The stately pile, and the pompous air of the big, gold-laced Swiss lounging at the entrance on the Nevsky, remind us that the Stroganoff family has been a power in Russian history since the middle of the sixteenth century.
It was a mere handful of their Kazaks, led by Yermak Timofeevitch, who conquered Siberia, in 1581, under Ivan the Terrible, while engaged in repelling the incursions of the Tatars and wild Siberian tribes on the fortified towns which the Stroganoffs had been authorized to erect on the vast territory at the western foot of the Ural Mountains, conveyed to them by the ancient Tzars. Later on, when Alexei Mikhailovitch, the father of Peter the Great, established a new code, grading punishments and fines by classes, the highest money tax assessed for insult and injury was fifty rubles; but the Stroganoffs were empowered to exact one hundred rubles.
Opposite the Stroganoff house, on the upper Moika quay, rises the large, reddish-yellow Club of the Nobility, representing still another fashion in architecture, which was very popular during the last century for palaces and grand mansions,—the Corinthian peristyle upon a solid, lofty basement. It is not an old building, but was probably copied from the palace of the Empress Elizabeth, which stood on this spot. Elizaveta Petrovna, though she used this palace a great deal, had a habit of sleeping in a different place each night, the precise spot being never known beforehand. This practice is attributed, by some Russian historians, to her custom of turning night into day. She went to the theatre, for example, at eleven o'clock, and any courtier who failed to attend her was fined fifty rubles. It was here that the populace assembled to hurrah for Elizaveta Petrovna, on December 6, 1741, when she returned with little Ivan VI. in her arms from the Winter Palace, where she had made captive his father and his mother, the regent Anna Leopoldina. It may have been the recollection of the ease with which she had surprised indolent Anna Leopoldina in her bed-chamber which caused her to be so uncertain in her own movements, in view of the fact that there were persons so ill-advised as to wish the restoration of the slothful German regent and her infant son, disastrous as that would have been to the country.
We must do the Russians who occupy the building at the present day the justice to state that they uphold religiously the nocturnal tradition thus established by Elizaveta Petrovna, and even improve upon it. From six o'clock in the evening onward, the long windows of the club, on the bel etage, blaze with light. The occasional temporary obscurations produced by the steam from relays of samovari do not interfere materially with the neighbors' view of the card-parties and the final exchange of big bundles of bank-bills, which takes place at five o'clock or later the next morning. Even if players and bills were duly shielded from observation, the mauvais quart d'heure would be accurately revealed by the sudden rush for the sledges, which have been hanging in a swarm about the door, according to the usual convenient custom of Vanka, wherever lighted windows suggest possible patrons. Poor, hard-worked Vanka slumbers all night on his box, with one eye open, or falls prone in death-like exhaustion over the dashboard upon his sleeping horse, while his cap lies on the snow, and his shaggy head is bared to the bitter blasts.
Later on, the chief of police lived here, and the adjoining bridge, which had hitherto been known as the Green Bridge, had its name changed to the Police Bridge, which rather puzzling appellation it still bears.
A couple of blocks beyond this corner of the Nevsky, the Moika and the Grand Morskaya, the Nevsky Prospekt ends at the Alexander Garden, backed by the Admiralty and the Neva, after having passed in its course through all grades of society, from the monks at the extreme limit, peasant huts,—or something very like them, on the outskirts,—artistic and literary circles in the Peski quarter (the Sands), well-to-do merchants and nobles, officials and wealthy courtiers, until now we have reached the culminating point, where the Admiralty, Imperial Palace, and War Office complete the national group begun at the church.
When, in 1704, Peter the Great founded his beloved Admiralty, as the first building on the mainland then designed for such purposes as this, and not for residence, it was simply a shipyard, open to the Neva, and inclosed on three sides by low wooden structures, surrounded by stone-faced earthworks, moats, and palisades. Hither Peter was wont to come of a morning, after having routed his ministers out of bed to hold privy council at three and four o'clock, to superintend the work and to lend a hand himself. The first stone buildings were erected in 1726, after his death. In the early years of the present century, Alexander I. rebuilt this stately and graceful edifice, after the plans of the Russian architect Zakharoff, who created the beautiful tower adorned with Russian sculptures, crowned by a golden spire, in the centre of the immense facade, fourteen hundred feet long, which forms a feature inseparable from the vista of the Prospekt for the greater part of its length, to the turn at the Znamenskaya Square. On this spire, at the present day, flags and lanterns warn the inhabitants of low-lying districts in the capital of the rate at which the water is rising during inundations. In case of serious danger, the flags are reinforced by signal guns from the fortress. But in Peter I.'s day, these flags and guns bore exactly the opposite meaning to the unhappy nobles whom the energetic Emperor was trying to train into rough-weather sailors. To their trembling imaginations these signal orders to assemble for a practice sail signified, "Come out and be drowned!" since they were obliged to embark in the crafts too generously given to them by Peter, and cruise about until their leader (who delighted in a storm) saw fit to return. There is a story of one unhappy wight, who was honored by the presence aboard his craft of a very distinguished and very seasick Persian, making his first acquaintance with the pleasures of yachting, and who spent three days without food, tacking between Petersburg and Kronstadt, in the vain endeavor to effect a landing during rough weather.
When the present Admiralty was built, a broad and shady boulevard was organized on the site of the old glacis and covered way, and later still, when the break in the quay was filled in, and the shipbuilding transferred to the New Admiralty a little farther down the river, the boulevard was enlarged into the New Alexander Garden, one of the finest squares in Europe. It soon became the fashionable promenade, and the centre of popular life as well, by virtue of the merry-makings which took place. Here, during the Carnival of 1836, the temporary cheap theatre of boards was burned, at the cost of one hundred and twenty-six lives and many injured persons, which resulted in these dangerous balagani and other holiday amusements being removed to the spacious parade-ground known as the Empress's Meadow.
If we pass round the Admiralty to the Neva, we shall find its frozen surface teeming with life. Sledge roads have been laid out on it, marked with evergreen bushes, over which a yamtschik will drive us with his troika fleet as the wind, to Kronstadt, twenty miles away. Plank walks, fringed with street lanterns, have been prepared for pedestrians. Broad ice paths have been cleared, whereon the winter ferry-boats ply, —green garden-chairs, holding one or more persons, furnished with warm lap-robes, and propelled by stout muzhiks on skates, who will transport us from shore to shore for the absurdly small sum of less than a cent apiece, though a ride with the reindeer (now a strange sight in the capital), at the Laplanders' encampment, costs much more.
It is hard to tear ourselves from the charms of the river, with its fishing, ice-cutting, and many other interesting sights always in progress. But of all the scenes, that which we may witness on Epiphany Day—the "Jordan," or Blessing of the Waters, in commemoration of Christ's baptism in the Jordan—is the most curious and typically Russian.
After mass, celebrated by the Metropolitan, in the cathedral of the Winter Palace, whose enormous reddish-ochre mass we perceive rising above the frost-jeweled trees of the Alexander Garden, to our right as we stand at the head of the Nevsky Prospekt, the Emperor, his heir, his brothers, uncles, and other great personages emerge in procession upon the quay. Opposite the Jordan door of the palace a scarlet, gold, and blue pavilion, also called the "Jordan," has been erected over the ice. Thither the procession moves, headed by the Metropolitan and the richly vestured clergy, their mitres gleaming with gems, bearing crosses and church banners, and the imperial choir, clad in crimson and gold, chanting as they go. The Empress and her ladies, clad in full Court costume at midday, look on from the palace windows. After brief prayers in the pavilion, all standing with bared heads, the Metropolitan dips the great gold cross in the rushing waters of the Neva, through a hole prepared in the thick, opalescent, green ice, and the guns on the opposite shore thunder out a salute. The pontoon Palace Bridge, the quays on both sides of the river, all the streets and squares for a long distance round about, are densely thronged; and, as the guns announce the consecration, every head is bared, every right hand in the mass, thousands strong, is raised to execute repeated signs of the cross on brow and breast.
