« السابقةمتابعة »
COURT CLOCK-WINTER PALACE, HERMITAGE-PLAYERS AND GOVERN
MENT CARRIAGES-CONVENT DES DEMOISELLES-INSTABILITY OF FORTUNE-GENEROSITY IN A CHILD-THE FOUNDLING HOSPITAL.
IN order to observe engagements with punctuality, it is necessary that a traveller's watch should be set by the clock of the winter, palace, which is the sun's vice-regent in Petersburg, and is certainly more sovereign than that of the horse-guards in London. I learned this piece of important information, as I proceeded with a party of friends to the hermitage ; not the matted cell of an anchorite, but a magnificent modern palace built by the late empress, and connected by a light elegant gallery with an enormous mass of building, called the winter palace, built of brick stuccoed, and consisting of a basement floor, a grand and lesser story, supported with Doric columns, and adorned with balustrades, and an immense number of statues, many of which are said to be excellent, but as they &. 3 associated with the chimneys, their beauties are not discernable to gazers on the ground. This pile was built by the empress Elizabeth, is grand from its magnitude, but very heavy: within its walls are many courts, galleries, and passages, and staircases without number. In the winter it requires fifteen hundred stoves, or, as the Russians call them, pitchkas, and the resident English, peeches, to warm it. :
What could induce Catherine to call one of the most costly and elegant palaces in Europe by the name of the hermitage I cannot imagine ; not more preposterous would it be to hear Windsor castle denominated the Nutshell. Its situation on the banks of the Neva is very beautiful; the apartments are still magnificent, although much of their rich furniture has been removed, and are embellished with the Houghton and other choice collections, to which artists have free access to copy. One room was entirely filled with some of the finest productions of Vernet; there is also a great number by Teniers. Upon the same floor with the picture galleries, which, with the state-rooms, occupy the second story, is a spacious covered winter garden, filled with orange trees, and foreign singing birds, opening into a summer garden upon the top of the palace, in which there is a beautiful long gravelled walk, lined with shrubs and large graceful birch-trees, whose roots I should think must have for some time threatened to make their way through the ceiling of the drawing-rooms below. The whole is adorned with statues, elegant garden sophas, and temples, and on each side are magnificent galleries. In the cabinet of curiosities I was much pleased with a faithful and exquisite model of a Russian boor's farm-house, in wax. In the music room adjoining to this are some large and admirable pictures, by Sneyder, representing fish, fowl, and fruit. In the cabinet of jewels there is a rich display of all sorts of jewelry ; and, amongst others, under a great glass case, are the celebrated mechanical peacock, owl, cock, and grasshopper, of the size of life, which was made in England, at a vast expense, and presented by Potemkin to the late empress. The machinery is damaged: the cock, mounted on a tree of gold, no longer crows, nor hoots the owl, nor does the peacock spread his tail, at the expiration of the hour, but the grasshopper still skips round to denote the moments. This animal is nearly the size of his more animated brethren in Russian Finland, which are said to be an inch and a half long. There were also several ivory cups, the fruits of the ingenuity of Peter the Great, whose versatility was such, that, apparently with equal ease, he could bend from the founding of cities, leading armies into the field, and fighting battles, to building boats, turning wooden spoons and platters, and carving in ivory. Raphael's hall, one of the galleries running parallel with the garden, is superbly painted and decorated, and has a fine collection of minerals : its inlaid floor is uncommonly rich and exquisite.
I searched in vain for sir Joshua Reynolds's celebrated Infant Hercules, purchased by the late empress for the hermitage. Upon enquiry I found that it had been removed into a private apartment
ow, and was seldom shown; the reason assigned was, that the Russi.ns have a superstitious horror of death, and that as the subject was the strangling of the serpent by the infant god, it was on that account unpopular. Upon our return through the rooms, we went to the court theatre, connected with the hermitage by a gallery over an arch, which crosses a cut of water from the Neva to the Moika canal. The space before the curtain is filled with seats rising amphitheatrically, and the whole, without being large, is elegant.
The performers were rehearsing at the time: afterwards, as we were quitting the palace, my curiosity was excited by a number of imperial coaches, presenting a gradation of qualities; some were tolerably good, some shabby, and others very old and crazy, to which must be added a very long vehicle, such as is used in England for conveying wild beasts, having four horses abreast, all drawn up before that part of the palace where the theatre is situated. Upon the conclusion of the rehearsal, the players descended : the tragedians and genteel comedians occupied the better carriages, the low comedians the more ancient and defective ones, and the chorus-singers, to the amount of about thirty, skipped into the long coach, and were all driven to their respective homes. These machines are kept for the sole service of the players.
Not far from the hermitage, and upon a line with it, is the magnificent palace raised by Catherine II, for Gregory Orloff, and afterwards allotted, by the late emperor, to the last of the kings of Poland: it is built of grey Siberian marble, and adorned with columns and pilasters of the same stone, of brown and reddish colours. The balustrades of the balconies, and the frames of the windows, are of brass richly gilded. All the splendid furniture and moveable decorations have been removed, and the whole is now occupied by persons belonging to the court.
