Madame de (Anne-Louise-Germaine) Staël.

Ten years' exile; online

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In the environs of Petersburg, nature has the look
of an enemy who resumes his advantages, when
man ceases for a moment to struggle with him.

The next morning I repaired to the church of
our Lady of Casan, built by Paul I. on the model
of St. Peter's at Rome. The interior of this
church, decorated with a great number of columns
of granite, is exceedingly beautiful ; but the build-
ing itself displeases, precisely because it reminds
us of St. Peter's : and because it differs from it so
much the more, from the mere wish of imitation.
It is impossible to create in two years what cost
the labour of a century to the first artists of the
universe. The Russians would by rapidity escape
from time as they do from space: but time only
preserves what it has founded, and the fine arts,
of which inspiration seems the first source, cannot
nevertheless dispense with reflection.

From our Lady of Casan I went to the convent
of St. Alexander Newski, a place consecrated to
one of the sovereign heroes of Russia, who ex-
tended his conquests to the borders of the Neva.
The empress Elizabeth, daughter of Peter L had



TEN years' exile. 243

a silver coffin made for him, upon which it is cus-
tomary to put a piece of money, as a pledge of
the vow which is recommended to the Saint. The
tomb of Suwarow is in this convent of Alexander
Newski, but his name is its only decoration ; it is
enough for him, but not for the Russians, to whom
he rendered such important services. This nation,
however, is so thoroughly military, that lofty
achievements of that description excite less asto-
nishment in it than other nations. The greatest
families of Russia have erected tombs to their
relatives in the cemetery which belongs to the
church of Newski, but none of these monuments
are worthy of remark ; they are not beautiful, re-
garded as objects of art, and no grand idea there
strikes the imagination. It is certain that the idea
of death produces little effect on the Russians ;
whether it is from courage, or from the inconstan-
cy of their impressions, long regrets are hardly ia
their character; they are more susceptible of su-
perstition than emotion : superstition attaches to
this life, and religion to another ; superstition is
allied to fatality, and religion to virtue ; it is from
the vivacity of earthly desires that we become
superstitious, and it is on the contrary by the sa-
crifice of these same desires, that we are rehgious.
M. de Romanzow, the minister of foreign affairs
in Russia, loaded me with the most amiable at-
tentions, and it was with regret that I considered
him as so implicated in the system of the emperor
Napoleon, that he must necessarily retire, like
the English ministers, when that system was
abandoned. Doubtless, in an absolute monarchy,
the will of the master explains every thing ; but
the dignity of a prime minister perhaps requires
that words of an opposite tendency should not



244 TEN years' exile.

proceed from the same mouth. The sovereign
represents the slate, and the state may change its
system of politics whenever circumstances re-
quire it; but the minister is only a man, and a
man, on questions of this nature, ought to have
but one opinion in the course of his life. It is
impossible to have better manners than Count
Romanzow, or to receive strangers more nobly.
I was at his house when the English envoy, Lord
Tyrconnel, and Admiral Bentinck were announ-
ced, both of them men of remarkably fine ap-
pearance : they were the first English who had
reappeared on that continent, from which the
tyranny of one man had banished them. After
ten years of such fearful struggle, after ten years
during which victories and disasters had always
found the English true to the compass of their
politics, conscience, they returned at last into the
country which first emancipated itself from the
universal monarchy. Their accent, their simpli-
city, their fierte^ all awakened in the soul that
sentiment of truth in all things, which Napoleon
has discovered the art of obscuring in the eyes of
those who have only read his journals, and lis-
tened to his agents. 1 do not even know if Na-
poleon's adversaries on the continent, constantly
surrounded with a false opinion which never
ceases to deafen them, can venture to trust them-
selves without apprehension to their own feelings.
If I can judgie of them by myself, I know that
frequently, after having heard all the advices of
prudence or meanness with which one is over-
whelmed in the Bonapartist atmosphere, I scarce-
ly knew what to think of my own opinion ; my
blood forbid me to renounce it, but my reason was
jiot always sufficient to preserve me from so many



TEN year's EXtLB. 245

Sophisms. It was therefore with the most lively
emotion that I heard once more the voice of that
England, with which we are almost always sure
to agree, when we endeavour to deserve our own
esteem, and that of persons of integrity.

