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THE MEMOIRS OF JACQUES CASANOVA DE SEINGALT
THE RARE UNABRIDGED LONDON EDITION OF 1894 TRANSLATED BY ARTHUR
MACHEN TO WHICH HAS BEEN ADDED THE CHAPTERS DISCOVERED BY ARTHUR
MEMOIRS OF JACQUES CASANOVA de SEINGALT 1725-1798
IN LONDON AND MOSCOW, Volume 5e--RUSSIA AND POLAND
RUSSIA AND POLAND
My Stay at Riga--Campioni St. Heleine--D'Asagon--Arrival of the
Empress--I Leave Riga and Go to St. Petersburg--I See Society
--I Buy Zaira
Prince Charles de Biron, the younger son of the Duke of Courland,
Major-General in the Russian service, Knight of the Order of St.
Alexander Newski, gave me a distinguished reception after reading his
father's letter. He was thirty-six years of age, pleasant-looking
without being handsome, and polite and well-mannered, and he spoke
French extremely well. In a few sentences he let me know what he
could do for me if I intended to spend some time at Riga. His table,
his friends, his pleasures, his horses, his advice, and his purse,
all these were at my service, and he offered them with the frankness
of the soldier and the geniality of the prince.
"I cannot offer you a lodging," he said, "because I have hardly
enough room for myself, but I will see that you get a comfortable
The apartment was soon found, and I was taken to it by one of the
prince's aides-de-camp. I was scarcely established when the prince
came to see me, and made me dine with him just as I was. It was an
unceremonious dinner, and I was pleased to meet Campioni, of whom I
have spoken several times in these Memoirs. He was a dancer, but
very superior to his fellows, and fit for the best company polite,
witty, intelligent, and a libertine in a gentlemanly way. He was
devoid of prejudices, and fond of women, good cheer, and heavy play,
and knew how to keep an even mind both in good and evil fortune. We
were mutually pleased to see each other again.
Another guest, a certain Baron de St. Heleine from Savoy, had a
pretty but very insignificant wife. The baron, a fat man, was a
gamester, a gourmand, and a lover of wine; add that he was a past
master in the art of getting into debt and lulling his creditors into
a state of false security, and you have all his capacities, for in
all other respects he was a fool in the fullest sense of the word.
An aide-decamp and the prince's mistress also dined with us. This
mistress, who was pale, thin, and dreamy-looking, but also pretty,
might be twenty years old. She hardly ate anything, saying that she
was ill and did not like anything on the table. Discontent shewed
itself on her every feature. The prince endeavoured, but all in
vain, to make her eat and drink, she refused everything disdainfully.
The prince laughed good-humouredly at her in such a manner as not to
wound her feelings.
We spent two hours pleasantly enough at table, and after coffee had
been served, the prince, who had business, shook me by the hand and
left me with Campioni, telling me always to regard his table as my
This old friend and fellow-countryman took me to his house to
introduce me to his wife and family. I did not know that he had
married a second time. I found the so-called wife to be an
Englishwoman, thin, but full of intelligence. She had a daughter of
eleven, who might easily have been taken for fifteen; she, too, was
marvellously intelligent, and danced, sang, and played on the piano
and gave such glances that shewed that nature had been swifter than
her years. She made a conquest of me, and her father congratulated
me to my delight, but her mother offended her dreadfully by calling
I went for a walk with Campioni, who gave me a good deal of
information, beginning with himself.
"I have lived for ten years," he said, "with that woman. Betty, whom
you admired so much, is not my daughter, the others are my children
by my Englishwoman. I have left St. Petersburg for two years, and I
live here well enough, and have pupils who do me credit. I play with
the prince, sometimes winning and sometimes losing, but I never win
enough to enable me to satisfy a wretched creditor I left at St.
Petersburg, who persecutes me on account of a bill of exchange. He
may put me in prison any day, and I am always expecting him to do
"Is the bill for a large sum?"
"Five hundred roubles."
"That is only two thousand francs."
"Yes, but unfortunately I have not got it."
"You ought to annul the debt by paying small sums on account."
"The rascal won't let me."
"Then what do you propose doing?"
"Win a heavy sum, if I can, and escape into Poland.
"The Baron de St. Heleine will run away, too if he can, for he only
lives on credit. The prince is very useful to us, as we are able to
play at his house; but if we get into difficulty he could not
extricate us, as he is heavily in debt himself. He always loses at
play. His mistress is expensive, and gives him a great deal of
trouble by her ill-humour."
"Why is she so sour?"
"She wants him to keep his word, for he promised to get her married
at the end of two years; and on the strength of this promise she let
him give her two children. The two years have passed by and the
children are there, and she will no longer allow him to have anything
to do with her for fear of having a third child."
"Can't the prince find her a husband?"
"He did find her a lieutenant, but she won't hear of anybody under
the rank of major."
The prince gave a state dinner to General Woyakoff (for whom I had a
letter), Baroness Korf, Madame Ittinoff, and to a young lady who was
going to marry Baron Budberg, whom I had known at Florence, Turin,
and Augsburg, and whom I may possibly have forgotten to mention.
All these friends made me spend three weeks very pleasantly, and I
was especially pleased with old General Woyakoff. This worthy man
had been at Venice fifty years before, when the Russians were still
called Muscovites, and the founder of St. Petersburg was still alive.
He had grown old like an oak, without changing his horizons. He
thought the world was just the same as it had been when he was young,
and was eloquent in his praise of the Venetian Government, imagining
it to be still the same as he had left it.
At Riga an English merchant named Collins told me that the so-called
Baron de Stenau, who had given me the forged bill of exchange, had
been hanged in Portugal. This "baron" was a poor clerk, and the son
of a small tradesman, and had left his desk in search of adventure,
and thus he had ended. May God have mercy upon his soul!
One evening a Russian, on his way from Poland, where he had been
executing some commission for the Russian Court, called on the
prince, played, and lost twenty thousand roubles on his word of
honour. Campioni was the dealer. The Russian gave bills of exchange
in payment of his debts; but as soon as he got to St. Petersburg he
dishonoured his own bills, and declared them worthless, not caring
for his honour or good faith. The result of this piece of knavery
was not only that his creditors were defrauded, but gaming was
henceforth strictly forbidden in the officers' quarters.
This Russian was the same that betrayed the secrets of Elizabeth
Petrovna, when she was at war with Prussia. He communicated to
Peter, the empress's nephew and heir-presumptive, all the orders she
sent to her generals, and Peter in his turn passed on the information
to the Prussian king whom he worshipped.
On the death of Elizabeth, Peter put this traitor at the head of the
department for commerce, and the fellow actually made known, with the
Czar's sanction, the service for which he had received such a reward,
and thus, instead of looking upon his conduct as disgraceful, he
gloried over it. Peter could not have been aware of the fact that,
though it is sometimes necessary to reward treachery, the traitor
himself is always abhorred and despised.
I have remarked that it was Campioni who dealt, but he dealt for the
prince who held the bank. I had certain claims, but as I remarked
that I expected nothing and would gladly sell my expectations for a
hundred roubles, the prince took me at my word and gave me the amount
immediately. Thus I was the only person who made any money by our
Catherine II, wishing to shew herself to her new subjects, over whom
she was in reality supreme, though she had put the ghost of a king in
the person of Stanislas Poniatowski, her former favourite, on the
throne of Poland, came to Riga, and it was then I saw this great
sovereign for the first time. I was a witness of the kindness and
affability with which she treated the Livonian nobility, and of the
way in which she kissed the young ladies, who had come to kiss her
hand, upon the mouth. She was surrounded by the Orloffs and by other
nobles who had assisted in placing her on the throne. For the
comfort and pleasure of her loyal subjects the empress graciously
expressed her intention of holding a bank at faro of ten thousand
Instantly the table and the cards were brought forward, and the piles
of gold placed in order. She took the cards, pretended to shuffle
them, and gave them to the first comer to cut. She had the pleasure
of seeing her bank broken at the first deal, and indeed this result
was to be expected, as anybody not an absolute idiot could see how
the cards were going. The next day the empress set out for Mitau,
where triumphal arches were erected in her honour. They were made of
wood, as stone is scarce in Poland, and indeed there would not have
been time to build stone arches.
The day after her arrival great alarm prevailed, for news came that a
revolution was ready to burst out at St. Petersburg, and some even
said that it had begun. The rebels wished to have forth from his
prison the hapless Ivan Ivanovitz, who had been proclaimed emperor in
his cradle, and dethroned by Elizabeth Petrovna. Two officers to
whom the guardianship of the prince had been confided had killed the
poor innocent monarch when they saw that they would be overpowered.
The assassination of the innocent prince created such a sensation
that the wary Panin, fearing for the results, sent courier after
courier to the empress urging her to return to St. Petersburg and
shew herself to the people.
Catherine was thus obliged to leave Mitau twenty-four hours after she
had entered it, and after hastening back to the capital she arrived
only to find that the excitement had entirely subsided. For politic
reasons the assassins of the wretched Ivan were rewarded, and the
bold man who had endeavoured to rise by her fall was beheaded.
The report ran that Catherine had concerted the whole affair with the
assassins, but this was speedily set down as a calumny. The czarina
was strong-minded, but neither cruel nor perfidious. When I saw her
at Riga she was thirty-five, and had reigned two years. She was not
precisely handsome, but nevertheless her appearance was pleasing, her
expression kindly, and there was about her an air of calm and
tranquillity which never left her.
At about the same time a friend of Baron de St. Heleine arrived from
St. Petersburg on his way to Warsaw. His name was Marquis Dragon,
but he called himself d'Aragon. He came from Naples, was a great
gamester, a skilled swordsman, and was always ready to extract
himself from a difficulty by a duel. He had left St. Petersburg
because the Orloffs had persuaded the empress to prohibit games of
chance. It was thought strange that the prohibition should come from
the Orloffs, as gaming had been their principal means of gaining a
livelihood before they entered on the more dangerous and certainly
not more honourable profession of conspiracy. However, this measure
was really a sensible one. Having been gamesters themselves they
knew that gamesters are mostly knaves, and always ready to enter into
any intrigue or conspiracy provided it assures them some small gain;
there could not have been better judges of gaming and its
consequences than they were.
But though a gamester may be a rogue he may still have a good heart,
and it is only just to say that this was the case with the Orloffs.
