed directions as to where to go, what to do, and how in general to behave ourselves whilst in his Imperial Majesty's dominions.”
Our readers have what were the lady's first impressions of St. Petersburg She afterwards makes frequent confession of the imposing effect of the magnificent things of the city; but still we can gather that she felt that the whole was the forced creation of imperial will, and not a truly healthful emanation of a free nationality. Behold her now fairly lodged in the capital, with a soldier as a guard of honour at the door :
“He was a brow-bent, rusty moustached, middle-sized man, with hard lines of toil on his sunburnt face-his hair, according to the compulsory and unfortunately disfiguring system of cleanliness adopted in the Russian army, clipped till the head was barely covered or coloured, and his coarse drab uniform hanging loosely about him : for soldiers' coats are here made by contract according to one regulation size, and, like the world, are too wide for some, too tight for others. But the sense of the ludicrous extended itself to my hostess, on my requesting to have a chair placed for him. 'A chair! she exclaimed, what should he do with it ?--standing is rest for him'- and in truth the Russian soldier is like his horse,-standing and lying are his only postures of repose. I found my poor sentinel willing, swift, and most useful in this city of scanty population and enormous distances, and, without much self-applause, it may be added he also found me a kind mistress, for the tyrannical, inhuman mode in which inferiors are here addressed is the first trait in the upper classes which cannot fail to disgust the English traveller."
We shall give at once all that is to be said of St. Petersburg, of its courtly doings, &c. The lady's account of its magnificence is that of cumbrousness; and of the gayest and festal scenes that of dulness and extreme frivolity :
“Such balls as these I have described, however brilliant and dazzling in relation, are not otherwise than very dull in reality ; for here, as in France, society is so perversely constituted that no enjoyment is to be reaped save by infringing its rules. A ‘jeune personne'- in other words, an unmarried woman--is considered a mere cipher in society, danced with seldom, conversed with seldomer, and under these circumstances looks for
ward to her mariage de convenance as the period which, as I have said before, is to commence that which it ought to close. From the day of her marriage she is free--responsible to no one, so that she overstep not the rules of convention for the liberty of her conduct; while her husband is rather piqued than otherwise if her personal charms fail to procure her the particular attentions of his own sex. 'Personne ne lui fait la cour' is the most disparaging thing that can be said of a young wife. It is sad to see the difference in a short season from the retiring girl to one whose expression and manners seem to say that, 'Honesty, coupled to beauty, is to have honey-sauce to sugar.', Nor is it easy for an inexperienced young woman, gifted with domestic tastes, or marrying from affection, to stem the torrent of ridicule of those who would pull others down to justify themselves,
“ This social evil is seen in the more glaring colours, from the total absence of all rational tastes or literary topics. In other countries it is lamented, and with justice, that literature and education should be made the things of fashion : how infinitely worse is it when they are condemned by the same law! In other countries, all fashion, as such, is condemned as bad; how infinitely worse is it where the bad is the fashion! Here it is absolute mauvais genre to discuss a rational subject-mere pédanterie to be caught upon any topics beyond dressing, dancing, and a jolie tournure.' The superficial accomplishments are so superficialized as scarcely to be considered to exist. Russia has no literature, or rather none to attract a frivolous woman ; and political subjects, with all the incidental chit-chat which the observances, anniversaries, &c., of a constitutional government bring more or less into every private family, it is needless to observe, exist not. What then remains ?-Sad to say, nothing, absolutely nothing, for old and young, man and woman, save the description, discussion, appreciation, or depreciation of toilette--varied by a little cuisine and the witless wit called l'esprit du salon. To own an indifference or an ignorance on the subject of dress, further than a conventional and feminine compliance, would be wilfully to ruin your character equally with the gentlemen as with the ladies of the society; for the former, from some inconceivable motive, will discuss a new bracelet or a new dress with as much relish as if they had hopes of wearing it, and with as great a precision of technical terms as if they had served at a marchand de modes. It may seem almost incredible, but here these externals so entirely occupy every thought, that the highest personage in the land, with the highest in authority under him, will meet and discuss a lady's coiffure, or even a lady's corset, with a gusto and science as incomprehensible in them, to say the least, as the emulation of coachman slang in some of our own eccentric nobility. Whether in a state where individuals are judged by every idle word, or rather where every idle word is literally productive of mischief, the blandishments of the toilet, from their political innocuousness, are considered safest ground for the detention of mischievous spirits, I must leave ; but very certain it is, that in the high circles of Petersburg it would seem, from the prevailing tone of conversation, that nothing was considered more meritorious than a pretty face and figure, or more interesting than the question how to dress it.