86 pages

Russian Rambles


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Publié par
Publié le 08 décembre 2010
Nombre de lectures 74
Langue English


The Project Gutenberg EBook of Russian Rambles, by Isabel F. Hapgood
This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org
Title: Russian Rambles
Author: Isabel F. Hapgood
Release Date: April 13, 2006 [EBook #18165]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
Produced by James Rusk (jrusk@excite.com)
The innumerable questions which have been put to me since my return to America have called to my attention the fact that, in spite of all that has been written about Russia, the common incidents of everyday life are not known, or are known so imperfectly that any statement of them is a travesty. I may cite, as an example, a book published within the past two years, and much praised in America by the indiscriminating as a truthful picture of life. The whole story hung upon the great musical talent of the youthful hero. The hero skated to church through the streets, gazed down the long aisle where the worshipers were assembled (presumably in pews), ascended to the organ gallery, sang an impromptu solo with trills and embellishments, was taken in hand by the enraptured organist who had played there for thirty years, and developed into a great composer. Omitting a mass of other absurdities scattered through the book, I will criticise this crucial point. There are no organs or organists in Russia; there are no pews, or aisles, or galleries for the choir, and there are never any trills or embellishments in the church music. A boy could skate to church in New York more readily than in Moscow, where such a thing was never seen, and where they are not educated up to roller skates. Lastly, as the church specified, St. Vasily, consists of a nest of small churches connected by narrow, labyrinthine corridors, and is approached from the street up two flights of low-ceiled stairs, it is an impossibility that the boy should have viewed the "aisle" and assembled congregation from his skates at the door. That is a fair specimen of the distortions of facts which I am constantly encountering.
It has seemed to me that there is room for a book which shall impart an idea of a few of the ordinary conditions of life and of the characters of the inhabitants, illustrated by apposite anecdotes from my personal experience. For this purpose, a collection of detached pictures is better than a continuous narrative of travel.
I am told that I must abuse Russia, if I wish to be popular in America. Why, is more than I or my Russian friends can understand. Perhaps it arises from the peculiar fact that people find it more interesting to hear bad things of their neighbors than good, and the person who furnishes startling tales is considered better company than the humdrum truth-teller or the charitably disposed.
The truth is, that people too frequently go to Russia with the deliberate expectation and intention of seeing queer things. That they do frequently contrive to see queer things, I admit. Countess X. Z., who in appearance and command of the language could not have been distinguished from an Englishwoman, related to me a pertinent anecdote when we were discussing this subject. She chanced to travel from St. Petersburg to Moscow in a compartment of the railway carriage with two Americans. The latter told her that they had been much shocked to meet a peasant on the Nevsky Prospekt, holding in his hand a live chicken, from which he was taking occasional bites, feathers and all. That they saw nothing of the sort is positive; but what they did see which could have been so ingeniously distorted was more than the combined powers of the countess and myself were equal to guessing.
The general idea of foreign visitors seems to be that they shall find the Russia of the seventeenth century. I am sure that the Russia of Ivan the Terrible's time, a century earlier, would precisely meet their views. They find the reality decidedly tame in comparison, and feel bound to supply the missing spice. A trip to the heart of Africa would, I am convinced, approach much nearer to the ideal of "adventure" generally cherished. The traveler to Africa and to Russia is equally bound to narrate marvels of his "experiences" and of the customs of the natives.
But, in order to do justice to any foreign country, the traveler must see people and customs not with the eyes of his body only, but with the eyes of his heart, if he would really understand them. Above all things, he must not deliberately buckle on blinders. Of no country is this axiom more true than of Russia. A man who would see Russia clearly must strip himself of all preconceived prejudices of religion, race, and language, and study the people from their own point of view. If he goes about repeating Napoleon I.'s famous saying, "Scratch a Russian and you will find a Tatar," he will simply betray his own ignorance of history and facts.
In order to understand matters, a knowledge of the language is indispensable in any country. Naturally, very few possess this knowledge in Russia, where it is most indispensable of all. There are guides, but they are a lottery at best: Russians who know very little English, English who know very little Russian, or Germans who are impartially ignorant of both, and earn their fees by relating fables about the imperial family and things in general, when they are not candidly saying, "I don't know." I saw more or less of that in the case of other people's guides; I had none of my own, though they came to me and begged the privilege of taking me about gratuitously if I would recommend them. I heard of it from Russians. An ideal cicerone, one of the attendants in the Moscow Historical Museum, complained to me on this subject, and rewarded me for sparing him the infliction by getting permission to take us to rooms which were not open to the public, where the director himself did the honors for us. Sometimes travelers dispense with the guides, as well as with a knowledge of the language, but if they have a talent for pronouncing what are called, I believe, "snap judgments," that does not prevent their fulfilling, on their return home, their tacitly implied duty of uttering in print a final verdict on everything from soup to government.
If the traveler be unusually lucky, he may make acquaintance on a steamer with a Russian who can talk English, and who can and will give him authentic information. These three conditions are not always united in one person. Moreover, a stranger cannot judge whether his Russian is a representative man or not, what is his position in the social hierarchy, and what are his opportunities for knowing whereof he speaks. "Do you suppose that God, who knows all things, does not know our table of ranks?" asks an arrogant General in one of the old Russian comedies. I have no doubt that the Lord does know that remarkable Jacob's ladder which conducts to the heaven of high public place and the good things of life, and whose every rung is labeled with some appetizing title and privilege. But a newly arrived foreigner cannot know it, or the traditions of the three greater, distinct classes into which the people are divided.
Russians have become so used to hearing and reading remarkable statements about themselves that they only smile indulgently at each fresh specimen of ill-will or ignorance. They keep themselves posted on what is said of them, and frequently quote choice passages for the amusement of foreigners who know better, but never when they would be forced to condescend to explanation. Alexander Dumas, Senior, once wrote a book on Russia, which is a fruitful source of hilarity in that country yet, and a fair sample of such performances. To quote but one illustration,--he described halting to rest under the shade of a greatkliukvatree. Thekliukvais the tiny Russian cranberry, and grows accordingly. Another French author quite recently contributed an item of information which Russians have adopted as a characteristic bit of ignorance and erected into a standard jest. He asserted that every village in Russia has its own gallows, on which it hangs its own criminals off-hand. As the death penalty is practically abolished in Russia, except for high treason, which is not tried in villages, the Russians are at a loss to explain what the writer can have mistaken for a gallows. There are two "guesses" current as to his meaning: the two uprights and cross-beam of the village swing; or the upright, surmounted by a cross-board, on which is inscribed the number of inhabitants in the village. Most people favor the former theory, but consider it a pity that he has not distinctly pointed to the latter by stating that the figures there inscribed represent the number of persons hanged. That would have rendered the tale bloodthirsty, interesting, absolutely perfect,--from a foreign point of view.
I have not attempted to analyze the "complicated" national character. Indeed, I am not sure that it is complicated. Russians of all classes, from the peasant up, possess a naturally simple, sympathetic disposition and manner, as a rule, tinged with a friendly warmth whose influence is felt as soon as one crosses the frontier. Shall I be believed if I say that I found it in custom-house officers and gendarmes? For the rest, characters vary quite as much as they do elsewhere. It is a question of individuals, in character and morals, and it is dangerous to indulge in generalizations. My one generalization is that they are, as a nation, too long-suffering and lenient in certain directions, that they allow too much personal independence in certain things.
