Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE CLOSE OF THE OLD YEAR, 1844.

Old and waning year,
Thou art in thy bier,

Hast'ning to thy bourne ; Hark! thy knell is ringing ; Hark! thy dirge is singing;

Shall we joy or mourn?

Thine 'twas to destroy
Many a heart-shrined joy

In thy course, Old Year! Cares and sorrows thronging, Vain and hopeless longing

Mark'd thy progress here !

To the sons of earth
Little joy or mirth

Was thy boon, Old Year!
For the gayest smile
Shore but to beguile,

Follow'd by a tear.

Sadd'ning thoughts are these : E'en the leafless trees

Thou didst crown the bride, In her beauty's pride,

With a mourning wreath ; Thou didst whelm the brave In the dark, cold wave

Chilling wave of death!

From the mother's breast, Fondly hush'd to rest,

Blossom sweet and fair ! Thou didst take the babe, Laid'st it in the grave,

Dark and lonely there !

ANSWER OF THE OLD YEAR.

Mortal! why repine ? 'Twas a Power divine

Bade the passing cloud Dim thine hour of gladness, Folding all in sadness

With its mournful shroud.

Had I power to save
From the yawning grave,

When 'twas Heaven's decree?
Trials meant to prove
Patience, truth, and love,

Mercy sent to thee !

I have scatter'd flowers
O'er the fleeting hours

In their ceaseless flow;

Seem'd too fast to fade ; Since in spring-tide hour, Gladd’ning dale and bower

With their leafy shade.

Moral sad we hear
From the closing year,

As he passeth by;
Hope is but a beam;
Life is but a dream,

Evermore we sigh.

Who would covet life,
Scene of endless strife

From the hour of birth ?
Happy be whose years,
Mark'd by grief and tears,

Soonest close on earth!

Joy with sorrow blending,
Mirth and gladness sending

To each heart below.

Hope, with rainbow hue,
Casts its glory, too,

O'er the darkest hour;
And the wearied breast
Found a peaceful rest

In Religion's power.

To the boundless sea
Of eternity,

'Ere I wing my flight;
Breathe a kind farewell ;
Softly ring my knell ;
Part we friends to-night.

H, B, K.

THE FÊTE OF PETERHOFF.

BY MRS. ROMER.

2

PERHAPS no spectacle so striking can be offered to the observation of a stranger in Russia as the fête which is annually given by the Emperor at the palace of Peterhoff, in honour of the birthday of his consort, the Empress Alexandra. It differs totally from all other courtfestivals, inasmuch as it includes individuals of all classes and nations of the vast Russian empire. A line of demarcation, however, has been laid down, calculated to prevent any inconvenient contact of the populace with the higher classes ; for, while the people are admitted promiscuously to the gardens, the interior of the palace is reserved for the court and the invited guests of the imperial family. Although the entertainment professes to be a masked ball, no masks are worn, nor is there actually any dancing. The only approach to a masquerade consists in every gentleman admitted to the interior of the palace being obliged to carry a black domino on his arm, as the symbol of his being an invited guest.

While on a visit to Russia some few years ago, I considered myself fortunate in having reached St. Petersburg just in time to attend the fête of Peterhoff, for which the English chargé-d'affaires had most obligingly provided tickets of admission for myself and my party. The palace of Peterhoff, once the favourite residence of the unfortunate Emperor Peter, is seated on the shores of the Gulf of Finland, about twenty-four miles from St. Petersburg, and, from its gardens and water-works, has obtained the designation of “the Versailles of the North.” It is approached from St. Petersburg most expeditiously by sea, and accordingly, at seven in the evening, we embarked in one of Baird's English steamers, and landed at Peterhoff at ten o'clock.

We reached the state-rooms of the palace just in time to witness the most interesting part of the fête. The apartments were already filled with a brilliant crowd, representing the various nations reunited under the dominion of the Czar, all wearing their national costume. There were Georgians, remarkable for their dark, expressive faces, and their long-cut oriental eyes, dressed in kaftans of scarlet cloth, and caps lined with sable ; and one of their sovereign princesses was clad in flowing white robes, with a high transparent white cap, from which depended a long white veil, that nearly enveloped her person. There were two Calmuck chiefs and one Calmuck lady, whose countenances were of that peculiar stamp which one sees delineated upon

