Glimpses of Life and Manners in Persia:
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Russian steamboat – Our fellow-passengers – Russian resources for passing the time – 'Mes Mémoires' – Sebastopol – Balaclava – Crimean scenery – Yalta – Aloupka – Wine-making in the Crimea – Russian ladies in distress – Tartar bandit – Jews in the Crimea – Simpheropol – Kaffa – Kertch – Museum – Passage to Taman.
Next morning we embarked in the steamer, which proved to be an excellent boat, having been, we were told, built in England. Her captain was scarcely entitled to command her, as will presently be seen. The company in the saloon was numerous, consisting of princes and princesses, counts and countesses, colonels, and captains, and fiddlers, and ladies and gentlemen of every degree, and of manners as various as their positions. I was little prepared for the familiarity and good fellowship which without loss of time, were established among all parties. It seems strange that in Russia, where there may be said to be only two classes, the noble and the non-noble, the process of amalgamation should be so much more rapid and easy than in England; perhaps the reason may be found in the immense difference which is recognised between the two classes, and which enables the Russian noble to condescend to familiarity without risk, just as we see in England a man of rank vouchsafes to be jocular with a peasant, while he shrinks from any approach to familiarity with a man higher in the scale. Whatever be
the cause, the fact was fully exemplified on this occasion, and no one could complain that reserve was among the demerits of our lady passengers. The weather was beautiful, permitting a large consumption of time in eating and drinking of very good fare in both kinds, diversified with cards and scandal. When these pastimes palled, these frolicsome princes and princesses determined on edifying each other by relating their memoirs. Prince —, a remarkably tall, stout representative of the interminable family of the — (every second prince one meets in Russia being of this genuine Sclavonian stock), took the lead, and gravely produced to an admiring circle of his countrywomen, a large manuscript entitled 'Mes Mémoires.' It was curious to observe that even in conversing among themselves, French was the only language spoken by these Russian ladies and gentlemen. Many among the former were handsome. Beauty in Russia seems a good deal dependent on race. Those sprung from purely Sclavonic blood, or from the descendants of Rurik's companions, differ little in regularity of feature and expression of countenance from the handsomest races of Europe. But the least tinge of the Tartar taint is as difficult to efface as that of Africa; the little elongated eye, the spreading nostril, the thick lip, and the unhealthy jaundiced hue, are sure to be revealed more or less,
Among the ladies was the Countess —, a particularly handsome woman, strikingly graceful and attractive. She lived at the same inn that we occupied in Odessa, and wrote a most pressing note to my husband, expressing her strong desire to call on him relative to some important business. He, thinking it would be more polite
to take the initiative, went to her apartment, where he was rather surprised to find that this important business consisted of some absurd claim, which her deceased husband possessed some thirty years ago to the Persian order of the Lion and Sun, and which claim she desired to make good, as she heard the decoration bestowed was sometimes of value. It was only after a long delay he succeeded in evading her importunity. Prince Woronzow was also threatened by this lady with a visit, and he immediately went to her apartment, as there at all events he had a fair chance of making his escape. It appeared she was in the habit of travelling in company with a Russian fiddler. On board, the Countess became, in common with the rest of her countrywomen, very familiar with the facetious Prince who had amused the company with the recital of his adventures. She came up to my husband full of smiles and graces, and told him she had been most fortunate in undertaking the voyage at this juncture, as she had the happiness of meeting with two cousins on board, one being the Prince, and the other "ce Monsieur," said she, introducing the fiddler – "il est artiste." We afterwards met him at dinner at Aloupka, but without the Countess. It would be very rash to infer from this debonair lady's free and easy manners, that she was to be considered as a fair specimen of the Russian ladies.