If I succeed in dispelling some of the absurd ideas which are now current about Russia, I shall be content. If I win a little comprehension and kindly sympathy for them, I shall be more than content.
ISABEL F. HAPGOOD. New York, January 1, 1895.
We imported into Russia, untaxed, undiscovered by the custom-house officials, a goodly stock of misadvice, misinformation, apprehensions, and prejudices, like most foreigners, albeit we were unusually well informed, and confident that we were correctly posted on the grand outlines of Russian life, at least. We were forced to begin very promptly the involuntary process of getting rid of them. Our anxiety began in Berlin. We visited the Russian consul-general there to get our passportsvised. He said, "You should have got the signature of the American consul. Do that, and return here."
At that moment, the door leading from his office to his drawing-room opened, and his wife made her appearance on the threshold, with the emphatic query, "Whenare you coming?" "Immediately, my dear," he replied. "Just wait a moment, until I get rid of these Americans."
Then he decided to rid himself of us for good. "I will assume the responsibility for you," he said, affixed his signature on the spot, to spare himself a second visit, and, collecting his fees, bowed us out. I suppose he argued that we should have known the ropes and attended to all details accurately, in order to ward off suspicion, had we been suspicious characters. How could he know that the Americans understood Russian, and that this plain act of "getting rid" of us would weigh on our minds all the way to the Russian frontier?
At Wirballen the police evoked a throb of gratitude from our relieved hearts. No one seemed to suspect that the American government owned a consul in Berlin who could write his name on our huge parchments, which contrasted so strongly with the compact little documents from other lands.
"Which are your passports?" asked the tall gendarme who guarded the door of the restaurant, as we passed out to take our seats in the Russian train.
"The biggest," I replied, without mentioning names, and he handed them over with a grin. No fuss over passports or custom-house, though we had carefully provided cause! This was beginning badly, and we were disappointed at our tame experience.
On our arrival in St. Petersburg, we were not even asked for our passports. Curiosity became restless within us. Was there some sinister motive in this neglect, after the harrowing tales we had heard from a woman lecturer, and read in books which had actually got themselves printed, about gendarmes forcing themselves into people's rooms while they were dressing, demanding their passports, and setting a guard at their doors; after which, gendarmes in disguises (which they were clever enough to penetrate) followed them all over the country? Why was it thus with them, and not with us? Thewhyripened gradually. We inquired if the passports were not wanted.
"No; if you intend to remain only a few days, it is not worth while to register them," was the startling reply; and those wretched, unwieldy parchments remained in our possession, even after we had announced that we did not meditate departing for some time. I hesitate to set down the whole truth about the anxiety they cost us for a while. How many innocent officers, in crack regiments (as we discovered when we learned the uniforms), in search of a breakfast or a dinner, did we not take for the police upon our tracks, in search of those concealed documents! Our excitement was ministered to by the Tatar waiters, who, not having knowledge of our nationality, mistook us for English people, and wrecked our nerves by making our tea as strong and black as beer, with a view to large "tea-money" for this delicate attention to our insular tastes.
If no one wanted those documents, what wereweto do with them? Wear them as breastplates (folded), or as garments (full size)? No pocket of any sex would tolerate them, and we had been given to understand by veracious (?) travelers that it was as much as our lives were worth to be separated from them for a single moment. At the end of a week we forced the hotel to take charge of them. They were registered, and immediately thrown back on our hands. Then we built lean-tos on our petticoats to hold them, and carried them about until they looked aged and crumpled and almost frayed, like ancestral parchments. We even slept with them under our pillows. At last we also were nearly worn out, and we tossed those Sindbad passports into a drawer, then into a trunk. There they remained for three months; and when they were demanded, we had to undertake a serious search, so completely had their existence and whereabouts been lost to our lightened spirits. In the mean time we had grasped the elementary fact that they would be required only on a change of domicile. By dint of experience we learned various other facts, which I may as well summarize at once.
The legal price of registration is twenty kopeks (about ten cents), the value of the stamp. But hotel and lodging-house keepers never set it down in one's bill at less than double that amount. It often rises to four or five times the legal charge, according to the elegance of the rooms which one occupies, and also according to the daring of the landlord. In one house in Moscow, they even tried to make us
pay again on leaving. We refused, and as we already had possession of the passports, which, they pretended, required a second registry, they could do nothing. This abuse of overcharging for passport registration on the part of landlords seems to have been general. It became so serious that the Argus-eyed prefect of St. Petersburg, General Gresser (now deceased), issued an order that no more than the law allowed should be exacted from lodgers. I presume, however, that all persons who could not read Russian, or who did not chance to notice this regulation, continued to contribute to the pockets of landlords, since human nature is very much alike everywhere, in certain professions. I had no occasion to test the point personally, as the law was issued just previous to my departure from the country.
The passport law seems to be interpreted by each man for himself in other respects, also. In some places, we found that we could stay overnight quite informally; at others, our passports were required. Once we spent an entire month incognito. At Kazan, our balcony commanded a full view of the police department of registry, directly opposite. The landlord sniffed disdainfully at the mention of our passports, and I am sure that we should not have been asked for them at all, had not one of the officials, who chanced to be less wilted by the intense heat than his fellows, -they had been gazing lazily at us, singly and in battalions, in the intervals of their rigorous -idleness, for the last four and twenty hours,--suddenly taken a languid interest in us about one hour before our departure. The landlord said he was "simply ridiculous." On another occasion, a waiter in a hotel recognized the Russians who were with us as neighbors of his former master in the days of serfdom. He suggested that he would arrange not to have our passports called for at all, since they might be kept overtime, and our departure would thus be delayed, and we be incommoded. Only one of our friends had even taken the trouble to bring a "document;" but the whole party spent three days under the protection of this ex-serf. Of course, we bespoke his attendance for ourselves, and remembered that little circumstance in his "tea-money." This practice of detaining passports arbitrarily, from which the ex-serf was protecting us, prevails in some localities, judging from the uproar about it in the Russian newspapers. It is contrary to the law, and can be resisted by travelers who have time, courage, and determination. It appears to be a device of the landlords at watering places and summer resorts generally, who desire to detain guests. I doubt whether the police have anything to do with it. What we paid the ex-serf for was, practically, protection against his employer.
Our one experience of this device was coupled with a good deal of amusement, and initiated us into some of the laws of the Russian post-office as well. To begin my story intelligibly, I must premise that no Russian could ever pronounce or spell our name correctly unaided. A worse name to put on a Russian official document, with itsHand its doubleo, never was invented! There is no letterhin the Russian alphabet, and it is customary to supply the deficiency with the letterg, leaving the utterer to his fate as to which of the two legitimate sounds--the foreign or the native--he is to produce. It affords a test of cultivation parallel to that involved in giving a man a knife and fork with a piece of pie, and observing which he uses. That is the American shibboleth. Lomonosoff, the famous founder of Russian literary language in the last century, wrote a long rhymed strophe, containing a mass of words in which thegoccurs legitimately and illegitimately, and wound up by wailing out the query, "Who can emerge from the crucial test of pronouncing all these correctly, unimpeached?" That is the Russian shibboleth.
As a result of this peculiarity, our passports came back from each trip to the police office indorsed with a brand-new version of our name. We figured under Gepgud, Gapgod, Gabgot, and a number of other disguises, all because they persisted in spelling by the eye, and would not accept my perfect phonetic version. The same process applied to the English name Wylie has resulted in the manufacture of Villie. And the pleasant jest of it all was that we never troubled ourselves to sort our passports, because, although there existed not the slightest family resemblance even between my mother and myself, we looked exactly alike in those veracious mirrors. This explained to our dull comprehension how the stories of people using stolen passports could be true. However, the Russians were not to blame for this particular absurdity. It was the fault of the officials in America.
