My Wanderings in Persia
Moscow. — Kremlin. — Image-worship. — ‘Sweetest of Companions.’ — Paganism versus Russianism. — St. Basil. — St. Petersburg. — Newski Prospect — Winter Palace. — St. Isaac’s. — Irreverence. — Abrupt Departure from the Capital. — War Imminent. — Slaves. — Poland. — Fertility of Soil. — Warsaw. — Are you an Englishman? — Berlin. — Column of Victory. — Paris. — Exhibition. — Calais. — Midnight Voyage. — ‘Land Ahead.’ — The White Cliffs. — Home, sweet Home. — Charing Cross. — Finis.
MOSCOW is by far the finest city of Eastern Europe. One writer has justly remarked that he who has never seen Moscow has not seen Russia. The chief interesting features of the ancient capital have been graphically and ably described by
previous travellers. The world-famed Kremlin, with its by-gone associations, religious and national — both, however, go hand-in-hand in Russia; the bell-tower of Ivan, the coronation hall, the Chinese town, and the various cathedrals and churches — all are objects of deep interest to the traveller in Moscow.
One thing struck us more forcibly than in any other city of Russia: the fearful and degrading system of image-worship, and the amount of superstitious idolatry which exists in Moscow, which is unequalled even by the devout Guebre, or the more fanatic follower of Islamism. The great extent to which this abasing custom is carried must cause aversion to anyone but those who view with admiring eyes, and who publicly own, their toleration to such baneful practices. One can scarcely pass a street unless, in some prominent place, a gaudily-painted picture of the Holy Virgin with her infant babe in her arms attracts our attention — not simply by the image, but at-
tracted by the crowd who, with uncovered heads, prostrate themselves before the sacred effigy.
Our droski driver could not pass a church unless, with a sharp check, he pulled his ‘sweetest of companions’ up, and performed, with uplifted hat, the sign of the cross. Surely a more debasing form of religion cannot be imagined. These images, with their attendant prostrations, are seen in all public buildings, churches, theatres, hotels, railway stations, and other frequented spots.
The Mahomedan, as he prays with uncovered feet, turning his enraptured gaze towards Mecca, and praying with apparent fervour; his simple childlike utterances, evoking blessings from Mahomed, can be looked upon with a greater degree of admiration, infallibly teaching one lesson to all men — his entire submission and subserviency, under all circumstances, to the one great Allah, whose immutability and omnipotency he never questions;
the Guebre, when, as the rising sun tells him that God has reappeared, he in gladness falls down and humbly acknowledges the almighty power of the ‘Only One,’ and as he looks with sadness upon the sinking luminary he again prostrates himself and earnestly beseeches His return, he may be greatly pitied and yet esteemed in his ignorant yet well-meant adoration of the Supreme God; the Hindoo, who, in his earnest desire to seek the face of the Holy One, lacerates his own flesh, performs terrible penances, as indicative of his deep determination to call forth the divine assurance of pleasure from his gods; Bhuddaism, in the originality of its almost spotless doctrine, its purity and Christ-like attributes; Brahminism, with its terrible ordeals, ceremonies, and inhuman practices, tending to alienate man from his brother and father from son; — all these religions, various and diversified though they be, each requiring the one thing needful — these, I maintain,
spring from faithful belief that the wrath of God is thereby appeased, and the pathway to a future world made easy; they are not to be despised, but pitied. Surely all these are more real, more Godlike in their faith, than the absurd, unmeaning, and disgusting acts of the people of that country which carries freedom and civilisation to all who may be so unfortunate as to be less powerful than herself?
The Holy Virgin of Vladimir receives a pretty good share of these hypocritical devotions. The marble slab at its base appears, by its worn-out look, to have witnessed not a few scrapings and bowings.
The Russian churches, especially St. Isaac’s at St. Petersburg, are undoubtedly the most gorgeously illuminated places of worship in the known world. Nothing can surpass in grandeur the internal decorations of St. Isaac’s.
The church of St. Basil, the oldest one in Russia, received a visit from us. Works of deep interest are found in its architectural
adornments, it is all towers and domes of different shapes, colours, and sizes, of that style of architecture seen nowhere but in Moscow and Pekin. Not two pillars are alike in altitude or circumference — it appears, from a distance, one vast confused mass of smaller and larger pillars heedlessly thrown together.
The sights of Moscow afford amusement for a longer stay than we could make at that particular time. On our programme was St. Petersburg, Warsaw, Berlin, Hanover, Metz, and the Paris Exhibition. The evening of the second day in Moscow, found us en route for the present capital of that empire which boasts as having under its tyrannous sway Christian and Tartar, Jew and Mahomedan, and those who walk under the divine favour and approving smile of Rome; an empire out of whose people every spark of manliness has long since been crushed — who are forbidden to speak in their own homes the language their forefathers spoke with pride —
men whose ancestors were lions in the fray — whose eyes flashed fire at the thought of serving a foreign foe, but who now bear the burthen, heavy as it is, without much hope of its alleviation — Poland still cries out for vengeance.