From our post at the head of the Prospekt we behold not the ceremony itself but the framework of a great national picture, the great Palace Square, whereon twenty thousand troops can manoeuvre, and in whose centre rises the greatest monolith of modern times, the shaft of red Finland granite, eighty-four feet in height, crowned with a cross-bearing angel, the monument to Alexander I. There stand the Guards' Corps, and the huge building of the General Staff, containing the Ministries of Finance and of Foreign Affairs, and many things besides, originally erected by Katherine II. to mask the rears of the houses at the end of the Nevsky, and rebuilt under Nicholas I., sweeping in a magnificent semicircle opposite the Winter Palace. Regiments restrain the zeal of the crowd to obtain the few posts of vantage from which the consecration of the waters is visible, and keep open a lane for the carriages of royalty, diplomats, and invited guests. They form part of the pageant, like the Empress's cream-colored carriage and the white horses and scarlet liveries of the Metropolitan. The crowd is devout and silent, as Russian crowds always are, except when they see the Emperor after he has escaped a danger, when they become vociferous with an animation which is far more significant than it is in more noisy lands. The ceremony over, the throngs melt away rapidly and silently; pedestrians, Finnish ice-sledges, traffic in general, resume their rights on the palace sidewalks and the square, and after a state breakfast the Emperor drives quietly home, unguarded, to his Anitchkoff Palace.
If we glance to our left, and slightly to our rear, as we stand thus facing the Neva and the Admiralty, we see the Prefecture and the Ministry of War, the latter once the mansion of a grandee in the last century; and, rising above the latter, we catch a glimpse of the upper gallery, and great gold-plated, un-Russian dome, of St. Isaac's Cathedral, which is visible for twenty miles down the Gulf of Finland. The granite pillars glow in the frosty air with the bloom of a Delaware grape. We forgive St. Isaac for the non-Russian character of the modern ecclesiastical glories of which it is the exponent, as we listen eagerly to the soft, rich, boom-boom-bo-o-om of the great bourdon, embroidered with silver melody by the multitude of smaller bells chiming nearly all day long with a truly orthodox sweetness unknown to the Western world, and which, to-day, are more elaborately beautiful than usual, in honor of the great festival. We appreciate to the full the wailing cry of the prisoner, in the ancient epic songs of the land: "He was cut off from the light of the fair, red sun, from the sound of sweet church-bells."
On the great Palace Square another characteristic sight is to be seen on the nights of Court balls, which follow the Jordan, when the blaze of electric light from the rock-crystal chandeliers, big as haystacks, within the state apartments, is supplemented by the fires in the heater and on the snow outside, round which the waiting coachmen warm themselves, with Rembrandtesque effects of chiaro-oscuro second only to the picturesqueness of dvorniki in their nondescript caps and shaggy coats, who cluster round blazing fagots in less aristocratic quarters when the thermometer descends below zero.
When spring comes with the magical suddenness which characterizes Northern lands, the gardens, quays, and the Nevsky Prospekt still preserve their charms for a space, and are thronged far into the night with promenaders, who gaze at the imperial crowns, stars, monograms, and other devices temporarily applied to the street lanterns, and the fairy flames on the low curb-posts (whereat no horse, though unblinded, ever shies), with which man attempts, on the numerous royal festival days of early summer, to rival the illumination of the indescribably beautiful tints of river and sky. But the peasant-izvostchik goes off to the country to till his little patch of land, aided by the shaggy little farm-horse, which has been consorting on the Prospekt with thoroughbred trotters all winter, and helping him to eke out his cash income, scanty at the best of times; or he emigrates to a summer resort, scorning our insinuation that he is so unfashionable as to remain in town. The deserted Prospekt is torn up for repairs. The merchants, especially the goldsmiths, complain that it would be true economy for them to close their shops. The annual troops of foreign travelers arrive, view the lovely islands of the Neva delta, catch a glimpse of the summer cities in the vicinity, and dream, ah, vain dream! that they have also really beheld the Nevsky Prospekt, the great avenue of the realm of the Frost King and the White Tzar!*
* From Scribner's Magazine, by permission.
MY EXPERIENCE WITH THE RUSSIAN CENSOR.
In spite of the advantage which I enjoyed in a preliminary knowledge of the Russian language and literature, I was imbued with various false ideas, the origin of which it is not necessary to trace on this occasion. I freed myself from some of them; among others, from my theory as to the working of the censorship in the case of foreign literature. My theory was the one commonly held by Americans, and, as I found to my surprise, by not a few Russians, viz., that books and periodicals which have been wholly or in part condemned by the censor are to be procured only in a mutilated condition, or by surreptitious means, or not at all. That this is not the case I acquired ample proof through my personal experience.
The first thing that an American does on his arrival in St. Petersburg is to scan the foreign newspapers in the hotels eagerly for traces of the censor's blot,—le masque noir, "caviare,"—his idea being that at least one half of the page will be thus veiled from sight. But specimens are not always, or even very often, to be procured with ease. In fact, the demand exceeds the supply sometimes, if I may judge from my own observations and from the pressing applications for these curiosities which I received from disappointed seekers. The finest of these black diamonds may generally be found in the inventive news columns of the London dailies and in the flippant paragraphs of "Punch."
Like the rest of the world, I was on the lookout for the censor's work from the day of my arrival, but it was a long time before my search was rewarded by anything except a caricature of the censor himself in "Kladderadatsch." That it was left unmasked was my first proof that that gentleman, individually and collectively, was not deficient in a sense of humor. The sketch represented a disheveled scribe seated three quarters submerged in a bottle of ink, from the half-open cover of which his quill pen projected like a signal of distress. This was accompanied by an inscription to the effect that as the Russian censor had blacked so many other people, he might now sit in the black for a while himself. Perhaps the censor thought that remarks of that sort came with peculiar grace from martinet-ruled Berlin. About this time I received a copy of the "Century," containing—or rather, not containing—the first article in the prohibited series by Mr. Kennan. I made no remonstrance, but mentioned the fact, as an item of interest, to the sender, who forthwith dispatched the article in an envelope. The envelope being small, the plump package had the appearance of containing a couple of pairs of gloves, or other dutiable merchandise. Probably that was the reason why the authorities cut open one end. Finding that it was merely innocent printed matter, they gave it to me on the very day of its arrival in St. Petersburg, and thirteen days from the date of posting in New York. I know that it was my duty to get excited over this incident, as did a foreign (that is, a non-Russian) acquaintance of mine, when he received an envelope of similar plump aspect containing a bulky Christmas card, which was delivered decorated with five very frank and huge official seals, after having been opened for contraband goods. I did not feel aggrieved, however, and, being deficient in that Mother Eve quality which attributes vast importance to whatever is forbidden, I suggested that nothing more which was obnoxious to the Russian government should be sent to me.
But when a foreigner offered the magazine to me regularly, unmutilated, I did not refuse it. When a Russian volunteered to furnish me with it, later on, I read it. When I saw summaries of the prohibited articles in the Russian press, I looked them over to see whether they were well done. When I saw another copy of the "Century," with other American magazines, at the house of a second Russian, I did not shut my eyes to the fact, neither did I close my ears when I was told that divers instructors of youth in Petersburg, Moscow, and elsewhere were in regular receipt of it, on the principle which is said to govern good men away from home, viz., that in order to preach effectively against evil one must make personal acquaintance with it. I was also told at the English Bookstore that they had seven or eight copies of the magazine, which had been subscribed for through them, lying at the censor's office awaiting proper action on the part of the subscribers. What that action was I did not ask at the time, in my embarrassment of riches. It will be perceived that when we add the copies received by officials, and those given to the members of the Diplomatic Corps who desired it, there was no real dearth of the "Century" at any time.
About this time, also, I had occasion to hunt up a package of miscellaneous newspapers, which had lingered as such parcels are apt to linger in all post-offices. In pursuance of my preconceived notions, I jumped to the conclusion that the censor had them, regardless of the contingency that they might have been lost out of Russia. I called to ask for the papers. The official whom I found explained, with native Russian courtesy, that I had come to the wrong place, that office being devoted to foreign matter in book form; but that, in all probability, the papers had become separated from their wrapper in the newspaper department (which was heedless) when they had been opened for examination, and hence it had been impossible to deliver them. Still, they might have been detained for some good reason, and he would endeavor to find some record of them.