On the occasion to which I refer, we had gone out of St. Petersburg, and had left a written order for the post-office authorities to forward our mail to our new address. The bank officials, who should certainly have known better, had said that this would be sufficient, and had even prepared the form, on their stamped paper, for our signature. Ten days elapsed; no letters came. Then the form was returned, with orders to get our signatures certified to by the chief of police or the police captain of our district! When we recovered from our momentary vexation, we perceived that this was an excellent safeguard. I set out for the house of the chief of police.
His orderly said he was not at home, but would be there at eleven o'clock. I took a little look into the church,--my infallible receipt for employing spare moments profitably, which has taught me many things. At eleven o'clock the chief was still "not at home." I decided that this was in an "official" sense only, when I caught sight of a woman surveying me cautiously through the crack of the opposite door to the antechamber. I immediately jumped to the conclusion that a woman calling upon a chief of police was regarded as a suspicious character; and rightly, after various shooting incidents in St. Petersburg. My suspicions were confirmed by my memory of the fact that I had been told that the prefect of St. Petersburg was "not at home" in business hours, though his gray lambskin cap--the only one in town--was lying before me at the time. But I also recollected that when I had made use of that cap as a desk, on which to write my request, to the horror of the orderly, and had gone home, the prefect had sent a gendarme to do what I wanted. Accordingly, I told this orderly my business in a loud, clear voice. The crack of the door widened as I proceeded, and at my last word I was invited into the chief's study by the orderly, who had been signaled to.
The chief turned out to be a polished and amiable baron, with a German name, who was eager to render any service, but who had never come into collision with that post-office regulation before. I remarked that I regretted not being able to certify to ourselves with our passports, as they had not been returned to us. He declared that the passports were quite unnecessary as a means of identification; my word was sufficient. But he flew into a rage over the detention of the passports. That something decidedly vigorous took place over those papers, and that the landlord of our hotel was to blame, it was easy enough to gather from the meek air and the apologies with which they were handed to us, a couple of hours later. The chief dispatched his orderly on the spot with my post-office petition. During the man's absence, the chief brought in and introduced to me his wife, his children, and his dogs, and showed me over his house and garden. We were on very good terms by the time the orderly returned with the signature of the prefect (who had never seen us) certifying to our signatures, on faith. The baron sealed the petition for me with his biggest coat of arms, and posted it, and the letters came promptly and regularly. Thereafter, for the space of our four months' stay in the place, the baron and I saluted when we met. We even exchanged "shakehands," as foreigners call the operation, and the compliments of the day, in church, when the baron escorted royalty. I think he was a Lutheran, and went to that church when etiquette did not require his presence at the Russian services, where I was always to be found.
As, during those four months, I obtained several very special privileges which required the prefect's signature,--as foreigners were by no means common residents there,--and as I had become so well known by sight to most of the police force of the town that they saluted me when I passed, and their dogs wagged their tails at me and begged for a caress, I imagined that I was properly introduced to the authorities, and that they could lay hands upon me at any moment when the necessity for so doing should become apparent. Nevertheless, one friend, having applied to the police for my address, spent two whole days in finding me, at haphazard. After a residence of three months, other friends appealed in vain to the police; then obtained from the prefect, who had certified to us, the information that no such persons lived in the town, the only foreigners there being two sisters named Genrut! With this lucid clue our friends cleverly found us. Those who understand Russian script will be able to unravel the process by which we were thus disguised and lost. We had been lost before that in St. Petersburg, and we recognized the situation, with variations, at a glance. There is no such thing as a real practical directory in Russian cities. When one's passport isvisedby the police, the name and information therein set forth are copied on a large sheet of paper, and this document takes its place among many thousand others, on the thick wire files of the Address Office. I went there once. That was enough in every way. It lingers in my mind as the darkest, dirtiest, worst-ventilated, most depressing place I saw in Russia.
If one wishes to obtain the address of any person, he goes or sends to this Address Office, fills out a blank, for which he pays a couple of kopeks, and, after patient waiting for the over-busy officials to search the big files, he receives a written reply, with which he must content himself. The difficulty, in general, about this system lies here: one must know the exact Christian name, patronymic, and surname of the person wanted, and how to spell them correctly (according to police lights). One must also know the exact occupation of the person, if he be not a noble living on his income, without business or official position. Otherwise, the attempt to find any one is a harder task than finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. A person who had been asked to call upon us, and who afterward became a valued friend, tried three times in vain to find us by this means, and was informed that we did not exist. This was owing to some eccentricity in the official spelling of our name. An application to the American Legation, as a desperate final resort, served the purpose at last. The same thing happened when the telegraph messenger tried to find us, to deliver an important cablegram. Still, in spite of this experience, I always regarded my passport as an important means of protection. In case of accident, one could be traced by it. A traveler's passport once registered at the police office, the landlord or lodging-house keeper is responsible for the life of his guest. If the landlord have any bandit propensities, this serves as a check upon them, since he is bound to produce the person, or to say what has become of him. In the same way, when one is traveling by imperial post carriage, the postilion must deliver his passenger safe and sound at the next post station, or be promptly arrested. The passport serves here as a sort of waybill for the human freight. When a foreigner's passport is registered for the first time, he receives permission to remain six months in the country. At the expiration of that period, on formal application, a fresh permit is issued, which must be paid for, and which covers one year. This takes the form of a special document, attached to the foreign passport with cord and sealing-wax; and attached to it, in turn, is a penalty for cutting the cord or tampering with the official seal. These acts must be done by the proper officials. I thought it might be interesting to attend to securing this special permit myself instead of sending thedvornikyard porter), whose duties comprise as(the many odds and ends as those of the prime minister of an empire.
At the office I was questioned concerning my religion and my occupation, which had not been inquired into previously. The question about religion was a mere formality, as they care nothing for one's creed. I stated, in reply to the last question, that I was merely "a traveler."
"Don't say that; it's too expensive," returned the official, in a friendly way.
"To whom? How?" I asked.
"To you, of course. A traveler, as a person of leisure, pays a huge tax."
"Call me a literary person, then, if you like."
"That's not an occupation!" (Observe the delicate, unconscious sarcasm of this rejoinder! As a matter of fact, the Russian idea of literary men is that they all hold some government or other appointment, on the committee of censorship, for example,--some ratable position. Upon this they can depend for a livelihood, aside from the product of their brains; which is practical, and affords a firm foundation upon which to execute caprices.)
He suggested various things which I was not, and I declined to accept his suggestions. We got it settled at last, though he shook his head over my extravagant obstinacy in paying two dollars, when I might have got off with half the sum and a lie. He imparted a good deal of amusing information as to the manner in which people deliberately evade the passport tax with false statements; for example, governesses, who would scorn to be treated as nurses, get themselves described asbonnesto save money. I have no doubt that the authorities amiably assist them by friendly suggestions, as in my own case; only I decline to sail under false colors, by the authority of my own government or any other; so his amiability was wasted so far as I was concerned.