In consequence of the gracious orders of the empress-dowager to that effect, we visited a very interesting institution under her immediate protection, the Convent des Demoiselles. This imperial seminary, which has no equal in Europe, contains three hundred and seventy-two young ladies of nobility ; and two hundred and forty daughters of citizens. There is also another institution under the same roof, called that of saint Catherine, in which there are one hundred and eighty-eight children, of the inferior orders of nobility. The age of admission is six years. The noble young ladies ave taught German, French, Italian, drawing, music, dancing, geography, embroidery, and every other elegant pursuit. The daughters of the bourgeois are instructed in what is useful alone, and can conduce to their making good tradesmen's wives. Their genius, or bias of mind, whenever it can be ascertained, is always consulted in their pursuits. The building is like a great town ; it was formerly occupied by the monks of Smolnoi, who have been removed to accommodate much more useful and lovely members of society. In the centre is a vast neglected church, surmounted with a dome in the centre of four small cupolas, all of copper gilded. This edifice forms a venerable and prominent feature in the city. We were received at the grand entrance by some of the officers attached to the establishment, in full uniform, a dress which is worn by all male persons belonging to imperial institutions, on account of the government being military. We are first conducted to the kitchen, where we saw and tasted a sample of the day's dinner, consisting of excellent soup, boiled beef, vegetables, and pastry. The young ladies are divided into classes of age, and distinguished by brown, blue, and green and white dresses. In the first school we were presented to her excellency madame Adlerberg, the directress of the convent, who appeared, decorated with the order of saint Catherine, a lady of great beauty, and elegance of deportment; her mind and character were explained by the smiles and looks of affection which every where attended her, as we proceeded through the schools. In the sick room there were only three patients, who were most tenderly attended by the proper nurses; the name, age, disorder and treatment of the invalid, is inscribed upon a little tablet fixed over her head to the back of the bed. The dormitories were remarkably neat, and even elegant. Some of the little girls surprised us, by the excellence to which they had attained in drawing. In the Greek church belonging to the convent we were attended by the priest in his full robes, who shewed us a magnificent cup of gold studded with jewels, used in devotion, the work of the empress dowager.
The mortality among the children is very inconsiderable; upon an average only two die annually out of eight hundred, unless after filling up of several vacancies, occurring at the same time, when the children admitted from the provinces sometimes bring diseases with them. In the blue class we saw an instance of the mutability of fortune, in a little girl about eleven years of age, the princess - the grand-daughter of the late king of Poland. In the dispersion of the family she was left destitute. Her mother, in a frenzy produced by the dethronement of her father, threw her son, a child, from a balcony into the street, and dashed out his brains. This orphan relic of an august and most unfortunate family was saved from actual want by the humanity and feeling of the princess Biron, with whose daughter she is educated in the convent. The young princess Biron, in the blue dress of her class, underwent an examination in French
and writing in our presence, and acquitted herself with infinite credit. In the green and white class, where the eldest young ladies are, we were entertained with some very delightful Russ and French airs and choruses, accompanied by the harpsichord.
In the institution of Saint Catherine, under the direction of madame Bredkoff, an elderly lady of distinguished talents, and sweetness of disposition, the following little circumstance occurred, which will prove that the Russian mind, whatever may have been said of it, is susceptible of feeling and generosity. In this institution, which is supported by the empress-dowager, a limited number only of young ladies are admitted, free of expense, by ballot ; but others are received upon paying, as it is termed, a pension. At the last admission, two little girls, the eldest not exceeding ten years age,
the daughters of a naval captain, who in this country is noble, the father of a large family, presented themselves, and drew, the one a prize, the other a blank. Although so young, they knew that fate had, in this manner, resolved upon their separation ; they felt it, and wept. Another young lady, to whom the next chance devolved, drew a prize, and observing the distress of the sisters, without holding any communication with their parents, or with any other person, spontaneously ran up to the luckless little girl, presented her with the ticket, and leading her up to the directress, said, “See, madam, I have drawn a “prize; but my papa can afford to pay the pension, and I am sure will “pay it for me: pray let one who is less fortunate enjoy the good that « has happened to me.” This charming anecdote was immediately reported to the empress-dowager, who expressed the highest delight, and paid, out of her own purse, the pension of the little benefactress.
An idea has gone forth, that when the period arrives for the fair pupils to quit the convent for the great theatre of the world, so many years of sequestration from it renders them totally ignorant, awkward, and that they enter society with little less surprise than that which a man born blind, and suddenly restored to sight, would express on his first contemplation of objects. But this remark is completely disproved by the good-breeding and polished manners which the young ladies displayed in the convent: in addition to which it may be observed, that every month, or oftener, they have a public and splendid ball, which is always crowded by people of fashion, their relations or friends, with whom, upon these occasions, they have unrestrained in