Horace Rumbold.

Recollections of a diplomatist .. (Volume 2) online

. (page 16 of 23)
Online LibraryHorace RumboldRecollections of a diplomatist .. (Volume 2) → online text (page 16 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

in London and Vienna, and, for too short a time,
Minister for Foreign Affairs, who, as a cousin of
Nadine's, from the first treated me with great cordi-
ality. Lobanow was one of the most charming of a
nation of enguirlandeurs, for when they lay them-
selves out to captivate the best class of Russians
are irresistible. At that time Adjoint, or Under
Secretary in the Home Department, Prince Alexis
was mostly engrossed by his researches regarding
the reign of the Emperor Paul, and his erudition
on what still remains one of the obscure periods of
Russian history was surprising. He collected an
immense mass of material on the subject, although
he never, so far as I know, put it into shape for
publication. One evening at the Truchsoss's lie
gave us a most graphic account of the murder of
Paul, even to making for us a rough plan of the
Emperor's bedroom, with the position of the furni-
ture, &c., which I unfortunately lost afterwards,
with other papers, in one of my many removals.
He told us that the Emperor, roused from his sleep


by steps on a small private staircase leading to his
door, which had been left unguarded that night
through treachery, and suspecting mischief, he got
out of bed and concealed himself behind a screen at
the other end of the room. The conspirators went
straight to the bed, and, finding it empty, one of
them Zoubow, I think said : " Le nid est chaud ;
1'oiseau n'est pas loin ! " They soon dragged the ill-
fated Paul from his hiding-place, and made him go
to his writing-table to sign a paper they had brought
with them by which he abdicated the throne. This,
in his terror, he agreed to do, when Pahlen, 1 if I am
not wrong, observed : " What is the good of this ?
To-morrow he might revoke it, and where should
we be then ? " Whereupon they seized and tried to
strangle him, in approved Russian historic fashion, 2
but, bungling the attempt, and the Emperor strug-
gling desperately for his life, one of them took up
a heavy ornamental paper-weight a present their
wretched victim had received that very day and
finished him off with it.

Alexis Lobanow had been at infinite pains to

1 It is related of Count Pahlen that the Lutheran pasteur who attended
him in his last moments, and to whom he had made a sort of general
confession, timidly ventured to refer to the Emperor Paul as possibly
weighing somewhat on the dying Count's conscience, receiving the im-
patient reply : "Mil dem habe ich schoii langst abgerechnet" (I settled
witli him long ago).

2 Peter III. was strangled at Ropscha in 1762 in the same way, and
Ivan VI. probably met his death in a similar manner. The particulars
of the murder of Peter III. are given in great detail at the end of the
(mostly apocryphal) Memoirs of the Empress Catherine, in an edition
now, I believe, suppressed, but which I saw a good many years ago.


consult every possible source or authority about
Paul, and, among other things, had gone a long dis-
tance to visit an octogenarian Prince Lapoukhine,
who was the only surviving member of the Emperor's
household. Arriving at his house in the forenoon,
after an endless journey, he found it shut up, and
not a soul stirring. Having at last succeeded in
rousing some one, he was told that the rule of the
establishment was systematically to turn night into
day. Accordingly, as evening approached, he was wel-
comed successively by the inmates, breakfasted with
them at nightfall, and, after dinner, at something like
4 A.M., interviewed the old Prince, and got what in-
formation he could out of him. Lobanow, who was
very cultivated and accomplished, like all his family
the well-known champion of Mary, Queen of Scots,
was one of his cousins originated a loan exhibition
of Russian national portraits during my stay at
Petersburg. The most curious portion of this in-
teresting show was a series of portraits of the
Emperor Paul from a child and, by the way, a
nice-looking child onwards, in which it was quite
possible to trace, beginning with the uniforms that
marked the period of his worship for Frederick
of Prussia, the progress of insanity iu the un-
fortunate autocrat, not only in his countenance
but in the increasing extravagance and grotesque-
ness of his garments, and more especially of the
monstrous head-coverings he affected. Lobanow's
life of Paul, should it ever come out, ought to be a


