Memoirs of Josef Boruwlaski - CHAP. IV.

Departure from Tobolsk -- Journey to Kamschatka; arrival at Bolcheretskoi the capital -- Description of the Volcanoes -- Journey to Behring's Straits; view of the Frozen Ocean -- Desolate state of the country, and miserable existence of the natives -- Arrival at Olensk; improved appearance of the country -- Visit to the city of Catherineburg; politeness and liberality of the Director of the Siberian mines -- Description of the country around -- Remarkable incidents.

            I WAS at length obliged to pursue my journey; and leaving Tobolsk, I set out for Kamschatka, passing through Narym, Nasunowskoi, Hinskoi, Witemk, Oloskoi, and Tewskoi, which are situated near the sea of the peninsula of Kamschatka. On my arrival at Bolcheretskoi, the metropolis of the whole country, I thought I had found a second Nova-Zembla: but here I met with the additional evil of three volcanoes, which I did not fail to visit. The first to the best of my recollection, named Awatska, lies to the north of a bay of the same name; the second rises from the mountains between the rivers of Kamschatka and Tobolski. I here met with a gentleman who made particular enquiries after me; but not being satisfied with the information he received, he politely approached and thus accosted me: "You are welcome to us, my little gentleman; you seem to be examining this volcano very closely,-- pray let me know, have you found out its cause?"

            This was a question too deep for my understanding. But it immediately struck me, that curiosity alone, and the expectation of hearing some reply, had induced him to ask it; and as I happened to recollect the literary boldness of my friend, Count de Tressan, the celebrated writer, who in some of his works had introduced a most curious circumstance of a tree having been found growing in the stomach of a human body, I was emboldened to acquaint the stranger with my ideas on the subject, which I did in the following manner:--"The most eminent natural philosophers and learned men, whose works must be read with admiration, for their proficiency in the most abstruse sciences, and their wonderful knowledge of nature, have yet failed to discover the origin and first principles of created things. They have been lost in the wide field of conjecture, since the Great Creator has reserved this knowledge for himself; and although they have succeeded in discovering three principles, which are known by the common names of salt, sulphur, and mercury, they are yet entirely ignorant from what these are derived. All the account, therefore, that I am able to give you is this:-- When I travelled through Italy, I stopped at Naples, where I saw Mount Vesuvius, which is situated five or six miles from the city, and near the sea, like this of Awatska. I have been struck with the remarkable situation of volcanoes in this respect, of being near the ocean; and my ideas upon the subject lead me to conclude, that the sea, being a quick current water, as well as a mineral body, in the course of the passage which it works through the depths of this earth, may not improbably meet with a number of caverns, in which is to be found matter of every kind. These materials all repose, as it were, in a profound sleep, waiting for some power to rouse them. Similar natures always attract each other: the sea, therefore, meeting with these impure bodies, fraught with its own sulphureous, mercurial, and saline principles, operates actively upon creatures so like itself, revives and puts in motion these sluggish and inert bodies, and thus increases their spiritual essence; then working together in the bowels of the earth, and sending forth noxious odours, arising from the infectious vapours with which they are filled, they at length burst forth, blowing up the ground with the greatest violence, and by the co-operation of the air, discharge vast flames of fire."

            When I had thus stated to him the cause of volcanoes, according to my own ideas, founded merely upon the nature of the elements, I beheld in his countenance marks of pleasure; and he seemed to be at once surprised and gratified, by my singular description of these works of nature. My ready answer to his question, procured me the favour of a very polite offer to shew me the third volcano, which I readily accepted: but as it grew rather late, this visit was deferred until the next day; and in the mean time be gave me a pressing invitation to dine with him, which I promised to do with great pleasure.

            I now found, to my astonishment, that I was in company with the governor, who conducted me to his palace, in the peninsula of Botcharetsk, where he did me the honour to introduce me to his lady, by whom I was received with the utmost politeness and attention. I was much gratified by his company, finding him a man of knowledge. His literary pursuits afforded him a very agreeable resource in his present situation, where no society was to be found, and in a country which presented the appearance of a complete desert. His habitation was not far distant from the volcanoes, built on a low ground leading to the sea of Oketsk, and on the north of the river Bolchoireka. I was most agreeably entertained in his society, and on the next day the governor honoured me with a call, and we proceeded to visit the third or last volcano. It rises, if my remembrance be correct, from the highest mountain in the peninsula of Kamschatka., and throws out continually a variety of substances accompanied with smoke. We remained there only a short time, as nothing met our eyes but horror: the frightful appearance of those pits casting forth showers of stones and ashes, presented to the imagination a picture of the desolation of the world.