Alexis gained the slash which adorns his face in a tavern, and the
man who gave the blow had just lost to him a large sum of money, and
considered his opponent's success to be rather the result of
dexterity than fortune. When Alexis became rich and powerful,
instead of revenging himself, he hastened to make his enemy's
fortune. This was nobly done.
Dragon, whose first principle was always to turn up the best card,
and whose second principle was never to shirk a duel, had gone to St.
Petersburg in 1759 with the Baron de St. Heleine. Elizabeth was
still on the throne, but Peter, Duke of Holstein, the heir-
presumptive, had already begun to loom large on the horizon. Dragon
used to frequent the fencing school where the prince was a frequent
visitor, and there encountered all comers successfully. The duke got
angry, and one day he took up a foil and defied the Neapolitan
marquis to a combat. Dragon accepted and was thoroughly beaten,
while the duke went off in triumph, for he might say from henceforth
that he was the best fencer in St. Petersburg.
When the prince had gone, Dragon could not withstand the temptation
of saying that he had only let himself be beaten for fear of
offending his antagonist; and this boast soon got to the grand-duke's
ears. The great man was terribly enraged, and swore he would have
him banished from St. Petersburg if he did not use all his skill, and
at the same time he sent an order to Dragon to be at the fencing
school the next day.
The impatient duke was the first to arrive, and d'Aragon was not long
in coming. The prince began reproaching him for what he had said the
day before, but the Neapolitan, far from denying the fact, expressed
himself that he had felt himself obliged to shew his respect for his
prince by letting him rap him about for upwards of two hours.
"Very good," said the duke, "but now it is your turn; and if you
don't do your best I will drive you from St. Petersburg."
"My lord, your highness shall be obeyed. I shall not allow you to
touch me once, but I hope you will deign to take me under your
The two champions passed the whole morning with the foils, and the
duke was hit a hundred times without being able to touch his
antagonist. At last, convinced of Dragon's superiority, he threw
down his foil and shook him by the hand, and made him his fencer-in-
ordinary, with the rank of major in his regiment of Holsteiners.
Shortly after, D'Aragon having won the good graces of the duke
obtained leave to hold a bank at faro in his court, and in three or
four years he amassed a fortune of a hundred thousand roubles, which
he took with him to the Court of King Stanislas, where games of all
sorts were allowed. When he passed through Riga, St. Heleine
introduced him to Prince Charles, who begged him to call on him the
next day, and to shew his skill with the foils against himself and
some of his friends. I had the honour to be of the number; and
thoroughly well he beat us, for his skill was that of a demon. I was
vain enough to become angry at being hit at every pass, and told him
that I should not be afraid to meet him at a game of sharps. He was
calmer, and replied by taking my hand, and saying,--
"With the naked sword I fence in quite another style, and you are
quite right not to fear anyone, for you fence very well."
D'Aragon set out for Warsaw the next day, but he unfortunately found
the place occupied by more cunning Greeks than himself. In six
months they had relieved him of his hundred thousand roubles, but
such is the lot of gamesters; no craft can be more wretched than
A week before I left Riga (where I stayed two months) Campioni fled
by favour of the good Prince Charles, and in a few days the Baron de
St. Heleine followed him without taking leave of a noble army of
creditors. He only wrote a letter to the Englishman Collins, to whom
he owed a thousand crowns, telling him that like an honest man he had
left his debts where he had contracted them. We shall hear more of
these three persons in the course of two years.
Campioni left me his travelling carriage, which obliged me to use six
horses on my journey to St. Petersburg. I was sorry to leave Betty,
and I kept up an epistolary correspondence with her mother throughout
the whole of my stay at St. Petersburg.
I left Riga with the thermometer indicating fifteen degrees of frost,
but though I travelled day and night, not leaving the carriage for
the sixty hours for which my journey lasted, I did not feel the cold
in the least. I had taken care to pay all the stages in advance, and
Marshal Braun, Governor of Livonia, had given me the proper passport.
On the box seat was a French servant who had begged me to allow him
to wait on me for the journey in return for a seat beside the
coachman. He kept his word and served me well, and though he was but
ill clad he bore the horrible cold for two days and three nights
without appearing to feel it. It is only a Frenchman who can bear
such trials; a Russian in similar attire would have been frozen to
death in twenty-four hours, despite plentiful doses of corn brandy.
I lost sight of this individual when I arrived at St. Petersburg,
but I met him again three months after, richly dressed, and occupying
a seat beside mine at the table of M. de Czernitscheff. He was the
uchitel of the young count, who sat beside him. But I shall have
occasion to speak more at length of the office of uchitel, or tutor,
As for Lambert, who was beside me in the carriage, he did nothing but
eat, drink, and sleep the whole way; seldom speaking, for he
stammered, and could only talk about mathematical problems, on which
I was not always in the humour to converse. He was never amusing,
never had any sensible observation to make on the varied scenes
through which we passed; in short, he was a fool, and wearisome to
all save himself.
I was only stopped once, and that was at Nawa, where the authorities
demanded a passport, which I did not possess. I told the governor
that as I was a Venetian, and only travelled for pleasure, I did not
conceive a passport would be necessary, my Republic not being at war
with any other power, and Russia having no embassy at Venice.
"Nevertheless," I added, "if your excellency wills it I will turn
back; but I shall complain to Marshal Braun, who gave me the passport
for posting, knowing that I had not the political passport."
After rubbing his forehead for a minute, the governor gave me a pass,
which I still possess, and which brought me into St. Petersburg,
without my having to allow the custom-house officers to inspect my
Between Koporie and St. Petersburg there is only a wretched hut for
the accommodation of travellers. The country is a wilderness, and
the inhabitants do not even speak Russian. The district is called
Ingria, and I believe the jargon spoken has no affinity with any
other language. The principal occupation of the peasants is robbery,
and the traveller does well not to leave any of his effects alone for
I got to St. Petersburg just as the first rays of the sun began to
gild the horizon. It was in the winter solstice, and the sun rose at
the extremity of an immense plain at twenty-four minutes past nine,
so I am able to state that the longest night in Russia consists of
eighteen hours and three quarters.
I got down in a fine street called the Millione. I found a couple of
empty rooms, which the people of the house furnished with two beds,
four chairs, and two small tables, and rented to me very cheaply.
Seeing the enormous stoves, I concluded they must consume a vast
amount of wood, but I was mistaken. Russia is the land of stoves as
Venice is that of cisterns. I have inspected the interior of these
stoves in summer-time as minutely as if I wished to find out the
secret of making them; they are twelve feet high by six broad, and
are capable of warming a vast room. They are only refuelled once in
twenty-four hours, for as soon as the wood is reduced to the state of
charcoal a valve is shut in the upper part of the stove.
It is only in the houses of noblemen that the stoves are refuelled
twice a day, because servants are strictly forbidden to close the
valve, and for a very good reason.
If a gentleman chance to come home and order his servants to warm his
room before he goes to bed, and if the servant is careless enough to
close the valve before the wood is reduced to charcoal, then the
master sleeps his last sleep, being suffocated in three or four
hours. When the door is opened in the morning he is found dead, and
the poor devil of a servant is immediately hanged, whatever he may
say. This sounds severe, and even cruel; but it is a necessary
regulation, or else a servant would be able to get rid of his master
on the smallest provocation.
After I had made an agreement for my board and lodging, both of which
were very cheap (now St. Petersburg, is as dear as London), I brought
some pieces of furniture which were necessaries for me, but which
were not as yet much in use in Russia, such as a commode, a bureau, &c.
German is the language principally spoken in St. Petersburg, and I
did not speak German much better then than I do now, so I had a good
deal of difficulty in making myself understood, and usually excited
my auditors to laughter.
After dinner my landlord told me that the Court was giving a masked
ball to five thousand persons to last sixty hours. He gave me a
ticket, and told me I only needed to shew it at the entrance of the
I decided to use the ticket, for I felt that I should like to be
present at so numerous an assembly, and as I had my domino still by
me a mask was all I wanted. I went to the palace in a sedan-chair,
and found an immense crowd assembled, and dancing going on in several
halls in each of which an orchestra was stationed. There were long
counters loaded with eatables and drinkables at which those who were
hungry or thirsty ate or drank as much as they liked. Gaiety and
freedom reigned everywhere, and the light of a thousand wax candles
illuminated the hall. Everything was wonderful, and all the more so
from its contrast with the cold and darkness that were without. All
at once I heard a masquer beside me say to another,--
"There's the czarina."
We soon saw Gregory Orloff, for his orders were to follow the empress
at a distance.
I followed the masquer, and I was soon persuaded that it was really
the empress, for everybody was repeating it, though no one openly
recognized her. Those who really did not know her jostled her in the
crowd, and I imagined that she would be delighted at being treated
thus, as it was a proof of the success of her disguise. Several
times I saw her speaking in Russian to one masquer and another. No
doubt she exposed her vanity to some rude shocks, but she had also
the inestimable advantage of hearing truths which her courtiers would
certainly not tell her. The masquer who was pronounced to be Orloff
followed her everywhere, and did not let her out of his sight for a
moment. He could not be mistaken, as he was an exceptionally tall
man and had a peculiar carriage of the head.
I arrested my progress in a hall where the French square dance was
being performed, and suddenly there appeared a masquer disguised in
the Venetian style. The costume was so complete that I at once set
him down as a fellow-countryman, for very few strangers can imitate
us so as to escape detection. As it happened, he came and stood next
"One would think you were a Venetian," I said to him in French.
"So I am."
"I am not jesting."
"No more am I."
"Then let us speak in Venetian."
"Do you begin, and I will reply."
We began our conversation, but when he came to the word Sabato,
Saturday, which is a Sabo in Venetian, I discovered that he was a
real Venetian, but not from Venice itself. He said I was right, and
that he judged from my accent that I came from Venice.
"Quite so," said I.
"I thought Bernadi was the only Venetian besides myself in St.
"You see you are mistaken."
"My name is Count Volpati di Treviso."
"Give me your address, and I will come and tell you who I am, for I
cannot do so here."
"Here it is."
After leaving the count I continued my progress through this
wonderful hall, and two or three hours after I was attracted by the
voice of a female masquer speaking Parisian French in a high
falsetto, such as is common at an opera ball.
I did not recognize the voice but I knew the style, and felt quite
certain that the masquer must be one of my old friends, for she spoke
with the intonations and phraseology which I had rendered popular in
my chief places of resort at Paris.