China tea-pots, their Tartar vestments resembling in form those of the natives of the Celestial Empire. Officers of the Emperor's Circassian guard, in chainarmour and steel-chain morions, armed with yataghans and bows and arrows, were conspicuous. Then there were Persians, with their high black lambskin caps, and their long robes of costly cachmire and brocaded silk; Armenians, Turks, Tartars, Hungarians, Greeks, and, of course, every description of Russian costume and uniform. The coup d'ail produced by this brilliant multitude assembled in those gilded saloons, amidst a blaze of light such as I never before witnessed, is not to be described. A military band, stationed in each room, performed in turn some wild and plaintive Russian melodies, until at once the

various bands blended into one triumphant martial strain ; and the folding-doors at the upper end of the state-suite being at the same moment thrown open, the imperial family, followed by the court, the ministers of state, and the foreign ambassadors, made their appearance, and traversed the suite of rooms to the measure of a stately Polonaise. The Emperor led the way, giving his hand to the Princess Frederick of Orange (the Empress's sister), and then followed the Empress, led by her eldest son; afterwards came the young Grand Duchesses, paired with Prince Frederick of Orange, the Duke of Nassau, and the Duke of Oldenburg ; and the Princes of the Empire, the ministers, and ambassadors with their suites, each conducting a lady, closed the glittering cortège.

As the Emperor advanced, the crowd respectfully fell back, leaving ample space for the brilliant procession to pass. He wore the scarlet uniform of the Empress's regiment of Gardes Chevaliers, in honour of her Majesty, as did his son the Czarowitsch, and his nephew the Duke of Oldenburg. The Emperor Nicholas was then in his fortieth year, and in the very zenith of his unrivalled beauty. He united to the noblest stature a symmetry of form, and a graceful bearing, which are seldom the characteristics of very tall men. His countenance, bright and intellectual, bore no traces of human passion or human weakness, in its calm and severe beauty; and his whole person presented the most perfect type of royalty. Without a shade of haughtiness on his brow, he looked as one born to command.

The Empress, although not inheriting all the beauty of her mother, the celebrated Queen of Prussia, possessed a pleasing and interesting countenance, with a graceful figure. She appeared, however, less youthful than her imperial consort. The Czarowitsch figured most appropriately by the side of his fair mother as her chevalier d'honneur ; the young Grand Duchesses followed, attractively and becomingly attired in spotless white.

At every tour of the rooms the Emperor changed partners, so that in turns he gave his hand to each lady included in the Polonaise, still maintaining, however, the leading place, and still followed by the Empress. In this manner they passed the place we occupied so often, as to give us an opportunity of examining them in the minutest manner; and it was during one of those evolutions that my attention was attracted towards a lady who, until she had thus become the partner of his Majesty, had, like the rest of the crowd, passed unobserved by me. Her appearance was nevertheless so remarkable, and her beauty so peculiar and striking, that I felt convinced she must be a stranger,

• The lovely family of the Emperor Nicholas, consisting of four sons and three daughters, were brought up from the cradle by English nurses and governesses, under the superintendence of an old Scotchwoman, who was under.nurse to the present Emperor in his infancy. This individual held the rank of a general officer, (for everything in Russia is measured by a military scale,) and bad been decorated with the order of St. Andrew, ennobled, and enriched. This woman, nevertheless, came a bare-legged servant-girl to Russia, some five-and-fifty years ago, with a Scotch trader's family, who turned her adrift in St. Petersburg. A lucky chance procured her the situation of under nursery-maid in the Emperor Paul's family, when she was placed about the person of the present Emperor, to teach him to speak English ! His attachment for her was so great, that when he married he placed her at the head of his nursery establishment, where she has honourably gone through all the military gradations of rank to her present one of general. I suppose she will die a field-marshal!

probably the wife of one of the foreign ministers. She was tall, and beautifully formed, with a most lovely countenance, oriental in its cast, serious and dignified, but full of sweetness. Her complexion was of that clear paleness which shows to such advantage by candle-light, her hair of the hue and lustre of jet, and her large dark eyes fringed with those long, thick, black lashes, which are scarcely ever seen among Europeans, and are almost peculiar to the Georgian women. She was attired with exquisite, but costly simplicity, in a dress of India muslin, and the only ornament worn by her was a wreath of ivy leaves, composed of emeralds, encircling her braided hair. In the midst of the feathers, and diamonds, and satins, and flowers of the Parisian toilettes that fluttered around, she looked like a muse that had descended for a moment into the midst of the gay scene to fling the charm of poetry over it; and, while every other face wore conventional smiles, or flushed triumphant whenever the sovereign's eye glanced on them, hers alone preserved its calm and cold equanimity, even in the supreme moment which had caused some to blush, and some to tremble, and others to look inexpressibly grand, and all to appear ill at ease whenever it fell to their turn-I mean when, hand in hand with her imperial master, she for a brief space took precedence of all that was noblest in the empire, and became with that august personage “ the cynosure of admiring eyes.” She looked as though her mind could neither be dazzled nor captivated by such scenes ; and there was a pensive abstraction in her countenance, which led me to fancy that her heart was not in them, and that her thoughts even then had wandered far away.

