Part Two - Discovering Moscow - The Crown of the Russias - The Swan Adagio - The Russian Court - Painted Facades of Petersburg

 

Moscow - Red Square

 

That side of the Russian dilettante which delighted in Koniok Gorbunok or in Life for the Tsar was already beginning to discover Moscow. For a hundred and fifty years, since the founding of St. Petersburg, the old capital had been altogether neglected in favour of the new. Moscow was left to the merchants and the provincials. It was a mistaken historical sense that made Napoleon attack the heart of Russia in the 1812 campaign. Had he gone, instead, to St. Petersburg the Grande Armee could have maintained itself through the winter and completed its conquests with the melting of the snows. But it was the old focus and centre of the nation that destroyed him. It was here that the racial character was preserved, unspoilt by the straight streets and classical facades of the West. To the devout Russian, Moscow was the Third Rome, to which the Church and the true religion were transferred after the fall of Byzantium. St. Petersburg, the artificial creation of one man, could never compete in this. Moscow was Russia: St. Petersburg, the bastard child of Russian adultery with the manners and fashions of the West. For the history of the future it is a curious detail to find how few Russians of St. Petersburg, that is to say of the wealthy or intellectual classes, had even seen the old capital, and what an effect, with their reviving nationalism, it had upon them. In illustration, Mussorgsky first visited Moscow in 1859, having been encouraged to do so by Balakirev, who had been there the year before. Balakirev had written to him - and part of the charm of the Russian school of composers is the prompt naivete with which they communicated their opinions to each other - that, in the Kremlin: 'he had felt with pride that he was Russian'. To this, Mussorgsky replied, a year later: 'I have been a cosmopolitan, but now I have undergone a sort of re-birth; I have been brought nearer to everything Russian... St. Basil's worked on me so pleasantly and yet so strangely that it seemed as if at any moment a boyar might appear in long smock and high cap'. He was thrilled by the Red Square, the Spassky Gate, the Cathedral of the Archangels, and the belltower of Ivan the Great. 'Moscow has taken me into another world, the world of antiquity, a dirty world... the earth has never produced such rogues and beggars.' In these phrases the future composer of Bods Godounov is speaking.

The Coronation - Romance of the Railway Siding - The Crown of the Russias - Arrival and Procession in Moscow

The coronation of the Tsars took place in Moscow and was occasion for the most extraordinary display of pageantry. More particularly during the nineteenth century, upon the three occasions of Alexander II in 1856, Alexander III in 1881, and Nicholas II in 1894. The most magnificent of all was that of Alexander II in 1856, at a time before criticism upon such expenditure had become general. The details of this wonderful display are to be studied in a volume of such immense size that the term 'elephant folio' has no meaning, and, in, deed, this may be the largest book that has ever issued from the printing press. It requires two men to carry it, even in the North Library of the British Museum. Moreover, and this has another interest, it is printed throughout, or in fact, lithographed, in golden letters, in an archaic, or Byzantine style, of which this is, probably, the earliest instance in Russia. The text is in French; and there are huge coloured lithographs, and more curious still, drawings which must have been made upon the spot and that are reproduced, in woodcut, in the text. Not works of art, but fascinating in their improbability.

 

Romanov Coronation in the Kremlin

 

From this work, and other sources, including a volume of letters from Comte Achille Murat, attached to the delegation from Napoleon III, we learn that the first sign of the impending celebrations could have been noticed on a late afternoon in St. Petersburg, when a large detachment of the Chevaliers Gardes in their eagle helmets, white uniforms and silver breastplates, were seen riding slowly, sword in hand, at a walking pace, surrounding certain locked and closed waggons, down the far end of the Nevski Prospekt, in the direction of the Moscow railway station.

At this point in that long street the magnificence of St. Petersburg has been left behind. It is the region of shabby shops, painted red and yellow, and vodka cellars where, at all hours of the day or night, there are peasants singing drunken songs. A district of endless open spaces, with the peculiar poetry of waste and emptiness. Wooden palings that hold nothing back, garbage heaps, terrible hovels, and always music, as though it were a drug or intoxicant in this misery. Different from the Gypsy music of the restaurants upon the islands? Ah! not so different; and, perhaps, more certain in its purpose. For that is hired with money. Here, it is themselves for whom they play. This land of broken stones and sherds is a world to itself, ending in the swamps and marshes. In the proximity of the railway station it becomes romantic with the steam whistle and the shunting of trucks. But, in all, it is an endless prospect of misery and poverty. The spectacle, in midst of this, of the Chevaliers Gardes was as unusual as that of the Life Guards in a London slum. Not less so, because this long street ends, in appearances, in Asia. It leads from marble palaces and granite quays to the suburbs of Peking. Above, the winter sun throws its light on silver breastplates in the desert space opposite the station.

It is the escort taking the Crown and jewels of Russia to be entrained for Moscow. At previous coronations they have gone the whole way by road, and three weeks have been spent upon the journey. The Imperial Crown of all the Russias, hidden, like a totem or a fetich, is carried past the pawn shops and the vodka dens, wrapped up like an idol and enclosed in many boxes. Could our eyes pierce the wooden packing cases, and the sealed vehicle which is like an ammunition waggon, this is the Imperial Crown. It is shaped like the mitre of a patriarch. The summit is a cross formed of five diamonds, held up by an uncut but polished spinel ruby. An arch of eleven great diamonds, springing from back to front, supports this ruby and its cross, and there is a side arch or hoop of pearls. This gives the mitre shape; while the rim or band is a row of twenty-eight huge diamonds. The crown of the Tsarina is nothing else but diamonds, but more feminine and more typically Russian in design. There are other wonders of the diamond world: double and triple necklaces of diamonds: pearls worthy of the Ptolemies: and,the collar, star, and jewel of the Order of St. Andrew, of pink diamonds, and beryls or aquamarines of Siberia, worn by the Tsar only for his coronation. Also, the Orb of all the Russias, topped by a diamond of the finest water and by a greenish sapphire. By the side of the waggons march Court servants in their liveries, and the front and rear are dosed by troops.

The other waggons, for there are ten or twelve of them, must contain robes and insignia and uniforms of gala. The gilded coaches have already left for Moscow, some of them weeks ago, by road, mounted on huge drays. But this departure of the Crown and jewels is the first signal. Next day, and the days following, many persons leave for Moscow by the afternoon train. Soon, the fashionable quarters of the capital are deserted. The guests, for there are few hotels in Moscow, are lodged in private houses, and in wooden palaces put up for the occasion. Meanwhile, the coaches and baggage waggons are arriving. And the Tsar and Royal family reach Moscow on the eve, and stay, according to custom, at the Petrovsky palace in the suburbs, built by Paul I, a sham Gothic red pavilion, ramshackle, half furnished, in every sense temporary, but of immense size, with a whole town of temporary wooden structures set up round it for the occasion.