            The view of these wonderful, but horrid phenomena, so forcibly impressed me, that I determined to quit the country as soon as possible, and consequently took measures to forward my concert, before any additional explosion should happen. A lucky opportunity presented itself, on my being invited to dine with the governor. I seized the moment, to beg of him and his lady, that they would do me the kindness to patronize my concert. They graciously acceded to my request, and appointed a day, when a most elegant assembly attended my concert, which was as productive as I could possibly expect from such a city as Bolcheretsk.

            I now took the liberty to pay my respects to my generous patrons, and to bid them farewell. I was obliged to wait a long time for a favourable season to take my departure. I must observe, that in this country a deep snow falls in the beginning of May, which covers the whole country. The traveller will then find it impossible to proceed, as I can vouch from experience, having made the attempt, which nearly cost me my life. About the middle of the month a thaw commences, the snow then melts rapidly on the sides of the mountains, and in June the low grounds are generally free from it. As, however, I did not put much confidence in this season, I stopped till August, when the vegetation appeared in its perfection. I was informed by the inhabitants, that I might safely continue during the month of September, as the weather would still be mild; but that if I should stay until October, I would then behold a new fall of snow covering the land and hills. As I had no wish to witness the return of such inclement weather, I made preparation for setting out immediately.

            A few days before my departure, a gentleman, who was a native of the country, very kindly waited on me, and paid me the most polite attention, inviting me to dine at his house. I gladly accepted his invitation, was introduced to his family, and well received. I spent a most agreeable day, and found this gentleman possessed of elegant manners, and extensive information. He acquainted me with many curious particulars concerning his country, which had struck me at first as by no means flourishing. I learned from him, that though apparently so poor, the inhabitants have, by means of their commerce, which consists in furs and other articles of trade, a great quantity of money circulating among them. I was glad to hear such a good account of the country, which, I confessed, I had once thought a miserable corner of the world, not capable, as I afterwards found, of producing verdure, pasturage, vegetables, and grain. He concluded by offering me his company and protection, through the whole of Kamschatka; as I had informed him that I intended to visit those wonderful Straits of the Frozen Sea, opposite to New Wales in America, called Bhering's Straits.

            In a few days we set out on our journey: many hot springs were to be found on our road, and my companion amused me with the sight of two most remarkable ones. The first is, to the best of my recollection, not far from a village called Natchechin. There arises from it a steam as from a boiling pot, which emits a smell of sulphurous and other matters too strong to be supported. The other was in a mountain, near the river called Paudja: from its top falls a cataract of boiling water, with a most horrid and frightful noise; and, proceeding a considerable length, bubbles up to the height of more than eight feet, till it discharges itself into several of those lakes, which are found in great abundance in this country. This mountain produces some curious stones of variegated colours. After viewing these wonderful springs, we pursued our journey, and passing Aklansk, not far from the sea of Anadir, we arrived at Bhering's Straits.

            The emotions of awe and wonder which I felt on viewing the Frozen Ocean, led me to reflect how many ingenious writers, who have bestowed much pains in weaving intricate webs, and forming numerous theories, to explain all things to the satisfaction of their readers, have, like overloaded vessels, suffered shipwreck, and sank in the depths of blindness and of error. This must ever be the case when our wandering imaginations rashly attempt to penetrate the secret wonders of nature, through that dark cloud with which the Almighty has overspread our faculties. It seemed to me that it would not be proper to speak too hastily of this Frozen Sea, in an unfavourable manner; and I was led to amuse my fancy with conjectures, that as the great Author of Nature has presented nothing to us without design, this ocean was to be regarded in another light than as a direct barrier and separation from the rest of the world; and that, if it were possible for any mortal to pass over it, so wonderful a man would perhaps deserve to meet with climates far superior to our own. This imaginary voyage must not, however, make me forget to mention, that I observed in the country, marmots and wild sheep, most beautiful and curious little animals, such as I had not seen any where in my travels, except in Corsica and Sardinia.