Having touched at Eupatoria, we did not reach Sebastopol until next day. In the morning a heavy fog severely tried the nautical skill of our commander, which however was insufficient to prevent our vessel from running on
shore, close to where the battle of the Alma must have been fought, but owing to the smoothness of the sea we escaped unscathed. Even then we could not look on the fortifications of the harbour of Sebastopol, with their long array of guns, without interest, or without speculating who would be the first enemy they would be called on to repel. The two hours we spent in this memorable fortress were devoted to rambling through the clean and well-built streets, under the guidance of a Russian naval officer, whom we accidentally met, and who kindly obtained permission from the governor, or the admiral, to be our cicerone in seeing what was deemed curious, and perhaps in not letting us see more than was necessary. He conducted us from one large building to another, and from one immense ship to another – among them, the pride of the Russian navy, the "Twelve Apostles." I derived no pleasure from the excursion; indeed I felt heartily tired, though now I congratulate myself on the fortunate chance which led me to a place of imperishable remembrance in the world's records.
It was night when we sailed round Cape Chersonese, the southern point of the Crimea, and thus we lost the sight of the beautiful landscapes on the south coast, though we were so close to the shore as to be able to see the entrance to the ever-memorable Balaclava. It blew hard during the night, raising the sea as well as exciting great commotion amidst our lively princes and princesses. Among the first to suffer was our commander. That bold man of war, who fondly believed himself to bear some likeness to an English naval officer, after struggling
for a time, lay helpless and prostrate, but sought comfort and encouragement in the remembrance that mighty Nelson himself to the last was liable to the same mishap. A brilliant morning saw us at anchor at a short, distance from the little town of Yalta, with all the lovely scenery of the southern Crimea in full view. Hills covered with verdure down to the sea, woods, interminable vineyards, hamlets, and villas, formed a scene not easily forgotten, and brought to mind the garden of the world, – Italy, and all its beauties.
Well might that excellent traveller, Clarke, call the southern coast of this peninsula a paradise, if all he says be true of the continual streams of limpid water gushing from the mountain side, fertilising the gardens with a perpetual bloom and cooling the heated atmosphere, the soil a hotbed of vegetable productions, no reptiles, no venomous insects, and, above all, no unwholesome exhalations, of which, in another place, he says the soil is so fruitful at Inkerman, Balaclava, &c. Would that our sick soldiers had been able to find here a respite from the deadly fevers of Sebastopol! change of air or season being the only efficacious cure for the fever of malaria.
An aide-de-camp of Prince Woronzow soon appeared on board to convey us on shore, where no less than two phaëtons and four, if not six, awaited us, and soon transported us, at Russian pace, through the varied landscapes bordering the coast, back to Aloupka, which we had passed during the night.
The sight of this gorgeous mansion struck us with surprise. We were aware of the magnificence of Russian nobles, but did not expect to behold a palace which in
size and splendour can vie with the most lordly dwellings of England. It is constructed in a style half Gothic, half Moorish. The Oriental Hall, as it is designated, is devoted to the morning reception of the numerous company which is always assembled during the residence of the "Lieutenant of the Emperor," and is equally splendid and delightful, overlooking the beautiful gardens and pleasure-grounds reaching to the sea, of which there is a fine prospect. I admired the exquisite taste with which the vases were filled with flowers and fruit, and I was told that the Princess had her reception-rooms and boudoir decorated every day by a painter with fresh fruit and flowers. It well deserves the proud inscription on the Imperial Palace at Delhi, which we afterwards sent from Tehran in the most elaborate Persian writing, to be affixed over the entrance of this apartment:
"Agher ferdows der rooe Zameen ast,
Hameen asto, hameen asto, hameen ast."
"If on earth there Eden be,
It is this, it is this, it is this."