Next morning, after long hours of waiting, the procession comes through the Spatkoi Vorota, or Gate of the Redeemer, into the vast open square of the Kremlin. In front is the Uspenski Sobor, the Cathedral of the Assumption. All round, in every direction, there are domes and spires. The gilded crosses on the churches rise from crescents. There are domes like melons, pumpkins, pineapples, like pears or strawberries, painted in all colours, ornamented with disks and stars, and hung with veils of gilded chains. The procession is more than a mile in length, and does not come forward in a straight line but curves and zigzags in perfect order, and as though to be the better seen. Squadrons of the Chevaliers Gardes and Gardes a cheval come first, in their gilded or their silver breastplates. After various dignitaries, growing in importance, the state carriages begin and, at last, the gilded coaches. The extraordinary and unique feature in this procession is the manner in which the Imperial insignia are exhibited in open carriages or chariots, no bigger than a sledge and holding two persons, sitting side by side. The steps of these gilded chariots are encrusted with real diamonds, emeralds, and rubies or false stones - it does not matter which, but their effect is that of a magical circus entrance, enhanced by the plumes and panaches of the horses and of the coachmen or postillions. Horses of a light breed, not the black and heavy Russian Orlovs, draw these gilded cars. In the first, ride the two Masters of Ceremonies, heralds or precursors of this magic moment. The splendour and fantasy of these light equipages, dating mostly from the reign of the Tsarina Elizabeth, is the more effective against this background of the Tartar Rome. That world of cornucopia or gilded seashell from which these gay chariots and their occupants derive, which is that of the masque and poetry of the Western Renaissance but come down in scale to the gilded pleasure barge or golden sledge, has travelled far abroad. The cars of Neptune have become the toy or plaything of the Russian boyar; and to our taste this procession is more far-fetched and fanciful than the Carrousels of Le Roi Soleil. A gilded phaeton follows in which the Court Marshal Prince Michel Kotchoubey displays a baton, topped or ornamented with a huge emerald. In another light phaeton, open, or in the official term d'couvert, upholstered in crimson velvet, come two Masters of Ceremonies holding in their right hands long silver batons surmounted by a golden double-headed eagle. Behind them, Count Borch, Grand Master of Ceremonies, with his golden baton ornamented with a great emerald. Immediately behind him, two dignitaries with numbers after their names, as though from a ballet programme, carry in one hand their gilded wands of office, and we see their gilt shoes, and satin breeches and white stockings. When the chariot draws up, they will alight with a dancing step and wait for the golden coach in which the Tsarina rides. But it is not in sight. All these precursors have their distinctive and symbolic costumes. They are followed by a solid body of Court servants, headed by the major-domos, and ending with eighty valets in their liveries of gala.

Twenty Four Huntsmen in Red - The Swan Adagio - Black Orlov Horses - The Klobouk - Throne of the Palaeologi

Next come twenty-four huntsmen in red and green liveries, from the kennels at Gatchina, and the Master of the Hounds, the Grand Veneur, Prince Dimitri Wassiltschikev. We have to see him, in imagination, by the lake upon an autumn afternoon, cast for the role of Benno, the Prince's friend, in Le Lac des Cygnes. There is a mist above the water, and lovely swans float down from the sky and settle near the reed~ We catch familiar but distant music, that nostalgic open melody of Tchaikowsky, and far off through the trees an enchanted castle, but no more improbable than the truth of Gatchina, or Tsarskoe Selo. And the music dies away. Other figures come into the mind. More lacqueys or valets: the Tsar's boatmen. The choristers of the Imperial chapel, brought from St. Petersburg, dressed in scarlet cloaks. More Court servants in the mottled red and brown liveries of the Imperial household. Other dignitaries and Court officials. A number of Court carriages, some with four, and some with six horses; postillions in English style, in blue and silver jackets and velvet jockey caps, or monteros, of Charles 11 style, descended from the Spanish muleteers, with powdered wigs; coachmen in scarlet great coats with capes. The horses that draw these carriages are the black Orlovs. Their burden is more heavy. The eunes pretniers, in their light chariots, have gone in front. The wheels of the great coaches, with their gilt spokes, creak and rumble on the sanded square.

In early times the point of such processions was to display the Tsar's household, and while his retinue comes closer and closer to his sacred person, we could almost expect to see the chefs and scullions, the wine tasters, and the silver wine cisterns, even the mute orchestra of the batterie de cuisine. Instead, a higher strain of fantasy is reached. Six of the, skorokhods or Court runners come past in their peculiar dress, and following them, eight huge negroes en grand panache. No more need be said of either skorokhods or Court Arabs, for the moment, since they are Palace servants and will be on duty at the ball tonight. The biggest and most golden of the coaches, surmounted by an Imperial crown, drawn by eight bay horses caparisoned with golden harness and housings of garnet-coloured velvet, holds the Dowager Empress, Alexandra Feodorowna. The interior of her coach is upholstered with the same garnet velvet; and the coachmen and piqueurs walking by its side wear liveries of the same colour and material. Two little pages in plumed hats sit on the box, with their backs to the coachmen and look, ing into the coach. The horses' heads are decorated with white ostrich plumes and glands de stras, or tassels made of paste and glittering like diamonds. Behind come two palefreniers a cheval, and four Cossacks of the Household. Next, and in the same state of Cossacks and palefreniers with walking footmen at the side, comes the Tsarina in a coach drawn by eight gray horses with harness and housings of silver and blue velvet. The interior of this coach of the Tsarina Maria Alexandrovna is up, holstered in 'ponceau' velvet. Riding behind them are a body of one hundred nobles and gentlemen in the ancient boyar dress, who precede the Tsar. He wears a general's uniform with the blue ribbon and star of the Order of St. Andrew. The Mamelukes of the Guard come close behind him, then the Cossacks, and the Horse Guards, and coach after coach filled with the Grand Dukes and their families, in strict precedence: the Red Hussars, the Preobrajenski, the Pavlovski, the Tirailleurs de la Garde: more and more regiments: more bands of martial music.

At the door of the Uspenski Sobor the archbishop and metropolitans are waiting. The five domes of the cathedral, in symbol of the metropolitan and his five deacons, have been repainted with leaf gold for this occasion, and the whole hierarchy, in heaven and upon earth, contrasts with the temporal or secular world. Their vestments and the bulbous shapes of the Byzantine mitre, their long beards, and the purple or golden klobouk, a high cap with a veil covering it and falling on the shoulders, are of this Orient of the snows, a winter lasting for a thou, sand years, in which the Eastern complexity and extravagance have found a refuge.

