Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

“Added to this wearying theme, it is the bad taste of the day to indulge in an indelicacy of language, which some aver to proceed from the example of the court of Prussia, and which renders at times even the trumperies of toilet or jewellery rather a grateful change of subject."

Here follows a remarkably distinct sketch of the Autocrat. Even according to the lady's enthusiasm, and romantic spice of flattery, he is unloveable enough. She makes him awful. The occasion was a masked ball:

“The Heritier, the Grand Duke Michael, the Duke de Leuchtenberg, were all seen passing in turn, each led about by a whispering mask-'Mais où est donc l'Empereur ?' 'Il n'y est pas encore,' was the answer ; but scarce was this uttered when a towering plume moved, the crowd fell back, and enframed in a vacant space stood a figure to which there is no second in Russia, if in the world itself—a figure of the grandest beauty, expression, dimension, and carriage, uniting all the majesties and graces of all the heathen gods, the little god of love alone perhaps excepted, on its ample and symmetrical proportions. Had this nobility of person belonged to a common Mougik instead of to the Autocrat of all the Russias, the admiration could not have been less, nor scarcely the feeling of moral awe. It was not the monarch who was so magnificent a man, but the man who was so truly imperial. He stood awhile silent and haughty, as if disdaining all the vanity and levity around him; when, perceiving my two distinguished companions, he strode grandly towards our box; and just lifting his plumes with a lofty bow, stooped and kissed the Princess's hand, who in return imprinted a kiss on the Imperial cheek; and then leaning against the pillar, remained in conversation.

“The person of the Emperor is that of a colossal man in the full prime of life and health, forty-two years of age, about six feet two inches high, and well filled-out, without any approach to corpulency; the head magnificently carried, a splendid breadth of shoulder and chest, great length and symmetry of limb, with finely-formed hands and feet. His face is strictly Grecian, forehead and nose in one grand line; the eyes finely lined, large, open, and blue, with a calmness, a coldness, a freezing dignity, which can equally quell an insurrection, daunt an assassin, or paralyze a petitioner; the mouth regular, teeth fine, chin prominent, with dark moustache and small whisker: but not a sympathy on his face. His mouth sometimes smiled, his eyes never. There was that in his look which no monarch's subject could meet. His

eye
seeks
every one's gaze,

but none can confront his.

“ After a few minutes, his curiosity—the unfailing attribute of a crowned head-dictated the words,“ Kto eta ?'—'Who is that ?' and being satisfied, for he remarks every strange face that enters his capital, he continued alternately in Russian and French commenting upon the scene."

What an unwinning picture have we in these passages ! The power of speech tied, -the very nod or look dependent upon the sign of a despot! Where and what can the morals be in such a

on her

condition,—that condition the model of the flower of an empire ? It appears to us that the imperial palaces cannot be superior to receptacles that are not nameable in our journal. But, not to dwell on the worse than Catharine-like looseness and debauchery of state, let us adhere to the progress of our lady.

She boldly sets out in a single carriage, entrusting herself to a single attendant, in the middle gloom, depth, and severity of winter, to pursue a course of travel through the wastes and pine-woods of the country that intervenes between St. Petersburg and Reval. We are, in our rapid glance, passing over many charmingly sketched scenes and incidents, and take up the fair writer as she is

way after a severe fever, and in circumstances where “ faint hearts must stay at home:"

