ST. PETERSBURG AS SEEN BY FAMOUS FOREIGNERS
The famous novelist Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870) made a journey to Russia during 1858-1859 at the invitation of the well-known fairy godfather G.A.Kushelev-Bezborodko. He had lived there for two months, staying in the house of Kushelev-Bezborodko which was situated opposite the Smolnyy Convent. After that he wrote one of his most detailed and colorific descriptions of contemporary Saint Petersburg that could be seen by the foreign traveler. In his notes Alexandre Dumas depicted not only the sketches of the city, but also the “historical episodes”, linked with different moments of the Russian history, especially the history of Saint Petersburg. The white nights’ phenomenon mostly impressed the novelist during his first days in the city, while he was observing a specific beauty of that scene. He narrated that but for the dinner, they did not believe that it was already six o’clock; and but for the candles even in the midnight they could swear that it was still six o’clock.
He addressed to his audience that neither plume nor brush could help anybody to imagine a June night in Saint Petersburg. He compared it with the nympholepsy. Duma admired that if Champs Elysees really existed and silver light was over them, it seemed that such a light had the same color what should be in a kingdom of dead in a good weather. He asked just to imagine that whole surrounding had pearly color and overflow with opal reflection, but in different way as it typical for sunrise and sunset: it might have gray light, but not unhealthy, it illuminated everything from every side. And nothing had its shadow. A crystalline nightfall looked as missing of a day there, however everything might be lightly distinguished as during sun eclipse. There would be no flurry or warning in the mind as it usual and natural for eclipse: there were only silence, refreshing the mind, and calm, pleasing the heart. There was stillness in an expectation to hear an angel singing or voice of the God! He specified that even love would be doubly beautiful during such a night!
The famous composer Gector Berlios (1803-1869) firstly visited Russia in 1847, while he was performing his concerts in Saint Petersburg and Moscow. In his memoirs Berlios told about his journey in “that proud Northern capital, called Saint Petersburg”, about delightful audience, which came to his performances, about meetings with Vielgorskiy Counts, whose house in Saint Petersburg was known as small ministry of fine arts.
In 1867-1868 Gector Berlios made his second visit to Russia.
Giacomo Girolamo Casanova
Giacomo Girolamo Casanova (1725-1798), who was a famous Venetian adventurer and the author of the well-known memoirs, visited Russia during his traveling through the world in 1764 - 1765. In 1765 Cazanova arrived at Saint Petersburg, where he lived on “a large and beautiful street, called Millionnaya”.
In his notes it is possible to find some small and separate descriptions of daily routine in Saint Petersburg.
And only once famous Italian dedicated a special essay to that city. He said that only the genius of a great man who was glad to temperate the nature, could plan to build a city – the future capital of the largest empire – in such an ungrateful place, where even the ground stood against those, who tried to create there stone palaces like everywhere and with extravagant charges.
He predicted, that even the century after him, Saint Petersburg would be magnificent, although it would be lifted more then two sagenes up, so that huge palaces wouldn’t collapsed because of piles’ shortage.
Moreover, he added that Barbarian architecture, which was brought by French architects, would be forbidden. He considered, that only one business of baby-houses’ building was ideal for such specialists as those architects were. He dreamed that everybody would prefer Rastrelli or Rinaldi to Parisian La’Mote, who surprised Saint Petersburg generously by constructing four-floors building, famous for, as author expected, by its stairs, which impossible either saw or imagined.
Honore de Balzac
The famous French writer Honore de Balzac (1799-1850) visited Saint Petersburg in 1843. During his visit he was living in the aristocratic center of the city – on the Millionnaya Street. Most of all he was fond of walking across the Palace Embankment and the Winter Canal.
In one of his letters, sent from Saint Petersburg Balzac wrote that there was no comparison between gloomy Berlin and magnificent Petersburg. He joked that it was possible to cut out from the territory of Saint Petersburg more than twenty such small cities as the Brandenburg capital, because that was the territory of the great city of the widest European empire. Moreover after such cutting it was still enough built-up places to cover twenty small Berlins formed from that endless territory.
Honore de Balzac analogized that Berlin seemed to be more inhabited, because he saw several passers-by at one moment there, although it was not ever typical for Saint Petersburg! He considered that all spaces were built-up with a purpose to show beauties of the city.
It was believed that one of his artistic conceptions was stacked to Balzac during his visit to Saint Petersburg. Unfortunately it might not come to a life. There were monuments of Peter the Great made by Falconet and Rastrelli, the Peter and Paul Fortress – where tsarevich Aleksey had been poisoned – and which was well seen from the writer’s window, also a legend about a strange fortune of the regimental washerwoman, who became Empress Catherine I. All of these facts and sceneries were stamped lately in a plan of “Shakespeare’s Tragedy”, which is about “lonely legislator”, surrounded by enemies.
Knut Hamsun (1859-1952) was a Norwegian author, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature (1920). He wrote a travelogue “In Wonderland” about his visit to the Russian Caucasus. Also there were some pages addressed to Saint Petersburg.
He reported that two hundred years before on nineteen moorish islands Peter the Great had founded that large city. He described the Neva River among with its branches, which laved the city from all sides.
Knut Hamsun was astonished with the city, surprisingly split into some pieces. He insisted there were great amount of various styles combined there: sometimes huge and luxurious buildings in West-European traditional style interchanged with Byzantinesque cupolas and charming palaces. Moreover he added that it was possible to see massive museums’ buildings and art galleries, however enormous private villas, which proudly towered on the front places, were also noticeable in the sun shining. The author mentioned about the assumption to transfer city to another dry territory. In his own point of view it was the same to the unreal assumption to transfer whole Russia to another place. He considered that there were some buildings in Saint Petersburg, which were impossible to dislocate: the Winter Palace, the Peter and Paul Fortress, the Hermitage, the Church of Our Savior. Despite that, Saint Petersburg was moved to a new place by his own, as whole Russia did: it expanded, continued to grove bigger and bigger.
Louis Philippe de Segur
French diplomatist Count de Segur (1753-1830) was living in Russia from 1785 till 1789, where he appeared as the French plenipotentiary representative in the government of the Empress Catherine II.
Some years later in his memoirs Count de Segur devoted much attention (more than half of the text) to his visit to Russia, especially to Saint Petersburg.
The city impressed him very much. He said that he was kindly surprised when instead of vast, vain and stinking moods, that had been there before, he saw beautiful buildings of the city, founded by Peter the Great, and which over less than century became one of the most wealthy and wonderful European cities.
However he gave his attention mostly to the customs and habits of the citizens of the Northern capital, rather than architectural pieces. All his impressions Count de Segur summed up in conclusion that Saint Petersburg completely showed its duality to his mind. He added, that at the same time there was possible to meet Enlightenment and Barbarity, elements of both 10th and 18th centuries, Asia and Europe, Scythians and Europeans, either proud and glossy upper class or rude plebs.