The Summer Palace – Russian Travel

The celebrated Summer Palace and park of Tzarsko Selo are seven versts beyond Pulkowa. The grounds which are of immense extent—eighteen miles in circumference, it is said—are always open to the public. My newly found relative had been kind enough to procure tickets of admission to the palace and armory, and we made choice of a warm Sunday afternoon, when tens of thousands come out by railroad from St. Petersburg, for our visit. Entering the park from the westeru side, we found ourselves in the midst of gently undulating fields, dotted with groves of fir, ash, and birch—an English landscape, were the green a little more dark and juicy. Here was a dairy farm, there a stable for elephants, and a little further an asylum for pensioned horses. The favorite steeds of the Emperor, after his death, are withdrawn from active service, and pass their days here in comfort and indolence. One or two of the horses of Alexander I. are still on the list, altho their age can not be less than forty years. At each of these institutions we received very polite invitations from the servants in attendance to enter and inspect them. The invitation was sometimes accompanied by the words: “I am a married man, or “I have a family,” which in Russia means: “I should not object to receive a gratuity.” I was not a little perplexed, occasionally, until I ascertained this fact. One day, while standing before the house of Peter the Great, in the Summer Gardens, a soldier came up to me and said : “Pray go into the house, my lord; the keeper is married.”

The armory is a brick building in the Gothic style, standing on a wooded knoll in the park. The collection of armor is one of the finest in Europe, and its arrangement would delight the eye of an antiquary. From the ninth century to the nineteenth, no characteristic weapon or piece of defensive mail is wanting, from the heavy, unwieldy accouterments of the German knights to the chain shirts of the Saracens and the pomp of Milanese armor, inlaid with gold. One of the cabinets contains two sets of horse trappings presented by the Sultan of Turkey—the first on concluding the peace of Adrianople, after Diebitsch had crossed the Balkan, and the second when Ibrahim Pasha menaced Constantinople and the Sultan invoked the aid of Russia. The latter, naturally, is much the more splendid of the two; the housings and pistol holsters blaze with arabesques of the largest diamonds. There are many very interesting historical relics in the collection, but I can not give the catalog. Suffice it to say that a volume of illustrations has been published, and may be had for 500 rubles.

As we advanced toward the palace the grounds gradually became more artificial in their design and more carefully tended. The sward had a veritable “pile,” like imperial velvet; it appeared to have been “combed” rather than raked. Not a dead leaf was visible on the exquisitely smooth gravel of the walks, not a defective bough had been suffered to remain on the arching avenues of linden or elm. Nature seemed to have taken a Turkish bath and put on a clean, Sunday dress. There is not an ill weed, an awkward plant, a frog, toad, snake, or bug, in this expensive Eden. Usually, a gardener walks after you with a broom, to efface any footprints you may have left behind you, but for some reason or other we were spared this attention. Wo unto you if you touch a flower! But there is little danger of that; you would as soon think of cutting a rose out of a drawing-room carpet, as of thus meddling with this superhuman order.

In the course of our walk we came upon a ruined abbey, so capitally imitated that if it stood anywhere else even an old traveler might be deceived by it. One square tower alone is standing, and in this tower, which you reach by a wooden staircase built over the ruins, is the famous statue of Christ, by Dannecker, the sculptor of Ariadne and the Panther. This is no traditional Christ, with low forehead and straight, insipid features; the head is rather that of a scholar and a thinker. You are at once struck with the individuality of the figure. He is represented as speaking, turning toward the left and slightly leaning forward. A single flowing garment, hanging from his neck to his feet, partly conceals the symmetrical yet somewhat delicate form. The head is large, nobly rounded and balanced, with a preponderance of development in the intellectual and moral regions of the brain, his hair long, but very fine and thin, as if prematurely thinned by thought, the beard scanty, and the expression of the countenance at once grave, gentle, and spiritual. The longer I looked upon it the more I was penetrated with its wonderful representation of the attributes of Christ

Wisdom and Love. The face calmly surveys and comprehends all forms of human passion, with pity for the erring, joy in the good, and tenderness for all. It is that transeendant purity in whose presence the sinner feels no repellant reproof, but only consolation.

I have seen few statues like this, where the form is lost sight of in the presence of the idea. In this respect it is Dannecker’s greatest, as it was his favorite work. He devoted many a day of labor, thought, and aspiration to the modeling of the head. When, at length, it was completed in- clay, a sudden distrust in his success overwhelmed him. Having no longer confidence in his own judgment or that of his artistic friends, he one day took a little uneducated child into his studio, placed the head before it, and said : `Who is this?” The child looked stedfastly upon the features, so unlike the conventional Christ of artists, and without hesitation answered: “It is the Savior.” The old man, himself a child iii his simplicity and sincerity, accepted this answer as a final judgment, and completed his work in marble.

Our way led on over straight Dutch canals, ‘past artificial hills and rock-work, through a Chinese village which resembles nothing in China, and under Babylonian hanging gardens, to the front of the palace, which is 1,200 feet in length, and rises from the crest of a long knoll, gently sloping down to a lake. Some fine oak trees adorn the lawn; on the top of a gigantic rock a bronze nymph is crying over her broken pitcher, out of which rushes a stream of sparkling water; and on the lake itself a pretty little cutter lies at anchor. Arsenals and fortresses in miniature stud the opposite shore, and on a wooded point stands a Turkish kiosk and minaret, the interior of which is a sumptuous oriental bath, presented by the Sultan. The park beyond the palace, toward the village of Tzarsko Selo is in even more rigid full dress than that through which we had already passed, and I verily believe that if a leaf gets accidentally twisted on its stem, some one is on hand to set it right again.

All the pillars, statues, cornices, and ornaments on the long palace front were covered with heavy gilding in the time of Catharine II. When they began to look a little shabby and the gold needed replacing, the Empress was offercd half a million of rubles for the scrapings, but she replied with a magnificent scorn : “I am not in the habit of selling my old rags.” The Imperial banner of Russia, floating at the mast-head, showed that the family were at home, but we were nevertheless allowed to enter. A “married” servant conducted us through the apartments once occupied by Catharine and Alexander L Here there is much that is curious, tho no splendor comparable to that of the Winter Palace, or the Imperial apartments in the Kremlin. One room is lined entirely with amber, a present from Frederick the Great. The effect is soft, rich, and waxy, without being glaring. In others the paneling is of malachite or lapiz-lazuli. Catharine’s bedchamber has not been changed since she left it; the bed-posts are of purple glass, and the walls lined with porcelain.

Most interesting of all, however, are the apartments occupied by Alexander I., in which every article has been preserved with religious veneration. His bed is a very narrow mattress of leather stuffed with straw, and the entire furniture of the room would not fetch more than fifty dollars if sold at auction. On the toilet table lie his comb, breeches, razor, and a clean pocket-handkerchief; his cloak hangs over a chair, and his well-worn writing-desk still shows the pens, pencils, bits of sealing- ‘ax, and piper weights, as he left them. His boots, I noticed, were of very thin leather—too thin either for health or comfort—and had been cracked through and patched in several places. His Majesty had evidently discovered how much more agreeable to the feet are old boots than new ones. But he is quite thrown into the shade by Peter the Great, whose boots, at Moscow, would weigh ten pounds apiece, and might be warranted to wear ten years without mending.