I was curious to see who it could be, and not wishing to speak before
I knew her, I had the patience to wait till she lifted her mask, and
this occurred at the end of an hour. What was my surprise to see
Madame Baret, the stocking-seller of the Rue St. Honor& My love awoke
from its long sleep, and coming up to her I said, in a falsetto
"I am your friend of the 'Hotel d'Elbeuf.'"
She was puzzled, and looked the picture of bewilderment. I whispered
in her ear, "Gilbert Baret, Rue des Prouveres," and certain other
facts which could only be known to herself and a fortunate lover.
She saw I knew her inmost secrets, and drawing me away she begged me
to tell her who I was.
"I was your lover, and a fortunate one, too," I replied; "but before
I tell you my name, with whom are you, and how are you?"
"Very well; but pray do not divulge what I tell you. I left Paris
with M. d'Anglade, counsellor in the Court of Rouen. I lived happily
enough for some time with him, and then left him to go with a
theatrical manager, who brought me here as an actress under the name
of de l'Anglade, and now I am kept by Count Rzewuski, the Polish
ambassador. And now tell me who you are?"
Feeling sure of enjoying her again, I lifted my mask. She gave a cry
of joy, and exclaimed,--
"My good angel has brought you to St. Petersburg."
"How do you mean?"
"Rzewuski is obliged to go back to Poland, and now I count on you to
get me out of the country, for I can no longer continue in a station
for which I was not intended, since I can neither sing nor act."
She gave me her address, and I left her delighted with my discovery.
After having passed half an hour at the counter, eating and drinking
of the best, I returned to the crowd and saw my fair stocking-seller
talking to Count Volpati. He had seen her with me, and hastened to
enquire my name of her. However, she was faithful to our mutual
promise, and told him I was her husband, though the Venetian did not
seem to give the least credence to this piece of information.
At last I was tired and left the ball, and went to bed intending to
go to mass in the morning. I slept for some time and woke, but as it
was still dark I turned on the other side and went to sleep again.
At last I awoke again, and seeing the daylight stealing through my
double windows, I sent for a hairdresser, telling my man to make
haste as I wanted to hear mass on the first Sunday after my arrival
in St. Petersburg.
"But sir," said he, "the first Sunday was yesterday; we are at Monday
I had spent twenty-seven hours in bed, and after laughing at the
mishap I felt as if I could easily believe it, for my hunger was like
that of a cannibal.
This is the only day which I really lost in my life; but I do not
weep like the Roman emperor, I laugh. But this is not the only
difference between Titus and Casanova.
I called on Demetrio Papanelopulo, the Greek merchant, who was to pay
me a hundred roubles a month. I was also commended to him by M. da
Loglio, and I had an excellent reception. He begged me to come and
dine with him every day, paid me the roubles for the month due, and
assured me that he had honoured my bill drawn at Mitau. He also
found me a reliable servant, and a carriage at eighteen roubles, or
six ducats per month. Such cheapness has, alas! departed for ever.
The next day, as I was dining with the worthy Greek and young
Bernardi, who was afterwards poisoned, Count Volpati came in with the
dessert, and told us how he had met a Venetian at the ball who had
promised to come and see him.
"The Venetian would have kept his promise," said I, "if he had not
had a long sleep of twenty-seven hours. I am the Venetian, and am
delighted to continue our acquaintance."
The count was about to leave, and his departure had already been
announced in the St. Petersburg Gazette. The Russian custom is not
to give a traveller his passports till a fortnight has elapsed after
the appearance of his name in the paper. This regulation is for the
advantage of tradesmen, while it makes foreigners think twice before
they contract any debts.
The next day I took a letter of introduction to M. Pietro Ivanovitch
Melissino, colonel and afterwards general of artillery. The letter
was written by Madame da Loglio, who was very intimate with
Melissino. I was most politely welcomed, and after presenting me to
his pleasant wife, he asked me once for all to sup with him every
night. The house was managed in the French style, and both play and
supper were conducted without any ceremony. I met there Melissino's
elder brother, the procurator of the Holy Synod and husband of the
Princess Dolgorouki. Faro went on, and the company was composed of
trustworthy persons who neither boasted of their gains nor bewailed
their losses to anyone, and so there was no fear of the Government
discovering this infrigement of the law against gaming. The bank was
held by Baron Lefort, son of the celebrated admiral of Peter the
Great. Lefort was an example of the inconstancy of fortune; he was
then in disgrace on account of a lottery which he had held at Moscow
to celebrate the coronation of the empress, who had furnished him
with the necessary funds. The lottery had been broken and the fact
was attributed to the baron's supposed dishonesty.
I played for small stakes and won a few roubles. I made friends with
Baron Lefort at supper, and he afterwards told me of the vicissitudes
he had experienced.
As I was praising the noble calmness with which a certain prince had
lost a thousand roubles to him, he laughed and said that the fine
gamester I had mentioned played upon credit but never paid.
"How about his honour?"
"It is not affected by the non-payment of gaming debts. It is an
understood thing in Russia that one who plays on credit and loses may
pay or not pay as he wishes, and the winner only makes himself
ridiculous by reminding the loser of his debt."
"Then the holder of the bank has the right to refuse to accept bets
which are not backed by ready money."
"Certainly; and nobody has a right to be offended with him for doing
so. Gaming is in a very bad state in Russia. I know young men of
the highest rank whose chief boast is that they know how to conquer
fortune; that is, to cheat. One of the Matuschkins goes so far as to
challenge all foreign cheats to master him. He has just received
permission to travel for three years, and it is an open secret that
he wishes to travel that he may exercise his skill. He intends
returning to Russia laden with the spoils of the dupes he has made."
A young officer of the guards named Zinowieff, a relation of the
Orloffs, whom I had met at Melissino's, introduced me to Macartney,
the English ambassador, a young man of parts and fond of pleasure.
He had fallen in love with a young lady of the Chitroff family, and
maid of honour to the empress, and finding his affection reciprocated
a baby was the result. The empress disapproved strongly of this
piece of English freedom, and had the ambassador recalled, though she
forgave her maid of honour. This forgiveness was attributed to the
young lady's skill in dancing. I knew the brother of this lady, a
fine and intelligent young officer. I had the good fortune to be
admitted to the Court, and there I had the pleasure of seeing Mdlle.
Chitroff dancing, and also Mdlle. Sievers, now Princesss, whom I saw
again at Dresden four years ago with her daughter, an extremely
genteel young princess. I was enchanted with Mdlle. Sievers, and
felt quite in love with her; but as we were never introduced I had no
opportunity of declaring my passion. Putini, the castrato, was high
in her favour, as indeed he deserved to be, both for his talents and
the beauties of his person.
The worthy Papanelopulo introduced me to Alsuwieff, one of the
ministers, a man of wit and letters, and only one of the kind whom I
met in Russia. He had been an industrious student at the University
of Upsala, and loved wine, women, and good cheer. He asked me to
dine with Locatelli at Catherinhoff, one of the imperial mansions,
which the empress had assigned to the old theatrical manager for the
remainder of his days. He was astonished to see me, and I was more
astonished still to find that he had turned taverner, for he gave an
excellent dinner every day to all who cared to pay a rouble,
exclusive of wine. M. d'Alsuwieff introduced me to his colleague in
the ministry, Teploff, whose vice was that he loved boys, and his
virtue that he had strangled Peter III.
Madame Mecour, the dancer, introduced me to her lover, Ghelaghin,
also a minister. He had spent twenty years of his life in Siberia.
A letter from Da Loglio got me a warm welcome from the castrato
Luini, a delightful man, who kept a splendid table. He was the lover
of Colonna, the singer, but their affection seemed to me a torment,
for they could scarce live together in peace for a single day. At
Luini's house I met another castrato, Millico, a great friend of the
chief huntsman, Narischkin, who also became one of my friends. This
Narischkin, a pleasant and a well-informed man, was the husband of
the famous Maria Paulovna. It was at the chief huntsman's splendid
table that I met Calogeso Plato, now archbishop of Novgorod, and then
chaplain to the empress. This monk was a Russian, and a master of
ruses, understood Greek, and spoke Latin and French, and was what
would be called a fine man. It was no wonder that he rose to such a
height, as in Russia the nobility never lower themselves by accepting
Da Loglio had given me a letter for the Princess Daschkoff, and I
took it to her country house, at the distance of three versts from
St. Petersburg. She had been exiled from the capital, because,
having assisted Catherine to ascend the throne, she claimed to share
it with her.
I found the princess mourning for the loss of her husband. She
welcomed me kindly, and promised to speak to M. Panin on my behalf;
and three days later she wrote to me that I could call on that
nobleman as soon as I liked. This was a specimen of the empress's
magnanimity; she had disgraced the princess, but she allowed her
favourite minister to pay his court to her every evening. I have
heard, on good authority, that Panin was not the princess's lover,
but her father. She is now the President of the Academy of Science,
and I suppose the literati must look upon her as another Minerva, or
else they would be ashamed to have a woman at their head. For
completeness' sake the Russians should get a woman to command their
armies, but Joan d'Arcs are scarce.
Melissino and I were present at an extraordinary ceremony on the Day
of the Epiphany, namely the blessing of the Neva, then covered with
five feet of ice.
After the benediction of the waters children were baptized by being
plunged into a large hole which had been made in the ice. On the day
on which I was present the priest happened to let one of the children
slip through his hands.
"Drugoi!" he cried.
That is, "Give me another." But my surprise may be imagined when I
saw that the father and mother of the child were in an ecstasy of
joy; they were certain that the babe had been carried straight to
heaven. Happy ignorance!
I had a letter from the Florentine Madame Bregonci for her friend the
Venetian Roccolini, who had left Venice to go and sing at the St.
Petersburg Theatre, though she did not know a note of music, and had
never appeared on the stage. The empress laughed at her, and said
she feared there was no opening in St. Petersburg for her peculiar
talents, but the Roccolini, who was known as La Vicenza, was not the
woman to lose heart for so small a check. She became an intimate
friend of a Frenchwoman named Prote, the wife of a merchant who lived
with the chief huntsman. She was at the same time his mistress and
the confidante of his wife Maria Petrovna, who did not like her
husband, and was very much obliged to the Frenchwoman for delivering
her from the conjugal importunities.
This Prote was one of the handsomest women I have ever seen, and
undoubtedly the handsomest in St. Petersburg at that time. She was
in the flower of her age. She had at once a wonderful taste for
gallantry and for all the mysteries of the toilette. In dress she
surpassed everyone, and as she was witty and amusing she captivated
all hearts. Such was the woman whose friend and procuress La Vicenza
had become. She received the applications of those who were in love
with Madame Prote, and passed them on, while, whether a lover's suit
was accepted or not, the procuress got something out of him.