            When I Was ready to return, I consulted my worthy friend, Mr. Prokop, on the subject of the nearest road to my own country. From his information, I found that there was little difference, in regard of nearness, between the two routes that offered themselves.

            He advised me, however, to pass through Siberia, rather than to coast along the Frozen Sea by Somoyeda, as there was a probability of my finding some towns which would contribute to defray my expenses. My good friend seemed not much satisfied with the choice I made: we set out, however, and he kindly conducted me as far, I think, as a place called Kirlovo, opposite to the new coast discovered by navigators. He there left me, and I proceeded to coast along the Frozen Sea. I soon found that my friend would have good reason to laugh at my ex-pence, as I met with nothing but miserable villages, in which no comfortable provisions could be procured. The inhabitants, living near the sea, subsist chiefly on dead animals thrown up by the waves, and on the wild beasts which they shoot. If they can find nothing better, they feed on snakes, dogs, cats, rats, mice, and vermin. It was very fortunate for me, that I had been well supplied by my friend with good provisions, otherwise my situation must have been most wretched.

            Persevering in this unpleasant journey, I at length reached Olensk, where things began to assume rather a better appearance. I afterwards passed through Borchatewa, and the lake Pyasina, Staroka, Kamionka, Taurenkansk, till I approached the gulf of Obb. I had yet a long journey to go; but on my arrival at Neiwanskoi, I was informed, that I was then in the province of Tobolsk, remarkable for its curious manufactures in brass, copper, and iron, and in the neighbourhood of a city named Catherineburg, where the Director of the Siberian mines resided.

            I hastened to pay a visit to this city, which is situated on the river Yet, and well fortified, having an arsenal, exchange, and custom-house. In short, it appeared excellently calculated for my purpose, of getting a good concert, to recruit my exhausted means, and make good my losses. Unfortunately, however, I had not been provided with letters of recommendation to the Director, a circumstance which caused me some uneasiness; but relying on that good Providence, which had conducted me so far, I ventured to distribute concert bills in the city. One fortunately came into the hands of the Director's daughter, and procured me admission to the family: I immediately received from her father a polite note, containing an invitation to dine with him, and to bring some instruments to make a little concert. I gladly seized the opportunity to secure his patronage, which would so materially advance my interest, and I accepted his kind invitation. He received me with such civility and attention, that I am at a loss to express how greatly I feel indebted to him, and to the whole of his amiable family, for their kindness. I had now a flattering prospect of a lucrative concert, in which I was not disappointed; for this worthy family took such an active part in my behalf, that I was honoured by the attendance of a numerous assembly, and placed in a better situation than I could boast of when I arrived at the town. I remained for some time after my concert, enjoying the pleasant society of the Director's family, and of a few select friends, blessed with most excellent dispositions, and a charming affability. I had no reason to regret the loss of the people whom I had left behind, on the coast of the Frozen Sea, and who were scarcely worthy of a single thought bestowed upon them.

            I now began to reflect on my past fortunes and present situation, and concluded, that the best thing I could do was to arm myself with patience and prudence against the evils and changes of life, as I must expect to meet with many reverses in the long journey which I had still to go. My courage was strengthened by the recollection, how providentially I had been preserved during my travels in Anatolia, Syria, the Archipelago, and the rest of that empire, including Smyrna, where I had escaped the dreadful plague, which raged in that magnificent city. My narrative would be lengthened beyond due bounds, were I to describe its buildings, the grandeur of which will never be effaced from my memory. I might indeed urge, as an additional reason for the omission, that those descriptions are better suited to such ingenious persons as travel for amusement, and usefully employ their leisure hours in describing the objects they have seen, than to me who travelled for subsistence; who had no remittances to depend upon; and who was often disappointed, even in my expectations of a transient supply,-- as in the case of my arrival in Aladulia, which I had visited with sanguine hopes, knowing the province to abound in silver, copper, and many other mines, but was obliged to quit, on finding it infested by troops of plundering banditti. I felt very grateful for my good fortune, in having met with such a family as the Director's, to which I was invited every day, and was entertained with a variety of amusements, or was a party in some interesting conversation. Among a variety of questions which he put to me, the Director expressed a wish to be informed, if I thought the Russian empire equal to those nations through which I had travelled. My friend forgot that I had visited foreign countries, not with a view to notice such matters, but to forward my own interest, and with an intention, as soon as I should gain a sufficiency, of retiring to a private life. But as I perceived that he was pleased with my conversation, I endeavoured to satisfy him to the best of my ability, and observed: "that the Russian empire was not so favourably situated with regard to climate as that of Turkey; that foreigners must admire the civilized manners of the Russians of higher rank, but that I could find no improvement in those of the common people, and that their savage dispositions seemed as incapable of correction, as those of the Turkish commonalty; that when I considered the vast length and breadth, and amazing extent of the empire of Russia, I could not help comparing it to a giant,-- and Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, with its mountains called Ardongen, to pigmies passing between his legs." My friend, the Director, was pleased with this idea; and I then gave him a little sketch of Copenhagen the metropolis of Denmark, and Stockholm the metropolis of Sweden; which latter city seemed to me to bear a great resemblance to Venice, in its situation, and in the striking views which it presents to the eye of a traveller.