It would seem to the ordinary reader that the police would be able to lay hands on a man, when he was wanted, with tolerable promptness and accuracy, after all the details which the law requires in these "address tickets," as the local passports are called, had been duly furnished. But I remember one case among several which impressed me as instructive and amusing. The newspapers told the tale, which ran somewhat as follows: A wealthy woman of position, residing in one of the best quarters of St. Petersburg, hired a prepossessing young lackey as one of her large staff of domestics. Shortly after his advent, many articles of value began to disappear. Finally, suspicion having turned on this lackey, he also disappeared, and the police undertook to find him. It then became apparent that the fellow had used a false passport and address, and was not to be found where he was inscribed. He caused an exciting chase. This ended in the discovery of a regular robbers' nest, where a large number of false passports were captured, the prepossessing lackey and his friends having abandoned them in their attempt to escape. The papers were also constantly remarking on the use made by peasant men of their passports. The wife is inscribed on the husband's "document," separate passports for wives being, as a rule, difficult of attainment in the lower classes. The peasants are thus able, and often willing, to control their wives' places of residence and movements, and preserve entire liberty of action for themselves, since their consent is required for the separate ass ort, or for the wives' movements on the common ass ort. In such cases the ass ort does become an instrument of
oppression, from either the Occidental or the Oriental point of view.
As for the stories told by travelers of officious meddling by the police on their arrival in Russia, and of their footsteps being dogged, I have recently been favored with some light on that subject. I believe the tales, with reservations, since some perfectly innocent and truthful friends of mine related to me their own similar experience. A man, who seemed to their inexperienced eyes to be a police officer, told them that the authorities thought three weeks, one in Petersburg and two elsewhere, would be amply sufficient for their travels in Russia. They had a high-priced French courier, who pretended to know a little Russian. Perhaps he did know enough for his own purposes. He told them that they were watched constantly, and translated for the officer. But he did not tell them that they already had permission to remain in the country for the customary six months. I made them get out their passports, and showed them the official stamp and signature to that effect. This clever courier afterward stole from them, in Warsaw, a quantity of diamonds which he had helped them to purchase in Moscow, and of whose existence and whereabouts in their trunks no one but himself was aware. This helped me to an explanation. It is invariably the couriers or guides, I find, who tell travelers these alarming tales, and neglect to inform them of their rights. It certainly looks very much as if some confederate of theirs impersonates a police official, and as if they misinterpret. The stories of spies forever in attendance seem to be manufactured for the purpose of extorting handsome gratuities from their victims for their "protection," and for the purpose of frightening the latter out of the country before their own ignorance is discovered. As I never employed the guides, I never had any trouble with the police, either genuine or manufactured. I visited the police stations whenever I could make an excuse; and when I wished to know when and where the Emperor was to be seen, I asked a policeman or a gendarme. He always told me the exact truth unhesitatingly, and pointed out the best position. It was refreshing after the German police, who put one through the Inquisition as to one's self and one's ancestors as soon as one arrives, and who prove themselves lineal descendants of Ananias or Baron Munchausen when a traveler asks for information.
When we wished to leave the country, I again usurped thedvornik'sduties, and paid another visit to the passport office, to inspect its workings. Our Russian passports were clipped out, and little books were given us, which constituted our permission to leave Russia at any time within the next three months, by any route we pleased, without further ceremony. These booklets contained information relating to the tax imposed on Russians for absenting themselves from their country for various periods, the custom-house regulations which forbid the entry, duty free, of more than one fur cloak, cap, and muff to each person, etc., since these books form return passports for Russians, though we surrendered ours at the frontier. As the hotel clerk or porter attends to all passport details, few foreigners see the inside of the office, or hear the catechisms which are conducted there, as I did. It is vulgar, it smacks of commercial life, to go one's self. Apathy and lack of interest can always be relied upon to brand one as aristocratic. In this case, however, as in many others, I considered myself repaid for following Poor Richard's advice: "If you want a thing done, do it yourself; if not, send!"
To sum up the passport question: If his passport is in order, the traveler need never entertain the slightest apprehension for a single moment, despite sensational tales to the contrary, and it will serve as a safeguard. If, for any good reason, his passport cannot be put in order, the traveler will do well to keep out of Russia, or any other country which requires such documents. In truth, although we do not require them in this country, America would be better off if all people who cannot undergo a passport scrutiny, and a German, not a Russian, passport examination, were excluded from it.
I have mentioned the post-office in connection with our passports. Subsequently, I had several entertaining interviews with the police and others on that point. One Sunday afternoon, in Moscow, we went to the police station of our quarter to get our change-of-address petition to the post-office authorities signed. There was nothing of interest about the shabby building or the rooms, on this occasion. The single officer on duty informed us that he was empowered to attend only to cases of drunkenness, breaches of the peace, and the like. We must return on Monday, he declared.
"No," said I. "Why make us waste all that time in beautiful Moscow? Here are our passports to identify us. Will you please to tell the captain, as soon as he arrives to-morrow morning, that we are genuine, and request him to sign this petition and post it?"
The officer courteously declined to look at the passports, said that my word was sufficient, and accepted my commission. Then, rising, drawing himself up, with the heels of his high wrinkled boots in regulation contact, and the scarlet pipings of his baggy green trousers and tight coat bristling with martial etiquette, he made me a profound bow, hand on heart, and said: "Madam, accept the thanks of Russia for the high honor you have done her in learning her difficult language!"
I accepted Russia's thanks with due pomp, and hastened into the street. That small, low-roofed station house seemed to be getting too contracted to contain all of us and etiquette.
Again, upon another occasion, also in Moscow, it struck us that it would be a happy idea and a clever economy of time to get ourselves certified to before our departure, instead of after our arrival in St. Petersburg. Accordingly, we betook ourselves, in a violent snowstorm, to the police station inside the walls of the old city, as we had changed our hotel, and that was now our quarter.
A vision of cells; of unconfined prisoners tranquilly executing hasty repairs on their clothing, with twine or something similar, in the anteroom; of a complete police hierarchy, running through all the gradations of pattern in gold and silver embroidery to the plain uniform of the roundsman, gladdened our sight while we waited. A gorgeous silver-laced official finally certified our identity, as usual without other proof than our statement, and, clapping a five-kopek stamp on our paper, bowed us out. I had never seen a stamp on such a document before, and had never been asked to pay anything; but I restrained my natural eagerness to reimburse the government and ask questions, with the idea that it might have been a purely mechanical action on the part of the officer, and in the hope of developments. They came. A couple of hours later, a messenger entered our room at the hotel, without knocking, in Russian lower-class style, and demanded thirty kopeks for the signature. I offered to pay for the stamp on the spot, and supply the remaining twenty-five kopeks when furnished with an adequate reason therefor.
"Is the captain's signature worth so much?" I asked.
"That is very little," was the answer.
"So it is. Is the captain's signature worth so little? Tell me why."
He could not, or would not.
I made him wait while I wrote a petition to the police. The burden of it was: "Why? I was born an American and curious; not too curious, but just curious enough to be interested in the ethnographical and psychological problems of foreign lands. Why the twenty-five kopeks? It is plainly too little or too much. Why?"