I recognized Signora Roccolini as soon as I saw her, but as twenty
years had elapsed since our last meeting she did not wonder at my
appearing not to know her, and made no efforts to refresh my memory.
Her brother was called Montellato, and he it was who tried to
assassinate me one night in St. Mark's Square, as I was leaving the
Ridotto. The plot that would have cost me my life, if I had not made
my escape from the window, was laid in the Roccolini's house.
She welcomed me as a fellow-countryman in a strange land, told me of
her struggles, and added that now she had an easy life of it, and
associated with the pleasantest ladies in St. Petersburg.
"I am astonished that you have not met the fair Madame Prote at the
chief huntsman's, for she is the darling of his heart. Come and take
coffee with me to-morrow, and you shall see a wonder."
I kept the appointment, and I found the lady even more beautiful than
the Venetian's praises of her had led me to expect. I was dazzled by
her beauty, but not being a rich man I felt that I must set my wits
to work if I wanted to enjoy her. I asked her name, though I knew it
quite well, and she replied, "Prote."
"I am glad to hear it, madam," said I, "for you thereby promise to be
"How so?" said she, with a charming smile. I explained the pun, and
made her laugh. I told her amusing stories, and let her know the
effect that her beauty had produced on me, and that I hoped time
would soften her heart to me. The acquaintance was made, and
thenceforth I never went to Narischkin's without calling on her,
either before or after dinner.
The Polish ambassador returned about that time, and I had to forego
my enjoyment of the fair Anglade, who accepted a very advantegeous
proposal which was made her by Count Brawn. This charming
Frenchwoman died of the small-pox a few months later, and there can
be no doubt that her death was a blessing, as she would have fallen
into misery and poverty after her beauty had once decayed.
I desired to succeed with Madame Prote, and with that idea I asked
her to dinner at Locatelli's with Luini, Colonna, Zinowieff, Signora
Vicenza, and a violinist, her lover. We had an excellent dinner
washed down with plenty of wine, and the spirits of the company were
wound up to the pitch I desired. After the repast each gentleman
went apart with his lady, and I was on the point of success when an
untoward accident interrupted us. We were summoned to see the proofs
of Luini's prowess; he had gone out shooting with his dogs and guns.
As I was walking away from Catherinhoff with Zinowieff I noticed a
young country-woman whose beauty astonished me. I pointed her out to
the young officer, and we made for her; but she fled away with great
activity to a little cottage, where we followed her. We went in and
saw the father, mother, and some children, and in a corner the timid
form of the fair maiden.
Zinowieff (who, by the way, was for twenty years Russian ambassador
at Madrid) had a long conversation in Russian with the father. I did
not understand what was said, but I guessed it referred to the girl
because, when her father called her, she advanced submissively, and
stood modestly before us.
The conversation over, Zinowieff went out, and I followed him after
giving the master of the house a rouble. Zinowieff told me what had
passed, saying that he had asked the father if he would let him have
the daughter as a maid-servant, and the father had replied that it
should be so with all his heart, but that he must have a hundred
roubles for her, as she was still a virgin. "So you see," added
Zinowieff, "the matter is quite simple."
"Why, yes; only a hundred roubles."
"And supposing me to be inclined to give that sum?"
"Then she would be your servant, and you could do anything you liked
with her, except kill her."
"And supposing she is not willing?"
"That never happens, but if it did you could have beaten her."
"Well, if she is satisfied and I enjoy her, can I still continue to
"You will be her master, I tell you, and can have her arrested if she
attempts to escape, unless she can return the hundred roubles you
gave for her."
"What must I give her per month?"
"Nothing, except enough to eat and drink. You must also let her go
to the baths on Saturday and to the church on Sunday."
"Can I make her come with me when I leave St. Petersburg?"
"No, unless you obtain permission and find a surety, for though the
girl would be your slave she would still be a slave to the empress."
"Very good; then will you arrange this matter for me? I will give
the hundred roubles, and I promise you I will not treat her as a
slave. But I hope you will care for my interests, as I do not wish
to be duped."
"I promise you you shall not be duped; I will see to everything.
Would you like her now?"
"Very good; then to-morrow it shall be."
We returned to St. Petersburg in a phaeton, and the next day at nine
o'clock I called on Zinowieff, who said he was delighted to do me
this small service. On the way he said that if I liked he could get
me a perfect seraglio of pretty girls in a few days.
"No," said I, "one is enough." And I gave him the hundred roubles.
We arrived at the cottage, where we found the father, mother, and
daughter. Zinowieff explained his business crudely enough, after the
custom of the country, and the father thanked St. Nicholas for the
good luck he had sent him. He spoke to his daughter, who looked at
me and softly uttered the necessary yes.
Zinowieff then told me that I ought to ascertain that matters were
intact, as I was going to pay for a virgin. I was afraid of
offending her, and would have nothing to do with it; but Zinowieff
said the girl would be mortified if I did not examine her, and that
she would be delighted if I place her in a position to prove before
her father and mother that her conduct had always been virtuous. I
therefore made the examination as modestly as I could, and I found
her to be intact. To tell the truth, I should not have said anything
if things had been otherwise.
Zinowieff then gave the hundred roubles to the father, who handed
them to his daughter, and she only took them to return them to her
mother. My servant and coachman were then called in to witness as
arrangement of which they knew nothing.
I called her Zaira, and she got into the carriage and returned with
me to St. Petersburg in her coarse clothes, without a chemise of any
kind. After I had dropped Zinowieff at his lodging I went home, and
for four days I was engaged in collecting and arranging my slave's
toilet, not resting till I had dressed her modestly in the French
style. In less than three months she had learnt enough Italian to
tell me what she wanted and to understand me. She soon loved me, and
afterwards she got jealous. But we shall hear more of her in the
Crevecoeur--Bomback--Journey to Moscow--My Adventures At
The day on which I took Zaira I sent Lambert away, for I did not know
what to do with him. He got drunk every day, and when in his cups he
was unbearable. Nobody would have anything to say to him except as a
common soldier, and that is not an enviable position in Russia. I
got him a passport for Berlin, and gave him enough money for the
journey. I heard afterwards that he entered the Austrian service.
In May, Zaira had become so beautiful that when I went to Moscow I
dared not leave her behind me, so I took her in place of a servant.
It was delicious to me to hear her chattering in the Venetian dialect
I had taught her. On a Saturday I would go with her to the bath
where thirty of forty naked men and women were bathing together
without the slightest constraint. This absence of shame must arise,
I should imagine, from native innocence; but I wondered that none
looked at Zaira, who seemed to me the original of the statue of
Psyche I had seen at the Villa Borghese at Rome. She was only
fourteen, so her breast was not yet developed, and she bore about her
few traces of puberty. Her skin was as white as snow, and her ebony
tresses covered the whole of her body, save in a few places where the
dazzling whiteness of her skin shone through. Her eyebrows were
perfectly shaped, and her eyes, though they might have been larger,
could not have been more brilliant or more expressive. If it had not
been for her furious jealousy and her blind confidence in fortune-
telling by cards, which she consulted every day, Zaira would have
been a paragon among women, and I should never have left her.
A young and distinguished-looking Frenchman came to St. Petersburg
with a young Parisian named La Riviere, who was tolerably pretty but
quite devoid of education, unless it were that education common to
all the girls who sell their charms in Paris. This young man came to
me with a letter from Prince Charles of Courland, who said that if I
could do anything for the young couple he would be grateful to me.
They arrived just as I was breakfasting with Zaira.
"You must tell me," said I to the young Frenchman, "in what way I can
be of use to you."
"By admitting us to your company, and introducing us to your
"Well, I am a stranger here, and I will come and see you, and you can
come and see me, and I shall be delighted; but I never dine at home.
As to my friends, you must feel that, being a stranger, I could not
introduce you and the lady. Is she your wife? People will ask me
who you are, and what you are doing at St. Petersburg. What am I to
say? I wonder Prince Charles did not send you to someone else."
"I am a gentleman of Lorraine, and Madame la Riviere is my mistress,
and my object in coming to St. Petersburg is to amuse myself."
"Then I don't know to whom I could introduce you under the
circumstances; but I should think you will be able to find plenty of
amusement without knowing anyone. The theatres, the streets, and
even the Court entertainments, are open to everyone. I suppose you
have plenty of money?"
"That's exactly what I haven't got, and I don't expect any either."
"Well, I have not much more, but you really astonish me. How could
you have been so foolish as to come here without money?"
"Well, my mistress said we could do with what money we got from day
to day. She induced me to leave Paris without a farthing, and up to
now it seems to me that she is right. We have managed to get on
"Then she has the purse?"
"My purse," said she, "is in the pockets of my friends."
"I understand, and I am sure you have no difficulty in finding the
wherewithal to live. If I had such a purse, it should be opened for
you, but I am not a rich man."
Bomback, a citizen of Hamburg, whom I had known in England whence he
had fled on account of his debts, had come to St. Petersburg and
entered the army. He was the son of a rich merchant and kept up a
house, a carriage, and an army of servants; he was a lover of good
cheer, women, and gambling, and contracted debts everywhere. He was
an ugly man, but full of wit and energy. He happened to call on me
just as I was addressing the strange traveller whose purse was in the
pocket of her friends. I introduced the couple to him, telling the
whole story, the item of the purse excepted. The adventure was just
to Bomback's taste, and he began making advances to Madame la
Riviere, who received them in a thoroughly professional spirit, and I
was inwardly amused and felt that her axiom was a true one. Bomback
asked them to dine with him the next day, and begged them to come and
take an unceremonious dinner the same day with him at Crasnacaback.
I was included in the invitation, and Zaira, not understanding
French, asked me what we were talking about, and on my telling her
expressed a desire to accompany me. I gave in to appease her, for I
knew the wish proceeded from jealousy, and that if I did not consent
I should be tormented by tears, ill-humour, reproaches, melancholy,
etc. This had occurred several times before, and so violent had she
been that I had been compelled to conform to the custom of the
country and beat her. Strange to say, I could not have taken a
better way to prove my love. Such is the character of the Russian
women. After the blows had been given, by slow degrees she became
affectionate again, and a love encounter sealed the reconciliation.
