Memoirs of Josef Boruwlaski - CHAP. III

CHAP. III
Description of the city of Astrachan -- Journey through Oremburg and Simbirsk to Kazan Description of Kazan; kindness of the Governor and his lady -- Journey to Lapland and Finland -- Arrival at and description of Archangel -- Voyage to Nova Zembla; savage state of the natives -- Journey to Berezowa; hospitality of its inhabitants -- Arrival at Tobolsk in Siberia, and reception there; generous behaviour of the Governor.

            AMONGST other places which I at this time visited, was Astrachan, the principal city of Asiatic Russia, which is situated at the mouth of the Volga. It has a fortress, and the city is surrounded with strong walls. It contains, as far as I recollect, churches, as well of the Russian as of other persuasions, of which my limits will not admit a detailed account.

            There are two commercial halls, for the reception and sale of merchandise. Both these buildings are in a beautiful style of architecture. But what I found most worthy of attention, was a large botanical garden, and chemical laboratory, where they prepare salts extracted from plants, as the bitter salt of Astrachan; also the juice of liquorice, and distilled waters. I have been told, that every apothecary's shop throughout the empire belongs to the Emperor; and they get from this place every medicinal plant. The apothecaries established here, supply all Russia with liquorice juice and Glauber's salts; and being not far distant from Persia, they are of course able to procure curious simples from thence, at a cheap rate.

            I found the city of Astrachan, and the industry of its inhabitants, so interesting, and so deserving the attention of a curious traveller, that I was encouraged to take a trip further, both to acquire a more extensive knowledge of the world; and, if possible, to secure a little income for the enjoyment of a quiet life. Supported under my unfortunate situation, by these objects which I had in view, I willingly submitted myself to the caprice of fortune. Accordingly, being provided with letters of recommendation, I set out for Kazan; at which place I arrived, after passing through Oremburg and Simbirsk. It is esteemed a rich and considerable city. But, to the best of my recollection, the appearance of the houses, ramparts, and towers, which are all built of wood, gave me the idea of its being a poor town. It has, however, a castle built of stone, and is excellently situated, being watered by the rivers Volga and Kama, which make the land extremely fertile; so that it is enabled to enrich all the provinces by means of its commerce. This metropolitan city contains a great number of churches and monasteries.

            Perceiving that the place afforded me the prospect of a good benefit, I began to employ my time in arranging the preparation for a concert. I consequently delivered my letters of recommendation, directed to Basil Wasilowich, governor of Kazan. who received me with the greatest politeness. His lady, Mrs. Wasilowich, being so kind as to offer me apartments in their palace, I spent some weeks with that amiable couple, in the most agreeable manner; being provided, by their bounty, with all the pleasure and luxuries of life. My concert, favoured with the patronage of such great and generous personages, more than answered my most sanguine expectations. I perceived with some surprise, that the amiable governor and his lady took the warmest interest in my concerns; conjecturing, perhaps, from my manners and conversation, that some accident had reduced me to the necessity of travelling, and probably pleased to find my mind so perfectly tranquil, and prepared to encounter all hazards, and to endure whatever misfortunes might befall me.

            The governor generously wishing to keep me out of the way of danger, proposed to recommend me to the court of Petersburgh. His kind offer brought to my recollection the gracious reception, and caresses, with which I had been honoured by the illustrious Princess of Danhalt, during my stay at Paris with the Countess Humiecka; and I was sensible that I could not fail of being well received by an introduction from this Princess, who was mother of Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia. But I was not without apprehensions, that Baron de Stachelberg, the Ambassador from the Court of Petersburgh, who had been resident at Warsaw, whilst I was under the protection of the Countess Humiecka, and through the influence of political affairs had contracted a particular intimacy with herself and her family, might, on account of circumstances which I have before related, connected with the displeasure which that lady had conceived, create some prejudice against me at the Russian court: I therefore judged it most prudent to decline the governor's offer.

            I now formed a project of visiting Finland, and the neighbouring country, which the governor was far from approving, as he was desirous that I should return to the more civilized parts of the world. He gave me, however, a letter of recommendation to the governor of Tobolsk, but would not second my design any further. Notwithstanding this, I set out in the first place for Finland, and after passing through Kostroma and Ousting, I arrived at Abo, the metropolis of that country. This city could not have been more advantageously situated in regard to commerce, being surrounded by the gulfs of Bothnia and Finland, Which both form most commodious harbours; and I have no doubt it carries on an extensive trade.