This is the priesthood of the Tartar Rome. They hold in their hands sacred icons, the relics of saints, and the shepherd's crook burgeoning into a hundred floreated shapes, until it has become a staff, a thurible, a sacred thyrsus. The Tsar with his own hand will place the crown upon his head, standing in the ivory throne which Sophia Palaeologus brought with her to Russia.' He will be wearing the porphyri, a purple robe or coat, worn only upon this day and stored, afterwards, in the Orujeinaya Palata, or treasury; and, over it, the Imperial mantle made of gold glazeta, with double-headed eagles sewn upon it, lined with pure white ermine on which are scattered numerous jet black tails. The gilded and painted interior of the Uspenski Sobor is shown filled with the great men of the Empire and their wives, and the delegates of every foreign country. On another page we see the coronation banquet, with silver plate from the treasury in Moscow, or brought from St. Petersburg, stacked on the tables and ranged in great buffets nearly to the ceiling. The Grand Ecuyer hands the golden dishes to the Tsar, walking the whole length of the banqueting hall escorted by two officers of the Chevaliers: Gardes with drawn swords. The Grand Echanson hands the Tsar a golden cup to drink from. The banquet lasts for several hours. And, in the last plate in this book we are given, for contrast, the popular rejoicings. Swings and merry-go-rounds and montagnes russes. A crowd of tens of thousands, of whom in a panic many hundreds may be trampled underfoot. The young moujiks with their hair cropped for the Coronation and an air, therefore, of varlets or knaves from the playing cards; and their fathers, who may have fought against Napoleon, serfs not yet liberated but belong, ing to their masters, and classed as so many hundred souls to give them a difference from herds of cattle. It is even drawn in popular or moujik style, if any, thing, accenting the broad faces and low fringes of the peasants. Moreover, most of them are depicted as already drunk, as though there was no doubt of this and it was expected of them. It was the tradition. just as the Celestial smokes his pipe of opium. And we close the back cover of this giant book with the grinding of steam organs, the singing of choruses, and rhythms of hopak and trepak, still ringing in our ears.

Lights of the Town - The Russian Court -,A La Russe - The Winter Palace and Palace Interiors - The Palace under Alexander II

Afternoon has faded into evening. In this strange city of St. Petersburg it is much more alive. For that twilight was as another dawn. The last regiments at the review had marched off an empty square into a mistless but grey emptiness. Out of sight their military music had struck up again, which the wind carried in blasts and snatches down the granite streets. In every direction, from all over the town. Along the frozen Neva. Off that sheet of ice. Through the air, heavy with snowflakes falling with thundering sound. Their barracks must be grey poor, houses or infirmaries, 'with food of grey gruel or silly, and greying bread. But the brass music comes again. The lights burn up in all the town. In an instant the snow becomes a carpet or soft covering laid down, in winter, because it is beautiful and white. Every roof and surface has its snowy outline, which is like the heightening with gold or silver in a drawing. The shapes and colours of the military uniforms, and anticipation of the ball to, night, invoke, for a moment or two, the domes and spires of Moscow, while the night darkens. For it is, now, a winter evening. The whole of snowy Asia, by way of Moscow, ends in this city, that looks out on to a frozen sea. Lit with gas, not electricity. A yellowish or reddish glare, with long lines of lights down by the Neva, continuing, in a haze, on to the islands. The lights of the Nevskii Prospect, as it might be, a long canal running through the centre of the town. And the whole city transformed, or made transcendental, in the snow, not only from that crystal whiteness, but in the noiseless gliding of the sledges, and from the silent footfalls all along the street.

It is time to go home and rest a little. How will other persons have passed their day? In order to contrast the cold and misery, that are working for revenge, with this luxury beyond parallel, it is more pointed not to mention them. Let us, therefore, examine this luxury from, first-hand evidence. In his book of memoirs, General Mossolov gives a detailed picture that must be augmented in its scale and colouring for every decade that recedes into the past. He writes of the Court of Nicholas II, though with personal memories of the reign of Alexander III and even before that. His account must, therefore, be magnified when it is transferred from 1910 to 1868.

Of the world outside the windows nothing need be said. The aftermath is too well known. This is the palace of the Caesars in its last travesty, beginning with the Golden House of Nero, and come down from Byzantium. Influenced, also, by Le Roi Soleil, and created in fresh travesty of splendour by Catherine the Great and her grandson, Nicholas I; surviving, indeed, into the lifetime of most persons who will read these lines. In order to apprehend its especial character it is better to quote from this book of faded glories, where the author remarks: 'The principal function of a sovereign's Court is to increase his prestige', continuing: 'The Russian Court was certainly the most opulent in Europe. Great wealth had been accumulating during three hundred years in the hands of those responsible for its safe keeping.' Certain Moscovite customs and mannerisms had become mingled, by tradition, into this magnificence. At the back of it, again, or underneath, all was essentially Russian. The surface was Western, as though in copy of Versailles; but it was barbarian in scale and execution, while its final spangling, the ultimate gold or silver pencilling of its edges, once more was characteristically Russian. This is true of everything that has to do with the Petersburg period, as it is called. We noticed it, even in the shops along the Nevski Prospekt. In the shop window of the Fidele Bergere; on a Russian menu; in the architecture of Cameron or Rastrelli; in the music of Tchaikowsky's ballets. These, for instance, are based deliberately upon Delibes, but how different in the result! Delibes, for all his talent, and because of the nature of that, was not capable of those long open airs, those romantic interludes. They are in the Italian manner, strongly influenced by Mozart and by Bellini; but could they be mistaken for anything but Russian! They are entire, of that nation, in their accent and their intonation. Nothing but Russian in their meaning and their symbolism. The Russian atmosphere was as strong, also, in its effect upon artists of foreign blood. There is as much evidence of this truth as there are proofs that, in Spain, the native genius had to be formed and stimulated from outside. Until this was done, they were not certain of their own direction. And so it was in Russia, beginning with the buildings of the Kremlin.' It is one of the mysteries of architecture that such complicated disorder, appearing to be the work of many centuries, should have been accomplished in a single generation. They are as inchoate and anonymous as the Romanesque or Gothic. This Tartar coup d'oeil was the invention, in the first place, of Italians; and, in lesser degree, of Germans and Flemings. But it is entirely Russian, more Russian, as to the Cathedral of St. Basil and the Kremlin, than anything else in Russia. Catherine the Great, a German, was as much of a Russian as Peter the Great. Such contradictions are typical of Russia.