Bomback left us to make his preparations in high spirits, and while
Zaira was dressing, Madame Riviere talked in such a manner as to make
me almost think that I was absolutely deficient in knowledge of the
world. The astonishing thing was that her lover did not seem in the
least ashamed of the part he had to play. He might say that he was
in love with the Messalina, but the ex. cuse would not have been
The party was a merry one. Bomback talked to the adventuress, Zaira
sat on my knee, and Crevecoeur ate and drank, laughed in season and
out of season, and walked up and down. The crafty Madame Riviere
incited Bomback to risk twenty-five roubles at quinze; he lost and
paid pleasantly, and only got a kiss for his money. Zaira, who was
delighted to be able to watch over me and my fidelity, jested
pleasantly on the Frenchwoman and the complaisance of her lover.
This was altogether beyond her comprehension, and she could not
understand how he could bear such deeds as were done before his face.
The next day I went to Bomback by myself, as I was sure of meeting
young Russian officers, who would have annoyed me by making love to
Zaira in their own language. I found the two travellers and the
brothers Lunin, then lieutenants but now generals. The younger of
them was as fair and pretty as any girl. He had been the beloved of
the minister Teploff, and, like a lad of wit, he not only was not
ashamed but openly boasted that it was his custom to secure the good-
will of all men by his caresses.
He had imagined the rich citizen of Hamburg to be of the same tastes
as Teploff, and he had not been mistaken; and so he degraded me by
forming the same supposition. With this idea he seated himself next
to me at table, and behaved himself in such a manner during dinner
that I began to believe him to be a girl in man's clothes.
After dinner, as I was sitting at the fire, between him and the
Frenchman, I imparted my suspicions to him; but jealous of the
superiority of his sex, he displayed proof of it on the spot, and
forthwith got hold of me and put himself in a position to make my
happiness and his own as he called it. I confess, to my shame, that
he might perhaps have succeeded, if Madame la Riviere, indignant at
this encroachment of her peculiar province, had not made him desist.
Lunin the elder, Crevecceur, and Bomback, who had been for a walk,
returned at nightfall with two or three friends, and easily consoled
the Frenchman for the poor entertainment the younger Lunin and myself
had given him.
Bomback held a bank at faro, which only came to an end at eleven,
when the money was all gone. We then supped, and the real orgy
began, in which la Riviere bore the brunt in a manner that was simply
astonishing. I and my friend Lunin were merely spectators, and poor
Crevecoeur had gone to bed. We did not separate till day-break.
I got home, and, fortunately for myself, escaped the bottle which
Zaira flung at my head, and which would infallibly have killed me if
it had hit me. She threw herself on to the ground, and began to
strike it with her forehead. I thought she had gone mad, and
wondered whether I had better call for assistance; but she became
quiet enough to call me assassin and traitor, with all the other
abusive epithets that she could remember. To convict me of my crime
she shewed me twenty-five cards, placed in order, and on them she
displayed the various enormities of which I had been guilty.
I let her go on till her rage was somewhat exhausted, and then,
having thrown her divining apparatus into the fire, I looked at her
in pity and anger, and said that we must part the next day, as she
had narrowly escaped killing me. I confessed that I had been with
Bomback, and that there had been a girl in the house; but I denied
all the other sins of which she accused me. I then went to sleep
without taking the slightest notice of her, in spite of all she said
and did to prove her repentance.
I woke after a few hours to find her sleeping soundly, and I began to
consider how I could best rid myself of the girl, who would probably
kill me if we continued living together. Whilst I was absorbed in
these thoughts she awoke, and falling at my feet wept and professed
her utter repentance, and promised never to touch another card as
long as I kept her.
At last I could resist her entreaties no longer, so I took her in my
arms and forgave her; and we did not part till she had received
undeniable proofs of the return of my affection. I intended to start
for Moscow in three days, and she was delighted when she heard she
was to go.
Three circumstances had won me this young girl's furious affection.
In the first place I often took her to see her family, with whom I
always left a rouble; in the second I made her eat with me; and in
the third I had beaten her three or four times when she had tried to
prevent me going out.
In Russia beating is a matter of necessity, for words have no force
whatever. A servant, mistress, or courtezan understands nothing but
the lash. Words are altogether thrown away, but a few good strokes
are entirely efficacious. The servant, whose soul is still more
enslaved than his body, reasons somewhat as follows, after he has had
"My master has not sent me away, but beaten me; therefore he loves
me, and I ought to be attached to him."
It is the same with the Russian soldier, and in fact with everybody.
Honour stands for nothing, but with the knout and brandy one can get
anything from them except heroical enthusiasm.
Papanelopulo laughed at me when I said that as I liked my Cossack I
should endeavour to correct him with words only when he took too much
"If you do not beat him," he said, "he will end by beating you;" and
he spoke the truth.
One day, when he was so drunk as to be unable to attend on me, I
began to scold him, and threatened him with the stick if he did not
mend his ways. As soon as he saw my cane lifted, he ran at me and
got hold of it; and if I had not knocked him down immediately, he
would doubtless have beaten me. I dismissed him on the spot. There
is not a better servant in the world than a Russian. He works
without ceasing, sleeps in front of the door of his master's bedroom
to be always ready to fulfil his orders, never answering his
reproaches, incapable of theft. But after drinking a little too much
brandy he becomes a perfect monster; and drunkenness is the vice of
the whole nation.
A coachman knows no other way of resisting the bitter cold to which
he is exposed, than by drinking rye brandy. It sometimes happens
that he drinks till he falls asleep, and then there is no awaking for
him in this world. Unless one is very careful, it is easy to lose an
ear, the nose, a cheek, or a lip by frost bites. One day as I was
walking out on a bitterly cold day, a Russian noticed that one of my
ears was frozen. He ran up to me and rubbed the affected part with a
handful of snow till the circulation was restored. I asked him how
he had noticed my state, and he said he had remarked the livid
whiteness of my ear, and this, he said, was always a sign that the
frost had taken it. What surprised me most of all is that sometimes
the part grows again after it has dropped off. Prince Charles of
Courland assured me that he had cost his nose in Siberia, and that it
had grown again the next summer. I have been assured of the truth of
this by several Russians.
About this time the empress made the architect Rinaldi, who had been
fifty years in St. Petersburg, build her an enormous wooden
amphitheatre so large as to cover the whole of the space in front of
the palace. It would contain a hundred thousand spectators, and in
it Catherine intended to give a vast tournament to all the knights of
her empire. There were to be four parties of a hundred knights each,
and all the cavaliers were to be clad in the national costume of the
nations they represented. All the Russians were informed of this
great festival, which was to be given at the expense of the
sovereign, and the princes, counts, and barons were already arriving
with their chargers from the most remote parts of the empire. Prince
Charles of Courland wrote informing me of his intention to be
It had been ordained, that the tournament should take place on the
first fine day, and this precaution was a very wise one; for,
excepting in the season of the hard frosts, a day without rain, or
snow, or wind, is a marvel. In Italy, Spain, and France, one can
reckon on fine weather, and bad weather is the exception, but it is
quite the contrary in Russia. Ever since I have known this home of
frost and the cold north wind, I laugh when I hear travelling
Russians talking of the fine climate of their native country.
However, it is a pardonable weakness, most of us prefer "mine" to
"thine;" nobles affect to consider themselves of purer blood than the
peasants from whom they sprang, and the Romans and other ancient
nations pretended that they were the children of the gods, to draw a
veil over their actual ancestors who were doubtless robbers. The
truth is, that during the whole year 1756 there was not one fine day
in Russia, or in Ingria at all events, and the mere proofs of this
statement may be found in the fact that the tournament was not held
in that year. It was postponed till the next, and the princes,
counts, barons, and knights spent the winter in the capital, unless
their purses forbade them to indulge in the luxuries of Court life.
The dear Prince of Courland was in this case, to my great
Having made all arrangements for my journey to Moscow, I got into my
sleeping carriage with Zaira, having a servant behind who could speak
both Russian and German. For twenty-four roubles the chevochic
(hirer out of horses) engaged to carry me to Moscow in six days and
seven nights with six horses. This struck me as being extremely
cheap. The distance is seventy-two Russian stages, almost equivalent
to five hundred Italian miles, or a hundred and sixty French leagues.
We set out just as a cannon shot from the citadel announced the close
of day. It was towards the end of May, in which month there is
literally no night at St. Petersburg. Without the report of the
cannon no one would be able to tell when the day ended and the night
began. One can read a letter at midnight, and the moonlight makes no
appreciable difference. This continual day lasts for eight weeks,
and during that time no one lights a candle. At Moscow it is
different; a candle is always necessary at midnight if one wished to
We reached Novgorod in forty-eight hours, and here the chevochic
allowed us a rest of five hours. I saw a circumstance there which
surprised me very much, though one has no business to be surprised at
anything if one travels much, and especially in a land of half
savages. I asked the chevochic to drink, but he appeared to be in
great melancholy. I enquired what was the matter, and he told Zaira
that one of his horses had refused to eat, and that it was clear that
if he could not eat he could not work. We followed him into the
stable, and found the horse looking oppressed by care, its head
lowered and motionless; it had evidently got no appetite. His master
began a pathetic oration, looking tenderly at the animal, as if to
arouse it to a sense of duty, and then taking its head, and kissing
it lovingly, he put it into the manger, but to no purpose. Then the
man began to weep bitterly, but in such a way that I had the greatest
difficulty to prevent myself laughing, for I could see that he wept
in the hope that his tears might soften the brute's heart. When he
had wept some time he again put the horse's head into the manger, but
again to no purpose. At this he got furious and swore to be avenged.
He led the horse out of the stable, tied it to a post, and beat it
with a thick stick for a quarter of an hour so violently that my
heart bled for the poor animal. At last the chevochic was tired out,
and taking the horse back to the stable he fastened up his head once
more, and to my astonishment it began to devour its provender with
the greatest appetite. At this the master jumped for joy, laughed,
sang, and committed a thousand extravagancies, as if to shew the
horse how happy it had made him. I was beside myself with
astonishment, and concluded that such treatment would have succeeded
nowhere but in Russia, where the stick seems to be the panacea or
They tell me, however, that the stick is gradually going out of
fashion. Peter the Great used to beat his generals black and blue,
and in his days a lieutenant had to receive with all submission the
cuffs of his captain, who bent before the blows of his major, who did
the same to his colonel, who received chastisement from his general.
So I was informed by old General Woyakoff, who was a pupil of Peter
the Great, and had often been beaten by the great emperor, the
founder of St. Petersburg.
