« PreviousContinue »
the bell-tower. Mr. W. Lockhart went to look for this bell when at Pekin, in 1961, and saw it still lying where Verbiest saw it, and where it had probably lain since first cast.
From the clock-tower a street to the north-western gate skirts the northern lake of Pekin, a large sheet of water within the walls. Upon a small island near its extremity stands the pretty Temple of Fa-qua, belonging to the Taon sect. The votaries of this religion are rank idolaters, to a large extent despised by the cultivated classes, and mainly recruited from the lowest of the populace. The founder of the sect was Lao-tze, born in 600 B.C., who inculcated doctrines of pure reason mixed up with alchemy and astrology. The system has become, however, a complex one, with innumerable idols, and its priests are jugglers, pretending to the power of working enchantments. They tell countless tales of ghosts and genii, and, indeed, to prolong the present life by becoming one of the genii is the only aim which they set before their followers. The Temple of Fa-qua is in a picturesque situation, surrounded by luxuriant vegetation. It contains a crowd of the idols in favour with this sect. Whilst we speak of Chinese sects, we must not suppose that Confucians, Buddhists, and Taonists are in antagonism to each other. Tolerance in China amounts to indifferentism, and it is quite the correct thing for persons to compliment each other's religion when conversing together.
The straight street stretching due south from the bell-tower leads to the Gate of Hao, which gives access to the square enclosure of Hwang-ching, or the Yellow City. Special permission must be obtained before any one can pass through either of the four gates in the wall, twenty feet in height and six miles in circumference, which surrounds Hwang-ching Within this large area are spacious groves, gardens, and artificial lakes, numerous pagodas and monasteries, as well as the Fuhs, or palaces of great dignitaries of the Empire. Before entering the Yellow City by the Hao Gate, the Sea of Roses is seen, with its broad surface half covered with brilliantly flowering aquatic plants. A short distance within the gate rises the picturesque artificial hill of Kin-shan, the Court Mountain, or Meishan, the Mountain of Coal, as it is variously called. This is a beautiful green hill, upon which are picturesquely grouped numerous kiosks, pagodas, and temples. The grass is always green here, even when all other herbage seems scorched with the sun.
This fertility is attributed to the material of which the hill is composed. The base is said to consist of a vast quantity of coal, sufficient to supply the city for several years, stored up in this place by an Emperor who anticipated a long siege.
, Upon this base the earth taken out to form the two central lakes of Pekin was heaped up. Only persons of very high rank have their dwellings on this hill. Mingled with the ornamented dwelling-houses are bridges of grotto-work, fountains, grotesque sculptures, cedars centuries old, and groves of camellias and hydrangeas, where swarms of birds sing melodiously. Very few Chinese are out amongst these picturesque surroundings, for Chinese aristocrats are averse to going out of doors at all except with full State ceremonial. The summit of the Coal Mountain is the highest point in Pekin, and affords a fine panorama of the city.
Old Marco Polo says in his delightful narrative: “Moreover, on the north side of the palace, about a bow-shot off, there is a hill which has been made by art from the
AMUSEMENTS OF THE PEOPLE.
To see the good people of St. Petersburg amusing themselves to their fullest bent we must regard them at the Carnival and at Easter. Fasting is in very high repute in the Greek Church; and the fasts are kept with great strictness, all food containing any particle of animal matter being rigidly excluded. Of course neither flesh nor fowl must be touched; but milk, eggs, and butter are also tabooed, and likewise sugar on account of the animal matter used in refining it. The Great Fast preceding Easter lasts for seven weeks, and is kept far more strictly than in Roman Catholic countries. On all the Wednesdays and Fridays, and during the whole of the first and last week, the lower class abstain even from fish. To prepare for so much abstinence a preparatory time of feasting and merriment is necessary.
During February the upper classes are fully engaged with their routs and balls and all sorts of Carnival revelries. But the mass of the people compress their merry-making into the week preceding the fast. This week is termed the Masslanitza, or Butter-week; and during its continuance Russian festivity reaches its highest point. The idea seems to be to consume during this week all the butter that would ordinarily be consumed during the remaining seven. Nothing seems to be caten except what can be prepared or cooked with butter. The standard popular dish of the season is blinni, a sort of pancake made with butter, fried in butter, and eaten with butter sauce. The ordinary great national dish of shtshée, or cabbage soup, finds no patronage in Butter-week.
The intervals between refreshment are devoted to a round of endless amusements. At one time the frozen surface of the Neva was the arena upon which were erected the temporary theatres, swings, and ice mountains. But the ice gave way under the immense pressure some years ago, and many persons were drowned. Accordingly the vast square of the Admiralty has since been devoted to these festal proceedings. For some time previously extensive preparations are afoot. Timber, poles, planks, blocks of ice, and all things needful for the theatres and booths, and slides and swings, are brought in vast quantities on sledges. Holes are dug in the frozen ground and posts planted, and then water is poured in, which immediately freezes, and the posts stand as firm as if fixed in solid rock. On the first Sunday of Butter-week the fun begins, and all St. Petershurg is either sliding or swinging, or else looking on at those who are doing so. No eating and drinking booths are allowed in the square, but tea and cakes and other light refreshments are hawked about. At noonday the Admiralty Square presents a stirring sight. The mirth among the lower classes is at its highest, and in a broad space reserved for equipages the higher classes drive past in interminable procession. Everybody in St. Petersburg who has any pretension to wealth or position keeps a carriage, and all these carriages, filled with the families of their owners, make up a very pleasing portion of the spectacle.