            In every other respect it seemed to me a most miserable city, exhibiting, with its wooden houses painted in imitation of brick, a very beggarly appearance. Its inhabitants I found totally destitute of spirit, and cold as the climate in which they live.

            As there was no probability of my deriving any profit from this place, I soon left it, and proceeded to Lapland, where I found my situation by no means improved; but was convinced, that I could expect no benefit from a people so destitute, and a country so wild and remote from all intercourse with the rest of the world. I felt myself, however, endued with courage, which bore me up against the stream of misfortune, and was protected by a gracious Providence from those dangers to which I had exposed myself, by imprudently venturing, like an inexperienced traveller, among the savages who inhabit this country.

            I was far from meeting a rude reception from these people: on the contrary, I perceived that they regarded me with mixed surprise and pleasure, which induced them to pay me the most civil attentions. They shewed great zeal, in procuring me the best table their country could afford, with which I had every reason to be satisfied, as they have abundance of excellent game, and fish of every description. This last article their situation enables them to get with the greatest ease, as they are almost surrounded by seas -- on the north by the Arctic Ocean, and on the east and south by the White Sea: accordingly, they have immense quantities of all kinds, and of the best quality. The gulf of Bothnia abounds with salmon; and from their mountains descend vast rivers of fresh water, in which I beheld those fishes swimming against the stream. I also saw in their lakes, pikes of a wonderful size: so that I could not avoid remarking how plentifully all their wants were supplied, and how much more bountiful nature had been to them than to those inhabitants of Scandinavia, who are obliged to supply with a kind of sawdust, and preparation of fish bones, their want of bread.

            I now prepared to quit this part of the globe, to me so unproductive, and reached Terrskoi, an inland town of Russian Lapland. Finding myself now at no great distance from the celebrated city of Archangel, I determined to visit it, which resolution I put in practice.

            Had I travelled only for the purpose of furnishing descriptions, I should have thought myself bound to give my readers a particular account of Archangel; but as that consideration did not enter into my plan, I must content myself with merely noticing the neatness of the houses, which are of modern architecture, and that noble edifice called the Hall; this building, if my recollection be correct, is divided into three parts, in one of which the Russian and foreign merchants have their apartments. I had the honour of an invitation to dine with them; and was particularly noticed by Mr. Weldefriz, a distant relation to the minister of the same name, from the Danish Court at Paris, with whom I had been intimate during my stay at that capital, with the Countess Humiecka. This gentleman, finding who I was, paid me the kindest attention, and shewed me the whole of this remarkable building, which is very beautiful and commodious, having a square belonging to it, adjacent to the river, where vessels approach, to load and unload their merchandise.

            Archangel is admirably situated for trade, having on the east the famous river Dwina, which falls into the White Sea. This advantageous position has afforded its inhabitants an opportunity, by the exertion of their industry, to enrich their country. Thus are a vast body of men prevented from sinking into a torpid and indolent state of existence, like that of the ignorant Laplanders, who can neither benefit the world at large, nor even promote the interests of a solitary traveller like myself. There I might soon have found myself without a single resource to supply my wants, had I not been fortunate enough to reach Archangel, where my happiness was increased by my acquaintance with Mr. Weldefriz, who proved the benevolence of his heart, by procuring me a lucrative concert. This put me in excellent spirits, and I felt a desire to visit the desolate country of Nova-Zembla, which is upwards of six hundred miles distant by sea from Archangel. Mr. Weldefriz did not approve of this voyage, and gave me to understand, that no concert could be given there; but finding me quite determined, and having some business there himself, he kindly offered to take charge of me.