It seems to me that I have scarcely said anything about this great
and famous capital, which in my opinion is built on somewhat
precarious foundations. No one but Peter could have thus given the
lie to Nature by building his immense palaces of marble and granite
on mud and shifting sand. They tell me that the town is now in its
manhood, to the honour of the great Catherine; but in the year 1765
it was still in its minority, and seemed to me only to have been
built with the childish aim of seeing it fall into ruins. Streets
were built with the certainty of having to repair them in six months'
time. The whole place proclaimed itself to be the whim of a despot.
If it is to be durable constant care will be required, for nature
never gives up its rights and reasserts them when the constraint of
man is withdrawn. My theory is that sooner or later the soil must
give way and drag the vast city with it.
We reached Moscow in the time the chevochic had promised. As the
same horses were used for the whole journey, it would have been
impossible to travel mote quickly. A Russian told me that the
Empress Elizabeth had done the journey in fifty-two hours.
"You mean that she issued a ukase to the effect that she had done
it," said a Russian of the old school; "and if she had liked she
could have travelled more quickly still; it was only a question of
the wording of the ukase."
Even when I was in Russia it was not allowable to doubt the
infallibility of a ukase, and to do so was, equivalent to high
treason. One day I was crossing a canal at St. Petersburg by a small
wooden bridge; Melissino Papanelopulo, and some other Russians were
with me. I began to abuse the wooden bridge, which I characterized
as both mean and dangerous. One of my companions said that on such a
day it would be replaced by a fine stone bridge, as the empress had
to pass there on some state occasion. The day named way three weeks
off, and I said plainly that it was impossible. One of the Russians
looked askance at me, and said there was no doubt about it, as a
ukase had been published ordering that the bridge should be built. I
was going to answer him, but Papanelopulo gave my hand a squeeze, and
whispered "Taci!" (hush).
The bridge was not built, but I was not justified, for the empress
published another ukase in which she declared it to be her gracious
pleasure that the bridge should not be built till the following year.
If anyone would see what a pure despotism is like, let him go to
The Russian sovereigns use the language of despotism on all
occasions. One day I saw the empress, dressed in man's clothes,
going out for a ride. Her master of the horse, Prince Repnin, held
the bridle of the horse, which suddenly gave him a kick which broke
his anklebone. The empress instantly ordained that the horse should
be taken away, and that no one should mount it again under pain of
death. All official positions in Russia have military rank assigned
to them, and this sufficiently indicates the nature of the
Government. The coachman-in-chief of her imperial highness holds the
rank of colonel, as also does her chief cook. The castrato Luini was
a lieutenant-colonel, and the painter Toretti only a captain, because
he had only eight hundred roubles a year, while the coachman had
three thousand. The sentinels at the doors of the palace have their
muskets crossed, and ask those who wish to pass through what is their
rank. When I was asked this question, I stopped short; but the
quick-witted officer asked me how much I had a year, and on my
replying, at a hazard, three thousand roubles, he gave me the rank of
general, and I was allowed to pass. I saw the czarina for a moment;
she stopped at the door and took off her gloves to give her hands to
be kissed by the officer and the two sentinels. By such means as
this she had won the affection of the corps, commanded by Gregorius
Gregorovitch Orloff, on which her safety depended in case of
I made the following notes when I saw the empress hearing mass in her
chapel. The protopapa, or bishop, received her at the door to give
her the holy water, and she kissed his episcopal ring, while the
prelate, whose beard was a couple of feet in length, lowered his head
to kiss the hands of his temporal sovereign and spiritual head, for
in Russia the he or she on the throne is the spiritual as well as
temporal head of the Church.
She did not evidence the least devotion during mass; hypocrisy did
not seem to be one of her vices. Now she smiled at one of her suite,
now at another, and occasionally she addressed the favourite, not
because she had anything to say to him, but to make him an object of
envy to the others.
One evening, as she was leaving the theatre where Metastasio's
Olympiade had been performed, I heard her say,--
"The music of that opera has given the greatest pleasure to everyone,
so of course I am delighted with it; but it wearies me, nevertheless.
Music is a fine thing, but I cannot understand how anyone who is
seriously occupied can love it passionately. I will have Buranello
here, and I wonder whether he will interest me in music, but I am
afraid nature did not constitute me to feel all its charms."
She always argued in that way. In due time I will set down her words
to me when I returned from Moscow. When I arrived at that city I got
down at a good inn, where they gave me two rooms and a coach-house
for my carriage. After dinner I hired a small carriage and a guide
who could speak French. My carriage was drawn by four horses, for
Moscow is a vast city composed of four distinct towns, and many of
the streets are rough and ill-paved. I had five or six letters of
introduction, and I determined to take them all. I took Zaira with
me, as she was as curious to see everything as a girl of fourteen
naturally is. I do not remember what feast the Greek Church was
keeping on that day, but I shall never forget the terrific bell-
ringing with which my ears were assailed, for there are churches
every where. The country people were engaged in sowing their grain,
to reap it in September. They laughed at our Southern custom of
sowing eight months earlier, as unnecessary and even prejudicial to
the crops, but I do not know where the right lies. Perhaps we may
both be right, for there is no master to compare with experience.
I took all the introductions I had received from Narischkin, Prince
Repnin, the worthy Pananelopulo, and Melissino's brother. The next
morning the whole of the persons at whose houses I had left letters
called on me. They all asked Zaira and myself to dinner, and I
accepted the invitation of the first comer, M. Dinidoff, and promised
to dine with the rest on the following days, Zaira, who had been
tutored by me to some extent, was delighted to shew me that she was
worthy of the position she occupied. She was exquisitely dressed,
and won golden opinions everywhere, for our hosts did not care to
enquire whether she were my daughter, my mistress, or my servant, for
in this matter, as in many others, the Russians are excessively
indulgent. Those who have not seen Moscow have not seen Russia, for
the people of St, Petersburg are not really Russians at all. Their
court manners are very different from their manners 'au naturel', and
it may be said with truth that the true Russian is as a stranger in
St. Petersburg. The citizens of, Moscow, and especially the rich
ones, speak with pity of those, who for one reason or another, had
expatriated themselves; and with them to expatriate one's self is to
leave Moscow, which they consider as their native land. They look on
St. Petersburg with an envious eve, and call it the ruin of Russia.
I do not know whether this is a just view to take of the case, I
merely repeat what I have heard.
In the course of a week I saw all the sights of Moscow--the
manufacturers, the churches, the remains of the old days, the
museums, the libraries, (of no interest to my mind), not forgetting
the famous bell. I noticed that their bells are not allowed to swing
like ours, but are motionless, being rung by a rope attached to the
I thought the Moscow women more handsome than those of St.
Petersburg, and I attribute this to the great superiority of the air.
They are gentle and accessible by nature; and to obtain the favour of
a kiss on the lips, one need only make a show of kissing their hands.
There was good fare in plenty, but no delicacy in its composition or
arrangement. Their table is always open to friends and
acquaintances, and a friend may bring to five or six persons to
dinner, and even at the end of the meals you will never hear a
Russian say, "We have had dinner; you have come too late." Their
souls are not black enough for them to pronounce such words as this.
Notice is given to the cook, and the dinner begins over again. They
have a delicious drink, the name of which I do not remember; but it
is much superior to the sherbet of Constantinople. The numerous
servants are not given water, but a light, nourishing, and agreeable
fluid, which may be purchased very cheaply. They all hold St.
Nicholas in the greatest reverence, only praying to God through the
mediation of this saint, whose picture is always suspended in the
principal room of the house. A person coming in makes first a bow to
the image and then a bow to the master, and if perchance the image is
absent, the Russian, after gazing all round, stands confused and
motionless, not knowing what to do. As a general rule the Muscovites
are the most superstitious Christians in the world. Their liturgy is
in Greek, of which the people understand nothing, and the clergy,
themselves extremely ignorant, gladly leave them completely in the
dark on all matters connected with religion. I could never make them
understand that the only reason for the Roman Christians making the
sign of the Cross from left to right, while the Greeks make it from
right to left, is that we say 'spiritus sancti', while they say
"If you said pneuma agion," I used to say, "then you would cross
yourself like us, and if we said sancti spiritus we should cross
ourselves like you."
"The adjective," replied my interlocutor, "should always precede the
substantive, for we should never utter the name of God without first
giving Him some honourable epithet."
Such are nearly all the differences which divide the two churches,
without reckoning the numerous idle tales which they have as well as
ourselves, and which are by no means the least cherished articles of
We returned to St. Petersburg by the way we had come, but Zaira would
have liked me never to leave Moscow. She had become so much in love
with me by force of constant association that I could not think
without a pang of the moment of separation. The day after our
arrival in the capital I took her to her home, where she shewed her
father all the little presents I had given her, and told him of the
honour she had received as my daughter, which made the good man laugh
The first piece of news I heard was that a ukase had been issued,
ordering the erection of a temple dedicated to God in the Moscoi
opposite to the house where I resided. The empress had entrusted
Rinaldi, the architect, with the erection. He asked her what emblem
he should put above the portal, and she replied,--
"No emblem at all, only the name of God in large letters."
"I will put a triangle."
"No triangle at all; but only the name of God in whatever language
you like, and nothing more."
The second piece of news was that Bomback had fled and had been
captured at Mitau, where he believed himself in safety. M. de
Simolia had arrested him. It was a grave case, for he had deserted;
however, he was given his life, and sent into barracks at
Kamstchatka. Crevecoeur and his mistress had departed, carrying some
money with them, and a Florentine adventurer named Billotti had fled
with eighteen thousand roubles belonging to Papanelopulo, but a
certain Bori, the worthy Greek's factotum, had caught him at Mitau
and brought him back to St. Petersburg, where he was now in prison.
Prince Charles of Courland arrived about this time, and I hastened to
call upon him as soon as he advised me of his coming. He was lodging
in a house belonging to Count Dimidoff, who owned large iron mines,
and had made the whole house of iron, from attic to basement. The
prince had brought his mistress with him, but she was still in an
ill-humour, and he was beginning to get heartily sick of her. The
man was to be pitied, for he could not get rid of her without finding
her a husband, and this husband became more difficult to find every
day. When the prince saw how happy I was with my Zaira, he could not
help thinking how easily happiness may be won; but the fatal desire
for luxury and empty show spoils all, and renders the very sweets of
life as bitter as gall.