The Winter Palace, with its half mile of great apartments on three floors, along the Neva, could have been built in no city but St. Petersburg. Even the fact that nearly the whole of its interior was destroyed by fire in 1837, and rebuilt within a year, has made little difference to the original intention. Internally, it is largely a series of great halls, of no particular importance in themselves, decorated chiefly in the style of Nicholas I, and forming a suit, able background for the pomp of Court ceremonies. At the same time, and owing to the scale of these, it is more interesting than the generality of Royal palaces in their ugliness and monotony. It compares, in ordinary, with the palaces of Caserta and Madrid. But the Russian extravagance puts it by itself, while as a residence for the Russian Court, it has to be considered in relation to Tsarskoe Selo and Gatchina, and to the other summer palaces, big or little, to which its fantastic inhabitants were dispersed from the capital. The anomaly of such existences makes our subject; but, also, the routine of their lives. It seems not to have occurred to them that their doom was sealed. They were fortified, or we may think, hypnotized, by the splendour of their surroundings. So far as personal authority was concerned, this was the greatest Empire in the world, an absolute autocracy, justified by its extraordinary successes in the past. The individuals composing the Court lived in an enchanted world, an organic body, if those persons are discussed who lived in the various palaces, which had been flourishing, at least, since the reign of the Tsarina Elizabeth Petrovna (1741-1761), and like all bodies thriving on so rich a soil, has developed into peculiar forms, and a profuse or excessive blossoming. Little by little it increased its character, imperceptibly, and representing that each further growth was inevitable, so that the Tsars, themselves, were unwilling to curtail them. It is in this way that the Court survived, and even augmented itself, during the reign of Nicholas I, with all his passion for utility and detail. Under Alexander II, while the mineral wealth of the imperial properties came pouring in, there was no reason for economy. The Empire was spreading through Central Asia and was, by repute, the great military power of Europe; master of Asia, and perpetual menace to the Indies. In these circumstances an extravagant Court was an outward sign of power. It further increased, therefore, in improbability, reaching its climax about the time at which we see it. After the murder of Alexander II, his successor, who had simpler tastes and cared little for ceremony, did nothing to encourage its further growth, though both under himself and his successor Nicholas II it flourished unchecked. But the great ceremonies were abandoned, somewhat, after 1903. The unfortunate course taken by the Russo-Japanese war, followed by the abortive revolution of 1905, together with the last Tsarina's love of retirement, and hatred of being seen in public, combined together so that the organization remained in being but functioned no more. So it continued, until the war and the revolution. Splendours necessitated by the state of the Empress Catherine, or of Nicholas I, and which were outward and visible proof of their historical importance, survived through two more generations and were only extinguished in the holocaust.

The Kalatch - Court Officials - Court of King Florestan - Nijinski - The Manege

if we were living in the palace the morning would begin, not too early, with a breakfast of three kinds of bread. This was no different, till lately, in the modern luxury hotel. But it was followed by the 'kalatch', a roll of white bread, brought in a warm napkin and eaten hot, made with water brought specially from the river Moskva. It was the peculiar bread of Moscow and this Moskva water was sent to the palaces near St. Petersburg, and even to the Crimea when the Court was there. General Mossolov describes the kalatch, and the still more curious ceremony of the present. This dated from the eighteenth century. It will be agreed that, in imagery, it is so Russian as scarcely to be believed. This could only take place at the Court of King Florestan, while the Sleeping Beauty lay sleeping. It was a law or decree, which had begun as a spontaneous offering, by which the Ural Cossacks brought to the Tsar, every spring, the first haul of their year's fishing. Holes were cut in the ice, nets were lowered, and while the priests sprinkled incense, the fish and the caviar were packed in waggons and sent direct to St. Petersburg, with a Cossack deputation. On arrival, the sturgeon and the three sorts of caviar were carried into the great dining room of the Winter Palace. The Tsar received the Cossacks, and they were rewarded. After this the present went the round of the Grand Dukes and Court officials. Count Mossolov as Head of the Court Chancellery being given five or six fine sturgeons, a yard long, and some forty pounds of caviar for his share.

 

Paul I Tsar of Russia

 

Who were the Court officials? Count Mossolov gives the following figures, for the year 1908. Fifteen of the first class, with titles of Grand Chamberlain, Grand Marshal, Master of the Imperial Hunt and Grand Cup Bearer. Belonging to the second class, 134 officials who rendered actual services, and 86 given honorary positions: the two Grand Masters of Ceremonies, the Grand tcuyer trenchant, the Huntsmen, the Marshals, the Director of the Imperial Theatres, the Director of the Hermitage Museum, and the Masters of Ceremonies (14 active and 14 honorary). There were, as well, 287 Chamberlains, 309 Gentlemen-in-Waiting, 110 persons attached to the Imperial Family; 22 priests, 38 doctors, 3 harbingers (whoever harbingers may be!), 18 valets and 150 officers. Adding to these 240 ladies in waiting, of various degrees, attached to the Imperial Court and the different Grand Ducal Courts, and 66 ladies belonging to the Order of St. Catherine, the total reached is 1,543 persons in all. And this is, of course, exclusive of all Court servants.

To this list of the Court of King Florestan XXIV we would add Cantalbutte, Master of the Ceremonies;, Ministers of State; the Fairy of the Pine Woods and her Page; the Cherry Blossom Fairy; the Fairy of the Humming Birds: of the Song Birds: of the Mountain Ash; the Lilac Fairy; the Carnation Fairy; all with their pages or train bearers; the Witch Carabosse; Royal Nurses; Royal Pages; the King's Herald; the Royal Physician; the Spanish Prince; the Indian Prince; the Italian Prince; the English Prince (probably, indeed, the Prince of Wales, afterwards Edward VII, King, Emperor, for he was married to the Tsarina's sister); Prince Charming and the Princess Aurora and her friends, skilled in the adagio; Ladies-in-Waiting, Lords, Pages, Court Negroes, village youths and maidens'. Gardeners, Duchesses, Dukes, Baronesses, Marchionesses, Marquises, Huntsmen, Nymphs, Beaters, Servants and dignitaries of the Court. In fact, the princed programme of The Sleeping Beauty.