most interesting book, but bearing in mind certain
facts touching on other Imperial portraits, and inci-
dentally on curious problems in Russian history,
doubts are permissible as to its publication. We
went one day, with a special order from Delianow,
the Minister of Public Instruction whose wife,
nee Lazarew, was one of the most agreeable of
Petersburg hostesses over the magnificent Imperial
Library. The Director, who kindly showed us its
treasures himself, particularly called our attention to
a splendid portrait of the Empress Catherine, by
Lampi, that was hung in a place of honour it fully
deserved, in one of the principal rooms. This picture
he had discovered, he told us, in a lumber room, with
its face turned to the wall, and with the greatest
difficulty had obtained leave to rescue it thence and
restore it to its proper dignity. The fact is that
for two reigns, and more especially during that of
Nicholas, Catherine was in complete disgrace, and
although with the high-minded liberator so soon
to be foully murdered a reaction set in, and a
monument to the great Empress (erected since my
time) now graces the city she did so much to render
really Imperial, her extraordinary page in history
has yet to be fairly and worthily written, and above
all rescued from the compilers of more or less
spurious memoirs who have made it their own
and defaced it. As with the official tabooing of
Catherine, so may it well be with Paul, for reasons
into which I need not enter.


But I have said nothing as yet of my im-
mediate colleagues of the Embassy. Dear old
Victor Drummond, 1 who, with his charming wife,
has shown me much hospitality of recent years
in his snug Bavarian home, was our senior Second
Secretary and head of the Chancery, and next to
him came Frederick Antrobus, in those days the
gayest of the gay, but long since detached from the
vanities of diplomacy and of the world, and now
benignantly ruling over the Oratory in London.
Constantine Phipps 2 and his lovely wife, whom
I have already mentioned, were soon transferred
from Petersburg to Stuttgart and replaced by my
great friend Edwin Egerton. 3 Perhaps the most
noteworthy member of our staff, in some ways, was
Tom Michell " Foma Ivanovitch" 4 who was
a cheval between the Consular and Diplomatic
Services, being our Consul and a most efficient
one at Petersburg, but likewise holding the local
rank of Second Secretary to the Embassy, without
which he would have been excluded from all
Court ceremonies and entertainments. Michell's
unrivalled knowledge of the language and people,
and very great abilities and powers of work, marked

1 Mr. V. A. W. Drummond, t'.B., hi* Majesty's Minister at Munich.

2 Mr. Phipps is now his Majesty's Minister at Brussels.

; Sir Kdwin Kgerton, (I.C.M.G., K.C.B., now his Majesty's
Minister at Athens.

4 The Russian for "Thomas the. son of John." Miehell was, 1
believe, born at Cronstadt of English parents long settled in Russia, and
like his brother and successor, John, who is still doing excellent work
as Consul-General at Petersburg, was familiar with Russ from his birth.


him out for a far more successful career than fell
to his lot, for, owing partly to Russian official
apprehension of a man who was rendering us
absolutely invaluable service, and partly to the
indiscreet utterances of which he was occasionally
guilty, Petersburg was practically made too hot for
him, and any future he might have had in Russia
was nipped in the bud. He afterwards held for
a good many years the very honourable and
pleasant post of Consul -General at Christiania,
where he served under me, but his life had been
thoroughly embittered, and the very capable and
warm-hearted fellow and his excellent wife may
both be said to have died of broken hearts, if, indeed,
there be such a termination to earthly troubles.

We had, too, for a few months an Unpaid
Attache of the name of Warde, whose strange, un-
timely end preserves to him a place in my almost
inconveniently crowded memory. He went one day,
in very bitter weather, in his open sledge, to a
fencing - class at the rooms of Lamansky, the
Director of the National Bank. In an outer hall
there was a parrot of which lie was in the habit
of taking notice. The bird was very tame, and
Warde, leaving the salle d'armes, stopped to give
it a lump of sugar which he held in his teeth. The
parrot slightly nipped his lip, drawing blood. He
put up his handkerchief to it and waited outside
in the cold for his sledge to come up. Next day
he went with all of us to a great ball at the Winter


Palace, where I noticed that he had a bit of sticking-
plaster on his lip. The following day he sent word
that he was unwell and could not come to the
Chancery, and before the week was over died of
most acute blood-poisoning, on his twenty-third
birthday. He would then, under a special clause
in his father's will, have come of age and into the
enjoyment of some twelve or fifteen thousand a
year. Parrot bites are said to be venomous, but the
theory of the doctors who attended Warde was
that the blood from the slight open wound had
been decomposed by the intense cold, and that
from it the poison had spread to the whole system.
We buried the poor fellow at Strelna, I remember,
with the thermometer marking fully twenty degrees
below the freezing-point of Centigrade.