I was indeed considered happy, and I liked to appear so, but in my
heart I was wretched. Ever since my imprisonment under The Leads, I
had been subject to haemorrhoids, which came on three or four times a
year. At St. Petersburg I had a serious attack, and the daily pain
and anxiety embittered my existence. A vegetarian doctor called
Senapios, for whom I had sent, gave me the sad news that I had a
blind or incomplete fistula in the rectum, and according to him
nothing but the cruel pistoury would give me any relief, and indeed
he said I had no time to lose. I had to agree, in spite of my
dislike to the operation; but fortunately the clever surgeon whom the
doctor summoned pronounced that if I would have patience nature
itself would give me relief. I had much to endure, especially from
the severe dieting to which I was subjected, but which doubtless did
Colonel Melissino asked me to be present at a review which was to
take place at three versts from St. Petersburg, and was to be
succeeded by a dinner to twenty-four guests, given by General Orloff.
I went with the prince, and saw a cannon fired twenty times in a
minute, testing the performance with my watch.
My neighbour at dinner was the French ambassador. Wishing to drink
deeply, after the Russian fashion, and thinking the Hungarian wine as
innocent as champagne, he drank so bravely that at the end of dinner
he had lost the use of his legs. Count Orloff made him drink still
more, and then he fell asleep and was laid on a bed.
The gaiety of the meal gave me some idea of Russian wit. I did not
understand the language, so M. Zinowieff translated the curious
sallies to me while the applause they had raised was still
Melissino rose to his feet, holding a large goblet full of Hungarian
wine in his hand. There was a general silence to listen to him. He
drank the health of General Orloff in these words:
"May you die when you become rich."
The applause was general, for the allusion was to the unbounded
generosity of Orloff. The general's reply struck me as better still,
but it was equally rugged in character. He, too, took a full cup,
and turning to Melissino, said,
"May you never die till I slay you!"
The applause was furious, for he was their host and their general.
The Russian wit is of the energetic kind, devoid of grace; all they
care about is directness and vigour.
Voltaire had just sent the empress his "Philosophy of History," which
he had written for her and dedicated to her. A month after, an
edition of three thousand copies came by sea, and was sold out in a
week, for all the Russians who knew a little French were eager to
possess a copy of the work. The leaders of the Voltaireans were two
noblemen, named, respectively, Stroganoff and Schuvaloff. I have
seen verses written by the former of these as good as Voltaire's own
verses, and twenty years later I saw an ode by the latter of which
Voltaire would not have been ashamed, but the subject was ill chosen;
for it treated of the death of the great philosopher who had so
studiously avoided using his pen on melancholy themes. In those days
all Russians with any pretensions to literature read nothing but
Voltaire, and when they had read all his writings they thought
themselves as wise as their master. To me they seemed pigmies
mimicking a giant. I told them that they ought to read all the books
from which Voltaire had drawn his immense learning, and then,
perhaps, they might become as wise as he. I remember the saying of a
wise man at Rome: "Beware of the man of one book." I wonder whether
the Russians are more profound now; but that is a question I cannot
answer. At Dresden I knew Prince Biloselski, who was on his way back
to Russia after having been ambassador at Turin. He was the author
of an admirable world on metaphysics, and the analysis of the soul
Count Panin was the tutor of Paul Petrovitch, heir-presumptive to the
throne. The young prince had a severe master, and dared not even
applaud an air at the opera unless he first received permission to do
so from his mentor.
When a courier brought the news of the sudden death of Francis I.,
Emperor of Germany and of the Holy Roman Empire, the czarina being at
Czarsko-Zelo, the count minister-tutor was in the palace with his
pupil, then eleven years old. The courier came at noon, and gave the
dispatch into the hands of the minister, who was standing in the
midst of a crowd of courtiers of whom I was one. The prince imperial
was at his right hand. The minister read the dispatch in a low
voice, and then said:
"This is news indeed. The Emperor of the Romans has died suddenly."
He then turned to Paul, and said to him,--
"Full court mourning, which your highness will observe for three
months longer than the empress."
"Why so?" said Paul.
"Because, as Duke of Holstein, your highness has a right to attend
the diet of the empire, a privilege," he added, turning to us, "which
Peter the Great desired in vain."
I noted the attention with which the Grand Duke Paul listened to his
mentor, and the care with which he concealed his joy at the news. I
was immensely pleased with this way of giving instruction. I said as
much to Prince Lobkowitz, who was standing by me, and he refined on
my praises. This prince was popular with everyone. He was even
preferred to his predecessor, Prince Esterhazy; and this was saying a
great deal, for Esterhazy was adored in Russia. The gay and affable
manner of Prince Lobkowitz made him the life and soul of all the
parties at which he was present. He was a constant courtier of the
Countess Braun, the reigning beauty, and everyone believed his love
had been crowned with success, though no one could assert as much
There was a great review held at a distance of twelve or fourteen
versts from St. Petersburg, at which the empress and all her train of
courtiers were present. The houses of the two or three adjoining
villages were so few and small that it would be impossible for all
the company to find a lodging. Nevertheless I wished to be present
chiefly to please Zaira, who wanted to be seen with me on such an
occasion. The review was to last three days; there were to be
fireworks, and a mine was to be exploded besides the evolutions of
the troops. I went in my travelling carriage, which would serve me
for a lodging if I could get nothing better.
We arrived at the appointed place at eight o'clock in the morning;
the evolutions lasted till noon. When they were over we went towards
a tavern and had our meal served to us in the carriage, as all the
rooms in the inn were full.
After dinner my coachman tried in vain to find me a lodging, so I
disposed myself to sleep all night in the carriage; and so I did for
the whole time of the review, and fared better than those who had
spent so much money to be ill lodged. Melissino told me that the
empress thought my idea a very sensible one. As I was the only
person who had a sleeping carriage, which was quite a portable house
in itself, I had numerous visitors, and Zaira was radiant to be able
to do the honours.
I had a good deal of conversation during the review with Count Tott,
brother of the nobleman who was employed at Constantinople, and known
as Baron Tott. We had known each other at Paris, and afterwards at
the Hague, where I had the pleasure of being of service to him. He
had come to St. Petersburg with Madame de Soltikoff, whom he had met
at Paris, and whose lover he was. He lived with her, went to Court,
and was well received by everyone.
Two or three years after, the empress ordered him to leave St.
Petersburg on account of the troubles in Poland. It was said that he
kept up a correspondence with his brother, who was endeavouring to
intercept the fleet under the command of Alexis Orloff. I never
heard what became of him after he left Russia, where he obliged me
with the loan of five hundred roubles, which I have not yet been able
to return to him.
M. Maruzzi, by calling a Venetian merchant, and by birth a Greek,
having left trade to live like a gentleman, came to St. Petersburg
when I was there, and was presented at Court. He was a fine-looking
man, and was admitted to all the great houses. The empress treated
him with distinction because she had thoughts of making him her agent
at Venice. He paid his court to the Countess Braun, but he had
rivals there who were not afraid of him. He was rich enough, but did
not know how to spend his money; and avarice is a sin which meets
with no pity from the Russian ladies.
I went to Czarsko-Zelo, Peterhoff, and Cronstadt, for if you want to
say you have been in a country you should see as much as possible of
it. I wrote notes and memorandums on several questions with the hope
of their procuring me a place in the civil service, and all my
productions were laid before the empress but with no effect. In
Russia they do not think much of foreigners unless they have
specially summoned them; those who come of their own account rarely
make much, and I suspect the Russians are right.
I See the Empress--My Conversations with Her--The Valville--I Leave
Zaiya I Leave St. Petersburg and Arrive at Warsaw--The Princes Adam
Czartoryski and Sulkowski--The King of Poland--Theatrical Intrigues
I thought of leaving Russia at the beginning of the autumn, but I was
told by M M. Panin and Alsuwieff that I ought not to go without
having spoken to the empress.
"I should be sorry to do so," I replied, "but as I can't find anyone
to present me to her, I must be resigned."
At last Panin told me to walk in a garden frequented by her majesty
at an early hour, and he said that meeting me, as it were by chance,
she would probably speak to me. I told him I should like him to be
with her, and he accordingly named a day.
I repaired to the garden, and as I walked about I marvelled at the
statuary it contained, all the statues being made of the worst stone,
and executed in the worst possible taste. The names cut beneath them
gave the whole the air of a practical joke. A weeping statue was
Democritus; another, with grinning mouth, was labelled Heraclitus; an
old man with a long beard was Sappho; and an old woman, Avicenna; and
As I was smiling at this extraordinary collection, I saw the czarina,
preceded by Count Gregorius Orloff, and followed by two ladies,
approaching. Count Panin was on her left hand. I stood by the hedge
to let her pass, but as soon as she came up to me she asked,
smilingly, if I had been interested in the statues. I replied,
following her steps, that I presumed they had been placed there to
impose on fools, or to excite the laughter of those acquainted with
"From what I can make out," she replied, "the secret of the matter is
that my worthy aunt was imposed on, and indeed she did not trouble
herself much about such trifles. But I hope you have seen other
things in Russia less ridiculous than these statues?"
I entertained the sovereign for more than an hour with my remarks on
the things of note I had seen in St. Petersburg. The conversation
happened to turn on the King of Prussia, and I sang his praises; but
I censured his terrible habit of always interrupting the person whom
he was addressing. Catherine smiled and asked me to tell her about
the conversation I had had with this monarch, and I did so to the
best of my ability. She was then kind enough to say that she had
never seen me at the Courtag, which was a vocal and instrumental
concert given at the palace, and open to all. I told her that I had
only attended once, as I was so unfortunate as not to have a taste
for music. At this she turned to Panin, and said smilingly that she
knew someone else who had the same misfortune. If the reader
remembers what I heard her say about music as she was leaving the
opera, he will pronounce my speech to have been a very courtier-like
one, and I confess it was; but who can resist making such speeches to
a monarch, and above all, a monarch in petticoats?
The czarina turned from me to speak to M. Bezkoi, who had just come
up, and as M. Panin left the garden I did so too, delighted with the
honour I had had.
The empress, who was a woman of moderate height and yet of a majestic
appearance, thoroughly understood the art of making herself loved.
She was not beautiful, but yet she was sure of pleasing by her
geniality and her wit, and also by that exquisite tact which made one
forget the awfulness of the sovereign in the gentleness of the woman.
A few days after, Count Partin told me that the empress had twice
asked after me, and that this was a sure sign I had pleased her. He
advised me to look out for another opportunity of meeting her, and
said that for the future she would always tell me to approach
whenever she saw me, and that if I wanted some employment she might
possible do something for me.