The following day, I was invited by Count
Orloff to come and spend the dayin the island
which bears his name, and which is the most
agreeable of all those formed by the Neva ; oaks,
a rare production in this country, overshadow the
garden. The Count and Countess Orloff employ
their fortune in receiving strangers with equal fa-
cility and magnificence ; you are at your ease
with them, as in a country retreat, and you enjoy
there all the luxury of cities. Count Orloff is one
of the most learned noblemen to be met with in
Russia, and his love of his country bears a profound
character with which it is impossible to help being
affected. The first day I passed at this house,
peace had just been proclaimed with England ; it
was a Sunday ; and in his garden, which was on
that day opened to all comers, we saw a great num-
ber of these long-bearded merchants, who keep up
in Russia the costume of the Moujiks, that is to
say, of the peasants. A number of them collect-
ed to hear the delightful band of music of Count
Orloff; it gave us the English air of God save the
King, which is the song of liberty in a country, of
which the monarch rs its first guardian. We were
all much affected, and applauded this air, which
is become national for all Europeans 5 for there
are no longer but two kinds of men in Europe,
those who serve tyranny, .and those who have learn-
ed to hale it. Count Orloff went up to the Rus-
sian merchants, and told them that the peace be-
tween England and Russia was celebrating ; they

22



24'6 TEN years' exile.

immediately made the sign of the cross, and thank-
ed heaven that the sea vvas once more opeii to
them.

The isle of Orloff is in the centre of all those which
the great noblemen of Petersburg, and ihe enipe-
ror and empress thenrsselves, have selected for iheir
residence during summer. Not far from it is the isle
of StrogonofF, the rich owner of which has brought
from Greece antiquities of great value. His house
was open every day during his lifcj and whoever
had once been presented might return when they
chose; he never invited any one to dinner or sup-
per on a particular day; it was understood that
once admitted, you were always welcome; he fre-
quently knew not half the persons who dined at his
table : but this luxurious hospitality pleased him
like any other kind of magnificence. The same
practice prevails in many other houses at Peters-
burg; it is natural to conclude from that, that
what we call in France the pleasures of conversa-
tion cannot be there met with : the company is
much too numerous to allow a conversation of any
interest even to be kept up in it. In the best socie-
ty the most perfect good manners prevail, but there
is neither sufficient information among the nobility,
nor sufficient confidence among persons living
habitually under the influence of a despotic court
and government, to allow them to know any thing
of the charms of intimacy.

The greater part of the great noblemen of
Russia express themselves with so much elegance
and propriety, that one frequently deceives one's
self at the outset about the degree of wit and ac-
quirements of those with whom you are conversing.
The debut is almost always that of a gentleman or
lady of fine understanding : but sometimes also, in



TEN years' exile. ' 247

the long run, you discover nothing but the debut.
They are not accustomed in Russia to speak from
the bottom of their heart or understanding ; they
had in former times such fear of their masters, that
they have not yet been able to accustom themselves
to that wise freedom, for which they are indebted
to the character of Alexander.

Some Russian gentlemen have tried to distin-
guish themselves in literature, and have given
proofs of considerable talent in this career ; but
knowledge is not yet sufficiently diffused to create
a public judgment formed by individual opinions.
The character of the Russians is too passionate to
allow them to like ideas in the least degree abstract ;
it fs by facts only that they are amused ; they have
not yet had time or inclination to reduce facts to
general ideas. In addition, every significant idea
is always more or less dangerous, in the midst of a
court where mutual observation, and more frequent-
ly envy, are the predominant feelings.

The silence of the East is here transformed into
amiable words, but which generally never pene-
trate beyond the surface. One feels pleasure for
a moment in this brilliant atmosphere, which is an
agreeable dissipation of life ; but in the long run
no information is acquired in it, no faculties are
developed in it, and men who pass their life in this
manner never acquire any capacity for study or
business. Far otherwise was it with the society
of Paris 5 there we have seen men whose characters
have been entirely formed by the lively or serious
conversation to which the intercourse between the
nobility and men of letters gave birth.