That terrible cold ! As I have said, the Russian
methods of coping with it both indoors and out
are so perfect that the newly -arrived stranger be-
comes almost heedless of the temperature. Never-
theless any one attending for the first time
some great reception at Court cannot, I think,
but realise to the full the grim aspect of the
Russian winter. In the squares that adjoin the
Winter Palace are iron pavilions, like great baud-
stands, where immense fires are kept up all night
for the coachmen and sledge-drivers. In their
long caftans, wadded some three inches thick,
and their fur-caps and collars, they are really able
to brave the cold with impunity, though one hears


now and then of some poor wretch, with an over-
dose of vodky, having been found frozen on his
box. But once the Imperial threshold has been
passed, it is the contrast with the cruelly bleak
scene without that beggars all description. There
is a defiance of climate and latitude about the
smaller Court balls especially which is quite amaz-
ing. At these fetes, known as the bals des palmier s,
the supper-tables are each of them laid round the
trunk of a large palm tree imbedded in a small
parterre of the most exquisite flowers. The effect
of the immense room, as one enters it, is that of
a tropical grove in some gorgeous fairy scene, and
in looking on it, one's thoughts cannot but turn
for a moment to those one has just left to the
rigours of the frozen world outside. As a matter
of fact, however, even the most destitute in Russia
suffer much less in winter than do our own thinly-
clad poor in their ill-found dwellings. Ignorance
and drink far more than Arctic surroundings are
the evils the moujik has to contend with in his
hard and joyless existence. To go back to these
Court fetes, nothing could exceed their luxury and
magnificence, and, in my time, when the orchestra
towards midnight struck up that most spirited of
dances the mazurka which at Petersburg takes
the place of the cotillon and Nicolas Nicolaievitch,
the image of his splendid father mid of his beautiful
sister of \\urtemberg, and the most graceful of
dancers (the dullest of men, it was said, and


feeblest of generals 1 ), went swinging down the room
at the head of some sixty couples, the spell of all
this gaiety and splendour seized upon one, as it
were, and made one think that nothing could ex-
ceed the brilliancy of the scene, almost barbaric
though it was in its display.

Of the Court ceremonies, the most interesting
and original was the " blessing of the waters,"
which takes place in the forenoon on the Feast of
the Epiphany in almost invariably severe weather.
Places are reserved for the diplomatic corps at
some of the countless windows of the Palace look-
ing over the quay and the great snow-field that
covers the frozen river beyond. To reach these
windows, one has to traverse a series of immense
apartments all lined by detachments of the many
regiments of the Imperial Guard in full review
order. This indoor parade is no less striking
to the eye than to one's other senses, for these
splendid troops bring with them a triple extrait de
caserne which, mingled with the scent of the eau
a brdler so freely used in all Petersburg houses,
produces in these over-heated rooms a decidedly
trying atmosphere. What would one not ofteu
give in Russia in the winter-time for that unattain-
able thing a breath of fresh air? At a given
hour the Emperor and his suite, accompanied by
all the Grand Dukes, and preceded by a crowd

1 The third son of the Emperor Nicholas. \vho was at tirst Com-
mauder-iii-Chief in the Russo-Turkish War of 1876.


of clergy in gorgeous vestments, passes in pro-
cession through the entire Palace down to a tem-
porary chapel erected on the Neva, where a short
service is held by the Metropolitan, who blesses,
through a hole cut in the ice, the "waters of
Jordan." As all the persons present at the cere-
mony have to remain bareheaded, the more prudent
among them, beginning with his Imperial Majesty,
provide themselves with more or less artistic wigs
for the occasion. The whole function concludes
with a sumptuous dejeHner dinatoire.