Two parallel worlds were in being, the true and the false. This latter derived from the Imperial School of Dancing, which produced the most famous dancers of the modern world. It was Paul I who established the Imperial School, for both sexes, in a palace between the Nevski Prospekt and the Fontanka Canal, and engaged Didelot, the great choreograph, to teach the pupils. From 1801 until 1917 the Imperial School trained dancers for the Maryinsky Theatre. The regime was austere or military. The girl pupils were dressed as though at a convent school; the boys are described, in the life of Nijinsky, as receiving three uniforms; black for everyday, dark blue for the holidays, grey linen for the summer; a silver lyre was embroidered on their velvet collars; they were allowed two overcoats, one with a collar of astrachan; and patent leather boots. Eventually, after eight years of tuition, they would graduate to the Maryinsky Theatre and disappear into its corps de ballet of a hundred and eighty dancers. In addition to their special training they were given a good education. They visited the museums; they walked in a crocodile along the Nevski Prospekt, after breakfast, and of course wearing their patent,leather boots and their military caps with the double-headed eagle, in gold, upon the front; in the evening they were driven to the theatre, boys and girls apart, in landaus from the Imperial Stables.

Upon occasion, in those same landaus, they were taken to the theatre in the Hermitage, where they performed before the Tsar and his family. This little theatre is a building by Quarenghi. It is not large and has no boxes. The stalls rise in the form of an amphitheatre, as in Palladio's theatre at Vicenza, and in front are armchairs for the Imperial Family. This theatre, which was added in 1780, connects with the rest of the Hermitage by a bridge thrown over a canal, the arch, itself, being occupied by a foyer or anteroom, lit on each side by lofty windows, and giving views over the Neva and the street of the Milionaya. The facade of this. theatre, with its pilastered front and recesses filled with statues, is a masterpiece of Quarenghi and, after his portico to the Manege of the Gardes a cheval, his best building in St. Petersburg. As to the Maryinsky Theatre, that was designed by Rossi, last of the classical architects in Russia. It was here that the dancers of the Imperial Ballet gave their performances. The whole of the expenses both of the school and the theatre were borne by the Tsar's privy purse, and under Nicholas II, after the public had paid for their seats there was often an annual deficit of two hundred thousand pounds to be met. Such was the price paid by an autocrat for the art of Russian dancing. To the income of the Tsars it was equivalent to no more than the upkeep of a yacht.

This income, which was estimated in 194 at twelve million pounds a year, was raised from house property in the capital, and from immense tracts of forest. Also, from the mines of Nertchinsk and Altai, where there were gold and precious stones. This was apart from the civil list which paid the expenses of the Court. The Grand Dukes of the Romanov family were supported by the apanages, apart again from any private fortunes they may have possessed. The apanages were a fund started by Paul I (who, in spite of his madness, left a mark after a reign of only five years) in order to place the Imperial family upon an independent basis. It was derived from real estate, and was calculated so as to allow each Grand Duke and Grand Duchess, from birth, an income of twenty-eight thousand pounds. When it is considered that, during the nineteenth century, there was an average of thirty males and rather more females in the Romanov family, this is a formidable sum. And yet, according to General Mossolov, the apanages had been so care, fully managed that, in 1914, there was a liquid reserve amounting to six million pounds. The third generation, great grandsons and daughters of a Tsar, had the right only to a single payment of a hundred thousand pounds. This good fortune was rather mitigated by Alexander III, who decreed that in future only sons and grandsons of a Tsar shared benefit from the apanages. Until his time, any member of the family married in the knowledge that all his children would receive, at birth, that princely income. The proverbial extravagance of the Russian Grand Dukes had this excuse for it. That they should spend their money in Paris or on the Riviera had become the tradition; and, after Nicholas I, little was done to educate them to any other view of life.

Painted Stucco - The Pavlovski Guards - Quarenghi - The Marble Palace - Potemkin

In the knowledge of a few details of this wild economy, for it had its system and was managed with prudence so that it paid its way, a picture of this beautiful city rises up, once more, before our eyes. We see the orange-painted Roumianzov palace on the Granite Quay, with its tremendous colonnade, a coloured architecture so different from the grey Palladian of England. The Ministry of Justice, painted blue, another classical building of which the effect would be most striking, whether in the golden summer, or in the powdery blue snow.

Yellow is the colour of the Pavlovski Barracks, a long, low flight of building of a bastard Greek, dwarfed like the colonnades of Paestum among the asphodels, and destined in St. Petersburg for that snub-nosed regiment of Paul I who wore the copper mitre of the Prussian Grenadier. That facial qualification for admission to the regiment was faithfully adhered to. It is even said that Nicholas I caught the chill which caused his death when choosing recruits for enrolment in the Pavlovski during the Crimean War.

There are many of the painted facades in St. Petersburg; but from contemporary evidence the Manege of the Gardes a cheval was most admired of all. It was painted green, having a portico of eight Doric columns of white granite, and a good sculptured pediment of athletes taming horses. The architect is Quarenghi, and the date 1804. After St. Isaac's Cathedral and the Hermitage, it was the different Maneges or Riding Schools of the Guards regiments that formed the main interest of the capital. More than the palaces or churches; and proving, in this, the predominant military aspect of St. Petersburg, a city of uniforms inhabited, at times, by as many as eighty thousand of the Imperial Guard.

Everyone knew, at sight, the black horses of the Gardes a cheval: the chestnuts of the Chevaliers Gardcs: the dapple greys of the Gatchina Hussars: the Marmelukes of the Guard, as they were called.. escorting the Emperor, and divided into Lezghines in pointed helms and coats of mail, like warriors of the Crusades, and Tcherkesses armed with carbines, but carrying, as well, a bow and arrows in a quiver slung across their backs. There were always Cossacks, in quantity, riding in the streets; of the Imperial Guard, in scarlet kosakhins, with long close fitting coats and gilt bandoliers; Ataman Cossacks in their uniforms of sapphire blue; and Cossacks of the Black Sea in crimson coats, of whom the officers wore a curious round cap of Persian or Caucasian influence, gold braided, and with a little quilted peak, more like a woman's cap worn in the harem. If they were extremely tall, and thin, the appearance was peculiar, being taken from the dress of the adolescents in the tribes towards the Caucasus. All of these regiments had their Manege or Riding School where the troops could exercise when there was snow outside. Not that the most severe degree of cold was ever allowed to interfere with the Imperial parades. It was the custom of Nicholas I to arrive on the parade ground in a plain sledge, out of which he stepped with no coat over his uniform, and often without gloves. In the great parades it often happened that many of the soldiers were badly frost-bitten; and it requires no imagination to picture the sufferings of the raw recruits.