GHAPTER XVIL

The Imperial Family »

I HAD at last the pleasure of seeing that mon^
arch, equally absolute by law and custom, and
so Kioderate from his own disposition. The
empress Elizabeth, to whom I was at first
presented, appeared to me the tutelary angel of
Russia. Her manners are extremely reserved,
but what she says is full of life, and it is from the
focus of all generous ideas that her sentiments
and opinions have derived strength and warmth.
While I listened to her, I was affected by some-
thing inexpressible, which did not proceed from
her grandeur, but from the harmony of her soul ;
80 long was it since I had known an instance of
concord between power and vittue. As 1 was
conversing with the empress, the door opened,
and the emperor Alexander did me the honour to
come and talk to me. What first struck me in
him was such an expression of goodness and dig-
nity, that the two qualities appear inseparable,
and in him to form only one, I was also very
touch affected with the noble simplicity with
which he entered upon the great interests of Eu-
rope, almost among the first words he addressed
to me. I have always regarded, as a proof of
mediocrity, that apprehension of treating serious
questions, with which the best part of the sove-
reigns of Europe have been inspired ; they are
afraid to pronounce a word to which any real
meaning can be attached. The emperor Alex-
ander, on the contrary, conversed with me as
statesmen in England would have done, who
place their strength in themselves, and not in the



TEN years' EXrLE. 249

barriers with which they are surrounded. The
emperor Alexander, whom Napoleon has endea-
voured to misrepresent, is a man of remarkable
understanding and information, and I do not be-
lieve that in the whole extent of his empire he
could find a minister better versed than himself in
all that belongs to the judgment and direction of
public affairs. He did not disguise from me hi^
regret for the admiration to which he had surren-
dered himself in his intercourse with Napoleon.
His grandfather had, in the same way, entertained
a great enthusiasm for Frederic II. In these sort
of illusions, produced by an extraordinary cha-
racter, there is always a generous motive, what-
ever may be the errors that result from it. The
emperor Alexander, however, described with
great sagacity the effect produced upon him by
these conversations with Bonaparte, in which he
said the most opposite things, as if one must be
astonished at each, without thinking of their
being contradictory. He related (o me, also, the
lessons a la Machiavel whi(?h Napoleon had
thought proper to give him : " You see," said
he, *' 1 am careful to keep my ministers and ge-
nerals at variance among themselves, in order
that each may reveal to me the faults of the
other ; I keep up around me a continual jealousy
by the manner I treat those who are about me ;
one day one thinks himself the favourite, the
next day another, so that no one is ever certain
of my favour." What a vulgar and vicious the-
ory ! And will there never arise a man superior
to this man, who will demonstrate its inutility ?
That which is wanting to the sacred cause of mo-
rality, is, that it should contribute in a very s^tri-
king manner to great success in this world ; he

22*



250 TEN years' EXILE*

who fee]s~all the dignity of this cause win sacri-
fice with pleasure every success: but it is still
necessary to teach those presumptuous persons
who imagine they discover depth of thinking in
the vices of the soul, that if in immorality there
is sometimes wit, in virtue there is genius. In
obtaining the conviction of the good faith of the
EnDperor Alexander, in his relations with Napo-
leon. I was at the same time persuaded that he
would not imitate the example of the unfortunate
sovereigns of Germany, and would sign no peace
with him who is equally the enemy of people
and kings. A noble soul cannot be twice de-
ceived by the same person. Alexander gives and
withdraws his confidence with the greatest re-
flection. His youth and personal advantages
have alone, at the beginning of his reign, made
him be suspected of levity ; but he is serious,
even as much so as a man may be who has
known misfortune. Alexander expressed to
me his regret at not being a great captain : I
replied to this lioble modesty, that a sovereign
was much more rare than a general, and that the
support of the public feelings of hfs people, by
his example, was achieving the greatest victory,
and the first of the kind, which had ever been
gained. The emperor talked to me with enthu-
siasm of his nation, and of all that it was capable
of becoming. He expressed to me the desire, which
all the world knows him to entertain, of ame-
liorating the slate of the peasants still subject to
slavery. " Sire,'* said I to him, *' your charac-
ter is a constitution for your empire, and your
conscience is the guarantee of it." " Were
that even the case," replied he, " I should only



TEN y^EARS' EXILE. ^bt

be a fortunate accident.''* Noble words ! the
first of the kind, I believe, which an absolute
monarch ever pronounced I How many virtues
it requires, in a despot, properly to estimate des-
potism! and how many virtues, also, never to
abuse it, when the nation which he governs is al-
most astonished at such signal moderation.