While he was gone, my eyes fell upon his account-book, which lay open before me. It constituted a sort of literary book-keeping. The entries showed what books had been received, what had been forbidden, what was to be erased, whose property had been manipulated, and, most interesting of all, which forbidden books had been issued by permission, and to whom. Among these I read the titles of works by Stepniak, and of various works on Nihilism, all of which must certainly have come within the category of utterly proscribed literature, and not of that which is promptly forwarded to its address after a more or less liberal sprinkling of "caviare." As I am not in the habit of reading private records on the sly, even when thus tempted, I informed the official on his return of my action, and asked a question or two.
"Do you really let people have these forbidden books?" "Certainly," was his half-surprised, half-indignant reply. "And what can one have?" "Anything," said he, "only we must, of course, have some knowledge of the person. What would you like?"
I could only express my regret that I felt no craving for any prohibited literature at that moment, but I told him that I would endeavor to cultivate a taste in that direction to oblige him; and I suggested that, as his knowledge of me was confined to the last ten minutes, I did not quite understand how he could pass judgment as to what mental and moral food was suited to my constitution, and as to the use I might make of it. He laughed amiably, and said: "Nitchevo,—that's all right; you may have whatever you please." I never had occasion to avail myself of the offer, but I know that Russians who are well posted do so, although I also know that many Russians are not aware of their privileges in this direction. It is customary to require from Russians who receive literature of this sort a promise that they will let no other person see it,—an engagement which is as religiously observed as might be expected, as the authorities are doubtless aware.
I did not pursue my search for the missing papers. I had allowed so much time to elapse that I perceived the uselessness of further action; they were evidently lost, and it mattered little as to the manner. Shortly afterwards I received the first of my only two specimens of censorial "caviare." It was on a political cartoon in a New York comic paper. I sent it back to America for identification of the picture, and it was lost between New York and Boston; which reconciled me to the possible carelessness of the Russian post-office in the case of the newspapers just cited.
My next experience was with Count Lyeff N. Tolstoy's work entitled "Life." This was not allowed to be printed in book form, although nearly the whole of it subsequently appeared in installments, as "extracts," in a weekly journal. I received the manuscript as a registered mail packet. The author was anxious that my translation should be submitted in the proof-sheets to a philosophical friend of his in Petersburg, who read English, in order that the latter might see if I had caught the sense of the somewhat abstract and complicated propositions. It became a problem how those proof-sheets were to reach me safely and promptly. The problem was solved by having them directed outright to the censor's office, whence they were delivered to me; and, as there proved to be nothing to alter, they speedily returned to America as a registered parcel. My own opinion now is that they would not have reached me a whit less safely or promptly had they been addressed straight to me. The bound volumes of my translation were so addressed later on, and I do not think that they were even opened at the office, the law to the contrary notwithstanding. All this time I had been receiving a New York weekly paper with very little delay and no mutilation. But at this juncture an amiable friend subscribed in my name for the "Century," and I determined to make a personal trial of the workings of the censorship in as strong a case as I could have found had I deliberately desired to invent a test case. I may as well remark here that "the censor" is not the hard-worked, omnivorous reader of mountains of print and manuscript which the words represent to the mind of the ordinary foreigner. The work of auditing literature, so to speak, is subdivided among such a host of men that office hours are brief, much of the foreign reading, at least, is done at home, and the lucky members of the committee keep themselves agreeably posted upon matters in general while enjoying the fruits of office.
The censor's waiting-room was well patronized on my arrival. An official who was holding a consultation with one of the visitors inquired my business. I stated it briefly, and shortly afterwards he retired into an adjoining room, which formed the beginning of a vista of apartments and officials. While I waited, a couple of men were attended to so near me that I heard their business. It consisted in obtaining official permission to print the bills and programmes of a musical and variety entertainment. To this end they had brought not only the list of performers and proposed selections, but also the pictures for advertisement, and the music which was to be given. As the rare traveler who can read Russian is already aware, the programme of every public performance bears the printed authorization of the censor, as a matter of course, quite as much as does a book. It is an easy way of controlling the character of assemblages, the value of which can hardly be disputed even by those prejudiced persons who insist upon seeing in this Russian proceeding something more arbitrary than the ordinary city license which is required for performances elsewhere, or the Lord Chancellor's license which is required in England. In Russia, as elsewhere, an ounce of prevention is worth fully a pound of cure. This, by the way, is the only form in which a foreigner is likely to come in contact with the domestic censure in Russia, unless he should wish to insert an advertisement in a newspaper, or issue printed invitations to a gathering at his house, or send news telegrams. In these cases he may be obliged to submit to delay in the appearance of his advertisement, or requested to go to the elegance and expense of engraved invitations, or to detain his telegram for a day or two. Such things are not unknown in Germany.
Just as these gentlemen had paid their fee, and resigned their documents to the official who had charge of their case, another official issued from the inner room, approached me, requested me to sign my name in a huge ledger, and, that being done, thrust into my hands a bulky manuscript and departed. The manuscript had a taking title, but I did not pause to examine it. Penetrating the inner sanctum, I brought out the official and endeavored to return the packet. He refused to take it, —it was legally mine. This contest lasted for several minutes, until I saw a literary-looking man enter from the anteroom and look rather wildly at us. Evidently this was the owner, and, elevating the manuscript, I inquired if it were his. He hastened to my assistance and proved his rights. But as erasures do not look well in account-books, and as my name already occupied the space allotted to that particular parcel, he was not requested to sign for it, and I believe that I am still legally qualified to read, perform, or publish—whatever it was —that talented production.
A dapper little gentleman, with a dry, authoritative air, then emerged and assumed charge of me. I explained my desire to receive, uncensured, a journal which was prohibited.
"Certainly," said he, without inquiring how I knew the facts. "Just write down your application and sign it."
"I don't know the form," I answered.
He seemed surprised at my ignorance of such an every-day detail, but fetched paper and dictated a petition, which I wrote down and signed. When we reached the point where the name of the publication was to be inserted, he paused to ask: "How many would you like?"
"How many copies of the 'Century'? Only one," said I.
"No, no; how many periodical publications would you like?"
"How many can I have on this petition?" I retorted in Yankee fashion.
"As many as you please. Do you want four—six—eight? Write in the names legibly."
I gasped, but told him that I was not grasping; I preferred to devote my time to Russian publications while in Russia, and that I would only add the name of the weekly which I was already receiving, merely with the object of expediting its delivery a little. The document was then furnished with the regulation eighty-kopek stamp (worth at that time about thirty-seven cents), and the business was concluded. As I was in summer quarters out of town, and it was not convenient for me to call in person and inquire whether permission had been granted, another stamp was added to insure the answer being sent to me. The license arrived in a few days, and the magazine began to come promptly, unopened. I was not even asked not to show it to other people. I may state here that, while I never circulated any of the numerous prohibited books and manuscripts which came into my possession during my stay in Russia, I never concealed them. I showed the "Century" occasionally to personal friends of the class who could have had it themselves had they taken any permanent interest in the matter; but it is certain that they kept their own counsel and mine in all respects.
Everything proceeded satisfactorily until I went to Moscow to stay for a time. It did not occur to me to inform the censor of my move, and the result was that the first number of the magazine which I received there was as fine a "specimen" as heart could desire. The line on the title-page which referred to the obnoxious article had been scratched out; the body of the article had been cut out; the small concluding portion at the top of a page had been artistically "caviared." Of course, the article ending upon the back of the first page extracted had been spoiled. On this occasion I was angry, not at the mutilation as such, but at the breach of faith. I sat down, while my wrath was still hot, and indited a letter to the head censor in Petersburg. I do not recollect the exact terms of that letter, but I know I told him that he had no right to cut the book after granting me leave to receive it intact, without first sending me word that he had changed his mind, and giving valid reasons therefor; that the course he had adopted was injudicious in the extreme, since it was calculated to arouse curiosity instead of allaying it, and that it would be much better policy to ignore the matter. I concluded by requesting him to restore the missing article, if he had preserved it, and if he had not, to send at once to London (that being nearer than New York) and order me a fresh copy of the magazine at his expense.