“Our journey commenced at six in the afternoon of the 19th of November, a delay until daybreak being deemed highly hazardous. Anton on the box, and myself loaded with as many clothes as a southlander would wear up in the course of a long life, nestled down comfortably in the calêche with as little inclination as power to stir. My light English straw hat had been banished by unanimous consent, and a close, silk, wadded cap, edged with fur, substituted. My English-lined fur cloaks had been held up to derision as mere cobwebs against the cold, and a fox-fur, the hair long as my finger, drawn over them. All my wardrobe had been doubled and trebled, and even then my friends shook their heads and feared I was too thinly clad. Thus we sallied forth into the wild waste of darkness and snow, in which Petersburg lay, travelling with post-horses but slowly through the unsound snowed-up roads, which were, nevertheless, not in the condition to admit of a sledge. Near midnight I alighted at the second post-house from Petersburg, the stages being on the average twenty-five wersts long, with four wersts to three miles. It was a fine building outwardly, but otherwise a mere whitened sepulchre. Here the superintendent of the post-stables, not being able to settle matters with Anton to mutual satisfaction, obtruded his fine person into my apartment, and bowing gracefully, and with many a commanding gesture, poured forth a torrent of words of the utmost melody and expression. He was a perfect patriarch; his fresh sheep-skin caftan and rich flowing beard curling round a head of the loftiest Vandyke character, unbaring, as he spoke, a set of even, gleaming teeth, and lighted to advantage by a flaring lamp which hung above. I was in no hurry to interrupt him. Finding his eloquence not to the purpose he wanted, he left me with fresh gestures of the grandest courtesy to attack my obdurate servant, who loved copecks better than he did the picturesque.”

Reseated, with fresh horses, and lulled by the musical jingle of our post-bells,” the tender traveller dozed during the night, opening her eyes with daybreak to a perfect Esquimaux landscape, – “boundless flats of snow, low hovels of wood, and peasants gliding noiselessly on their tiny sledges.” The whole of her bold journey in the depth of an Arctic winter, the toil and hardship of travelling off the main road, and the desolation of the country, are given with such a graphic truth that the reader fancies he beholds the scene, and he almost shivers as if pinched by the cutting cold. Just think of the lady without a companion, and with only one attendant, on reaching Jamburg, “ an empty, rambling town of large crown barrack buildings, and miserable little houses,” and where all doubts were to terminate relative to the existence of a bridge over the river Luga, which rolled in the immediate neighbourhood. “There it lay before me, broad, rapid, and dark; great masses of loose ice sulkily jostling each other down its current, but bridge none at all. My heart sunk. Jamburg was but little inviting for a fortnight's residence, when, upon inquiry, a ferry was found to be plying with greater difficulty and greater risk at every transport, and this would have ceased in a few hours." The ice, of course, was soon to become stiffened and fixed, forbidding the ferry-boat to ply; and numbers of peasants with their carts and cattle were awaiting their turn. At length the lady reached the opposite side, where she was destined to remain stationary for above an hour, seated however in her carriage, but among a set" of swearing, merry beings," while Anton went in search for fresh horses. She describes the banks of the Luga as being very pretty, though desolate. Narva was the next stage, where her lodging was an edifice of unpainted wood, all on the ground floor, and where, as she entered, various female shapes receded before her, " until, having gained the apartment conventionally dedicated to the ceremony of reception, they all faced about, and came bowing and curtseying forward to receive me.” Here she met with the outward rites of hospitality, but the curiosity to see an English guest, and the desire to show off an English lion were too intense to allow the tired and sick stranger to be exempted from sight-seeing visitors and bombarding catechists. Numerous indeed were the delays and annoyances she had to encounter in the course of her travel; and these, as well as many little incidents, are told with admirable spirit and satirical effect.