The messenger accepted the five kopeks for the stamp, and set out to deliver the document. But he returned after a moment, and said that he would intrust the five kopeks to my safe-keeping until he brought the answer to my document,--which he had had just sufficient time to read, by the way. That was the last I ever heard of him or of it, and I was forced to conclude that some thirsty soul had been in quest of "tea-money" forvodkathe Russian government for five kopeks.. I am still in debt to The last time I arrived in Petersburg, I tried a new plan. Instead of making a trip of a couple of miles to get the signature of our police captain, or sending the petition at the languid convenience of the overworkeddvornik, I went to the general post-office, which was close by, and made a personal request that my mail matter be delivered at my new address. The proper official, whom I found after a search through most of the building, during which I observed their methods, declared that my request was illegal, and ordered me to go for the customary signature. But by this time I had learned that the mere threat to make Russian officials inspect my passport was productive of much the same effect as drawing a pistol on them would have had. It was not in the least necessary to have the document with me; going through the motions was easier, and quite as good. Every man of them flushed up, and repelled the suggestion as a sort of personal insult; but they invariably came to terms on the spot. Accordingly, I tried it here.
This particular man, when I pretended to draw my "open sesame" spell from my pocket, instantly dropped his official air, asked me to write my name, with quite a human, friendly manner, and then remarked, with a very every-day laugh, "That is sufficient. I have seen so much of it on your previous petitions that I can swear to it myself much better than the police captain could."
As an offset to my anecdotes about our being lost through inability to riddle out our name on the part of the police, I must relate an instance where the post-office displayed remarkable powers of divination. One day I received an official notification from the post-office that there was a misdirected parcel for me from Moscow, lying in the proper office,--would I please to call for it? I called. The address on the parcel was "Madame Argot," I was informed, but I must get myself certified to before I could receive it.
"But how am I to do that? I am not Madame Argot. Are you sure the parcel is for me?"
"Perfectly. It's your affair to get the certificate."
I went to the police station, one which I had not visited before, and stated the case. "Go home and send thedvornik replied, as is proper, the captain loftily. " I argued the matter, after my usual fashion, and at last he affixed his signature to my document, with the encouraging remark: "Well, even with this you won't get that parcel, because the name is not yours."
"Trust me for that," I retorted. "As they are clever enough to know that it is for me, they will be clever enough to give it to me, or I will persuade them that they are."
Back I went to the post-office. I had never been in that department previously, I may mention. Then I was shown a box, and asked if I expected it, and from whom it came. I asserted utter ignorance; but, as I took it in my hand, I heard a rattling, and it suddenly flashed across my mind that it might be the proofs of some photographs which the Moscow artist had "hurried" through in one month. The amiable post-office "blindman," who had riddled out the address, was quite willing to give me the parcel without further ado, but I said:--
"Open it, and you will soon see whether it really belongs to me."
After much protestation he did so, and then we exchanged lavish compliments,--he on the capital likenesses and the skill of the artist; I on the stupidity of the man who could evolve Argot out of my legibly engraved visiting-card, and on the cleverness of the man who could translate that name back into its original form.
The most prominent instance of minute thoughtfulness and care on the part of the post-office officials which came under my notice occurred in the depths of the country. I sent a letter with a ten-kopek stamp on it to the post town, twelve versts distant. Foreign postage had been raised from seven to ten kopeks, and stamps, in a new design, of the latter denomination (hitherto non-existent) had been in use for about four months. The country postmaster, who had seen nothing but the old issues, carefully removed my stamp and sent it back to me, replacing it with a seven-kopek stamp and a three-kopek stamp. I felt, for a moment, as though I had been both highly complimented and gently rebuked for my remarkable skill in counterfeiting!
As a parallel case, I may add that there were plenty of intelligent people in New York city and elsewhere who were not aware that the United States still issued three-cent stamps, or who could tell the color of them, until the Columbian set appeared to attract their attention.
The Nevsky Prospekt!
From the time when, as children, we first encounter the words, in eo ra hical com ilations dis
uised as books of travel, what visions
do they not summon up! Visions of the realm of the Frost King and of his Regent, the White Tzar, as fantastic as any of those narrated of tropic climes by Scheherezade, and with which we are far more familiar than we are with the history of our native land.
When we attain to the reality of our visions, in point of locality at least, we find a definite starting-point ready to our hand, where veracious legend and more veracious history are satisfactorily blended. It is at the eastern extremity of the famous broad avenue --, which is the meaning of Prospekt. Here, on the bank of the Neva, tradition alleges that Alexander, Prince of Novgorod, won his great battle--and, incidentally, his surname of Nevsky and his post of patron saint of Russia--over the united forces of the Swedes and oppressive Knights of the Teutonic Order, in the year 1240.
Nearly five hundred years later, the spot was occupied by Rhitiowa, one of the forty Finnish villages scattered over the present site of St. Petersburg, as designated by the maps of the Swedes, whom Peter the Great--practically Russia's second patron saint--expelled anew when he captured their thriving commercial town, on the shore of the Neva, directly opposite, now known as Malaya Okhta, possessed of extensive foreign trade, and of a church older than the capital, which recently celebrated its two-hundredth anniversary.
It was in 1710 that Peter I. named the place "Victory," in honor of Prince-Saint Alexander Nevsky's conquest, and commanded the erection of a Lavra, or first-class monastery, the seat of a Metropolitan and of a theological seminary. By 1716 the monastery was completed, in wood, as engravings of that day show us, but in a very different form from the complex of stone buildings of the present day. Its principal façade, with extensive, stiffly arranged gardens, faced upon the river,--the only means of communication in that town, planted on a bog, threaded with marshy streams, being by boat. In fact, for a long time horses were so scarce in the infant capital, where reindeer were used in sledges even as late as the end of the last century, that no one was permitted to come to Court, during Peter the Great's reign, otherwise than by water. Necessity and the enforced cultivation of aquatic habits in his inland subjects, which the enterprising Emperor had so much at heart, combined to counsel this regulation.
The bones of Prince Alexander were brought to St. Petersburg, from their resting-place in the Vladimir Government, in 1724, Peter the Great occupying his favorite post as pilot and steersman in the saint's state barge, and they now repose in the monastery cathedral, under a canopy, and in a tomb of silver, 3600 pounds in weight, given by Peter's daughter, the devout Empress Elizabeth. In the cemetery surrounding the cathedral, under the fragrant firs and birches, with the blue Neva rippling far below, lie many of the men who have contributed to the advancement of their country in literature, art, and science, during the last two centuries.
Of all the historical memories connected with this monastery none is more curious than that relating to the second funeral of Peter III. He had been buried by his wife, in 1762, with much simplicity, in one of the many churches of the Lavra, which contains the family tombs and monuments not only of members of the imperial family, but of the noble families most illustrious in the eighteenth century. When Paul I. came to the throne, in 1796, his first care was to give his long-deceased father a more fitting burial. The body was exhumed. Surrounded by his court, Pavel Petrovitch took the imperial crown from the altar, placed it on his own head, then laid it reverently on his father's coffin. When Peter III. was transferred immediately afterward, with magnificent ceremonial, to the Winter Palace, there to lie in state by the side of his wife, Katherine II., and to accompany her to his proper resting-place among the sovereigns of Russia, in the cathedral of the Peter-Paul fortress, Count Alexei Grigorevitch Orloff was appointed, with fine irony, to carry the crown before his former master, whom he had betrayed, and in the necessity for whose first funeral he had played the part of Fate. It was with considerable difficulty that he was hunted up, while Emperor and pageant waited, in the obscure corner where he was sobbing and weeping; and with still greater difficulty was he finally persuaded to perform the task assigned to him in the procession.
Outside the vast monastery, which, like most Russian monasteries, resembles a fortress, though, unlike most of them, it has never served as such, the scene is almost rural. Pigeons, those symbols of the Holy Ghost, inviolable in Russia, attack with impunity the grain bags in the acres of storehouses opposite, pick holes, and eat their fill undisturbed.