These painted facades, coloured like the coats of Soldiers, may have been the invention of Rastrelli in the reign of the Empress Elizabeth, but they continued till the time of Nicholas I. It was a Russian custom, first applied by Rastrelli to buildings in the Italian manner. Quarenghi, whose name must occur so often in any account of St. Petersburg, came from Bergamo, and is the equal and contemporary of Gandon, the architect of Georgian Dublin. So true is the parallel between them that it seems in no way remarkable that Catherine should have tried to negotiate with Gandon to come and work in St. Petersburg. Quarenghi was no inspired genius, but a competent grammarian, and an architect fit to be entrusted with the embellishment of an Imperial capital. Rossi, his successor, was born at Naples, his mother being an Italian ballerina, and his father a Russian. There had been Russian classical architects before Rossi: Sakharov, who built the Admiralty: and Voronikhin, architect of the Kazan Cathedral. The masterpiece of Rossi was the Michel Palace, built by Alexander I for his younger brother, and which elicited prodigies of admiration in its day. The front has a Corinthian portico of eight pillars; but it is more especially the interior that represents all that the Russian classical manner could accomplish. Floors inlaid with Carelian woods, and with rosewood, ebony, and mahogany; walls of scagliola, imitating the yellow Siena, shining mirrors, candelabra of Siberian jasper, pier tables of which the slabs are of opaque blue glass. Other rooms have walls of polished scagliola of a pure and dazzling white, with sky blue hangings; or imitation marble walls of a pigeon-egg blue, highly polished, with eight columns at each end, of blue scagliola with gilt capitals. The curtains and their pelmets are designed by a master hand. They hang from light airy cornices, or in festoons and massive draperies which, drawn aside, display the marble walls painted with gilt arabesques, or, more simply, with cupids and wreaths of roses. This method of painting in oil and gold upon scagliola, and fixing the colours, was the invention of Italian craftsmen working under Rossi. In the first place it had been essential to find the alabaster needed for the composition of the scagliola, and this was eventually discovered in the government of Kazan. 'His Majesty the King of England (George IV)' we read, 'with that anxiety to promote the improvement of the elegant arts and exquisite taste for them, which have ever distinguished him, caused an application to be made, through the Russian Ambassador, for a specimen of the white scagliola, and the manner in which it is ornamented by gilding and painting in oil. A square block of a moderate size was prepared under the direction of Rossi, and painted by Scotti and Vighi. This specimen was inspected by the King, by whose command it was delivered over to Mr. Nash, who did not think favourably of it.' That scagliola was thus condemned by stucco is the illustration of that age; but, in St. Petersburg, this style of the Regency, as we would call it, reaches to its zenith. In no other city was it used upon so lavish a scale; and, of this, the Michel Palace is the conspicuous example. An exotic air breathes upon those apartments of sky blue or dazzling white - their mirrors multiplying without end and their gilded ceilings, when it is considered that this is Russia, that the snow makes brighter the plumage in the bird cages that hang in the windows, that the servants enter in long caftans and with slippered feet, that there are caviar and vodka on the zakuski table. Classical building has never been so artificial as in this city of the Tsars.

The Marble Palace was not less exotic in its day. This is of earlier date and one who saw it in its prime, in 1799, remarks of it: 'The prodigies of enchantment which we read of in the Tales of the Genii are here called forth into reality, and the temples raised by the luxuriant fancy of our poets may be considered as a picture of the marble palace which Jupiter, when the burden of cares drives him from heaven, might make his delightful abode.' This palace was built by Catherine for her favourite, Orlov, and was lived in by another of her lovers, Stanislaus Poniatowski, last king of Poland, in his exile. Grigori Orlov was the Jupiter of this Marble Palace, but he died too soon and his place was taken by the elegant and ineffectual Poniatowski. But that recent panegyric is no exaggeration if applied to the Taurida Palace. Its very name betrays its history: Taurida, or the Chersonese. When Potemkin conquered the Crimea this was his reward. Here her favourite and satrap beheld Catherine for the last time by the glitter of twenty thousand wax lights.

The building is of one storey, with a Doric portico. But the whole Taurida Palace is a multitude of pillars. You enter by the portico and find a colonnade in front of you, across the hall, of which the two central pillars have a wider space between them and lead into an immense vestibule or octagon, called the rotunda. A double range of Ionic columns leads into the ballroom. It is nearly a hundred yards long by thirty yards across, the two long sides each formed by an open double colonnade of Ionic pillars, thirty five feet high, their shafts festooned with gold and silver wreaths, in imitation of the conqueror's laurel. Along the passage formed at each side of the room by the double row of columns there hang cut glass chandeliers, the lights of which are reflected in great mirrors. At each end, the room is circular, with great windows down to the ground ' the side of the room opposite the entrance being a winter garden filled in its day, and on its winter nights, with camellias and orange trees. In another part of the Taurida there is a theatre, of which the parapet of the boxes is formed from solid cut crystal, with an arrangement to admit lights behind it, so as to throw a dazzling fire around the audience. The Taurida, obviously, has known the glitter of diamonds. This ballroom was the scene of the last party given by Potemkin, who left the capital the next morning and died a few weeks later. In sober truth, the most gorgeous evening since the banquet of Trimalchio; but a spectacle more than a feast of gluttony.

For Potemkin, in character, was part Diaghilev, part Peter the Great. Who would not have seen him receive the Empress in the portico, as she got down from her coach, and lead her through the palace which she had built for him, but which the force of his personality had warmed from its chill classicism, into the glittering ballroom i How different the reality from how it would ever be represented in the cinema! Their personalities, because of some rumour of their splendour, have ever been the prey of novelists and scenario writers, but truth is safer left to the imagination than portrayed by actors. Potemkin was something of a Falstaff or a Hercules. His character partook of both, but in the Russian or the Tartar canon. He was one-eyed like the Cyclops; and, as most giants, could be entranced by music. In this he was different from his mistress, Catherine, to whom it meant nothing, or was even painful. It was a side of Russian character which she had not assimilated; though it could be remarked that the Germans were as fond of music as the Russians. As for Potemkin, there is some evidence that he was in negotiation with Mozart to come to Russia in the capacity of court musician to himself, a project which both their deaths prevented. Potemkin had a wild, disordered fancy; and a personal quality, an attack or touch, which can only be described as a great hand in everything. He was original, by instinct, and in all his acts. Grown to a great scale, and proportioned to that. One of the huge physiques of Russian history: to be ranked, though only for his follies, with the Tsar Peter, the Patriarch Nikon, or even with the great actor, Chaliapin. This scene we are witnessing is the apotheosis of Potemkin. The male favourites of an Elizabeth or a Catherine must always be of more interest to the historian than a Pompadour or du Barri. But Potemkin is the male favourite of all history. When they tired of each other, he chose her lovers for her. His letters to her, strewn with the Russian diminutives, are the letters of a bear to a lioness, for this woman, who was not beautiful, nor an artist, breathed a greatness and a large mind, of a feline pride, in all her acts and deeds. Not born to her position, but rather choosing it by force, she must remain, despite all changes of historical opinion, among the greatest women there have ever been. Her achievements were so conspicuous that her venality, only reversed in role from that of Charles II or of Louis XV, passed without censure, even in the censorious Victorian age. She was succeeded by a mad son, almost certainly the child of Saltykov, her lover, and not a Romanov at all. He, in his turn, was murdered with the connivance of his eldest son. And yet the Russian monarchy continued for another hundred years, and more. This is due, entirely, to Catherine and to the transmission of her genius to the second generation, missing the madman Paul.