At Petersburg especially, the great nobility
have less liberality in their principles than the
emperor himself* Accustomed to be the absolute
masters of their peasants, they wish the monarch,
in his turn, to be omnipotent, for the purpose of
maintaining the hierarchy of despotism. The
state of citizens does not yet exist in Russia ; it
begins, however, to be forming; the sons of the
clergy, those of the merchants, and some pea-
sants who have obtained of their lords the liberty
of becoming artists, may be considered as a third
order in the state. The Russian nobility besides
bears no resemblance to that of Germany or
France ; a man becomes noble in Russia, as soon
as he obtains rank in the army. No doubt the
great families, such as the Narischkins, the Dol-
goroukis, the Gallitzins, &;c. will always hold the
lirst rank in the empire; bat it is not less true,
that the advantages of the aristocracy belong to
men whom the monarch's pleasure has made no-
ble in a day ; and the whole ambition of the citi-
zens is, in consequence, to have their sons made
officers, in order that they may belong to the pri=
vileged class. The result of this is, that young
men's education is finished at fifteen years of

* This expression has been already quoted in the third vo-
lume of the Considerations on the French Revolution ; but it de-
serves to be rejieo ted. All this, however, it must be remembered,
•was written at the end of 18J2, {JVote by the Editor.)



252 TEN years' exile

age ; they are hurried into the army as soon as
possible, and every thing else is neglected. This
is not the time certainly to blame an order of
things which has produced so noble a resistance ;
were tranquillity restored, it might be truly said,
that under civil considerations, there are great
deficiencies in the internal administration of Rus-
sia. Energy and grandeur exist in the nation ;
but order and knowledge are still frequently want-
ing, both in the government, and in the private
conduct of individuals. Peter I. by making Rus-
sia European, certainly bestowed upon her great
advantages ; but these advantages he more than
counter-balanced by the establishment of a des-
potism prepared by his father, and consoHdated
by him ; Catherine II., on the contrary, tempered
the use of absolute power, of which she was not
the author. If the political state of Europe should
ever be restored to peace ; in other words, if one
man were no longer the dispenser of evil to the
world, we should see Alexander solely occupied
with the improvement of his country, and in at-
tempting to establish laws which would guarantee
to it that happiness, of which the duration is as
yet only secured for the life of its present ruler.

From the emperor's I went to his respectable
mother's, that princess to whom calumny has never
been able to impute a sentiment unconnected with
the happiness of her husband, her children, or the
fansily of unfortunate persons of whom she is the
protectress. I shall relate, farther on, in what man-
ner she governs that empire of charity, which she
exercises in the midst of the omnipotent empire of
her son. She lives in the palace of the Taurida,
and to get to her apartments you have to cross a
hall, built by prince Potemkin, of incomparable



TEN years' exile. 21531

grandeur ; a winter garden occupies a part of it,
and you see the trees and plants through the pillars
which surround the middle inclosure. Every thing
in this residence is colossal ; the conceptions of the
prince who built it were fantastically gigantic. He
had towns built in the Crimea, solely that the em-
press might see them on her passage ; he ordered
the assault of a fortress, to please a beautiful wo-
man, the princess Dolgorouki, who had disdained
his suit. The favour of his Sovereign mistress creat-
ed him such as he showed himself ; but there is re-
markable, notwithstanding, in the characters of
most of the great men of Russia, such as Menzikoff,
Suwarow, Peter I. himself, and in yet older times
Ivan Vasilievitch, something fantastical, violent, and
ironical combined. Wit was with them rather an
arm than an enjoyment, and it was by the imagina*-
tion that they were led. Generosity, barbarity, un-
bridled passions, and religious superstition, all met
in the same character. Even now civilization in
Russia has not penetrated beyond the surface, even
among the great nobility ; externally they imitate
other nations, but all are Russians at heart, and in
that consists their strength and originality, the love
of country being, next to that of God, the noblest
sentiment which men can feel. That country must
certainly be exceedingly different from those whick
surround it to inspire a decided attachment ; na-
tions which are confounded with one another by
slight shades of difference, or which are divided in-
to several separate states, never devote themselves
with real passion to the conventional association to
which they have attached the name of country.