A month elapsed, no answer came; but at the end of the month another mutilated "Century" arrived. This time I waited two or three days in the hope of inventing an epistle which should be more forcible—if such a thing were possible—than my last, and yet calm. The letter was half written when an official envelope made its appearance from Petersburg, containing cut pages and an apologetic explanation to the effect that the Moscow censor, through an oversight, had not been duly instructed in his duty toward me. A single glance showed me that the inclosed sheets belonged to the number just received, not to the preceding number. I drove immediately to the Moscow office and demanded the censor. "You can tell me what you want with him," said the ante-room Cerberus. "Send me the censor," said I. After further repetition, he retired and sent in a man who requested me to state my business. "You are not the censor," I said, after a glance at him. "Send him out, or I will go to him." Then they decided that I was a connoisseur in censors, and the proper official made his appearance, accompanied by an interpreter, on the strength of the foreign name upon my card. Convinced that the latter would not understand English well, like many Russians who can talk the language fluently enough, I declined his services, produced my documents from the Petersburg censor, and demanded restitution of the other confiscated article. I obtained it, being allowed my pick from a neatly labeled package of contraband goods. That scratched, cut, caviared magazine is now in my possession, with the restored sheets and the censor's apology appended. It is my proof to unbelievers that the Russian censor is not so black as he is painted.
As we shook hands with this Moscow official, after a friendly chat, I asked him if he would be a little obtuse arithmetically as to the old and new style of reckoning, and let me have my January "Century" if it arrived before my departure for Petersburg, as my license expired January 1. He smilingly agreed to do so. I also called on the Moscow book censor, to find some books. The courtesy and readiness to oblige me on the part of the officials had been so great, that I felt aggrieved upon this occasion when this censor requested me to return on the regular business day, and declined to overhaul his whole department for me on the spot. I did return on the proper day, and watched operations while due search was being made for my missing property. It reached me a few days later, unopened, the delay having occurred at my banker's, not in the post-office or censor's department.
On my return to Petersburg, my first visit was to the censor's office, where I copied my original petition, signed it, and dismissed the matter from my mind until my February "Century" reached me with one article missing and two articles spoiled. I paid another visit to the office, and was informed that my petition for a renewal of permission had not been granted.
"Why didn't you send me word earlier?" I asked.
"We were not bound to do so without the extra stamp," replied my dapper official.
"But why has my application been refused?"
"Too many people are seeing that journal; some one must be refused."
"Nonsense," said I. "And if it is really so, I am not the proper person to be rejected. It will hurt some of these Russian subscribers more than it will me, because it is only a question of when I shall read it, not of whether I shall read it at all. I wonder that so many demoralizing things do not affect the officials. However, that is not the point; pray keep for your own use anything which you regard as deleterious to me. I am obliged to you for your consideration. But you have no right to spoil three or four articles; and by a proper use of scissors and caviare that can easily be avoided. In any case, it will be much better to give me the book unmutilated."
The official and the occupants of the reception-room seemed to find my view very humorous; but he declared that he had no power in the matter.
"Very well," said I, taking a seat. "I will see the censor.
"I am the censor," he replied.
"Oh, no. I happen to be aware that the head censor is expected in a few minutes, and I will wait."
My (apparently) intimate knowledge of the ways of censors again won the day. The chief actually was expected, and I was granted the first audience. I explained matters and repeated my arguments. He sent for the assistant.
"Why was not this application granted?" he asked impressively.
"We don't know, your Excellency," was the meek and not very consistent reply.
"You may go," said his Excellency. Then he turned graciously to me. "You will receive it."
"But will they let me have it?"
"Will—they—let—you—have—it—when—I—say—so?" he retorted with tremendous dignity.
Then I knew that I should have no further trouble, and I was right. I received no written permission, but the magazine was never interfered with again. Thus it will be seen that one practically registers periodicals wholesale, at a wonderfully favorable discount.
During the whole of my stay in Russia I received many books unread, apparently even unopened to see whether they belonged on the free list. In one case, at least, volumes which were posted before the official date of publication reached me by the next city delivery after the letter announcing their dispatch. Books which were addressed to me at the Legation, to assure delivery when my exact address was unknown or when my movements were uncertain, were, in every case but one, sent to me direct from the post-office. I have no reason to suppose that I was unusually favored in any way. I used no "influence," I mentioned no influential names, though I had the right to do so.
An incident which procured for me the pleasure of an interview with the chief censor for newspapers and so forth will illustrate some of the erroneous ideas entertained by strangers. I desired to send to some friends in Russia a year's subscription each of a certain American magazine, which sometimes justly receives a sprinkling of caviare for its folly, but which is not on the black list, and is fairly well known in Petersburg. After some delay I heard from home that the publishers had consulted the United States postal officials, and had been informed that "no periodical literature could be sent to Russia, this being strictly prohibited." I took the letter to the newspaper censor, who found it amusingly and amazingly stupid. He explained that the only thing which is absolutely prohibited is Russian text printed outside of Russia, which would never be delivered. He did not explain the reason, but I knew that he referred to the socialistic, nihilistic, and other proscribed works which are published in Geneva or Leipzig. Daily foreign newspapers can be received regularly only by persons who are duly authorized. Permission cannot be granted to receive occasional packages of miscellaneous contents, the reason for this regulation being very clear. And all books must be examined if new, or treated according to the place assigned them on the lists if they have already had a verdict pronounced upon them. I may add, in this connection, that I had the magazines I wished subscribed for under another name, to avoid the indelicacy of contradicting my fellow-countrymen. They were then forwarded direct to the Russian addresses, where they were duly and regularly received. Whether they were mutilated, I do not know. They certainly need not have been, had the recipients taken the trouble to obtain permission as I did, if they were aware of the possibility. It is probable that I could have obtained permission for them, had I not been pressed for time.
I once asked a member of the censorship committee on foreign books on what principle of selection he proceeded. He said that disrespect to the Emperor and the Greek Church was officially prohibited; that he admitted everything which did not err too grossly in that direction, and, in fact, everything except French novels of the modern realistic school. He drew the line at these, as pernicious to both men and women. He asked me if I had read a certain new book which was on the proscribed list. I said that I had, and in the course of the discussion which ensued, I rose to fetch the volume in question from the table behind him to verify a passage. (This occurred during a friendly call.) I recollected, however, that that copy had not entered the country by post, and that, consequently, the name of the owner therein inscribed would not be found on the list of authorized readers any more than my own. I am sure, however, that nothing would have happened if he had seen it, and he must have understood my movement. My business dealings were wholly with strangers.
It seems to be necessary, although it ought not to be so, to remind American readers that Russia is not the only land where the censorship exists, to a greater or less extent. Even in the United States, which is popularly regarded as the land of unlicensed license in a literary sense,—even in the Boston Public Library, which is admitted to be a model of good sense and wide liberality,—all books are not bought or issued indiscriminately to all readers, irrespective of age and so forth. The necessity for making special application may, in some cases, whet curiosity, but it also, undoubtedly, acts as a check upon unhealthy tastes, even when the book may be publicly purchased. I have heard Russians who did not wholly agree with their own censorship assert, nevertheless, that a strict censure was better than the total absence of it, apparently, in America, the utterances of whose press are regarded by foreigners in general as decidedly startling.*
* From The Nation
BARGAINING IN RUSSIA.
In Russia one is expected to bargain and haggle over the price of everything, beginning with hotel accommodations, no matter how obtrusively large may be the type of the sign "Prix Fixe" or how strenuous may be the assertions that the bottom price is that first named. If one's nerves be too weak to play at this game of continental poker, he will probably share our fate, of which we were politely apprised by a word at our departure from a hotel where we had lived for three months—after due bargaining—at their price. "If you come back, you may have the corresponding apartments on the floor below [the bel etage] for the same price." In view of the fact that there was no elevator, it will be perceived that we had been paying from one third to one half too much, which was reassuring as to the prospect for the future, when we should decide to return!