From this spot to the slight curve in the Prospekt, at the Znamenskaya Square, a distance of about a mile, where the Moscow railway station is situated, and where the train of steam tram-cars is superseded by less terrifying horse-cars, the whole aspect of the avenue is that of a provincial town, in the character of the people and the buildings, even to the favorite crushed strawberry and azure washes, and green iron roofs on the countrified shops. Here and there, not very far away, a log-house may even be espied.
During the next three quarters of a mile the houses and shops are more city-like, and, being newer than those beyond, are more ornamented as to the stucco of their windows and doors. Here, as elsewhere in this stoneless land, with rare exceptions, the buildings are of brick or rubble, stuccoed and washed, generally in light yellow, with walls three feet or more apart, warmly filled in, and ventilated through the hermetically sealed windows by ample panes in the centre of the sashes, or by apertures in the string-courses between stories, which open into each room. Shops below, apartments above, this is the nearly invariable rule.
It is only when we reach the Anitchkoff Bridge, with its graceful railing of sea-horses, adorned with four colossal bronze groups of horse-tamers, from the hand of the Russian sculptor, Baron Klodt, that the really characteristic part of the Nevsky begins.
It is difficult to believe that fifty years ago this spot was the end of the Petersburg world. But at that epoch the Nevsky was decorated with rows of fine large trees, which have now disappeared to the last twig. The Fontanka River, or canal, over which we stand, offers the best of the many illustrations of the manner in which Peter the Great, with his ardent love of water and Dutch ways, and his worthy successors have turned natural disadvantages into advantages and objects of beauty. The Fontanka was the largest of the numerous marshy rivers in that Arctic bog selected by Peter I. for his new capital, which have been deepened, widened, faced with cut granite walls, and utilized as means of cheap communication between distant parts of the city, and as relief channels for the inundating waves of the Gulf of Finland, which rise, more or less, every year, from August to November, at the behest of the southwest gale. That this last precaution is not superfluous is shown by the iron flood-mark set into the wall of the Anitchkoff Palace, on the southern shore of the Fontanka, as on so many other public buildings in the city, with "1824" appended,--the date of one celebrated and disastrous inundation which attained in some places the height of thirteen feet and seven inches. This particular river derived its name from the fact that it was trained to carry water and feed the fountains in Peter the Great's favorite Summer Garden, of which only one now remains.
At the close of the last century, and even later, persons out of favor at Court, or nobles who had committed misdemeanors, were
banished to the southern shores of the Fontanka, as to a foreign land. Among the amusements at thedatchas,--the wooden country houses,--in the wilder recesses of the vast parks which studded both shores, the chase after wild animals, and from bandits, played a prominent part.
The stretch which we have traversed on our way from the monastery, and which is punctuated at the corner of the canal and the Prospekt by the pleasing brick and granite palace of the Emperor's brother, Grand Duke Sergiei Alexandrovitch, which formerly belonged to Prince Byeloselsky-Byelozersky, was the suburb belonging to Lieutenant-Colonel Anitchkoff, who built the first bridge, of wood, in 1715. As late as the reign of Alexander I., all persons entering the town were required to inscribe their names in the register kept at the barrier placed at this bridge. Some roguish fellows having conspired to cast ridicule on this custom, by writing absurd names, the guards were instructed to make an example of the next jester whose name should strike them as suspicious. Fate willed that the imperial comptroller, Baltazar Baltazarovitch Kampenhausen, with his Russianized German name, should fall a victim to this order, and he was detained until his fantastic cognomen, so harsh to Slavic ears, could be investigated.
By day or by night, in winter or summer, it is a pure delight to stand on the Anitchkoff Bridge and survey the scene on either hand. If we gaze to the north toward what is one of the oldest parts settled on the rivulet-riddled so-called "mainland," in this Northern Venice, we see the long, plain façade of the Katherine Institute for the education of the daughters of officers, originally built by Peter the Great for his daughter Anna, as the "Italian Palace," but used only for the palace servants, until it was built over and converted to its present purpose. Beyond, we catch a glimpse of the yellow wings of Count Scheremetieff's ancient house and its great iron railing, behind which, in a spacious courtyard, after the Moscow fashion so rare in thrifty Petersburg, the main building lies invisible to us. If we look to the south, we find the long ochre mass of the Anitchkoff Palace, facing on the Nevsky, upon the right shore; on the left, beyond the palace of Sergiei Alexandrovitch, the branch of the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, in old Russian style, with highly colored saints and heads of seraphim on the outer walls; and a perspective of light, stuccoed building,--dwellings, markets, churches,--until the eye halts with pleasure on the distant blue dome of the Troitzky cathedral, studded with golden stars. Indeed, it is difficult to discover a vista in St. Petersburg which does not charm us with a glimpse of one or more of these cross-crowned domes, floating, bubble-like, in the pale azure of the sky. Though they are far from being as beautiful in form or coloring as those of Moscow, they satisfy us at the moment.
If it is on a winter night that we take up our stand here, we may catch a distant glimpse of the numerous "skating-gardens," laid out upon the ice cleared on the snowy surface of the canal. The ice-hills will be black with forms flitting swiftly down the shining roads on sledges or skates, illuminated by the electric light; a band will be braying blithely, regardless of the piercing cold, and the skaters will dance on, in their fancy-dress ball or prize races, or otherwise, clad so thinly as to amaze the shivering foreigner as he hugs his furs.
By day the teamsters stand upon the quay, with rough aprons over their ballet-skirted sheepskin coats, waiting for a job. If we hire one of them, we shall find that they all belong to the ancient Russian Artel, or Labor Union, which prevents competition beyond a certain point. When the price has been fixed, after due and inevitable chaffering, onelomovoigrasps his shapeless cap by its worn edge of fur, bites a kopek, and drops it in. Each of the other men contributes a marked copper likewise, and we are invited to draw lots, in full view, to determine which of them shall have the job. The master of the Artel sees to it that there is fair play on both sides. If an unruly member presumes to intervene with a lower bid, with the object of monopolizing the job out of turn, he is promptly squelched, and, though his bid may be allowed to stand, the man whose kopek we have drawn must do the work. The winner chee-ee-eeps to his little horse, whose shaggy mane has been tangled by the loving hand of thedomovoi(house-sprite) and hangs to his knees. The patient beast, which, like all Russian horses, is never covered, no matter how severe the weather may be, or how hot he may be from exercise, rouses himself from his real or simulated slumber, and takes up the burden of life again, handicapped by the huge wooden arch, gayly painted in flowers and initials, which joins his shafts, and does stout service despite his sorry aspect.
But the early summer is the season when the Fontanka is to be seen in its most characteristic state. The brilliant blue water sparkles under the hot sun, or adds one more tint to the exquisite hues which make of the sky one vast, gleaming fire-opal on those marvelous "white nights" when darkness never descends to a depth beyond the point where it leaves all objects with natural forms and colors, and only spiritualizes them with the gentle vagueness of a translucent veil. Small steamers, manned by wooden-faced, blond Finns, connect the unfashionable suburban quarters, lying near the canal's entrance into the Neva on the west, with the fashionable Court quarter on the northern quays at its other entrance into the Neva, seven versts away. They dart about like sea-gulls, picking their path, not unfraught with serious danger, among the obstructions. The obstructions are many: washing-house boats (it is a good old unexploded theory in Petersburg that clothes are clean only when rinsed in running water, even though our eyes and noses inform us, unaided by chart, where the drainage goes); little flotillas of dingy flat-boats, anchored around the "Fish-Gardens," and containing the latter's stock in trade, where persons of taste pick their second dinner-course out of the flopping inmates of a temporary scoop-net; huge, unwieldy, wood barks, put together with wooden pegs, and steered with long, clumsy rudders, which the poor peasants have painfully poled--tramp, tramp, tramp, along the sides--through four hundred miles of tortuous waterways from that province of the former haughty republic, "Lord Novgorod the Great," where Prince Rurik ruled and laid the foundations of the present imperial empire, and whence came Prince-Saint Alexander, to win his surname of Nevsky, as we have seen, at the spot where his monastery stands, a couple of miles, at most, away.