St. Petersburg was reached in about fifteen hours from Moscow. His Imperial Majesty the Shah had but just arrived as a guest of his royal neighbour, so that St. Petersburg was in its best attire. The pomp and highest display of military greatness was given in honour of the Shah’s arrival, though we are inclined to believe it was intended more to effectually impress him with the power of Russia’s military system, than as any mark of respect to himself, at least, we know that such was the effect.
The streets of St Petersburg cannot be called grand; the pavement of their Piccadilly (the Newski Prospect) is not comparable with some East-end river lanes of London. It is not by any means worthy of
comparison with Vienna, Berlin, or other European capitals; the extreme awkwardness of the buildings give a dull, prison-like air to the surroundings.
On court occasions, when the Winter Palace and other princely buildings are one mass of bright wax-lights, St. Petersburg is then resplendent in its highest glories; and certain it is, that the Winter Palace on such occasions as the one we witnessed on the evening of the Shah’s arrival looks majestically grand, and few other buildings there are which would present such a splendid external as this Imperial Palace of Russia, when illuminated with a flood of small wax candles.
The finest building in the Russian capital is the magnificent Cathedral of St. Isaac’s; its immense golden dome is seen glittering in the sun whilst still some distance from the city; the paintings, and other magnificent works of art, the jewelled tombs, are unequalled. For size, St. Isaac’s must own a superior in the
monster structure of St. Peter’s in the five-hilled city. A picture at St. Isaac’s of the Holy Trinity is beyond all description. The whole of the Bible is panoramically represented in gaily coloured paintings around the sacred walls. One is somewhat amused by the sonorous chantings of a number of cowled priests who are marching with solemn tread around the tomb of Nicholas; but we pass on, fearing lest our smiles might be misconstrued. Mothers with new-born babes have somehow managed to reach the portal, and sprinkling a few drops of water on the face of the unconscious infant, turn away and, with apparent weakness, totter through the porch into the street, satisfied, however, that their offspring is now and henceforth safe from all evil influences.
A procession of priests now move to the entrance, the high priest most gorgeously clad in raiments of scarlet satin, with mitre and staff, surrounded by golden-robed brethren, who are still mournfully chanting their song
of sadness. We two are suddenly the objects of general attraction; I am at a loss to divine its cause, and turn in wonderment to my equally astonished companion.
At last we imagine its source — all heads are uncovered, as the priests pass, save ours; this must be why we are the subjects of such black looks. Our attendant gendarme touches my shoulder and beckons us to follow him from the crowd.
Our visit to St. Isaac’s is thus abruptly terminated, and we proceed to our hotel to make the necessary preparations for the evening express to Warsaw. Orders had been given by the governor for us to leave at once.
From the capital to the Polish frontier, the scenery is of an uninteresting kind; forests of firs, enlivened at times with bright patches of cultivation, line the route. The train in which we travelled westward was full of Russian officers bound for Warsaw, there to join the ‘army of action,’ as the fighting corps are
called in Russia, in anticipation of a struggle with England.
All traffic was for the time entirely suspended; nothing but war materials and troops would be allowed to pass the strict surveillance of the military authorities, except, indeed, those who, like ourselves, held documents from the Prime Minister for our immediate use in travelling through their country.
Men and horses were huddled together in one common heap, despatched to the front in miserable filthy trucks, minus bed or bedding, having the most forlorn appearance it was ever my fate to behold. Although the war fever certainly pervaded at St. Petersburg, not the slightest attempt at enthusiasm was noticeable in these disconsolate-looking slaves, who, like dumb-driven cattle, were compelled to obey the despot’s call to arms:
‘Their’s not to question why!
Their’s but to do and die.’
The soldiers I saw in Russia (with the ex-
ception of those in the capital) did not, I hope, afford a true specimen of the secret of Russia’s greatness; boys scarcely in their teens and unable to carry a gun as it should be borne, old men who had not yet recovered from their surprise at being torn from their homes, were alike being hurled to the front, perhaps to meet the relentless tide of British bayonets — to meet and be a barrier to the rough thrusts of a determined, free fighting Briton.
In conversation, it was evident that the chances of war were far above the claims of peace; and the favourite topic seemed to be the probable struggle with England, which would have been accepted with gladness by Russian officers; but for the favourable issues of war, the men too must feel that enthusiasm, or else the officers vainly strive.
In several places en route to Warsaw we noticed Turkish prisoners walking about the streets with downcast looks, conspicuous by
the sacred fez, chafing at their confinement in a land which to them was nought but unmeaning, senseless grimaces.