If there be a detestable relic of barbarism, it is this custom of bargaining over every breath one draws in life. It creates a sort of incessant internal seething, which is very wearing to the temper and destructive of pleasure in traveling. One feels that he must chaffer desperately in the dark, or pay the sum demanded and be regarded as a goose fit for further plucking. So he forces himself to chaffer, tries to conceal his abhorrence of the practice and his inexperience, and ends, generally, by being cheated and considered a grass-green idiot into the bargain, which is not soothing to the spirit of the average man. When I mention it in this connection I do not mean to be understood as confining my remarks exclusively to Russia; the opportunities for being shorn to the quick are unsurpassed all over the continent, and "one price" America's house is too vitreous to permit of her throwing many stones at foreign lands. Only, in America, the custom is now happily so obsolete in the ordinary transactions of daily life that one is astonished when he hears, occasionally, a woman from the country ask a clerk in a city shop, "Is that the least you'll take? I'll give you so much for these goods." In Russia, the surprise would be on the other side.
The next time I had occasion to hire quarters in a hotel for a sojourn of any length I resorted to stratagem, by way of giving myself an object lesson. I looked at the rooms, haggled them down, on principle, to what seemed to me really the very lowest notch of price; I was utterly worn out before this was accomplished. I even flattered myself that I had done nearly as well as a native could have done, and was satisfied. But I sternly carried out my experiment. I did not close the bargain. I asked Princess——to try her experienced hand. Result, she secured the best accommodations in the house for less than half the rate at which I had been so proud of obtaining inferior quarters! When we moved in, the landlord was surprised, but he grasped the point of the transaction, and seemed to regard it as a pleasant jest against him, and to respect us the more for having outwitted him. The Princess apologized for having made such bad terms for us, and meant it! I suspect that that was a very fair sample of the comparative terms obtained by natives and outsiders in all bargains.
It is one of those things at which one smiles or fumes, according to the force of the instinct for justice with which he has been blessed—or cursed—by nature. Nothing, unless it be a healthy, athletic conscience, is so wofully destructive of all happiness and comfort in this life as a keen sense of justice!
There are, it is true, persons in Russia who scorn to bargain as much as did the girl of the merchant class in one of Ostrovsky's famous comedies, who was so generous as to blush with shame for the people whom she heard trying to beat down exorbitant prices in the shops, or whom she saw taking their change. The merchant's motto is, "A thing is worth all that can be got for it." Consequently, it never occurs to him that even competition is a reason for being rational. One striking case of this in my own experience was provided by a hardware merchant, in whose shop I sought a spirit lamp. The lamps he showed me were not of the sort I wished, and the price struck me as exorbitant, although I was not informed as to that particular subject. I offered these suggestions to the fat merchant in a mild manner, and added that I would look elsewhere before deciding upon his wares.
"You will find none elsewhere," roared the merchant—previously soft spoken as the proverbial sucking dove—through his bushy beard, in a voice which would have done credit to the proto-deacon of a cathedral. "And not one kopek will I abate of my just price, yay Bogu! [God is my witness!] They cost me that sum; I am actually making you a present of them out of my profound respect for you, sudarynya! [He had called me Madame before that, but now he lowered my social rank to that of a merchant's wife, out of revenge.] And you will be pleased not to come back if you don't find a lamp to suit your peculiar taste, for I will not sell to you. I won't have people coming here and looking at things and then not buying!"
It was obviously my turn to retort, but I let the merchant have the last word—temporarily. In ten minutes another shopkeeper offered me lamps of identical quality and pattern at one half his price, and I purchased one, such as I wished, of a different design for a small sum extra. I may have been cheated, but, under the circumstances, I was satisfied.
Will it be believed? Bushybeard was lying in wait for me at the door, ready to receive me, wreathed in smiles which I can describe only by the detestable adjective "affable," as I took pains to pass his establishment on my way back. Then the spirit of mischief entered into me. I reciprocated his smiles and said: "Ivan Baburin, at shop No. 8, round the corner, has dozens of lamps such as you deal in, for half the price of yours. You might be able to get them even cheaper, if you know how to haggle well. But I'm afraid you don't, for you seem to have been horribly cheated in your last trade, when you bought your present stock at the price you mentioned. How could any one have the conscience to rob an honest, innocent man like you so dreadfully?"
He looked dazed, and the last time I cast a furtive glance behind me he had not recovered sufficiently to dash after me and overwhelm me with protestations of his uprightness, yay Bogu! and other lingual cascades.
From the zest with which I have beheld a shopman and a customer waste half an hour chaffering an article up and down five kopeks (two and a half cents or less), I am convinced that they enjoy the excitement of it, and that time is cheap enough with them to allow them to indulge in this exhilarating practice.
What is the remedy for this state of things? How are foreigners, who pride themselves on never giving more than the value of an article, to protect themselves? There is no remedy, I should say. One must haggle, haggle, haggle, and submit. Guides are useless and worse, as they probably share in the shopkeeper's profit, and so raise prices. Recommendations of shops from guides or hotels are to be disregarded. Not that they are worthless,—quite the reverse; only their value does not accrue to the stranger, but to the other parties. It may well be, as veteran travelers affirm, that one is compelled to contribute to this mutual benefit association in any case; but there is a sort of satisfaction after all in imagining that one is a free and independent being, and going to destruction in his own way, unguided, while he gets a little amusement out of his own shearing.
Any one who really likes bargaining will get his fill in Russia, every time he sets foot out of doors, if he wishes merely to take a ride. There are days, it is true, when all the cabmen in town seem to have entered into a league and agreed to demand a ruble for a drive of half a dozen blocks; and again, though rarely, they will offer to carry one miles for one fifth of that sum, which is equally unreasonable in the other direction. In either case one has his bargaining sport, at one end of the journey or the other. I find among my notes an illustration of this operation, which, however, falls far short of a conversation which I once overheard between a lower-class official and an izvostchik, who could not come to terms. It ended in the uniformed official exclaiming: "You ask too much. I'll use my own horses," raising a large foot, and waving it gently at the cabmen.
"Home-made!" (literally, "self-grown") retorted one izvostchik. The rival bidders for custom shrieked with laughter at his wit, the official fled, and I tried in vain—wonderful to relate—to get the attention of the group and offer them a fresh opportunity for discussion by trying to hire one of them.
My note-book furnishes the following: "If anybody wants a merry izvostchik, with a stylish flourishing red beard, I can supply him. I do not own the man at present, but he has announced his firm intention of accompanying me to America. I asked him how he would get along without knowing the language?
"'I'd serve you forever!' said he.
"'How could I send you on an errand?' said I.
"'I'd serve you forever!' said he.
"That was the answer to every objection on my part. He and a black-haired izvostchik have a fight for my custom nearly every time I go out. Fighting for custom—in words—is the regular thing, but the way these men do it convulses with laughter everybody within hearing, which is at least half a block. It is the fashion here to take an interest in chafferings with cabmen and in other street scenes.
"'She's to ride with me!' shouts one. 'Barynya, I drove you to Vasily Island one day, you remember!' 'She's going with me; you get out!' yells the other. 'She drove on the Nevsky with me long before she ever saw you; didn't you, barynya? and the Liteinaya,' and so on till he has enumerated more streets than I have ever heard of. 'And we're old, old friends, aren't we, barynya? And look at my be-e-autiful horse!'
"'Your horse looks like a soiled and faded glove,' I retort, 'and I won't have you fight over me. Settle it between yourselves,' and I walk off or take another man, neither proceeding being favorably regarded. If any one will rid me of Redbeard I will sell him for his passage-money to America. I am also open to offers for Blackbeard, as he has announced his intention of lying in wait for me at the door every day, as a cat sits before a mouse's hole." Vanka (the generic name for all izvostchiki) gets about four dollars or four dollars and a half a month from his employer, when he does not own his equipage. In return he is obliged to hand in about a dollar and a quarter a day on ordinary occasions, a dollar and a half on the days preceding great festivals, and two dollars and a half on festival days. If he does not contrive to extract the necessary amount from his fares, his employer extracts it from his wages, in the shape of a fine. The men told me this. As there are no fixed rates in the great cities, a bargain must be struck every time, which begins by the man demanding twice or thrice the proper price, and ends in your paying it if you are not familiar with accepted standards and distances, and in selling yourself at open-air auction to the lowest bidder, acting as your own auctioneer, in case you are conversant with matters in general.
