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Glimpses of Life and Manners in Persia:
With Notes on Russia, Koords, Toorkomans, Nestorians, Khiva, and Persia

by Lady Mary (Leonora Woulfe) Sheil

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Chapter 1

GLIMPSES
OF
LIFE AND MANNERS IN PERSIA.


Motive for writing this book – Our party – Progress to Berlin – Encounter with the police – Russian railroads – Arrival in Warsaw – General Lamoricière – Death of the Grand Duke Michael – Etiquette in the Emperor's Park – Theatre at Warsaw – Masourka – Audience with the Emperor Nicholas – Jews in Warsaw.

A few years ago it fell to my lot to make a journey to Persia, and to reside there nearly four years. At this moment, when public attention is so much directed to the East, I have thought my recollections of the scenes I have visited may not be without interest to a few readers. One advantage I enjoyed over many preceding travellers in Persia. I have been able to see the anderoons or harams of the Shah and some of the principal personages of his Court; and to judge, to a certain extent, with my own eyes, of the condition of women in that portion of the East.

Circumstances over which we had no control forced us to pursue the distant route of Poland and Russia, which, however, was to me rather a matter of rejoicing than otherwise, notwithstanding the fatigue and the prospect of climbing the Caucasus, perhaps in winter, as I knew that in all probability our return to England would be by


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the more usual road of Turkish Armenia, which shall be described in its proper place. In this respect I must give my meed of praise to Russia, for, bad as may be the land of the "Moscovs," it is, for a lady-traveller, far to be preferred to Turkish Armenia. "The Lord deliver me from Sir Harry Vane!" might Cromwell exclaim; but I say, "The Lord deliver me from Turkish Armenia, its subterranean dwellings and their blinding smoke, with cows, buffaloes, sheep, goats, asses, horses, fleas, bugs, and other small deer unmentionable, for companions and comrades!"

On the 7th of August, 1849, after avoiding a formal leave-taking – that dreariest and most painful mode of seeking consolation at parting – we commenced our journey towards the land of the sun. We were a cumbrous party, consisting, besides my husband and myself, of three Irish and one French servant, and last, though far from least, our inseparable companion and cherished friend Crab, who, by his endearing ways, solaced afterwards many a weary hour, but who, alas! was not destined to revisit his native Scotland. He sleeps deep in the waters of Smyrna. 1

A railway journey through Germany offers nothing new. Its tediousness is proverbial; and so special is the care of life and the resolution to prevent a catastrophe, that not even was Crab permitted to travel in our carriage, which was attached to the train. A night's rest at Cologne; a view of the cathedral, which has occupied the piety and contributions of Catholics for six hundred years, and which even yet is only a magnificent skeleton; an hour's hurried absence from the railway at Aix-la-Chapelle to see the tomb where Charlemagne reposes; another night's rest at the dear and bad hotel at Magdeburg, which all travellers should eschew, – and behold us at the sombre city of Berlin. Here we stayed a week to ascertain the movements of the Russian Court, which had passed the summer in Warsaw, and was preparing to return to Russia, whither it then seemed likely we should be obliged to proceed. The time was enlivened by an adventure which befell Crab and his master. Passing along the most public street one morning, Colonel S— suddenly heard a yell from a voice he well knew, and, turning round, he saw Crab deposited under the arm of a stout man, having all the appearance of a workman. Fully convinced that nothing less than robbery was intended, he rushed to the rescue, and seized the thief by the throat, shouting with might and main the whole extent of his German vocabulary, "Der Hund ist mein – der Hund ist mein!" The thief seemed astonished at the assault, and immediately, in the same manner, grasped his assailant by the collar, but keeping fast hold of Crab, and calling loudly for help. In a moment a crowd assembled, and my husband found himself beset from all sides. An uproarious brawl followed; some of the townspeople seeming to support the foreigner, and others abetting the thief, Colonel S— all the while gazing round in bewilderment, there being no one in the crowd who could speak English or French. At length up came the police in force and fear, thinking, no doubt, that


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1848 was about to return. They made signals to Colonel S – to accompany them to the police-office, where a person in authority pronounced Crab to have committed a heinous breach of the laws of Prussia in walking about the streets of Berlin without having his name and address labelled to his neck, for which delinquency he was sentenced to immediate execution, unless he saved his life by paying a dollar to the supposed thief, who turned out to be a police-agent in disguise. As for Colonel S—, he was told he was the aggressor, and that he was to consider himself lucky in escaping without further punishment. The Minister for Foreign Affairs sent him an apology, if it may be so termed, through our Chargé d'Affaires Mr. Howard, and an expression of regret at what had happened; but, as my husband said at the time, if he were the guilty man, why should there be an apology? and, if he were not, why was not punishment inflicted on the persons, whoever they were, who had joined in the row, and attacked him for trying to save his dog from a thief? I must own I felt great indignation, but he treated the matter very lightly, saying it was nothing but a street brawl, which might have happened to any one anywhere.