CHAPTER XVIIL

Manners of the Great Russian Kohility,

I WENT to spend a day at the country seat of
prince Narischkin, great chamberlain of the court,
an amiable, easy and polished man, but who cannot
exist without a fete ; it is at his house that you ob-
tain a correct notion of that vivacity in their tastes,
which explains the defects and qualities of the Rus-
sians. The house ofM. de Narischkin is always
open, and if there happen to be only twenty persons
at his country seat, he begins to be weary of this
philosophical retreat. Polite to strangers, always
in movement, and yet perfectly capable of the re-
flection required to stand well at court : greedy of
the enjoyments of imagination, but placing these
only in things and not in books ; impatient every
where but at court, witty when it is to his advantage
to be so, magnificent rather than ambitious, and
seeking in every thing for a certain Asiatic gran-
deur, in which fortune and rank are more conspicu-
ous than personal advantages. His country seat is
as agreeable as it is possible for a place of the kind
to be, created by the hand of man : all the sur-
rounding country is marshy and barren ; so as to
make this residence a perfect Oasis. On ascending
the terrace, you see the guiph of Finland, and per-
ceive in the distance, the palace which Peter I. built
upon its borders ; but the space which separates it
from the sea and the palace is almost a waste, and
tbs park of M. Narischkin alone charms the eye of
the observer. We dined in the house of the Molda-
vians, that is to say, in a saloon built according to
the taste of theee people ; it v»'as arranged so as to
protect from the heat of the sun, a precaution rather



TEN years' exile. 255

needless in Russia. However, the imagination is
io\ presaged to that degree witfi the idea that yoo are
living Htnong a people who have only cocae into
the North by accident, that it appears natural to
find there the customs ot die South, as if the Rus-
sians were some day or other to bring to Peters-
burg the climate of their old country, i'he table
was covered with the fruits of all countries, accord-
ing iQ the custom taken from the East, of only let-
ting the fruits appear, while a crowd of servants
carried round to each guest the dishes of meat and
vegetables they required.

We were entertained with a concert of that
horn music which is pecuHar to Russia, and of
which mention has been often made. Of twenty
musicians, each plays only one and the same
note, every time it returns ; each of these men,
in consequence, bears the name of the note which
he is employed to execute. When one of them
is seen going along, people say., that is the sol,
that is the mi, or that is the re of M. Narischkin#
The horns go on increasing from rank to rank,
and this music has been by some one called, very
properly, a living organ. At a distance the effect
is very fine ; the exactness, and the purity of the
harmony, excite the most noble ideas; but when
you come near to these poor performers, who are
there Hke pipes, yielding only one sound, and
quite unable to participate by their own emotions
in the effect produced, the pleasure dies away;
one does not like to see the fine arts transformed
into mechanical arts, to be acquired by dint of
strength-like exercise.

Some of the inhabitants of the Ukraine, dress-
ed in scarlet, came afterwards to sing to us sonae
of the airs of their country, which are singularly



256 TEN years' exile.

pleasing ; they are sometimes gay, and sometimes
melancholy, and soauHimes holh united. These
airs sometimes break off abruptly in the midst of
the melody, as if the imagination of the people
was tired before finishing what at first pleased
them, or found it more piquant to suspend the
charm at the very moment its influence was
greatest. It is thus that the Sultana of the Ara-
bian Nights always breaks off her story when its
interest is at the height.

M. Narischkin, in the midst of this variety of
pleasures, proposed to us to drink a toast to the
united arms of the Russians and English, and gave
at the same moment a signal to his artillery,
which gave almost as loud a salute as that of a
sovereign. The inebriety of hope seized all the
guests; as for me, I felt myself bathed in tears.
Was it possible that a foreign tyrant should re-
duce me to wish that the French should be beat?


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