Foreigners can also study the bargaining process at its best—or worst —in the purchase of furs. The Neva freezes over, as a rule, about the middle of November, and snow comes to stay, after occasional light flurries in September and October, a little later. Sometimes, however, the river closes as early as the end of September, or as late as within a few days of Christmas. Or the rain, which begins in October, continues at intervals into the month of January. The price of food goes up, frozen provisions for the poorer classes spoil, and more suffering and illness ensue than when the normal Arctic winter prevails. In spite of the cold, one is far more comfortable than in warmer climes. The "stone" houses are built with double walls, three or four feet apart, of brick or rubble covered with mastic. The space between the walls is filled in, and, in the newer buildings, apertures with ventilators near the ceilings take the place of movable panes in the double windows. The space between the windows is filled with a deep layer of sand, in which are set small tubes of salt to keep the glass clear, and a layer of snowy cotton wadding on top makes a warm and appropriate finish. The lower classes like to decorate their wadding with dried grasses, colored paper, and brilliant odds and ends, in a sort of toy-garden arrangement. The cracks of the windows are filled with putty or some other solid composition, over which are pasted broad strips of coarse white linen. The India rubber and other plants which seem so inappropriately placed, in view of the brief and scant winter light, in reality serve two purposes—that of decoration and that of keeping people at a respectful distance from the windows, because the cold and wind pass through the glass in dangerous volume.
Carpets are rare. Inlaid wooden floors, with or without rugs, are the rule. Birch wood is, practically, the exclusive material for heating. Coal from South Russia is too expensive in St. Petersburg; and imported coal is of the lignite order, and far from satisfactory even for use in the open grates, which are often used for beauty and to supplement the stoves.
In the olden times, the beautifully colored and ornamented tile stoves were built with a "stove bench," also of tiles, near the floor, on which people could sleep. Nowadays, only peasants sleep on the stove, and they literally sleep on top of the huge, mud-plastered stone oven, close to the ceiling. In dwellings other than peasant huts, what is known as the "German stove" is in use. Each stove is built through the wall to heat two rooms, or a room and corridor. The yard porter brings up ten or twelve birch logs, of moderate girth, peels off a little bark to use as kindling, and in ten minutes there is a roaring fire. The door is left open, and the two draught covers from the flues—which resemble the covers of a range in shape and size—are taken out until the wood is reduced to glowing coals, which no longer emit blue flames. Then the door is closed, the flue plates are replaced, and the stove radiates heat for twenty-four hours, forty-eight hours, or longer, according to the weather and the taste of the persons concerned,—Russian rooms not being kept nearly so hot as American rooms.
In this soft, delightful, and healthy heat, heavy underclothing is a misery. Very few Russians wear anything but linen, and foreigners who have been used to wear flannels generally are forced to abandon them in Russia. Hence the necessity for wrapping up warmly when one goes out.
Whatever the caprices of the weather, during the winter, according to the almanac, furs are required, especially by foreigners, from the middle of October or earlier until May. People who come from Southern climes, with the memory of the warm sun still lingering in their veins, endure their first Russian winter better than the winters which follow, provided their rashness, especially during the treacherous spring or autumn, does not kill them off promptly. Therefore, the wise foreigner who arrives in autumn sallies forth at once in quest of furs. He will get plenty of bargaining and experience thrown in.
First of all, he finds that he must reconstruct his ideas about furs. If he be an American, his first discovery is that his favorite sealskin is out of the race entirely. No Russian would pay the price which is given for sealskin in return for such a "cold fur," nor would he wear it on the outside for display, while it would be too tender to use as a lining. Sealskin is good only for a short jacket between seasons for walking, and if one sets out on foot in that garb she must return on foot; she would be running a serious risk if she took a carriage or sledge. All furs are used for linings; in short, by thus reversing nature's arrangement, one obtains the natural effect, and wears the fur next his skin, as the original owner of the pelt did. Squirrel is a "cold," cheap fur, used by laundresses and the like, while mink, also reckoned as a "cold" fur, though more expensive, is used by men only, as is the pretty mottled skin obtained by piecing together sable paws. The cheapest of the "downy" furs, which are the proper sort for the climate, is the brown goat, that constantly reminds its owner of the economy practiced, by its weight and characteristic strong smell, though it has the merit of being very warm. Next come the various grades of red fox fur,—those abundantly furnished with hair,—where the red is pale and small in area, and the gray patches are large and dark, being the best. The kuni, which was the unit of currency in olden days, and was used by royalty, is the next in value, and is costly if dark, and with a tough, light-weight skin, which is an essential item of consideration for the necessary large cloaks. Sables, rich and dark, are worn, like the kuni, by any one who can afford them,—court dames, cavaliers, archbishops, and merchants, or their wives and daughters,—while the climax of beauty and luxury is attained in the black fox fur, soft and delicate as feathers, warm as a July day. The silky, curly white Tibetan goat, and the thick, straight white fur of the psetz, make beautiful evening wraps for women, under velvets of delicate hues, and are used by day also, though they are attended by the inconvenience of requiring frequent cleaning. Cloth or velvet is the proper covering for all furs, and the colors worn for driving are often gay or light. A layer of wadding between the fur and the covering adds warmth, and makes the circular mantle called a rotonda set properly. These sleeveless circular cloaks are not fit for anything but driving, however, although they are lapped across the breast and held firmly in place by the crossed arms,—a weary task, since they fall open at every breeze when the wearer is on foot,—but they possess the advantage over a cloak with sleeves that they can be held high around the ears and head at will. The most inveterate "shopper" would be satisfied with the amount of running about and bargaining which can be got out of buying a fur cloak and a cap!
The national cap has a soft velvet crown, surrounded by a broad band of sable or otter, is always in fashion, and lasts forever. People who like variety buy each year a new cap, made of black Persian lambskin, which resembles in shape that worn by the Kazaks, though the shape is modified every year by the thrifty shopkeepers.
The possibilities for self delusion, and delusion from the other quarter, as to price and quality of these fur articles, is simply enormous. I remember the amusing tags fastened to every cloak in the shop of a certain fashionable furrier in Moscow, where "asking price" and "selling price" were plainly indicated. By dint of inquiry I found that "paying price" was considerably below "selling price." Moscow is the place, by the way, to see the coats intended for "really cold weather" journeys, made of bear skin and of reindeer skin, impervious to cold, lined with downy Siberian rat or other skins, which one does not see in Petersburg shops.
The furs and the Russians' sensible manner of dressing in general, which I have described, have much to do with their comfort and freedom from colds. No Russian enters a room, theatre, or public hall at any season of the year with his cloak and overshoes, and no well-trained servant would allow an ignorant foreigner to trifle with his health by so doing. Even the foreign churches are provided with cloak-rooms and attendants. And the Russian churches? On grand occasions, when space is railed off for officials or favored guests, cloak-racks and attendants are provided near the door for the privileged ones, who must display their uniforms and gowns as a matter of state etiquette. The women find the light shawl —which they wear under their fur to preserve the gown from hairs, to shield the chest, and for precisely such emergencies—sufficient protection. On ordinary occasions, people who do not keep a lackey to hold their cloaks just inside the entrance have an opportunity to practice Russian endurance, and unless the crowd is very dense, the large and lofty space renders it quite possible, though the churches are heated, to retain the fur cloak; but it is not healthy, and not always comfortable. It would not be possible to provide cloak-rooms and attendants for the thousands upon thousands who attend church service on Sundays and holidays. With the foreign churches, whose attendance is limited comparatively, it is a different matter.
One difficulty about foreigners visiting Russia in winter is, that those who come for a short visit are rarely willing to go to the expense of the requisite furs. In general, they are so reckless of their health as to inspire horror in any one who is acquainted with the treacherous climate. I remember a couple of Americans, who resisted all remonstrances because they were on their way to a warmer clime, and went about when the thermometer was twenty-five to thirty degrees below zero Reaumur, in light, unwadded mantles, reaching only to the waist line, and with loose sleeves. A Russian remarked of them: "They might have shown some respect for the climate, and have put on flannel compresses, or a mustard plaster at least!" Naturally, an illness was the result. If such people would try to bargain for the very handsome and stylish coffins which they would consider in keeping with their dignity, they would come to the conclusion that furs would prove cheaper and less troublesome. But furs or coffins, necessaries or luxuries, everything must be bargained for in Holy Russia, and with the American affection for the national game of poker, that should not constitute an objection to the country. Only non-card-players will mind such a trifle as bluff.*
* Reprinted, in part, from Lippincott's Magazine.