            I shall not enter into any further details of this conversation. I was next day honoured with a visit; and he took me to see some villages, at a short distance, near the river Obb. I was delighted with their beauty, and with the charming prospects beheld from the neighbouring country, affording a very fine subject for landscape. This romantic scenery reminded me of my travels in Norway, the most mountainous of all the countries I passed through,, and particularly of the Dofrefield mountains, which rise to such a monstrous height,-- and some others over which my road lay, abounding with cataracts and dreadful precipices, which were passable only by wooden bridges, very slightly built. On some of those mountains I met with water at the top, which had a most striking effect.

            After our return from these villages, I dined, as usual, at the Director's house, and spent my time most pleasantly with his charming family. His daughter was so accomplished a young lady, that I could not wonder at her being so great a favourite with her parents. Nature had endowed her with a disposition so amiable, that she attracted the regard of all who knew her. She possessed a mind quick and penetrating, and was most mild and affable in conversation. I happened one day to be at the house, when she received some new music, including a number of songs. As she sung admirably, and my instrument was ready, being kept in her apartment, she was pleased that I should come and try those songs with her, when there would be no company to interrupt us, and none present but her father and mother. I did so; and it happened, that after our musical entertainment, her father and mother left us alone, when she took this opportunity very anxiously to inquire if I had been at Warsaw at the time my King was taken prisoner by the banditti of Kosinski. Not apprehending that any particular consequences could result from my answer, I replied, "that I was then at Warsaw." She next asked me if I recollected who was Minister of the Court of Petersburg at that period, and who was Commander in Chief of the Russian armies. I answered, "that Baron de Stakelberg held the former post, and General Romanious the latter." She seemed much pleased with this information, and directly told me, that I must be the very person who had been described by General Romanious in a letter. This commander, if I recollect rightly, was her uncle. She hastened with great joy to acquaint her father and mother with her discovery, and brought me the letter alluded to, telling me that it was in vain to deny myself, as she was convinced, from every circumstance, and not least from my manners, conversation, and the polite attention I had paid them, that I must be the very person. She then pressed me so earnestly to declare my real name, that I could not resist her entreaties. Upon this avowal, she immediately showed me my name in the letter, which she had before concealed. .I explained to her my reasons for the secrecy I had observed, which she approved, and promised that my secret should not be betrayed.

            The letter was read to me, in which I found myself mentioned in a manner much more flattering than I deserved. I was forcibly struck with the conclusion of his letter, in which he displayed the character of a brave General. "I have no news," said he, "to send you, except that we have been very troublesome to the Poles, our neighbours, and have taken General Sawa prisoner. He was conducted to Warsaw, where our minister, Baron de Stakelberg, received him in his palace with all due honours; but, notwithstanding every possible care was taken of him, this brave General died on the third day, of the many wounds he had received." On hearing this, I observed, that I was at Warsaw when this General died, and that I recollected very well the circumstances of the sudden hostilities commenced against us by our late pretended friends, in whom we had placed so much confidence, and who seemed to have been long preparing, by slow and premeditated motions, to become our enemies. I remarked, "that nothing seemed left for us, but to mourn our country, as a child would lament the loss of its parent, and wait with melancholy patience for its resurrection." The Director, who was then present, smiled, and told me, that we were a powerful nation, and would bereave many other children of their parent countries, and that we would become more terrible when we should set our feet upon European ground. I thought it best to say nothing further on this subject, as I did not feel myself qualified for entering into political discussions with one to whom they were so familiar. But his observation led me to think, that unless I be sadly mistaken, there is a large apple dumpling made, and now boiling in the pot, for certain Princes, which must in due time be ready for their dinner.

