Travel Letters: Moscow, Russia (1872)

DEAR MOTHER, — Last Sunday, when I wrote to father, we were crossing the Gulf of Finland, making for St. Petersburg. We passed the great fortifications at Cronstadt, and landed at the city Sunday evening ; the next three days I spent in seeing the great capital. Everything in it is on, the most enormous scale. Its palaces, the biggest and most gorgeous ; its churches, the richest; its squares, the most magnificent in Europe. Its great church of St. Isaak is a wonder of marble, gold, and jewels. It cost $35,000,000, or about one hundred and fifty of the new Trinity. The picture gallery is one of the greatest of the world, with some pictures one cannot see anywhere else. The whole country about the city is full of magnificent palaces, with splendid grounds and fountains, where one goes in the afternoon, and hears bands play in the evening, and takes a quiet sail on the Neva back to St. Petersburg, with the moon shining on the golden domes. What do you think of that?

Grand as St. Petersburg is, it is only the vestibule to Moscow. You come here by rail, a long, dreary ride of twenty hours, with poor sleeping cars, for which you pay fifteen dollars. This Russia is the most expensive country I have ever traveled in. But when you get here, you are in the midst of picturesqueness such as you can see nowhere else. Think of three hundred domes and spires, all different, all gold or silver, blue or green, with golden stars, crosses, and crescents, and blazing under the intense sun that beats down on this plain. Yesterday afternoon, I drove out to a hill near the city, the hill from which Napoleon first saw it, and the view, as it lay glittering in the afternoon sun, was like fairyland. Then you step inside a church or palace, and it is all brilliant with gold ; barbarous in taste, but very gorgeous. The streets are full of splendor and squalidness, all mixed together. First the grand coach and splendid horses of a nobleman, and then the wretched procession of convicts, chained together, men and women, starting off on their long journey to Siberia. Everything has the look of semi-civilization, exceedingly interesting, though not attractive ; but a country with some vast future before it, certainly.

I hope you are all well, but I have not heard yet, nor shall I for a couple of weeks. I have been very unfortunate, but your letters at the last must reach me at Copenhagen. The last tidings I had were dated only a week after I sailed. It has detracted much from the pleasure of my journey, which otherwise has been very delightful. The weather here is exquisite. I see no Americans and few English. I have been with an Englishman, but leave him tomorrow to go to the Great Fair at Nijni-Novgorod, where we have only the company of a French interpreter. Thence, in the last part of the week, I begin to turn my feet westward ; next Sunday, I shall probably write to you from somewhere outside of Russia. Love to all.

Yours affectionately,

PHILLIPs.