So much has been said about the habits of the late Emperor Alexander III. in his capital, that a brief statement of them will not be out of place, especially as I had one or two experiences, in addition to the ordinary opportunities afforded by a long visit and knowledge of the language and manners of the people.
When the Emperor was in St. Petersburg, he drove about freely every day like a private person. He was never escorted or attended by guards. In place of a lackey a Kazak orderly sat beside the coachman. The orderlies of no other military men wore the Kazak uniform. Any one acquainted with this fact, or with the Emperor's face, could recognize him as he passed. There was no other sign; even the soldiers, policemen, and gendarmes gave him the same salute which they gave to every general. At Peterhoff, in summer, he often drove, equally unescorted, to listen to the music in the palace park, which was open to all the public.
On occasions of state or ceremony, such as a royal wedding or the arrival of the Shah of Persia, troops lined the route of the procession, as part of the show, and to keep the quiet but vigorously surging masses of spectators in order; just as the police keep order on St. Patrick's Day in New York, or as the militia kept order and made part of the show during the land naval parade at the Columbian festivities in New York. On such occasions the practice as to allowing spectators on balconies, windows, and roofs varied. For example, during the Emperor's recent funeral procession in Moscow, roofs, balconies, open windows, and every point of vantage were occupied by spectators. In St. Petersburg, the public was forbidden to occupy roofs, balconies, lamp-posts, or railings, and it was ordered that all windows should be shut, though, as usual, no restriction was placed on benches, stools, and other aids to a view. A few days later, when the Emperor Nicholas II. drove from his wedding in the Winter Palace to the Anitchkoff Palace, roofs, balconies, and open windows were crowded with spectators. I saw the Emperor Alexander III. from an open balcony, and behind closed windows.
On the regular festivals and festivities, such as St. George's Day, New Year's Day, the Epiphany (the "Jordan," or Blessing of the Neva), the state balls, Easter, and so forth, every one knew where to look for the Emperor, and at what hour. The official notifications in the morning papers, informing members of the Court at what hour and place to present themselves, furnished a good guide to the Emperor's movements for any one who did not already know. On such days the approaches to the Winter Palace were kept open for the guests as they arrived; the crowd was always enormous, especially at the "Jordan." But as soon as royalties and guests had arrived, and, on the "Jordan" day, as soon as the Neva had been blessed, ordinary traffic was resumed on sidewalks of the Winter Palace (those of the Anitchkoff Palace, where the Emperor lived, were never cut off from public use), on streets, and Palace Square. Royalties and guests departed quietly at their pleasure.
I was driving down the Nevsky Prospekt on the afternoon of New Year's Day, 1889, when, just at the gate of the Anitchkoff Palace, a policeman raised his hand, and my sledge and the whole line behind me halted. I looked round to see the reason, and beheld the Emperor and Empress sitting beside me in the semi-state cream-colored carriage, painted with a big coat of arms, its black hood studded with golden doubleheaded eagles, which the present Emperor used on his wedding day. A coachman, postilion, and footman constituted the sole "guard," while the late prefect, General Gresser, in an open calash a quarter of a mile behind, constituted the "armed escort." They were on the roadway next to the horse-car track, which is reserved for private equipages, and had to cross the lines of public sledges next to the sidewalk. On other occasions, such as launches of ironclad war vessels, the expected presence of the Emperor and Empress was announced in the newspapers. It was easy enough to calculate the route and the hour, if one wished to see them. I frequently made such calculations, in town and country, and, stranger though I was, I never made a mistake. When cabinet ministers or high functionaries of the Court died, the Emperor and Empress attended one of the services before the funeral, and the funeral. Thousands of people calculated the hour, and the best spot to see them with absolute accuracy. At one such funeral, just after rumors of a fresh "plot" had been rife, I saw the great crowd surge up with a cheer towards the Emperor's carriage, though the Russians are very quiet in public. The police who were guarding the route of the procession stood still and smiled approvingly.
But sometimes the streets through which the Emperor Alexander III. was to pass were temporarily forbidden to the public; such as the annual mass and parade of the regiments of the Guards in their great riding-schools, and a few more. I know just how that device worked, because I put it to the proof twice, with amusing results.
The first time it was in this wise: There exists in St. Petersburg a Ladies' Artistic Circle, which meets once a week all winter, to draw from models. Social standing as well as artistic talent is requisite in members of this society, to which two or three Grand Duchesses have belonged, or do belong. The product of their weekly work, added to gifts from each member, is exhibited, sold, and raffled for each spring, the proceeds being devoted to helping needy artists by purchasing for them canvas, paints, and so forth, to clothing and educating their children, or aiding them in a dozen different ways, such as paying house-rent, doctor's bills, pensions, and so forth, to the amount of a great many thousand dollars every year. When I was in Petersburg, the exhibitions took place in the ballroom and drawing-room of one grand ducal palace, while the home and weekly meetings were in the palace of the Grand Duchess Ekaterina Mikhailovna, now dead. An amiable poet, Yakoff Petrovitch, invited me to attend one of these meetings,—a number of men being honorary members, though the women manage everything themselves,—but illness prevented my accompanying him on the evening appointed for our visit. He told me, therefore, to keep my invitation card. Three months elapsed before circumstances permitted me to use it.
One evening, on my way from an informal call of farewell on a friend who was about to set out for the Crimea, I ordered my izvostchik to drive me to the Michael Palace. We were still at some distance from the palace when a policeman spoke to the izvostchik, who drove on instead of turning that corner, as he had been on the point of doing.
"Why don't you go on up that street?" I asked.
"Impossible! Probably the Hosudar [Emperor] is coming," answered cabby.
"Whither is he going?"
"We don't know," replied cabby, in true Russian style.
"But I mean to go to that palace, all the same," said I.
"Of course," said cabby tranquilly, turning up the next parallel street, which brought us out on the square close to the palace.
As we drove into the courtyard I was surprised to see that it was filled with carriages, that the plumed chasseurs of ambassadors and footmen in court liveries were flitting to and fro, and that the great flight of steps leading to the grand entrance was dotted thickly with officers and gendarmes, exactly as though an imperial birthday Te Deum at St. Isaac's Cathedral were in progress, and twenty or twenty-five thousand people must be kept in order.
"Well!" I said to myself, "this appears to be a very elegant sort of sketch-club, with evening dress and all the society appurtenances. What did Yakoff Petrovitch mean by telling me that a plain street gown was the proper thing to wear? This enforced 'simplification' is rather trying to the feminine nerves; but I will not beat a retreat!"
I paid and dismissed my izvostchik,—a poor, shabby fellow, such as Fate invariably allotted to me,—walked in, gave my furs and galoshes to the handsome, big head Swiss in imperial scarlet and gold livery, and started past the throng of servants, to the grand staircase, which ascended invitingly at the other side of the vast hall. Unfortunately, that instinct with whose possession women are sometimes reproached prompted me to turn back, just as I had reached the first step, and question the Swiss.
"In what room shall I find the Ladies' Artistic Circle?"
"It does not meet to-night, madame," he answered. "Her Imperial Highness has guests."
"But I thought the Circle met every Wednesday night from November to May."
"It does, usually, madame; to-night is an exception. You will find the ladies here next week."
"Then please to give me my shuba and galoshes, and call a sledge."
The Swiss gave the order for a sledge to one of the palace servants standing by, and put on my galoshes and cloak. But the big square was deserted, the ubiquitous izvostchik was absent, for once, it appeared, and after waiting a few minutes at the grand entrance, I repeated my request to an officer of gendarmes. He touched his cap, said: "Slushaiu's" (I obey, madame), and set in action a series of shouts of "Izvostchik! izvo-o-o-o-stchik!" It ended in the dispatch of a messenger to a neighboring street, and—at last—the appearance of a sledge, visibly shabby of course, even in the dark,—my luck had not deserted me.