The cost of the Imperial entertainments must
be prodigious, and no Civil List, however liberal,
would suffice for a Court kept up on so lavish a
scale. I heard a good deal about this from one
of the Koucheleff connection, a Count Moussine
Pouschkine, who had been Marechal de la Cour
for a short time. He said that that most con-
scientious of rulers, the Emperor Alexander II.,
was very anxious to reduce the expenditure and,
above all, to check the waste, not unattended with
peculation, which took place in all branches of
the Imperial establishment. Taking his cue from
his master, Pouschkine seriously applied himself to
retrenchment. But he had counted without his
superior, the Grand Mardchal, and had still less
gauged the power of vested interests. After a
stout struggle with these potent adversaries he re-
signed his office in despair. He told me what
had been the immediate and very trivial cause of


his doing so. Under the Imperial Household regu-
lations drawn up ages ago, any one summoned to
Court from a distance, or bringing despatches, was
entitled to a certain number of meals, according
to the length of his stay, at each of which three
bottles of wine Madeira, claret, and hock
were opened for his consumption. Shocked by
this waste, the zealous Pouschkine suggested to the
Court purveyors that they should provide for these
occasions pints instead of whole bottles. There was
such an outcry over this proposal, which was re-
presented as derogatory to the Imperial dignity,
that it became the last drop in the bitter cup
Pouschkine was draining, and made him give up
in disgust. A good story too was current about the
relations between the Grand Mardchal aforesaid
and these Court purveyors, who were the famous
magasin anglais founded in the reign of Catherine
by Nicholls and Plincke an immense establish-
ment that supplied the wants of the Court, from
the diamond snuff-boxes and decorations down to
the liquor that filled the Imperial cellars. It was
customary for the magasin to send its respectful
congratulations to the Grand Mare'chal on New
Year's day by one of its chief employe's. The
New Year had passed already and no congratula-
tions had yet reached his Excellency. lie inquired
whether possibly the message might not by some
oversight have miscarried, and, on being assured that
none had been received, gave orders that the



should be reminded of its forgetfulness. Where-
upon the magasin, with profound apologies, con-
gratulated in due form (in reality for the second
time) to the customary tune of ten thousand
roubles. Who had intercepted the first congratu-
lations my deponent sayeth not.

Before leaving these Court stories, I will men-
tion an absurd incident that occurred at one of the
first State balls I was at, even though the laugh
may be against me in it. We diplomates were
drawn up in due order for the cercle which pre-
cedes these fetes and during which any necessary
presentations are made. Our Embassy ranking
by seniority 1 next to the French one, I was
almost immediately behind Talleyrand. At the
farther end of the room stood the American Envoy,
General Clay, and by him a gentleman in plain
dress-clothes the only person so attired in all
this assemblage of gala uniforms and decorations.
" Qui peut-tre ce monsieur en habit noir & cotd de
1'Amdricain ? " observed Talleyrand to me, "ca doit
e"tre un dentiste." " Non," I replied, " c'est mon
beau-pere." " Ah ! mon cher," said poor Talley-
rand in tones of real anguish, " qu'cst-ce que vous
voulez que je vous disc ? " What indeed could he
have said ? The story, which is not a bad one,

1 It is perhaps superfluous to explain that precedence between
Embassies and Legations at a given Court simply depends on the
date of the presentation of the credentials of their respective heads ;
Ambassadors and Envoys ranking as between themselves on that basis.
This is one of the few sensible arrangements made at the Congress
uf Vienna.


might perhaps serve as a moral to those among
our new and, I would fain hope, reliable American
friends who have been cavilling so much at their
countrymen over here for lowering their dignity
as free citizens of the United States by putting
on court-dress that is, knee-breeches such as the
great Washington must have worn all his life.

I ought to have mentioned before that the
Harringtons had been on a visit to us since the
beginning of the year. When they left us at the
end of March it was arranged that my wife, who
required a complete change after her confinement,
should join them at Berne, before going on by
the doctor's advice to that dullest of German
watering-places, Schwalbach, which certainly does
wonders for delicate constitutions such as hers.
My Charge'ship, of course, tied me down to my
post, so that, leading a bachelor life for the first
time since my arrival in Russia, I now saw more
of the society of the place than I had done before.
The highest class of Russians are such perfect
hosts, and the ladies especially are so intelligent
and such cultivated cosmopolitans, that social life
at Petersburg appeared to me most attractive. One
of the few drawbacks to it was the early hour
and hurried character of the dinner-parties, and
the interminable interval between them and the
other events of the evening, which all began very
late. It was a bore to sit down at six o'clock to
an exquisite and admirably served dinner which


one was not given time to eat in comfort (one
literally had to hold on to one's plate to prevent
its being snatched away by the too attentive ser-
vants), and then to be left to one's own devices
for several hours ; for these hasty to me almost
Barmecide feasts broke up quite early. Many of
the ladies simply went home to bed, not re-
appearing until after midnight at some ball or
party, where they would sup and then stay on till
any hour in the morning. The men of course
had the resource of the Yacht Club, with high
play for those who cared for, and could, or
could not, afford it at ieralasch, a Russian form
of whist which I take to be the parent of the
now so popular game of bridge. Then, too, there
were the beautiful ballets at the Opera House,
and the French company of the Theatre Michel,
which was quite a succursale of the Paris Gym-
nase. Still I found the great length of the
evenings and the terribly late hours decidedly