Our princely entertainer, princely in every sense of the word, and Princess Woronzow, a Polish lady of the noble house of Branitzka, devoted the day to our amusement in showing us all over the estate, an operation of no small fatigue from its extent, and from its being, not hill and dale, but all hill and no dale – like Queen Elizabeth's celebrated portrait, all light and no shadow. Everything was in the highest order and perfection, thanks to the Prince's manager and bailiff, a thoroughly active and intelligent Englishman, whom we had the pleasure of meeting. His librarian, too, was an Englishman. It was, however, his vineyard and winepresses which the Prince exhibited with exultation, as they are chiefly of his own creation: The Crimea has a debt of gratitude to pay this patriotic nobleman. The vineyards are of immense extent, producing every kind of grape, all introduced by Prince Woronzow. The varieties of the vines, collected from all parts of the world, are not less than two or three hundred. The wine manufactured on the Prince's estate is said to be exceedingly good, though not equalling in flavour its prototypes of Champagne and Bordeaux. The Crimean Barsac, Sauterne, and vin de Grave have a high reputation. The Prince's wine-makers were two garrulous Frenchmen, father and son, from the banks of the Garonne. The elder Frenchman announced that next day was his birthday, and insisted on receiving a remembrance of his fête from the Prince; who at once kindly consented, remarking, however, that this festival seemed to occur much oftener than once a year. The greatest curiosity shown us was a Tartar village close to the house. The inhabitants, men and women, came out to receive and salute their ruler, who addressed them with much cordiality. The Prince said they were quiet, good people. They were very poor, very dirty, and very ugly.
At night a numerous party assembled at dinner; the guests could not have been less than fifty – a number stated to be unusually small. The company was said to be somewhat motley, according to the common practice of Russian noblemen, who are said to be regardless of the rank of their guests, further than giving to each a higher or lower-placed seat at table, and more or less costly fare,
in proportion to his social status. The wines were numerous and excellent, all supplied from the Prince's own estate at Aloupka.
A few visitors came later in the evening, among whom was a French gentleman, long established in the country. He spoke warmly in favour of the Russian peasantry, their intelligence, their industry, their knowledge of their rights, and their tenacity in maintaining them.
Next morning after breakfast we bade adieu to Aloupka. Fair befall its lovely bowers and radiant halls! May it be safe from the ravages of war, and the presence of the spider and the owl! as I remember having read in my Persian studies –
"Perdehdaree mee kooned der kasr e kaïsar ankeboot,
Nowbet mee zaned boom der goombed e Afrasiab."
"The spider weaves his web in the halls of the Cæsars,
The owl tolls his knell in the dome of Afrasiab."
This being Sunday, we attended church at the house of Prince Narishkin, part of whose family belongs to the Catholic Church, and who maintains in his establishment a clergyman of that religion. Their estate adjoins that of Prince Woronzow, and is almost equally beautiful.
We passed here a few agreeable hours in the society of this family and their visitors. Russians, of that class at all events, seem to make it their study to render themselves attractive to foreigners, and I am told they feel greater anxiety to leave a good impression on English than on other travellers, not, I conjecture, from any special liking towards us, for that, I, am persuaded, they do not entertain, however much they may esteem and confide in individual character.
That they do confide in our honour much more than in that of their own countrymen, I have a strong conviction. I remember hearing of a Russian gentleman at Tehran who gave a sum of money to an English officer, to procure some finery for his wife, from India. This gentleman being on the point of leaving Tehran, he told the officer to avoid carefully letting his purchases fall into the hands of a Russian, as he should then certainly never see them. Another Russian, wishing to send some specimens of Persian manufacture to his brother in Europe, instead of forwarding them through the Russian Minister in Constantinople, who was his intimate acquaintance, begged a member of the English Mission to convey them to the English Consul at the latter city, for transmission to their destination. Yet both these men, particularly the first, were inveterately anti-English.
We saw at this time an odd example of the commercial, money-making spirit of the Russian nobility, who, however, it must be admitted, are equally willing to spend as to gain. The person I allude to was a man of large landed property, teeming with serfs. Not satisfied with this fruitful source of wealth, Prince — adopted the whim of turning sugar manufacturer, for which purpose he constructed a large establishment. Finding the profits scanty, the prince abandoned sugar-making, and was busily engaged when we saw him, in plans. for founding a manufactory for paper. Nobody seemed to think there was anything unusual in these pursuits. The prince's want of luck, or skill, or wisdom, was all they thought of.