No one who has travelled through the dominions of the Czar can for a moment hesitate in confirming the opinion that the finest and richest portion of Russia is in the stolen Kingdom of Poland. Rich in fertility of soil, Poland presents some of the finest agricultural districts in Europe.
Our arrival in Warsaw, the capital of the proud yet servile Poles, was known to the officials ere we alighted from the train. The usual questions were put, passports demanded; we were then conducted to an hotel in the old city (for there are two in Warsaw, the old and the new portions). Here we remained two days, but, on account of the strict surveillance, were not sorry to depart. When on the heights around, and overlooking the old city with its broad-flowing river, we thought of Warsaw’s proud champion bewailing the fate
of his beloved city. Warsaw is notable by its many interpretations of the names of streets, houses, etc., each one being written in the French language, and also in the Russian and Polish hieroglyphics.
At Warsaw I parted with my travelling-companion — he booked to Vienna, I to Berlin.
On arriving at the German frontier, another and last examination of my passport took place. Between Alexinatzova and Berlin, as I sat in the railway carriage reading a newspaper I had purchased at Warsaw, a gentleman, sitting in the next compartment, approached and politely addressing me, said: ‘Are you an Englishman?’ I, of course, answered in the affirmative, and, as it proved, had an agrble companion to London.
We reached Berlin on the morning of Sunday the 19th of May. On the following day numerous places of interest were visited: the arsenal, royal colleges, and imperial palace
being amongst the number. Through the kindness of a German officer, whom I had previously known, I was shown through the various departments of the Government Office, the Parliament House, and other national institutions.
What struck me most in Berlin was the magnificent Column of Victory, opposite the Brandenberg railway station, celebrating the triumphant return of the German army from Paris; at its base are several guns captured at Metz and Versailles. A longing desire must swell in the bosom of every Frenchman as he views this monument of his country’s disgrace, and he must look with intense ardour for the day when the despoiler’s hand will have wrought a change in the appearance of the vicinity of the Brandenberg station.
From Berlin our route lay through Hanover and Cologne, and on to Brussels; thence to Paris, then the scene of the world’s wonder and talk. The grand exhibition of 1878
had just been opened by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. It would be useless to attempt a description of the beauties of this city of splendour. Four days were but nothing at this time, yet during that short period we could not fail to acknowledge that for grandeur and magnificence the French capital has no equal.
The night express brought us on to Calais, where the Douvres-Calais steamer was in readiness to start. A few minutes and the rush of water from the paddles told us that our last journey had commenced; about midnight we learnt that in a short time the white cliffs would be in sight.
A beautiful moon shone in the clear heavens, enhancing the splendour of the scene. The sea was calm — scarcely a ruffle stirred the quiet waves as we cut through them at a good speed; the quietude suited our thoughts which were centred upon the not far distant land.
At last came the welcome words, ‘Land
Ahead!’ Scarcely had they escaped the lips of the look-out man, ere a deafening cheer arose from the assembled passengers; and, accompanied by sweet music, the words of the well-known song, ‘ Home, sweet Home,’ gently arose on the midnight air.
How it gladdened our hearts, and brought feelings of thankfulness to that Providence which had brought as safely through so many dangers and difficulties to our native land again.
‘Auld lang syne,’ and ‘The old folks at Home,’ were played and sung by the band, the sweet gladsome notes being carried by the wind away to the now closely discerned shores of old England.
As we closely approached Dover, our feelings may be better imagined than described. Away from home and friends for years, eager anticipations of speedy welcomes and reunions which can only be experienced by those who have, under similar circumstances, neared their native shores.
The bright full moon shone on the white shores and the castled city of Dover; the breaking of the waves on our seagirt isle, could be plainly heard. Passengers were shaking hands and bidding each other farewell; the engines stopped, we were alongside the pier, and in another moment treading the most blessed soil in the world.
Customs’ officer dispensed with, we stepped in the express for London, which was in waiting, and were soon whirling away towards the modern Babylon. On arrival at Charing Cross, it was a consolation to think our journeyings were almost over. Two or three days spent in obtaining necessaries (our possessions were not extensive) as regards clothing, etc., and I once more left London behind for Yorkshire, there to spend a few months, which could be well employed in recruiting health and strength, so necessary after a long sojourn in an Eastern climate.
STAGES AND DISTANCES — BUSHIRE TO TEHERAN.
From Khavamabad to Morghaub lie the ruins of Pasargadae and the tomb of Cyrus, King of Persia.
The road from Bushire to Shiraz is too mountainous to allow of anything but caravan marching.
STAGES AND DISTANCES — TEHERAN TO BAGHDAD.
STAGES AND DISTANCES — TEHERAN TO RESHT.