            We sailed together over the White Sea, and landed safely at Nova-Zembla. I afterwards regretted that I had not listened to the advice of my friend Mr. Weldefriz, as I found it was vain to expect any kind of benefit, and perceived no objects that could gratify the eye of a traveller. The whole country presented the appearance of desolation and distress; for which, however, we ought not to blame nature, which is always perfect in her operations, when not prevented by accident from carrying them into effect. But here her noble principles had been quite destroyed, and this unfortunate corner of the globe presented the most dismal appearance. Indeed, it seems as if one might justly conclude that an island so forlorn as Nova-Zembla, can be but of little use to the world; especially when we remark that the animal kingdom alone subsists in it, as neither vegetables nor minerals are to be found. The natives are chiefly savages, and, as might naturally be expected, rude as their native climate. Their size is in general diminutive, and their strength may be easily managed. The following circumstance introduced me to their acquaintance.

            It happened that I was travelling with my friend Mr. Weldefriz, in a sledge, to visit some mountains of a prodigious height, which seem to hang in the air, and cannot be looked upon without horror; and which are inhabited by beasts of a monstrous size. At this time the savages were hunting these animals for the sake of their skins; with which, as they have no money in that country, they pay their taxes to the Emperor of Russia. I was perceived by some of them, who approached and viewed me with such looks of surprise, that I doubt not I became the principal topic of their conversation. The third day after this, they surrounded our house in great numbers, and dispatched a messenger to inform us, that if I did not come out and see them, they would pull down the whole house.

            The mode of their request was suitable enough to the disposition of these savages; whose example serves to convince us, that nature on her part has done every thing in producing the human body, giving it a perfect shape, and endowing man with an understanding superior to all other animals; but that, when education is not employed to improve that understanding, the human race sinks nearly to a level with the brute creation, being actuated by no principle but that of satisfying its own desires.

            In order to prevent the mischief these savages intended me, I made my appearance before them. I was probably indebted for my safety to the smallness of my size. As soon as their astonishment had ceased, I observed that they assumed a singular posture, and lifted up their hands and eyes to the sky, as if in worship of the sun. My curiosity induced me to ask the reason of this behaviour. My question was put in the Polish tongue, which is similar to the Russian; and they answered me in the same language with great calmness, that they were giving thanks to the sun for allowing them to find such a man as me, as they had seen many people of various sizes, but never beheld any thing like mine.

            This flattering compliment well merited the return I hastened to make them, of my kindest and most grateful thanks, for the civil reception I had so unexpectedly met with. I at the same time proceeded, for their amusement, to play some tunes on my guitar, with which they were highly delighted, having never before heard or seen that instrument. I pleased them so much, that I think I may flatter myself I won their hearts, and inspired them with some degree of enthusiasm towards me, which they expressed by desiring that I would not leave them. Savages as they were, so feeling a heart atoned for many defects.

            As soon as my friend Weldefriz had settled his own affairs, we prepared for our departure; when these generous savages presented us with a most beautiful fur of sable, and we took leave of each other in the most friendly manner possible. We set sail, and passed the Straits of Nova-Zembla; by which name I shall call that narrow passage, the proper appellation of which has escaped my memory, so that my readers in this particular must not rely upon me. My recollection, however, enables me to state that the traveller has on one side the sea of Karskoe, and on the other the gulf of Lebeskaya. We passed between those seas, and arrived on shore in a few hours.

            Next day my friend set out with me, and conducted me as far as Berezowa, where we had the pleasure to find the people much more hospitable to strangers than we had expected. We stopped a few days at their request, during which time we enjoyed every comfort: they furnished our table with all sorts of game, and with young reindeer, which make a delightful dish. They not only procured us an excellent table, but were so kind as to entertain us with their pleasant company, and to favour us with some music upon an instrument of their own, called Bandura, a good deal like the guitar, with which we were much gratified. I then surprised these good people, who were not aware of my being able to perform, by ordering my servant to bring my guitar. The whole company were astonished on my opening it; and I began to play some of my own music, which having all the charms of novelty, seemed to excite their admiration. The day after this we took our departure, and I now experienced the double regret of quitting these generous people, from whom I had received so many civilities, and my kind friend Mr. Weldefriz.

            On my arrival at Tobolsk, my first care was to deliver my letters of recommendation to the Lord Chief Governor of Siberia, whose military is equal to his civil authority. I found in this city, which is amazingly well fortified, a powerful garrison. I concluded therefore, that a concert among so great a number of officers would fully answer my expectations. Upon the inhabitants of the city I could place but little reliance, being composed chiefly of Mahometan Tartars, and others, whom it will be no great loss to my readers to leave unmentioned; whose sole pleasure consisted in trading up the river Irtish, which they did to a considerable extent, and in conveying merchandise through Great Tartary to China: so that the fruits of my sowing on such a barren land, were likely to be little better than a crop of nettles. I consequently directed my attentions to the governor, who sent me a polite invitation to dine with him.