            In the course of our conversation, the Director introduced the name of General Beniouski, who had the misfortune to lose a battle at the time of the confederacy of Bar, and was conducted to Siberia as a prisoner of war, whence he ingeniously contrived to escape. I was reminded by the mention of this General, that before I visited the empire of Russia, I had met him at Vienna, where be was busily engaged in some chemical preparations with Count Rzewreski, General of the Crown, and a relation of the Countess Humiecka; and that, being intimate with the Count, and happening to have a good many books on the subject, I became a member of their society. But finding my attempts to procure the philosopher's stone unsuccessful, I took leave of them, and making a tour through Italy, came at last into Etruria. I then took shipping for Corsica, and from thence sailed to Sardinia, where I was surprised by meeting with General Beniouski. He was on his way to Barbary; and knowing my taste for chemistry, he pressed me earnestly to go with him, telling me that he had found a philosopher who could change metals into gold. The name of the person, he informed me, was Abraham Caab. "This name of Caab," observed the General to me, "is an illustrious one; and the family of the man I am now speaking of is a branch of that of the Jew Caab, who was originally a Rabbi, but afterwards turned Mussulman, and assisted Mahomet in composing the Koran." This information inspired me with fresh confidence; as I imagined that the transmutation of metals must be an easy task to him, who could overcome the much greater difficulty, of changing his faith. Supposing it, therefore, very probable, that he might be able to turn lead into gold, I readily consented to accompany the General.

            We sailed from the gulf of Palma, and landed at Tunis, with which we were sadly disappointed, finding it a miserable, ill-built city, possessing nothing worthy of notice, but its situation, which is on an elevated ground on the west of the lake, with a prospect of Carthage and Guletta. It is a very inconvenient place for strangers, since there is no water to be met with, that has not a brackish taste; but as we had not come to drink water, but to find out our philosopher, on being told that his residence was at Biserta, about ten miles from Tunis, we set out for that town.

            We were next directed to Nabal, where on our arrival we found, not this wonderful Caab, but a manufactory of pottery, which exceeded in quality any that I beheld in that country. Here we met with a Turkish dervish or priest, who treated us kindly, and directed us to Susa, the capital of the province of the same name, where a Turkish Pacha kept his residence. At this city we succeeded in finding the object of our search, who was busily employed about the philosopher's stone. I was not surprised that he should choose to fix his abode at Susa, in preference to many other towns, as it is a considerable city. Its inhabitants proved their civility towards strangers, by the great attention they shewed in assisting us to find out our philosopher. This worthy personage gate General Beniouski the most flattering assurances, that he would find out the secret of the precious stone. I was not introduced to him until he had finished a secret conference with the General, and many days passed before my friend was favoured with the receipt for this great work of nature.

            We then proceeded in the following manner:-- We extracted sulphur from mercury by separation, and took the mixed corporeal and spiritual compound, the body of which is coagulated from the volatile matters by digestion. We separated the mercury from its sulphur, by means of a glass. We used white glass fixed, and resisting aqua fortis, and heavier than common glass. When we had completed our extraction, and mixed it with gold, we put our preparation into a philosophical oval glass, which we placed in a furnace, built for the purpose, with geometrical proportion. We kept a constant fire with sand heated to the highest degree, and our compound continued circulating day and night without interruption, whilst we were anxiously waiting for its elevation, and for the appearances of its progress toward the desired end. But we were grievously disappointed, its continued motion producing no improvement either as to quality or quantity, but the dead mixture keeping in the oval glass. Thus we remained without the least prospect of our ounces of gold ascending, whilst we began to be sensible of a material descension in our purses.

            I was consoled under my disappointment, by the kindness of the Pacha, who took the most friendly notice of me, and assisted me in getting a little money by means of a concert (if it may be so called) performed by Mr. Beniouski and myself. My friend played on the flute (on which instrument he performed remarkably well), and I on the violin.-- To return from my digression:-- I took leave of my friend the director, and a short time after this I set out for Oufa.


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