The boatmen, who have trundled all day long their quaint little barrows over the narrow iron rails into the spacious inner courtyards of the houses on the quay, and have piled up their wood for winter fuel, or loaded it into the carts for less accessible buildings, now sit on the stern of their barks, over their coarse food,--sour black bread, boiled buckwheat groats, and salted cucumbers,--doffing their hats and crossing themselves reverently before and after their simple meal, and chatting until the red glow of sunset in the north flickers up to the zenith in waves of sea-green, lilac, and amber, and descends again in the north, at the pearl pink of dawn. Sleep is a lost art with these men, as with all classes of people, during those nerve-destroying "white nights." When all the silvery satin of the birch logs has been removed from their capacious holds, these primitive barks will be unpegged, and the cheap "bark-wood," riddled with holes as by amitrailleuse, will be used for poor structures on the outskirts of the town.
On the upper shore of this river, second only to the Neva in its perennial fascination, and facing on the Prospekt, stands the Anitchkoff Palace, on the site of a former lumber-yard, which was purchased by the Empress Elizabeth, when she commissioned her favorite architect, Rastrelli, to erect for Count Razumovsky a palace in that rococo style which he used in so many palaces and churches
during her reign and that of Katherine II.,--the rococo style being, by the way, quite the most unsuited discoverable for Russian churches.
Count Alexei Grigorevitch Razumovsky was the Empress Elizabeth's husband, the uneducated but handsome son of a plain Kazak from Little Russia, who attracted the attention of Elizaveta Petrovna as his sweet voice rang out in the imperial choir, at mass, in her palace church. When the palace was completed, in 1757, it did not differ materially from its present appearance, as a painting in the Winter Palace shows, except that its colonnade, now inclosed for the Imperial Chancellery and offices, then abutted directly on the Fontanka. It has had a very varied ownership, with some curious features in that connection which remind one of a gigantic game of ball between Katherine II. and Prince Potemkin. Count Razumovsky did not live in it until after the Empress Elizabeth's death, in 1762. After his own death, his brother sold it to the state, and Katherine II. presented it to Prince Potemkin, who promptly resold it to a wealthy merchant-contractor in the commissariat department of the army, who in turn sold it to Katherine II., who gave it once more to Potemkin. The prince never lived here, but gave sumptuous garden parties in the vast park, which is now in great part built over, and sold it back to the state again in 1794. It was first occupied by royalty in 1809, when the Emperor Alexander I. settled his sister here, with her first husband,--that Prince of Oldenburg whose territory in Germany Napoleon I. so summarily annexed a few years later, thereby converting the Oldenburgs permanently into Russian princes.
The Grand Duke Heir Nicholas used it from 1819 until he ascended the throne, in 1825, and since that time it has been considered the palace of the heir to the throne. But the present Emperor has continued to occupy it since his accession, preferring its simplicity to the magnificence of the Winter Palace.
The high walls, of that reddish-yellow hue, like the palace itself, which is usually devoted to government buildings in Russia, continue the line of offices along the Prospekt, and surround wooded gardens, where the Emperor and his family coast, skate, and enjoy their winter pleasures, invisible to the eyes of passers-by.
These woods and walls also form the eastern boundary of the Alexandra Square, in whose centre rises Mikeshin and Opekushin's fine colossal bronze statue of Katherine II., crowned, sceptred, in imperial robes, and with the men who made her reign illustrious grouped about her feet. Among these representatives of the army, navy, literature, science, art, there is one woman,--that dashing Princess Elizaveta Romanovna Dashkoff, who helped Katherine to her throne. As Empress, Katherine appointed her to be first president of the newly founded Academy of Sciences, but afterward withdrew her favor, and condemned her to both polite and impolite exile,--because of her services, the princess hints, in her celebrated and very lively "Memoirs."
In the Alexandra Theatre, for Russian and German drama, which rears its new (1828) Corinthian peristyle and its bronze quadriga behind the great Empress, forming the background of the Square, two of the Empress's dramas still hold the stage, on occasion. For this busy and energetic woman not only edited and published a newspaper, the greater part of which she wrote with her own hand, but composed numerous comedies and comic operas, where the moral, though sufficiently obvious all the way through, one would have thought, in the good old style is neatly labeled at the end. These were acted first in the private theatres of the various palaces, by the dames and cavaliers of the Court, after which professional actors presented them to the public in the ordinary theatres.
It is in vain that we scrutinize the chubby-cheeked countenance of the bronze Prince Potemkin, at Katherine II.'s feet, to discover the secret of the charm which made the imperial lady who towers above him force upon him so often the ground upon which they both now stand. He stares stolidly at the Prospekt, ignoring not only the Theatre, but the vast structures containing the Direction of Theatres and Prisons, the Censor's Office, Theatrical School, and other government offices in the background; the new building for shops and apartments, where ancient Russian forms have been adapted to modern street purposes; and even the wonderfully rich Imperial Public Library, begun in 1794, to contain the books brought from Warsaw, with its Corinthian peristyle interspersed with bronze statues of ancient sages, on the garden side,--all of which stand upon the scene of his former garden parties, as the name of the avenue beyond the plain end of the Library on the Prospekt--Great Garden Street--reminds us. Not far away is the site of the tunnel dug under the Prospekt by the revolutionists, which, however, was fortunately discovered in time to prevent the destruction of one of the fairest parts of the city, and its most valuable buildings. With the next block we enter upon the liveliest, the most characteristic portion of the Nevsky Prospekt, in that scant fraction over a mile which is left to us above the Anitchkoff Bridge.
Here stands the vast bazaar known as theGostinny Dvor,--"Guests' Court,"--a name which dates from the epoch when a wealthy merchant engaged in foreign trade, and owning his own ships, was distinguished from the lesser sort by the title of "Guest," which we find in the ancient epic songs of Russia. Its frontage of seven hundred feet on the Prospekt, and one thousand and fifty on Great Garden and the next parallel street, prepare us to believe that it may really contain more than five hundred shops in the two stories, the lower surrounded by a vaulted arcade supporting an open gallery, which is invaluable for decorative purposes at Easter and on imperial festival days. Erected in 1735, very much in its present shape, the one common throughout the country, on what had been an impassable morass a short time before, and where the ground still quakes at dawn, it may not contain the largest and best shops in town, and its merchants certainly are not "guests" in the ancient acceptation of the word; but we may claim, nevertheless, that it presents a compendium of most purchasable articles extant, fromsamovari, furs, and military goods, to books, sacred images, and Moscow imitations of Parisian novelties at remarkably low prices, as well as the originals.