Almost opposite to us in the Sergievskaia lived
Princesse Lise Troubetzkoi, whom I had seen a
good deal of in my Baden days. Clever, mincing,
somewhat mordantc " Lison " to give her the name
by which she was best known was quite an insti-
tution in Petersburg society. She was extremely
civil to us, and frequent invitations reached our
humble isba 1 from her big house over the way.

1 Isba, the typical Russian wooden house.


Political gossip is the staple food of the diploma-
tist at Petersburg even more than elsewhere, and at
Princesse "Lison's," the future Egeria of Monsieur
Thiers and the would-be confidente of the " Chan-
celier," one got plenty of it. There was also, close
to the Palais Anitchkow on the Nevski, the beautiful
house of Princesse Lise's mother, Princesse Helene
Kotchoubey, an exceedingly clever woman and a
very great lady indeed, with a most pleasing un-
married daughter, like the nicest of English girls
in all her ways, who shortly afterwards married
General Dournovo ; and a handsome Bielosselsky
daughter-in-law, nee Skobelew, 1 who had a lovely
contralto voice. Of the ladies I saw much of, the
most attractive to my mind were the very charming
owner of our Embassy House, Princesse Soltikow,
nee Dolgorouky, and her quite beautiful sister,
Princesse Mary Dolgorouky, who had married a
distant cousin of another branch of the same
house. I never saw a handsomer family than the
Dolgoroukys I speak of. Two of the brothers
Niki (Nicholas), who was very fair and was after-
wards Minister at Teheran, and Sandy (Alexander),
very dark, and now one of the grandes charges dc
cour were quite remarkable for their good looks.
A third sister, Comtesse Steenbock Fermor, is the
mother of Comtesse Kapnist, one of the nicest of
our colleagues in after years at the Hague and
Vienna. There was another, entirely different,

1 Daughter of the renowned general of that name.


Dolgorouky house I often went to, the owner of
which, Michel the husband of the lady I had
known at Naples had two strikingly pretty sisters,
one of whom (Catherine) afterwards became the
Emperor Alexander's morganatic wife. I have not
yet spoken of the best friend I had at Petersburg,
and with whom I remained in correspondence a
good many years Princesse Irene Paskevitch but
of her and of her home on the Quai Anglais I
shall have more to say later on.

Early in July my wife returned from Schwalbach,
greatly benefited by the cure and quite her bright
self again. At this time, too, our house acquired an
invaluable inmate in Catherine Harwood, who came
as head nurse to my eldest boy, and for upwards of
thirty years was a most faithful servant and friend
in my family. The brief Russian summer passed
away quickly. We went a great deal to Ligovo and
other places in that neighbourhood, which is studded
with country houses. We also made a short excur-
sion with the Truchsesses to Finland, staying for a
couple of nights at Viborg and at the fine falls at
Imatra. Towards the end of September my wife's
health unfortunately again gave way, and I reluc-
tantly decided to take her south for the winter, and
break up, to my great sorrow, our happy little home
in the Sergievska'ia. It was hard to have to take up
one's staff and go forth wandering once more.


LIFE IN RUSSIA, 1870-1871

FROM Petersburg, which we left on the i3th of
October, we first made our way by Berlin and Frank-
fort to Baden-Baden on a ten days' visit to my sister
at the Villa Delmar. It was much too early yet to
go down to Nice, where I had secured apartments
for the winter, and as the Harringtons were away on
leave in America, we determined to stop at the Hotel
Beau Rivage at Ouchy, on the Lake of Geneva, which
can be commended to the traveller on his way south
as one of the best of halting-places. We were so

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryHorace RumboldRecollections of a diplomatist .. (Volume 2) → online text (page 16 of 23)