I eagerly, but fruitlessly, inquired the name of the beautiful stranger, and soon afterwards I lost sight of her; for, as soon as the Polonaise was over, the imperial family went to supper in an apartment, from which all but their immediate party were excluded ; and we took that opportunity of descending to the gardens, where a scene of magic splendour burst upon our view.

Amidst columns, pyramids, and walls of fire, the innumerable fountains of those terraced gardens throwing their waters high into the air, and catching the reflection of the surrounding blaze, produced the effect of showers of topazes falling in all directions ; while their murmuring sounds mingled with the strains of music that issued from the open windows of the palace, and the Babel-like hum of the multitude gathered together in that scene of enchantment. A light stronger and brighter than that of day shed a sort of supernatural lustre upon the variety of European and Asiatic costumes and uniforms that circulated among alleys walled in with what appeared to be sheets of flame; and I should have fancied myself transported to fairy-land, had it not been for the odour of tallow emitted from the myriad lamps, which reminded me, unpleasantly enough, that I was in the country of which that unsavoury material forms the staple commodity. Nor had the creaturecomforts of the people been neglected. In the gardens tents were pitched, where tea (the never-failing beverage throughout Russia), and a variety of more substantial refreshments, were plentifully distributed.

When the court had supped, a cavalcade of thirty open carriages, called lignes, drew up to the grand entrance of the palace, and the imperial family with their suites, and the foreign ambassadors, got into them, and were driven round the park and gardens to see the illuminations, and to show themselves to those who had not been admitted to the palace. This was the last act of the entertainment; and, as soon as it was over, we betook ourselves again to the steamer, which we found even more crowded than it had been in our passage to Peterhoff. But, although the wind was propitious for a return, and the sea smooth, we moved on but slowly. There was no steam to impel us onward; for the Scotch economy of the proprietor had ordained that the fires should be allowed to go out. The time did not, however, appear long to me. Among the passengers was General Y—, with whom we had previously been acquainted, and who, being an excellent raconteur, amused us with anecdotes of many of the personages whom we had seen that night. Of course I did not omit to question him about the lady whose countenance and mien bad made such an impression on me. I minutely described her person and attire, and concluded by expressing my conviction that she could not be a Russian.

“ You mean the Countess A-," said the old General ; "she is, nevertheless, a Russian, the daughter of a Cossack general, and the widow of a Muscovite noble, with whom I was once well acquainted, and she has never to my knowledge quitted Russia for a day. The history of her marriage is quite a romance, and when you have heard it, you will be able to account for the peculiar expression of her countenance, and to connect its pensive character with the events which have conferred on her so painful a celebrity.

“About fifteen years ago, the young Count A, at that time a lieutenant in a regiment of the Emperor's guard in garrison at St. Petersburg, and the representative of one of the noblest families in Moscow, having in the flush of youth manifested symptoms of insubordination, was sent by way of corrective to the Caucasus, to do duty there for two years. The nature of this service is most severe, the country being barbarous in the extreme, and destitute of all resource ; and to young A—the spoiled child of a doating mother, brought up in almost Asiatic luxury, and but lately the beau garçon of the aristocratic circles of St. Petersburg, it appeared little less dreadful than an exile to Siberia itself. As a mark of favour in the midst of his disgrace, he had been received as an inmate in the house of the commandant of the Russian lines, an old general of Cossacks from the Donsky country, whose head-quarters were established at Wladi Caucasus ; and from him and his family Count A received that patriarchal hospitality which characterizes the primitive Sclavonian races ; and the frank and simple cordiality with which it was offered compensated in some degree for the absence of those elegances which he had hitherto been accustomed to regard as indispensable. The old General was a rough, unsophisticated soldier; he had passed all his life among his wild Cossacks, and had often been heard to boast that he had never but once appeared at court, and that was after returning from the taking of Paris by the Allied Armies in 1814.

Contrary to the custom of St. Petersburg, where Russian is the language least heard even in Russian houses, and scarcely anything but French, German, English, and Italian, are spoken by the foreign servants of which our great establishments are composed, no member of General P-'s family could understand any other language than their own ; Count A--, who had grown quite disused to Russian in the Babel-like confusion of tongues that prevails in St. Petersburg, felt as though he had been transported to some foreign land, when

familiar

« PreviousContinue »