Genius of Catherine - Paul I - Thomas de Thomon - Tsarskoe Selo

The visual or objective side of her life portrays the Northern Semiramis in a background that was half, classical, half-barbaric. This was perfect in detail, down to the jewelled handles of her walking sticks. It is even present in the accounts of her in the gardens of Tsarskoe Selo surrounded by her troop of English greyhounds; or with her Russian borzois. She brought their shallow pates and highbred, thin limbs for the first time into history. In her relations with Potemkin she was, at first, infatuated, and then fond; never in many years tiring of their friendship or becoming bored. 'The Prince of Taurida', she wrote upon his death, 'was the most extraordinary man who has ever lived'; and he had, certainly, a primitive force which was rare in the powdered century in which he lived. He is reputed to have had powers of mimicry amounting to genius, while his multiple energies are proved within a small sphere by his successive romances with three sisters who were his nieces. Some premonition may have affected him upon this last evening in St. Petersburg. He was fifty,four years old, and worn out by his contra, dictions. The ballroom of the Taurida Palace will have been thronged with figures as lively as in a masquerade. Their likelihood can be tested in the portraits by Levitzky (1735-1822).' He painted a great number, perhaps a hundred or more, of the personalities assembled in this ballroom. But there is no good portrait of the host, Potemkin. Catherine and the Prince of Taurida must have sat, side by side, at supper. All we know is that, on leaving, as she reached the door, Potemkin fell on his knees and burst into tears. It was their farewell. The ballroom was closed. In later times the Taurida Palace was occupied by the widow of the murdered Paul I, by various others, and then by superannuated ladies of the Imperial Court. Now, it must have different tenants. But may still be haunted.

A curious interlude in the history of the Taurida Palace was the vast Russian art exhibition organized there by Serge dc Diaghilev in 1905, and consisting of more than three thousand paintings. Special rooms were devoted to Catherine the Great, and to Paul I, whose mad features much impressed the public. This was in Diaghilev's 'World of Art' period, before he became interested in the ballet. He had travelled all over Russia to collect the pictures from provincial governors and country landowners. In an article in his paper he refers to the Russian paintings still to be found scattered about the Imperial Palaces, "whose wealth of art treasures is beyond imagination". "The Alexander III Museum", he continues, "without making a single purchase from any individual could in this way possess thirty-nine of the best works of Levitzky." And he goes on to suggest that all old masters and works of art be collected from the Chinese Gallery in the Gatchina Palace, the Treasury of the Ministry of the Imperial Court, the Moscow Armoury, the Academy of Science, the Academy of Arts, the Holy Synod, the Alexander-Nevsky Monastery, and the Roumiantzov Museum. More especially, as we have said, it was the room devoted to Paul I in this exhibition that impressed all who saw it. A kind of madness of a Russian sort lurked in his Kalmuck features and his aggressive eyes. In his youth, as the Comte du Nord, he had, travelled to the Court of Louis XVI, and to Venice, where the banquets and regattas held in his honour by the Serenissima in its decline were painted by Guardi. He was half mad already, and spent more than seven hours visiting the Arsenal of Venice. It showed itself in an insane degree of interest in military technique, and an ambition to be Tsar Peter and Frederick the Great in one. He put the Russian army into Prussian uniforms; and in advance of some modern dictators prescribed a regulation dress for all. His was the form of lunacy which seeks to prove that it is normal by a mad show of energy, in little things. But as Russian in his madness as the Tsar Peter in his greatness. Mad son of a great mother: but progenitor of two great men, Alexander and Nicholas. An insane episode, because it was so pointless, was when he accepted to be Grand Prior of Malta, after the expulsion of the order by Napoleon in 1798. The exiled Knights were invited to St. Petersburg, and there are relics of this fantasy on ceilings in the Michael Palace (where, he was soon murdered), painted with the revival of the Order; and in a church and priory built, in the park at Gatchina, to the designs of Quarenghi, where the Knights assembled under the presidency of the mad Emperor. His portrait was painted in the Grand Prior's robes; but it was all the toy or plaything of a madman. Yet this mad interval between three great reigns is as typical of Russian history as their whole achievement. It is the clown's turn: a parody done by the idiot and, in symbol, the destructive force of all the ignorance and atavism in the Russian soil.

In the words of Diaghilev the wealth of art treasures in the Imperial Palaces was beyond description. More could be said of the architecture of the capital. It is a city of Grecian porticos. We could begin, even, with the Imperial Mews, of which the back, along the Moika canal, presents a piazza of the order of Paestum, with a church in the centre of the facade belonging to the Mews, the work of an Italian architect, Trombara. It is a stone or stuccoed building of a delicate and unsoiled white tint. Or we should mention the Exchange, with its peristyle of Doric columns round it, designed by Thomas de Thomon, standing on a granite quay with steps down to the water; and its pair of granite rostral columns a hundred feet in height, decorated with bronze prows of ships, in honour of Mercury, and each surmounted by figures of Atlas bearing a hollow globe in which fires are lit for solemn occasions. So many porticoes. But how much of mystery in the Imperial Palaces! What, for instance, is the Chinese Gallery at Gat, china mentioned by Diaghilev? Has it a Chinese bridge with a balustrade of imitation coral on which sit four stone Chinamen with their parasols? Is it part of the palace: or in the park and one of the Arcadian wonders? There are so many such at Peterhof and Tsarskoe Selo.' So many pavilions. from Rastrelli downwards; some of them most fanciful, in the shape of a five-pointed star, with a domed hall and five wings, all standing on a stone island in the water. Hermitages and heathen temples, interiors exquisite in their contents, of which the keys are always lost, or everyone is too tired, already, to take another step, for there is no fatigue to be compared to that of seeing palaces. And it may be winter and two feet of snow. We may have to plough with our sledges through the winter plain. These pavilions, which in other countries are mere summer houses, have here the dimensions of small palaces. In this winter evening it is an enchantment to think of them, for some will be quite lost in the falling snowflakes. You could drive in your sledge, at random, and come to a pavilion where everything has been sleeping for a hundred years, but the clocks are still wound, the tiled stoves are lit.