            At this dinner I found a most brilliant company, and met many distinguished officers. A great many ladies were present, who supported the character of their amiable sex, by reviving the spirit of the company, and giving new life to the agreeable conversation. I soon found that I had become the leading topic of their discourse: my small size had probably attracted their attention, and excited a curiosity to hear me converse. They accordingly put several questions to me, merely, as I imagine, with a view of learning what answer I could make. Among my questioners was a lady, the most beautiful of the whole assembly. She asked me what motives could have tempted me to travel so far, and induced me to visit a country so desolate and destitute of comfort as Siberia, where nothing was to be seen and felt but snow and extreme frost. "Excuse me, Madam," I replied, "the dangers and fatigues of my travels are amply rewarded, by what I now behold; for even the frozen regions of Siberia have not prevented nature from presenting to my view so elegant a specimen of her workmanship as yourself." The governor, enchanted with my reply, declared to me that she was his daughter; and this lucky little incident increased the kindness of the reception I met with from the whole company.

            The next day I received from the governor's daughter an invitation to dine with her and her father, which it was impossible for me to refuse. The governor took this opportunity of inquiring very kindly after my concerns. I frankly informed him, that having no settled provision to which I could look forward, I was thrown upon the world, and left entirely without any resources; and that such being my disastrous situation, I begged that he would patronise my concert. This he promised. to do; and through the warm interest and active exertions of the governor, his lady, and his daughter, my concert was attended by a most brilliant company, and as productive as I could possibly desire from the city of Tobolsk.

            As I had now settled all my affairs, and had nothing more to do in that place, I was preparing to leave it. But my departure was delayed for some time by a circumstance, of which, when my reader shall be apprised, he will, I am sure, approve the conduct I adopted. That amiable lady, the governor's daughter, considered, probably, that performers in my way generally look only to their own interest; and forgetting immediately the generous benefactors who have promoted their advantage, leave them without concern in search of new ones. To prevent, therefore, my following such examples, she sent me a note to inform me, by desire of her father and mother, that they begged I would not think of leaving the town so soon: at the end of the note she added, that for her own part, she flattered herself, I would not think of disobliging her by refusing to comply with the request. To this I replied: "As I have already, Madam, experienced your goodness, and witnessed the kind concern you take in my welfare, you could not surely think that I would disobey your order. Sooner will I forget myself. Severe as the misfortunes are which have befallen me, and impelled me to seek my fortune in foreign climates, they can never obliterate the feelings of gratitude which I cherish for your bounty, and which I trust will accompany me to the grave."

            This answer opened a door to their friendship: they immediately came, and took me to dine with them. My time was most agreeably spent in their society. After dinner, the governor's daughter, who was an admirable performer, sent for my instrument, on which I accompanied her. Soon after, a number of their friends came to spend the evening with them. It began at last to grow late, and I preparing to go home., but was prevented by the young lady, who desired me to wait until the company should be gone, When all retired, she said: "Now, allow me to accompany you to your lodging." "You are right," added the governor and his lady, "and we will go together." I desired they would not give themselves so needless a trouble; but the more I entreated them, the more delighted were they to perceive that I had not discovered their intention, of which I remained totally ignorant until I found myself in a charming apartment of their noble mansion, which they had destined for my abode. As soon as I had recovered from the astonishment into which I was thrown by this most courteous attention, which the politest nation could not have surpassed, I returned them my warmest thanks for their kindness; which in my present situation I had the less reason to expect, as I had suppressed my real name, influenced by a feeling of pride which forbade me to proclaim it under the humiliating circumstances in which I was there placed. Thus did I suddenly find myself fixed in their palace, where I was most kindly cherished; and I received every attention from this respectable family, whose friendship each succeeding day. seemed to increase. My joy was, however, embittered by the thought, that the time was fast approaching when I must depart, never again to behold them, and when I should have no other consolation for their loss, but the recollection of the kindness they had shown me.

 

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