At length, at the end of August, we gladly continued our journey. At the Polish frontier we passed the night at a miserable inn in the village of Mitlowitz; a night of discomfort, which gave one a foretaste of what we might expect farther on. There was but one small bed, and the servants slept on benches covered with leather, and without blankets; this seeming to be the ordinary manner of treating servants in Russia, where for them a stove


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answers the purpose of bed and blanket. Next morning, at an early hour, we resumed our seats on the Russian railway. If in Germany this mode of travelling be tedious in comparison with England – the tortoise to the hare – here it was infinitely worse, the tortoise had become a snail. The pace, although a fast train, did not exceed ten or twelve miles an hour, and we stopped every ten minutes to deliver letters, or else to refresh ourselves with vodka – the eternal vodka – which name one hears as often as "la goutte" in France, I think I recollect being told that the only fuel used on this railway is wood, which perhaps is one reason why they go so slowly. But let me do justice to a Russian railway. If it is slow, it is safe. No "shocking catastrophe," no "awful collision," no "smashing," is heard of in that country. All is calm, deliberate, and safe, with a complete exemption from the agitation, nervousness, and excitement which the mere sight of a railway produces in England.

Chi va piano, va sano;
Chi va forte, va alla morte,"
say the Italians, and the couplet seems to have been written in anticipation of the locomotive character of the respective countries of Russia and England. In another particular, too, does a Russian as well as a German railway excel that of England, – I mean the accommodation afforded to second-class travellers. This is really so comfortable that few persons, unless the highest and most wealthy, make use of the first-class accommodation; while in England, with all our boasting of equality, &c., the carriages seem to be contrived with such studious

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discomfort that people of moderate means are forced to undergo inconvenient expenses by travelling in the first-class carriage.

Our fellow-travellers were a wounded and rather discontented Russian general, two aides-de-camp of the Emperor Nicholas, and one of Marshal Prince Paskewitch, Viceroy of Poland, all returning from the war in Hungary, which had just terminated. The latter were very agreeable men, with excellent manners, like, I am told, Russians in general of their rank. They spoke but little of the war, or of the scenes they had just quitted, and during the time we were in their company, politics and every allusion to public events were carefully avoided; but music, the court, the opera, and such light subjects they discussed copiously and agreeably.

Late in the evening of September 1st, we reached Warsaw, where we were most kindly received by the late excellent General Du Plat, then Consul-General in that city. With great difficulty we found apartments in an execrable Polish inn, the only tolerable hotel being full, and occupied by General Lamoricière, who was then Envoy to the Emperor from the President Louis Napoleon. I had not the good fortune to make the acquaintance of this famous commander, whose exile from his native land is so much to be deplored at this moment. My husband, however, saw him more than once, and preserves a pleasant recollection of a stout little man, full of resolution, energy, and life.

I have no agreeable remembrances of my sojourn in Warsaw. We were very uncomfortably lodged, and so ill fed, that every day we were forced to go to a café to


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seek a dinner, and besides I was suffering from a severe cold. Warsaw must always be an object of melancholy interest from historical associations, and from being the representative of fallen greatness and blighted independence; but, to the mere cursory traveller, it presents few materials for the indulgence of curiosity, unless it be the interior of society, which my short stay gave me no opportunity of enjoying. Thus much I learned, that between the Pole and the Russian there was a marked line, which allowed of but little or no amalgamation between the two races, and that the Pole shrunk unbendingly from the society of his conquerors. The period of our visit to Warsaw was one of gloom and affliction to the Imperial family. The Grand Duke Michael, the Emperor's brother, towards whom he is said to have borne the tenderest regard and affection, was stretched on the bed of grievous illness, which soon was to become the bed of death. His Imperial Highness died at Warsaw during our stay in that city, and this event interrupted, of course, the usual intercourse of society, and deprived me of an opportunity of seeing the Court or any portion of the Imperial family. Nearly every day while the Grand Duke lived, a notice used to be sent to the various foreign officers in Warsaw, that a grand review was to be held in the morning, at which the Emperor invited their attendance, and invariably during the night we were awakened by an orderly bearing an announcement that, owing to the condition of the Grand Duke, the review was postponed. I thus lost the sight of a fine military pageant of 50,000 or 60,000 men, headed by an Emperor in person.