Though I did not know what employ I could ask for in that
disagreeable country, I was glad to hear that I could have easy
access to the Court. With that idea I walked in the garden every
day, and here follows my second conversation with the empress
She saw me at a distance and sent an officer to fetch me into her
presence. As everybody was talking of the tournament, which had to
be postponed on account of the bad weather, she asked me if this kind
of entertainment could be given at Venice. I told her some amusing
stories on the subject of shows and spectacles, and in this relation
I remarked that the Venetian climate was more pleasant than the
Russian, for at Venice fine days were the rule, while at St.
Petersburg they were the exception, though the year is younger there
than anywhere else.
"Yes," she said, "in your country it is eleven days older."
"Would it not be worthy of your majesty to put Russia on an equality
with the rest of the world in this respect, by adopting the Gregorian
calendar? All the Protestants have done so, and England, who adopted
it fourteen years ago, has already gained several millions. All
Europe is astonished that the old style should be suffered to exist
in a country where the sovereign is the head of the Church, and whose
capital contains an academy of science. It is thought that Peter the
Great, who made the year begin in January, would have also abolished
the old style if he had not been afraid of offending England, which
then kept trade and commerce alive throughout your vast empire."
"You know," she replied, with a sly smile, "that Peter the Great was
not exactly a learned man."
"He was more than a man of learning, the immortal Peter was a genius
of the first order. Instinct supplied the place of science with him;
his judgment was always in the right. His vast genius, his firm
resolve, prevented him from making mistakes, and helped him to
destroy all those abuses which threatened to oppose his great
Her majesty seemed to have heard me with great interest, and was
about to reply when she noticed two ladies whom she summoned to her
presence. To me she said,--
"I shall be delighted to reply to you at another time," and then
turned towards the ladies.
The time came in eight or ten days, when I was beginning to think she
had had enough of me, for she had seen me without summoning me to
speak to her.
She began by saying what I desired should be done was done already.
"All the letters sent to foreign countries and all the important
State records are marked with both dates."
"But I must point out to your majesty that by the end of the century
the difference will be of twelve days, not eleven."
"Not at all; we have seen to that. The last year of this century
will not be counted as a leap year. It is fortunate that the
difference is one of eleven days, for as that is the number which is
added every year to the epact our epacts are almost the same. As to
the celebration of Easter, that is a different question. Your
equinox is on March the 21st, ours on the 10th, and the astronomers
say we are both wrong; sometimes it is we who are wrong and sometimes
you, as the equinox varies. You know you are not even in agreement
with the Jews, whose calculation is said to be perfectly accurate;
and, in fine, this difference in the time of celebrating Easter does
not disturb in any way public order or the progress of the
"Your majesty's words fill me with admiration, but the Festival of
"I suppose you are going to say that we do not celebrate Christmas in
the winter solstice as should properly be done. We know it, but it
seems to me a matter of no account. I would rather bear with this
small mistake than grievously afflict vast numbers of my subjects by
depriving them of their birthdays. If I did so, there would be no
open complaints uttered, as that is not the fashion in Russia; but
they would say in secret that I was an Atheist, and that I disputed
the infallibility of the Council of Nice. You may think such
complaints matter for laughter, but I do not, for I have much more
agreeable motives for amusement."
The czarina was delighted to mark my surprise. I did not doubt for a
moment that she had made a special study of the whole subject.
M. Alsuwieff told me, a few days after, that she had very possibly
read a little pamphlet on the subject, the statements of which
exactly coincided with her own. He took care to add, however, that
it was very possible her highness was profoundly learned on the
matter, but this was merely a courtier's phrase.
What she said was spoken modestly and energetically, and her good
humour and pleasant smile remained unmoved throughout. She exercised
a constant self-control over herself, and herein appeared the
greatness of her character, for nothing is more difficult. Her
demeanour, so different from that of the Prussian king, shewed her to
be the greater sovereign of the two; her frank geniality always gave
her the advantage, while the short, curt manners of the king often
exposed him to being made a dupe. In an examination of the life of
Frederick the Great, one cannot help paying a deserved tribute to his
courage, but at the same time one feels that if it had not been for
repeated turns of good fortune he must have succumbed, whereas
Catherine was little indebted to the favours of the blind deity. She
succeeded in enterprises which, before her time, would have been
pronounced impossibilities, and it seemed her aim to make men look
upon her achievements as of small account.
I read in one of our modern journals, those monuments of editorial
self-conceit, that Catherine the Great died happily as she had lived.
Everybody knows that she died suddenly on her close stool. By
calling such a death happy, the journalist hints that it is the death
he himself would wish for. Everyone to his taste, and we can only
hope that the editor may obtain his wish; but who told this silly
fellow that Catherine desired such a death? If he regards such a
wish as natural to a person of her profound genius I would ask who
told him that men of genius consider a sudden death to be a happy
one? Is it because that is his opinion, and are we to conclude that
he is therefore person of genius? To come to the truth we should
have to interrogate the late empress, and ask her some such question
"Are you well pleased to have died suddenly?"
She would probably reply:
"What a foolish question! Such might be the wish of one driven to
despair, or of someone suffering from a long and grievous malady.
Such was not my position, for I enjoyed the blessings of happiness
and good health; no worse fate could have happened to me. My sudden
death prevented me from concluding several designs which I might have
brought to a successful issue if God had granted me the warning of a,
slight illness. But it was not so; I had to set out on the long
journey at a moment's notice, without the time to make any
preparations. Is my death any the happier from my not foreseeing it?
Do you think me such a coward as to dread the approach of what is
common to all? I tell you that I should have accounted myself happy
if I had had a respite of but a day. Then I should not complain of
the Divine justice."
"Does your highness accuse God of injustice, then?"
"What boots it, since I am a lost soul? Do you expect the damned to
acknowledge the justice of the decree which has consigned them to
"No doubt it is a difficult matter, but I should have thought that a
sense of the justice of your doom would have mitigated the pains of
"Perhaps so, but a damned soul must be without consolation for ever."
"In spite of that there are some philosophers who call you happy in
your death by virtue of its suddenness."
"Not philosophers, but fools, for in its suddenness was the pain and
"Well said; but may I ask your highness if you admit the possibility
of a happy eternity after an unhappy death, or of an unhappy doom
after a happy death?"
"Such suppositions are inconceivable. The happiness of futurity lies
in the ecstasy of the soul in feeling freed from the trammels of
matter, and unhappiness is the doom of a soul which was full of
remorse at the moment it left the body. But enough, for my
punishment forbids my farther speech."
"Tell me, at least, what is the nature of your punishment?"
"An everlasting weariness. Farewell."
After this long and fanciful digression the reader will no doubt be
obliged by my returning to this world.
Count Panin told me that in a few days the empress would leave for
her country house, and I determined to have an interview with her,
foreseeing that it would be for the last time.
I had been in the garden for a few minutes when heavy rain began to
fall, and I was going to leave, when the empress summoned me into an
apartment on the ground floor of the palace, where she was walking up
and down with Gregorovitch and a maid of honour.
"I had forgotten to ask you," she said, graciously, "if you believe
the new calculation of the calendar to be exempt from error?"
"No, your majesty; but the error is so minute that it will not
produce any sensible effect for the space of nine or ten thousand
"I thought so; and in my opinion Pope Gregory should not have
acknowledged any mistake at all. The Pope, however, had much less
difficulty in carrying out his reform than I should have with my
subjects, who are too fond of their ancient usages and customs."
"Nevertheless, I am sure your majesty would meet with obedience."
"No doubt, but imagine the grief of my clergy in not being able to
celebrate the numerous saints' days, which would fall on the eleven
days to be suppressed. You have only one saint for each day, but we
have a dozen at least. I may remark also that all ancient states and
kingdoms are attached to their ancient laws. I have heard that your
Republic of Venice begins the year in March, and that seems to me, as
it were, a monument and memorial of its antiquity--and indeed the
year begins more naturally in March than in January--but does not
this usage cause some confusion?"
"None at all, your majesty. The letters M V, which we adjoin to all
dates in January and February, render all mistakes impossible."
"Venice is also noteworthy for its peculiar system of heraldry, by
the amusing form under which it portrays its patron saint, and by the
five Latin words with which the Evangelist is invoked, in which, as I
am told, there is a grammatical blunder which has become respectable
by its long standing. But is it true that you do not distinguish
between the day and night hours?"
"It is, your majesty, and what is more we reckon the day from the
beginning of the night."
"Such is the force of custom, which makes us admire what other
nations think ridiculous. You see no inconvenience in your division
of the day, which strikes me as most inconvenient."
"You would only have to look at your watch, and you would not need to
listen for the cannon shot which announces the close of day."
"Yes, but for this one advantage you have over us, we have two over
you. We know that at twelve o'clock it is either mid-day or
The czarina spoke to me about the fondness of the Venetians for games
of chance, and asked if the Genoa Lottery had been established there.
"I have been asked," she added, "to allow the lottery to be
established in my own dominions; but I should never permit it except
on the condition that no stake should be below a rouble, and then the
poor people would not be able to risk their money in it."
I replied to this discreet observation with a profound inclination of
the head, and thus ended my last interview with the famous empress
who reigned thirty-five years without committing a single mistake of
any importance. The historian will always place her amongst great
sovereigns, though the moralist will always consider her, and
rightly, as one of the most notable of dissolute women.
A few days before I left I gave an entertainment to my friends at
Catherinhoff, winding up with a fine display of fireworks, a present
from my friend Melissino. My supper for thirty was exquisite, and my
ball a brilliant one. In spite of the tenuity of my purse I felt
obliged to give my friends this mark of my gratitude for the kindness
they had lavished on me.
I left Russia with the actress Valville, and I must here tell the
reader how I came to make her acquaintance.
I happened to go to the French play, and to find myself seated next
to an extremely pretty lady who was unknown to me. I occasionally
addressed an observation to her referring to the play or actors, and
I was immensely delighted with her spirited answers. Her expression
charmed me, and I took the liberty of asking her if she were a
"No, thank God!" she replied, "I am a Parisian, and an actress by
occupation. My name is Valville; but I don't wonder I am unknown to
you, for I have been only a month here, and have played but once."
"How is that?"
"Because I was so unfortunate as to fail to win the czarina's favour.
However, as I was engaged for a year, she has kindly ordered that my