Surfeited with Russian navigation, and anxious to see something more of the Crimea, we determined to travel
by land through the interior of the country to Kertch. One of the advantages of Russian travelling is, that, go where you will, from north to south, from east to west, from Warsaw to Kamschatka, from the Samoides to Persia, post-horses abound. We therefore landed our carriage, though with no small difficulty, Yalta being an open roadstead. All the energy and kindness of Prince Woronzow's English bailiff were required to save the vehicle from being deposited at the bottom of the Black Sea. This being accomplished, it was late when we said adieu to our hosts, the ladies embracing me, and pitying me for going, as they said, to a worse place than Siberia; in which latter country, they assured me, there were balls and diversions of various kinds among the exiles; whereas in Persia there was nothing of the kind. We then, on the 8th of October, proceeded on our journey, leaving the Feldt Jäger and servants on board to recreate themselves the remainder of the voyage to Kertch. The absence of the former did not cause us the least inconvenience. Our road lay along the coast to Alushta, through beautiful scenery and a hilly country. At this small town we turned to the north, the road leading over the tedious pass of Chadir-dagh, or Tent Mountain, so called from a fancied resemblance to a tent. It was long after nightfall when we commenced the ascent, our progress having been retarded in playing the good Samaritan to two Russian ladies travelling post alone to Yalta, whose tears and entreaties were fruitless in persuading the obdurate yemshiks, as the Russian postilions are called, to supply them with horses. They appealed to us piteously for succour, and we sent them on their way rejoicing, after we had
softened the hearts of the yemshiks in the manner most efficacious in Russia, as well as in other countries.
Chadir-dagh proved to be an exceedingly high hill – mountain, indeed, I might call it – but with a tolerably good and perfectly safe road. Though I forget its height, I remember it to be the Chimborazo and Dewalagiri of the Crimea. At the summit, which we reached at midnight, we resolved to remain in the carriage at the solitary post-house, having before our eyes the fear of a famous robber, who for a long time had set the Czar at defiance. Our only weapon was a single old Russian flint-pistol, kindly offered for our protection by a Russian gentleman whom we accidentally met at the inn at Yalta; but this pistol looked more dangerous to fire than to face; more awful subjectively than objectively; and, as Mr. Grattan said of the Irish militia, it seemed formidable only to its friends. This marauder was a Tartar, who had been a soldier and deserted. Prince Woronzow told us that he once singly encountered and despoiled sixteen Jews. He forced them to lie on the earth, "boca a tierra," after the Spanish fashion, and then robbed them at his leisure, recreating himself at intervals with oaths, kicks, and cuffs.
The Jews of the Crimea are called Karaites, though why I do not remember.2 They reject, it is said, the Talmud and all tradition, clinging to the Bible alone. They are infinitely superior to their tribe in Poland, Russia, and Persia, in personal appearance; and they have the reputation of equally exceeding them in morals and
character. The squalor, dirt, rags, and abject sycophancy of the Jews of those countries are not found among the Karaites.