On entering Estonia, the landscape was found to be undulating and wooded. The horses, too, improved, being beautiful sleek animals, small and graceful, sometimes four cream-colours, sometimes four blacks, “who started with fire, never abated their speed, and pawed the ground with impatience when the five-and-twenty wersts were run. How they were harnessed, or how the animals contrived to keep their places in the shifting tag and rag which danced around them, was quite an enigma. No less so the manouvre, more puzzling than any conjuror's trick of my childhood by which a little urchin, by one strong pull at a ragged rope, disengaged all four horses at once.” But the first station-house in the province was not so inviting. At the next she found good tea and a pretty woman, who commenced the system of catechising which had been pursued at former stages, as to the traveller's comings and goings ; also informing the lady that his Imperial Majesty had a few weeks back slept two hours on the couch where she was now stretched, having passed that way in a common postcart. The incidents became even further diversified ere her journey ended; for being over-anxious to proceed and to avoid the loathsome post-houses, she incautiously commenced one night a second stage. “ The atmosphere now began to sharpen, and, from being very cold, became still and intense. A thick fog also filled the air, and Anton, nestling his head into the depths of his furs, sat before me like a pillar of salt. I felt my warmth gradually ebbing away, my breath congealed on my face, eyelashes and eyebrows hung in fringes of icicles, and a tell-tale tear of anxiety, rose on my cheek.” But cold and regret for exposing horses and men to such inclemency did not complete that night's anxiety; for while traversing an open plain skirted by forests, the stillness of night was from time to time broken by "a moaning, snarling, drawn-out cry, which fell dismally on the ear." On inquiring of Anton what it was, the answer was, Volki, wolves. “Had the word been less familiar, I believe I should have sprung to the conclusion, and chilling still colder at these evidences of a savage neighbourhood, of which we seemed the only human occupants, I longed more impatiently than ever for the friendly dwellings of man. This night's experience made the lady less dainty than she had hitherto been, on reaching a station-house ; and on entering, although she stumbled over a peasant on the floor, who thrust into her hand a long-wicked candle which he drew out of his filthy pocket, was conducted by Anton to an untenanted apartment, where she instantly fell asleep, "oppressed with cold and fatigue of mind and body." Truly, it must have required a stout heart, after all the friendly warnings which she received at St. Petersburg, for a single female to undertake the journey which this lady did ; and a still greater command of fortitude to bear up during its performance.

At last, at the close of a dismal journey of some five or six hundred miles, she beheld the aged towers of Reval throwing their shadows over the Baltic; and gained, ere the night assumed its sovereignty, the aristocratic end of the city, where her sister, with a goodly assemblage of utter strangers in the shape of nephews and nieces, were ready to receive her. They soon started for their seat in the country, a truly baronial castle of the olden time. But before we introduce our readers at all to the baron's château, let us allow the fair writer to speak in her peculiar and masterly style ; and she shall have the benefit of our larger type, as her happy sentiments and forcible compression of ideas merit. " What a world of boundless novelty opens," says she," on the individual who finds 'himself suddenly thrown into the innermost home-life of a hitherto strange people! In general the traveller is left, and most justly so, to wear his way gradually into the privacy of other nations, and by the time he has attained some knowledge of their habits, has somewhat blunted the edge of his own.

This is the most natural course, and also the fairest; otherwise the same individual who is at once thrust into the lights and shadows of one country, ere the retina of his understanding has lost the images of another, and who, in many instances is placed in situations in the new home which he never tried in the old, runs the risk of being very open-eyed to other people's foibles and prejudices and most comfortably blind to his own. We

e are such creatures of habit that it is difficult to judge of the inner system of a foreign land otherwise than too severely, till after several months of observation, nor otherwise than too favourably after as many years. But the reverse is applicable to the hasty traveller whose time and opportunity enable him only to view the outer shell,—to scan that which all who run may read. His perceptive powers can hardly be too fresh, nor his judgment too crude upon those things whose existence lies but in the novelty of his impressions. Like soufflets, they must be served hot, and eaten hastily, to be rightly tasted. The breath of cool reason would ruin them."

Our readers will have already felt that it is a journal by no common hand which these volumes contain. But it is not until she has reached her long-parted sister's domicile, and makes Estonia her field of observation, that her Letters present the most piquant and novel passages. This is to be expected from such an animated and from such an evidently affectionate nature; joy and returned emotions lending the greatest tension and keenness to her feelings and perceptions. Domesticated, too, in one of the principal families of the province, and having the best opportunities for learning all that is most peculiar in its condition and manners, the book becomes exceedingly interesting to British readers ; and the more so, as has been observed in some contemporary notices of the work, since the picture pretty closely resembles that which portions both of England and Scotland must have presented when the power of feudalism had been destroyed, but not the forms replaced by a new civilization.

Reval, the capital of Estonia, appears originally to have been a colony of Denmark. It afterwards became a member of the Hanseatic League ; while the province was under the dominion of the Teutonic Order. In the course of oligarchical oppressions the serfs were driven to madness, when Russia, having threatened interference and invasion, the Estonians threw themselves into the hands of the Swedes, under whose protection and power they continued till the close of Charles the Twelfth's career. They now

« ForrigeFortsæt »