I could have walked home, as it was very close at hand, in much less time than it took to get the sledge, be placed therein, and buttoned fast under the robe by the gendarme officer: but my heart had quailed a little, I confess, when it looked for a while as if I should be compelled to do it and pass that array of carriages and lackeys afoot. I was glad enough to be able to spend double fare on the man (because I had not bargained in advance), in the support of my little dignity and false pride.
As I drove out of one gate, a kind of quiet tumult arose at the other. On comparing notes, two days later, as to the hour, with a friend who had been at the palace that night (by invitation, not in my way), I found that the Emperor and Empress had driven up to attend these Lenten Tableaux Vivants, in which several members of the imperial family figured, just as I had got out of the way.
This was one of the very few occasions when I found any street reserved temporarily for the Emperor, who usually drives like a private citizen. I have never been able to understand, however, what good such reservation does, if undertaken as a protective measure (as hasty travelers are fond of asserting), when a person can head off the Emperor, reach the goal by a parallel street, and then walk into a small, select imperial party unknown, uninvited, unhindered, as I evidently could have done and almost did, woolen gown, bonnet, and all, barred solely by my own question to the Swiss at the last moment.
That the full significance of my semi-adventure may be comprehended, with all its irregularity, let me explain that my manner of arrival was as unsuitable—as suspicious, if you like—as it well could be. I had no business to drive up to a palace, in a common sledge hired on the street, on such an occasion. I had no business to be riding alone in an open sledge at night. Officers from the regiments of the Guards may, from economy, use such public open sledges (there are no covered sledges in town) to attend a reception at the Winter Palace, or a funeral mass at a church where the Emperor and Empress are present. I have seen that done. But they are careful to alight at a distance and approach the august edifice on their own noble, uniformed legs. But a woman— without a uniform to consecrate her daring—!
However, closed carriages do not stand at random on the street in St. Petersburg, any more than they do elsewhere, and cannot often be had either quickly or easily, besides being expensive.
Nevertheless, neither then nor at any other time did I ever encounter the slightest disrespect from police, gendarmes, servants (those severe and often impertinent judges of one's attire and equipage), nor from their masters,—not even on this critical occasion when I so patently, flagrantly transgressed all the proprieties, yet was not interfered with by word or glance, but was permitted to discover my error for myself, or plunge headlong, unwarned, into the Duchess's party, regardless of my unsuitable costume.
On the following Wednesday, I drove to the palace again in the same style of equipage, and the same gown, which proved to be perfectly proper, as Mr. Y. P. had told me, and was greeted with a courteous and amiable smile by the head Swiss, who had the air of taking me under his special protection, as he conducted me in person, not by deputy, to the quarters of the Circle.
I had another illustrative experience with closed streets. In February come the two grand reviews of the Guards, stationed in Petersburg, Peterhoff, and Tzarskoe Selo, on the Palace Place. They are fine spectacles, but only for those who have access to a window overlooking the scene, as all the streets leading to the Place are blockaded by the gendarmerie, to obviate the disturbance of traffic. On one of these occasions, I inadvertently selected the route which the Emperor was to use. I was stopped by mounted gendarmes. I told them that it was too far to walk, with my heavy furs and shoes, and they allowed me to proceed. A block further on, officers of higher grade in the gendarmerie rode up to me and again declared that it was impossible for me to go on; but they yielded, as did still higher officers, at two or three advanced posts. I believe that it was not intended that I should walk along that street either; I certainly had it all to myself. I know now how royalty feels when carefully coddled, and prefer to have my fellow-creatures about me. I alighted, at last, with the polite assistance of a gendarme officer, at the very spot where the Emperor afterward alighted from his sledge and mounted his horse. At that time I was living in an extremely fashionable quarter of the city, where every one was supposed to keep his own carriage. The result was that the izvostchiki never expected custom from any one except the servants of the wealthy, and none but the shabbiest sledges in town ever waited there for engagements. Accordingly, my turnout was very shabby, and the gendarmes could not have been impressed with respect by it. On the other hand, had I used the best style of public equipage, the likatchi, the kind which consists of an elegant little sledge, a fine horse, and a spruce, well-fed, well-dressed driver, it is probable that they would not have let me pass at all. Ladies are not permitted, by etiquette, to patronize these likatchi, alone, and no man will take his wife or a woman whom he respects to drive in one. Had I foreseen that there would be any occasion for inspiring respect by my equipage, I would have gone to the trouble and expense of hiring a closed carriage, a thing which I did as rarely as possible, because nothing could be seen through the frozen window, because they seemed much colder than the open sledges, and had no advantage except style, and that of protecting one from the wind, which I did not mind.
A RUSSIAN SUMMER RESORT.
The spring was late and cold. I wore my fur-lined cloak (shuba) and wrapped up my ears, by Russian advice as well as by inclination, until late in May. But we were told that the summer heat would catch us suddenly, and that St. Petersburg would become malodorous and unhealthy. It was necessary, owing to circumstances, to find a healthy residence for the summer, which should not be too far removed from the capital. With a few exceptions, all the environs of St. Petersburg are damp. Unless one goes as far as Gatschina, or into the part of Finland adjacent to the city, Tzarskoe Selo presents the only dry locality. In the Finnish summer colonies, one must, perforce, keep house, for lack of hotels. In Tzarskoe, as in Peterhoff, villa life is the only variety recognized by polite society; but there we had—or seemed to have— the choice between that and hotels. We decided in favor of Tzarskoe, as it is called in familiar conversation. As one approaches the imperial village, it rises like a green oasis from the plain. It is hedged in, like a true Russian village, but with trees and bushes well trained instead of with a wattled fence.
During the reign of Alexander II., this inland village was the favorite Court resort; not Peterhoff, on the Gulf of Finland, as at present. It is situated sixteen miles from St. Petersburg, on the line of the first railway built in Russia, which to this day extends only a couple of miles beyond,—for lack of the necessity of farther extension, it is just to add. It stands on land which is not perceptibly higher than St. Petersburg, and it took a great deal of demonstration before an Empress of the last century could be made to believe that it was, in reality, on a level with the top of the lofty Admiralty spire, and that she must continue her tiresome trips to and fro in her coach, in the impossibility of constructing a canal which would enable her to sail in comfort. Tzarskoe Selo, "Imperial Village:" well as the name fits the place, it is thought to have been corrupted from saari, the Finnish word for "farm," as a farm occupied the site when Peter the Great pitched upon it for one of his numerous summer resorts. He first enlarged the farmhouse, then built one of his simple wooden palaces, and a greenhouse for Katherine I. Eventually he erected a small part of the present Old Palace. It was at the dedication of the church here, celebrated in floods of liquor (after a fashion not unfamiliar in the annals of New England in earlier days), that Peter I. contracted the illness which, aggravated by a similar drinking-bout elsewhere immediately afterward, and a cold caused by a wetting while he was engaged in rescuing some people from drowning, carried him to his grave very promptly. His successors enlarged and beautified the place, which first became famous during the reign of Katherine II. At the present day, its broad macadamized streets are lighted by electricity; its Gostinny Dvor (bazaar) is like that of a provincial city; many of its sidewalks, after the same provincial pattern, have made people prefer the middle of the street for their promenades. Naturally, only the lower classes were expected to walk when the Court resided there.
Before making acquaintance with the famous palaces and parks, we undertook to settle ourselves for the time being, at least. It appeared that "furnished" villas are so called in Tzarskoe, as elsewhere, because they require to be almost completely furnished by the occupant on a foundation of bare bones of furniture, consisting of a few bedsteads and tables. This was not convenient for travelers; neither did we wish to commit ourselves for the whole season to the cares of housekeeping, lest a change of air should be ordered suddenly; so we determined to try to live in another way.
Boarding-houses are as scarce here as in St. Petersburg, the whole town boasting but one,—advertised as a wonderful rarity,—which was very badly situated. There were plenty of traktiri, or low-class eating-houses, some of which had "numbers for arrivers"—that is to say, rooms for guests—added to their gaudy signs. These were not to be thought of. But we had been told of an establishment which rejoiced in the proud title of gostinnitza, "hotel," in city fashion. It looked fairly good, and there we took up our abode, after due and inevitable chaffering. This hotel was kept, over shops, on the first and part of the second floor of a building which had originally been destined for apartments. Its only recommendation was that it was situated near a very desirable gate into the Imperial Park.