In the morning we descended the mountain, and arrived in good time at Simpheropol, and were conducted to a small country seat – small, contrasted with Aloupka – belonging to Prince Woronzow, whose hospitality and kindness never slept from the time we entered his dominions, as I may call them, at Odessa, until we left them at the Aras, on the frontier of Persia. We found everything prepared for us, – servants, beds, and a most luxurious breakfast. We would willingly have passed a day at this pleasant retreat, which, among other attractions, contained a large library; but the fear of the Caucasus and Kasee Beg 3 urged us on. We drove through a pleasant, slightly undulating country, sometimes a savannah, but at intervals well cultivated and inhabited. In many places we beheld what to my husband was a novelty, as well as to me, – camels drawing waggons heavily laden, and ploughing the fields. In Arabia, India, Persia, and Turkey, they are used only as beasts of burden; and in Mekran, and among the Belooches, for riding, on their distant marauding expeditions. Late at night we arrived at Kaffa, or Theodosia, as the Russians prefer to call it, where we found excellent horses ready for us, and therefore remained only a few minutes; but long enough, dark as it was, to perceive it was reduced to humble pretensions. The remains of the palaces constructed by the Genoese when they were lords of Kaffa, suffered destruction at the hands of the Tartars and Turks, for the construction of their mosques and dwellings; and these in their turn are reported to have undergone similar devastation from the Muscovite conquerors; so that between the invaders little is left to Theodosia of its ancient magnificence. What a contrast, and what a theme for reflection, does its present state afford, compared to the days when 300,000 Russians were collected in its bazars, and sold as slaves to the merchants of Constantinople!
Continuing our journey over an exceedingly bad road, we next day reached Kertch, where we found an excellent house awaiting us. This is a cheerful town, and must be thriving; as, besides being the quarantine station, vessels whose burden unfits them for the shallow navigation of the Sea of Azow, await here the arrival of their cargoes from Taganrog and the Don. Though exceedingly hot in summer, the cold in winter is of equal intensity, notwithstanding that the position of Kertch is eight degrees lower than that of London. Sledges proceed down the Don to Taganrog, and even over part of the Sea of Azow. Kertch, it may be surmised, does not possess many objects of art or curiosity. Whatever may have been the antiquity of the Cimmerian Bosphorians, little remains to mark their power at this regal seat of Mithridates beyond the numerous sepulchral mounds with which the neighbourhood is crowded. Time and violence have done their work; although it is supposed that research among its ruins would bring to light more antiquities than are to be found in any part of the Crimea. A small museum, containing medals, coins, inscriptions, fragments of marbles, and articles of pottery, collected in the neighbourhood, reputed to be
remnants of the Grecian rule once existing here, and strongly resembling similar specimens from Etruria, is preserved with great reverence. The governor's wife most kindly lent us her carriage to view a large mound, a short distance from Kertch, which our cicerone vouched to be the tomb of Mithridates, but which I believe was a stretch of his imagination, the so-called sepulchre of that monarch being, I am told, much farther off. The former must be the place which a French writer (Dubois Montreux), a recent author, I believe, with a Gallican contempt for all names not French, calls Kouloba, and which Clarke names Altynobo, intended probably for Altoon-oba, meaning, golden tent, or house, in Turkish. The doctor's Turkish, however, is not very orthodox, I hear. In the Crimea he meets with a piece of water which he calls "Beys eau," Bey's water, and expresses his astonishment that the words should be pronounced exactly as in French, and have precisely the same meaning. The mistake is curious, and ought to put travellers on their guard in dealing with new languages. The words are Bey soo; the latter meaning water in Turkish.
It contained nothing to excite attention, unless the association of ideas carrying back the mind to remote antiquity. An excavation at the foot of the mound revealed a small vaulted chamber, empty, as may be guessed. The surrounding country seemed covered with mounds of the same kind. The Russian coachman drove us over the country in a heavy vehicle, having a large hammercloth, with a recklessness only equalled in Persia. The charioteers of both countries seem to consider a carriage as a piece of artillery. Mountains, rivers, and ravines are no
impediment to them, as I have found by experience. Like Sir Richard Blackmore, we might say, –
"Nor Alps, nor Apennines could keep him out,
Nor fortified redoubt."
On the succeeding day a small steamer was provided to convey us across the Cimmerian Bosphorus, the Straits of Taman, a voyage which occupied two hours. The weather was charming; nevertheless we saw a Russian war-steamer in a plight similar to what befell ours near Sebastopol. She was lying on her side on a sand-bank. (Note A.)
2 I have since heard that, like Koran, the word is derived from an Arabic term meaning "to read."
3 A high mountain in the Caucasus.
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