Or we can look, for the last time, upon the country palace of the Sleeping Beauty. It is twelve hundred feet, or nearly a quarter of a mile in length, with three floors in which to search for her. This is how it runs. The chapel is at the left extremity with its five gold domes. There is a flight of eleven windows; a more important portion, in advance, with nine; then a flight of eleven; the central member with seventeen; eleven more; then nine projecting; and eleven more. And the whole facade is alive with gilded statues. The roof line has a crowd of them, between gilt vases. Enormous golden caryatids stand by each ground floor window, so that every approach is guarded by a giant at either side. This stupendous scene painting, for it is that more than architecture, partakes of the fabulous seen obliquely from an angle, owing to the counterpoint of these same caryatids, seen one after another, and the projecting portions coming forward in their rhythm. A great architect might have not succeeded. This facade is wonderful because it is unreal. There is, even, a primary quality in the gargantuan proportion; that same quality which affects the imagination in the Farnese Hercules, and in the garden statues of Villa Lante and Caprarola; the sleeping river gods, the lichened Fauns, giants who slumber in their blocks of stone, but have a mortality of their own, having no connection with the sculptor. These caryatids are in descent from the mute gods of Vignola, but have become ogres or Adantes of a fairy story, come down through comedy, having forsaken Virgilian woods and lily-silvered vales. For the palace is painted in pantomime colours. It has green walls: the columns or pilasters are white: every statue, pedestal, and capital is gilded. So are - or were - the vases, carvings, and other ornaments. All rising out of the snow. Quite empty and deserted. A flight of a hundred windows in a line, three times over, one above another, to the vases and statues upon the parapet. For this is the facade that looks out upon the gardens. And every gilded outline has a shade of snow upon it, that follows it exactly, like the bevelling upon a mirror, or a shadow drawing. The gilded sashes of the windows, in square panes of glass, give an effect as though this sleeping palace was part glass, itself There will be miracles of frost flowers upon those windows, and they will be impossible to look through. But, once again all the clocks will be ticking. Time moves on, and the idle days are numbered. There is no other sign of life. We walk right round the palace until we find the Colonnade of Cameron, one of the wonders of Tsarskoe Selo, being the addition of a hanging garden, a Palladian bridge that leads nowhere, to this vast total of follies and apartments. It is too the masterwork of Charles Cameron, a work of genius in the Palladian style of England, yet transmuted by some curious magic, for it is more than that. The Gallery of Tsarskoe Selo consists of an Ionic Colonnade, not far from the body of the palace, and raised on a large terrace. It contains an oblong room in which Catherine dined in the summer, and an aerial garden. It is quite probable that this colonnade and hanging garden were built, half-seriously and half in jest, as an allusion to her being the Semiramis of the North. But in the snow, and, indeed, in summer too, something even in the elegance and grace of the building, perhaps the fact that it is raised on its high terrace, recalls the prints and pictures of Russian fairs. Montagnes russes, the first mountain railways of the fairs, had to have a raised building at each end, a tower from which the slide or switchback took its start, and these were often given pillars and porticoes, with carved figures of dancers of the fair upon their side walls. By some transformation or meta, morphosis, for it has no real structural resemblance, and may be due more to the colours in the sky or to some quite extraneous reason, the Colonnade of Tsarskoe Selo is not a hanging garden but a montagne russe - in imitation - for it has no action, no switchback, it is the summer dining room of Semiramis, yet, like all things Russian, it is Russian in total and in detail, and could be nothing else. We are to imagine Catherine dining in this Colonnade, her Russian elkhounds round her, her ambitions pointing her towards the Hellespont, with so much that is Oriental or Asiatic in the contradiction of these classic columns and the Tartar soil or substratum of her revenues. Syllables of the Russian tongue sound odd in this landscape of an Arcadian park, seen through the pillars. Today, on this winter afternoon, the flying colonnade of Tsarskoe Selo is like the Rialto if the Grand Canal ran dry. Seen from below, it looks stranded in a pale green sky: a bridge, a colonnade, a pleasure barge, left empty in a long winter. We come back to the palace, as snow begins to fall again. But the snow has begun to have black shadows. They are torn and sinister, black as a crow, so that the snow on the window, sills is as stained as in a London fog. The whole immense palace, like the frigate in an old engraving of an Arctic expedition, is engulfed or laid up in the snow. The crew have left it. We cannot look in through the frozen windows. Within, there are rooms that are like cabinets of tortoiseshell or amber, floored with rare woods, with golden doorways and mirrors magnifying the perspective. The enfilade runs, forever, on three floors in the double or parallel line of both facades, broken or interrupted by the staircases that are triumphal ascents, and should be but painted scenes leading to more canvas splendours, but are, here, actual and real. Listen? You may hear the booted step of Zoritch, her hussar lover; the high voice of Lanskoy; some, one mimicking Potemkin. But our thoughts are more impersonal. We look for the secret or spirit of this sleeping palace, and will not find it behind locked doors. We will look for it at the ball, tonight.

Alabiev's Nightingale

The entire lights of the capital burn as though lit by a single hand. This is Russia as the Russians loved it, not so long ago. It is as Russian as Alabiev's Nightingale. How quickly that gives the character! For those who do not know that little tune, how is it to be described? It is a body or synthesis of the Russian day or night, not by association, but in the tune itself, which is trite and ridiculous, and could be formed of air and water, or of bread and salt offered in the Russian manner. At the door of a house, to make the house your own. The Nightingale is Russian in its taste and smell. Its little clockwork mechanism lasts but for a moment, and builds up the image. As Russian as another phrase of music can be Italian, tasting of the South, touched on the lutes or mandolins. This is a sledge song: music of the troikas: or of the tiled stove when the double windows keep out the cold. It is every Russian custom and tradition. A nightingale in the wood of birch trees, when the spring flowers begin, and there are gilded domes and cupolas not far away, in a provincialism that has no frontiers in space or time. There is singing down by the river, in the sunset. And where does the river run? Out of Europe into Tartary, till it is lost in the nomad vastness. That little song, or microcosm, is a picture of this immense capital with its million souls, for its image or sentiment is universal in them, and does not alter from end to end of a whole continent. They all know, and understand, its simple meaning. It has the same values for them all. It is implicit in the cold winds that blow from the Neva, down the quays of granite. The droshky or the sledge driver could sing this song. It is not peculiar to the troika along the country roads; but is sung at the opera, and upon the islands in the summer evenings.

visit The Alexander Palace Time Machine