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It was not among the Imperial household alone, that the angel of death had cast his dart. Mourning and grief had also spread their veil of sorrow over the family of the Emperor's trusty servant Count Nesselrode, whose wife had recently died, and who was living in seclusion with his daughters. It was a disappointment to lose the occasion I might otherwise have enjoyed, of seeing the veteran statesman who has for half a century borne so prominent a share in guiding the destinies of Russia, and materially influencing those of Europe. My husband, who saw the Grand Chancellor of Russia, as I believe he is now styled, more than once, described him to be a man of small stature, slight in figure, with a clever, intellectual countenance, full of keenness and mobility, which once must have been handsome. His manners are said to be most courteous and cordial. The Chancellor is presumed to be of German descent, like many other members of the Russian diplomatic service, among whom may be cited Count Pahlen, Baron Meyendorf, Baron Budberg, Count Medem, Count Alex. Medem, Baron Brunow, General Du Hamel, &c.

We often strolled in the pretty park where the Emperor was residing, and which was open to the public. Whatever opinion may be entertained of his Majesty's character on various points, he certainly possessed a fearless mind. In Moscow and Petersburg one can imagine he might free himself from the trouble and annoyance of watching over the preservation of his life; but I was not prepared to see him equally unguarded, and heedless, in the very heart of Polish enthusiasm and hate. Few or no guards were visible near the simple edifice which was


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selected as the abode of the Emperor, who seemed to consider the prestige of his fame and dignity an invulnerable panoply – as, in fact, it really appeared to be, no attempt having ever been made in Warsaw against his life. The trees were decorated with coloured lamps in anticipation of a grand fête, destined never to take place, and which was put off from day to day, or rather from night to night, in vain anticipation of a favourable change in the Grand Duke's health. These decorations had a forlorn and sad appearance, I thought. The immediate vicinity of the Palace was surrounded by a pretty flower-garden, which we wished. to examine, but on entering it we were stopped by the sentry at the gate, who made significant gestures to my husband to remove his hat while walking before the palace, lest by some accident the Emperor might be looking out of the window, and his eyes might fall on some one with his head covered! The "orgueil Britannique" of Colonel S— would not allow him to submit to a ceremonial, which seemed to savour too much of the Imperial "middle kingdom," so he declined compliance and we went another way, not a little surprised at the demand; but afterwards, while residing at a house of Prince Woronzow's, at Vladi Kafkaz, we were still more surprised to observe the soldiers saluting his house too as they passed before the windows, he being at the time at Odessa; yet such was the etiquette.

Amid the general gloom of society, the theatre, during the early part of our residence, fortunately offered us some resource. The scenery and decorations were excellent, the acting good and spirited, equal to the theatrical representations one finds in a large provincial town in


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France. The audience was numerous and attentive, seeming to enjoy highly the comedy, which generally formed the subject of the evening's entertainment; but which, being in Polish, was to us a sealed book. It was the Masourka, however, which drew forth unanimous and most vociferous enthusiasm, particularly from the Russian officers with whom the pit was crowded. Well was this beautiful national dance – truly beautiful as danced at Warsaw – entitled to all their boisterous and passionate applause. The women engaged in the dance were all dressed in the becoming national costume; and one young lady, remarkable above the others for her beauty, her elegant toilette, and the energy of her performance, which almost rivalled the vigour of a Sevillana stamping the boleras, threw the house into a perfect tumult of delight. The men too were dressed in the costume of Poland in the day of her independence and military renown – perhaps the garb of John Sobieski himself. Each dancer wore the heavy long boots and spurs, and the ponderous sabre, without which the Polish noble never appeared in public. At every movement of the dance they sharply struck their boots and spurs together, as if beating time – converting the peaceful and graceful masourka of our ball-rooms into a genuine war-dance, in which, with hand and foot, they were heartily joined by the Russian officers, who for the moment seemed to forget their hatred of everything Polish.

Though both these Sclavonic languages are sprung from the same origin, the roughness of the Polish in comparison with Russian was very striking during the performance of the comedy. Russian seems to be the Italian


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of the Sclavonic tongues, and is really harmonious to the ear. But in Polish organs of speech there appears to exist an incomprehensible faculty of enunciating at will any possible number of the most incongruous consonants without the intervention of a vowel. The Russian aide-de-camp told me that even to a Russian, with all his organic flexibility, and his power of acquiring languages, the pronunciation of Polish presented difficulties hardly to be overcome.