The nooks and spaces of the arcade, especially at the corners and centre, are occupied by booths of cheap wares. The sacred image, indispensable to a Russian shop, is painted on the vaulted ceiling; the shrine lamp flickers in the open air, thus serving many aproned, homespun and sheepskin clad dealers. The throng of promenaders here is always varied and interesting. The practiced eye distinguishes infinite shades of difference in wealth, social standing, and other conditions. The lady in the velvetshuba, lined with sable or black fox, her soft velvet cap edged with costly otter, her head wrapped in a fleecy knitted shawl of goat's-down from the steppes of Orenburg, or pointed hood--thebashlykwoven goat's-down from the Caucasus, has driven hither in her sledge or--of carriage, and has alighted to gratify the curiosity of her sons. We know at a glance whether the lads belong in the aristocratic Pages' Corps, on Great Garden Street, hard by, in the University, the Law School, the Lyceum, or the Gymnasium, and we can make a shrewd guess at their future professions by their faces as well as by their uniforms. The lady who comes to meet us in sleeved pelisse, wadded with eider-down, and the one in a short jacket have arrived, and must return, on foot; they could not drive far in the open air, so thinly clad.
At Christmas-tide there is a great augmentation in the queer "Vyazemsky" and other cakes, the peasant laces, sweet Vyborg cracknels, fruit pastils, and other popular goods, on which these petty open-air dealers appear to thrive, both in health and purse. The spacious area between the bazaar and the sidewalk of the Nevsky is filled with Christmas-trees, beautifully unadorned, or ruined with misplaced gaudiness, brought in, in the majority of cases, by Finns from the surrounding country. Again, in the week preceding Palm Sunday, theVerbnaya Yarmaraka, or Pussy Willow Fair, takes place here. Nominally, it is held for the purpose of providing the public with twigs of that aesthetic plant (the only one which shows a vestige of life at that season), which are used as palms, from the Emperor's palace to the poorest church in the land. In reality, it is a most amusing fair for toys and cheap goods suitable for Easter eggs; gay paper roses, wherewith to adorn the Easter cake; and that combination of sour and sweet cream and other forbidden delicacies, thepaskhamatins on Easter. Here are plump little red, with which the long, severe fast is to be broken, after midnight Finland parrots, green and red finches, and other song-birds, which kindly people buy and set free, after a pretty custom. The board and canvas booths, the sites for which are drawn by lot by soldiers' widows, and sold or used as suits their convenience, are locked at night by dropping the canvas flap, and are never guarded; while the hint that thefts may be committed, or that watching is necessary, is repelled with indignation by the stall-keepers.
There is always a popular toy of the hour. One year it consisted of highly colored, beautifully made bottle-imps, which were loudly cried asAmerikanskiya zhiteliAmerica. We inquired the reason for their name.,--inhabitants of
"They are made in the exact image of the Americans," explained the peasant vendor, offering a pale blue imp, with a long, red tongue and a phenomenal tail, for our admiration.
"We are inhabitants of America. Is the likeness very strong?" we asked.
The crowd tittered softly; the man looked frightened; but finding that no dire fate threatened, he was soon vociferating again, with a roguish grin:--
"Kupiti, kupi-i-iti! Prevoskhodniya Amerikanskiya zhiteli! Sa-a-miya nastoyashtschiya!"--Buy, buy, splendid natives of America! the most genuine sort!
Far behind this Gostinny Dvor extends a complex mass of other curious "courts" and markets, all worthy of a visit for the popular types which they afford of the lower classes. Among them all none is more steadily and diversely interesting, at all seasons of the year, than theSyennaya Ploshtschad,--the Haymarket,--so called from its use in days long gone by. Here, in the Fish Market, is the great repository for the frozen food which is so necessary in a land where the church exacts a sum total of over four months' fasting out of the twelve. Here the fish lie piled like cordwood, or overflow from casks, for economical buyers. Merchants' wives, with heads enveloped in colored kerchiefs, in the olden style, well tucked in at the neck of theirsalopiprowl in search of bargains. Here, or sleeved fur coats, sit the fishermen from the distant Murman coast, from Arkhangel, with weather-beaten but intelligent faces, in their quaint skull-caps of reindeer hide, and baggy, shapeless garments of mysterious skins, presiding over the wares which they have risked their lives to catch in the stormy Arctic seas, during the long days of the brief summer-time; codfish dried and curled into gray unrecognizableness; yellow caviar which resists the teeth like tiny balls of gutta-percha,--not the delicious gray "pearl" caviar of the sturgeon,--and other marine food which is never seen on the rich man's table.
But we must return to the Nevsky Prospekt. Nestling at the foot of the City Hall, at the entrance of the broad street between it and the Gostinny Dvor, on the Nevsky, stands a tiny chapel, which is as thriving as the bazaar, in its own way, and as striking a compendium of some features in Russian architecture and life. Outside hangs a large image of the "Saviour-not-made-with-hands,"--the Russian name for the sacred imprint on St. Veronica's handkerchief,--which is the most popular of all the representations of Christ inikoni. Before it burns the usual "unquenchable lamp," filled with the obligatory pure olive-oil. Beneath it stands a table bearing a large bowl of consecrated water. On hot summer days the thirsty wayfarer takes a sip, using the ancient Russiankovsh, or short-handled ladle, which lies beside it, crosses himself, and drops a small offering on the dish piled with copper coins near by, making change for himself if he has not the exact sum which he wishes to give.
Inside, manyikonidecorate the walls. The pale flames of their shrine-lamps are supplemented by masses of candles in the huge standing candlesticks of silver. A black-robed monk from the monastery is engaged, almost without cessation, in intoning prayers of various sorts, before one or another of the images. The little chapel is thronged; there is barely room for respectfully flourished crosses, such as the peasant loves, often only for the more circumscribed sign current among the upper classes, and none at all for the favorite "ground reverences." The approach to the door is lined with two files of monks and nuns: monks in highklobuki, like rimless chimney-pot hats, draped with black woolen veils, which are always becoming;tchernitzi, or lay sisters, from distant convents, in similar headgear, in caps flat or pointed like the small end of a watermelon, and with ears protected by black woolen shawls ungracefully pinned. Serviceable man's boots do more than peep out from beneath the short, rusty-black skirts. Each monk and nun holds a small pad of threadbare black velvet, whereon a cross of tarnished gold braid, and a stray copper or two, by way of bait, explain the eleemosynary significance of the bearers' "broad" crosses, dizzy "reverences to the girdle," and muttered entreaty, of which we catch only: "Khristi Radi"--For Christ's sake. People of all classes turn in here for a moment of prayer, to "place a candle" to some saint, for the health, in body or soul, of friend or relative: the workman, his tools on his back in a coarse linen kit; the beardedmuzhikfrom the country, clad in his sheepskintulup, wool inward, the soiled yellow leather outside set off by a gay sash; ladies, officers, civilians,--the stream never ceases.
The only striking feature about the next building of importance, theGradskaya Duma, or City Hall, is the lofty tower, upon whose balcony, high in air, guards pace incessantly, on the watch for fires. By day they telegraph the locality of disaster to the fire department by means of black balls and white boards, in fixed combinations; by night, with colored lanterns. Each section of the city has a signal-tower of this sort, and the engine-house is close at hand. Gradskaya Duma means, literally, city thought, and the profundity of the meditations sometimes indulged in in this building, otherwise not remarkable, may be inferred from the fact discovered a few years ago, that many honored members of the Duma (which also signifies the Council of City Fathers), whose names still stood on the roll, were dead, though they continued to vote and exercise their other civic functions with exemplary regularity!
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