Though I did not enjoy the honour of presentation to the Emperor, it may be perhaps interesting that I should record here the impressions of my husband when he paid his respects to his Imperial Majesty. After alighting at the palace, where only a single sentry was to be seen, he was shown into a room in which were two officers, one of whom was Marshal Paskewitch. He then passed into another chamber, very simply furnished, where he remained, expecting an aide-de-camp to conduct him to the Emperor's presence. Soon a tall, portly officer, very plainly dressed in uniform, with remarkably small epaulettes, entered the room; and it was only after some moments that my husband knew he was in the presence of the descendant of Ruric, the mighty autocrat of all the Russias. A shake of the hand, accompanied by a gracious smile of welcome, did not contribute to undeceive my husband, who was not prepared for a reception so far removed from state and formality. The Emperor remained standing during the audience, which lasted ten minutes; he was most gracious and affable. He condescended to express regret that Colonel S— should not have come to his court at a more favourable moment,


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alluding to his "brother," to use his Majesty's own expression, whose condition, he said, was hopeless.

The dignity of the Emperor, with the mien of conscious greatness and power accompanying every action and look, made a great impression on my husband, who remarked, however, that in his Majesty's eyes, which were large and protruding, there was an air of restlessness, or even wildness, far from agreeable. The spirit as well as the blood of Paul may have been in that majestic frame; for what is unbounded pride but mental aberration?

This audience afforded an opportunity for observing, that even now the Russians have not forgotten their Eastern origin. Colonel S— being dressed in uniform, General Du Plat insisted on enveloping him in his largest cloak, as he would otherwise have been exposed to the derision of the Russian officers. In other countries soldiers are as fond as women of displaying their feathers and finery; but in Russia, an officer, the moment he puts on his uniform, carefully hides himself under an enormous grey coat, which his ancestors must have borrowed from their Moghul conquerors. This reminds me of an anecdote I heard in Persia. At the negotiations which followed the conclusion of one of Persia's disastrous wars with Russia, the plenipotentiary of the latter country thought fit to indulge in a little banter, at the expense of Persian manners, morals, integrity, &c., in comparison with those of Europe. The Persian negotiator at length lost patience, and exclaimed, "Why do you talk so much about Europe, as if you Russians were Europeans? You put on a hat and trousers, and fancy yourselves Feringhees; but what are you after all, but the descendants


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of the refuse of Batou Khan's army and his Moghuls?"

Poland is said to be the paradise of the Jews; and, judging by their number, both in Warsaw and on our line of road, even as far as Odessa, the sway of the Czars appears to possess large attractions in their estimation. Every trade seems to be filled up by them, though they have not acquired a better reputation in their dealings than they possessed in England in former days. Innkeeping is one of their favourite employments – perhaps from the opportunity it affords for retaliating on the Gentile some of the numerous wrongs they have so long endured from him all over the world. But a brighter time is no doubt approaching for the sons of Israel. If France has been first in rendering justice to that capacity for all the arts and sciences which a distinguished writer claims for that race, we may trust that ere long in our own country the career to honour and distinction will be unreservedly laid open to their abilities. In the mean time, however, nothing can exceed the misery of their apparent condition in Poland. They are dressed in rags, dirty in their persons, and their whole appearance is disagreeable, if not revolting. Peter the Great is said to have objected to the residence of the sons of Israel in his dominions, lest, thought that sagacious Czar, they should contaminate the rectitude of the inhabitants of "Holy Russia" by teaching them chicanery and intrigue. The chief of the house of Romanoff had only an indistinct perception of the faculties of his countrymen. We had some dealings with a few of this race before our departure from Warsaw, in which we were much defrauded.


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At Warsaw we were regarded as persons going into exile; and if we had bought all we were advised as indispensable, a large fourgon should also have been provided, to hold the beds, bedding, basons, tea-urns, saucepans, and various other domestic batteries. We did, however, purchase a stock of provisions to mitigate the famine with which we were threatened on the road. I may remark here, that the foregoing appurtenances are considered necessary by Russian families travelling in their own country.

Despotic power is sometimes capricious. The Jewish ladies in Poland have fallen under its influence in a manner which has certainly contributed to improve their appearance. Formerly, when a girl was married, the custom was to shave her head completely, and she wore instead of her own hair, a brown or black silk fillet. By an imperial ukase the Emperor has ordained, that the Jewish women shall not shave their heads, nor wear these very unbecoming fillets.

In the church, on Sunday, I observed some country girls with wreaths of real flowers on their heads, which had not the effect of overcoming their natural plainness. The men wear robes like dressing-gowns; and I could not help laughing at the curious effect which a man ploughing in a dressing-gown, produced. I afterwards became accustomed to this style of garment, for it is worn all over the East.


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Notes

1 This was a Scotch terrier of great sagacity and most exemplary fidelity.

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