After Butter-week comes the grim seven weeks' fast. All public amusements are strictly prohibited, and the desolate Admiralty Square is strewed with fragments of the late joyous festivities. At length the Easter eggs appear in readiness for presents. As midnight approaches on the Saturday before Easter the churches fill; people of all ranks and ages attend the services, and at the Imperial chapel the Court appears in full dress. As soon as the midnight hour strikes, the sanctuary doors burst open, and the song of “Christ is Risen"
peals forth. The richly-attired priests, swinging their censers, pass in procession through the throng; the congregations shake hands and embrace and kiss; whilst the churches are all one blaze of light, outside as well as in, and cannons and rockets and bells all over the city join in testifying to the general joy.
During the night the ceremony of blessing food proceeds. All the pavement is covered with dishes in long lines, beside which the priests walk, sprinkling holy water. Now begins a period of banquetings and visitings and mutual congratulations, but the most extraordinary feature of the occasion is the universal kissing. Not only do relatives all kiss each other, but slight acquaintances must do the same. The peasants in the streets
seen rubbing their bearded faces together; the employés at public offices kiss each other and their superiors ; generals and colonels kiss their subordinate officers and a deputation of the men; captains kiss all the men in their company. The Czar has a busy time of it. He has to kiss his retinue, Court, and attendants, and on parade repeat the same ceremony with his officers and a select body of privates. So with much kissing and much feeding and, in many quarters, too much drinking, Easter passes by.
We have as yet only made passing reference to the magnificent river on which St. Petersburg stands. By its breadth and the enormous volume of clear blue cold water which it brings down to the Gulf of Finland, the Neva may fairly claim to take rank amongst the noblest rivers of Europe. It is crossed by only one stone bridge, a long structure, remarkable for its beauty of outline, connecting the southern part of the city with Basil Island. There are, however, numerous wooden bridges on piles, and several other floating bridges of boats. Active little steam-boats dart about and give ready communication with some of the more distant parts of the town.
The main stream, or Great Neva, is hemmed in by solid quays and embankments faced with massive blocks of red granite. The Neva is certainly the main artery of St. Petersburg, and great inconvenience results when the ice is too far weakened by the returning sun to be passable, and not yet sufficiently broken up to float away and leave a clear passage for navigation. All intercourse between the opposite portions of the city is for a time necessarily suspended. The breaking up of the ice is anxiously looked for. Ships laden with luxuries are waiting in the Baltic to approach the city. As soon as the ice has cleared away sufficiently to allow a boat to cross, the glad news is announced by a salvo of cannon from the citadel, and whatever may be the hour, the commandant and his attendants hurry to a boat and are rowed across to the Winter Palace on the southern shore. The commandant presents to the Emperor a large goblet filled with icy-cold water from the river, and states that his gondola, which has just crossed the Neva, is the herald of free communication by the river. The Czar quaffs the icy draught to the health of the capital, and returns it filled with silver coins to the commandant. It is said that this cup showed a tendency to grow larger every year, until a fixed sum was decided upon as the price to be paid for this chilly draught.
The chief promenades of St. Petersburg are the streets and quays already mentioned. There is also a pretty Summer Garden which is a favourite lounge. The old-fashioned custom once affected by the sons and daughters of Russian merchants and tradesmen, of
choosing in these gardens on Whit-Monday their partners for life, has fallen into desuetude. The adjoining square is the Russian Champ de Mars in which reviews are held.
The markets of the Russian metropolis afford many characteristic scenes. The principal one is the Gostinnoi-Dovor in the Nevski Prospect, a colossal building for the sale of
almost everything. The Senaya Ploschad, or Hay Market, is the principal provision market, in which foreigners are amused with the frozen animals and birds offered for sale. This market-place was the scene of a striking occurrence in 1831, when the cholera was raging in St. Petersburg and 1,500 deaths were occurring daily. The people got an idea that the foreign doctors, who were numerous in the city, were poisoning them by wholesale. They assembled in crowds on the Senaya market-place, which is surrounded by low cabarets, in which the wildest rumours had been credited by half-drunken moujiks. Terrible shouts arose and the crowds were brandishing their axes, and the respectable classes were fearful that a massacre was about to take place, when the Emperor Nicholas heard what was passing. He did not hesitate a moment, but jumped into a carriage and drove at once into the thick of the angry crowd. He descended in the midst of the rioters, walked intrepidly along their ranks, scanning them as he passed, then mounting the steps of a church, made but one sign to the people, and in a moment the 14,000 mutineers just now so eager to desolate the city with fire and sword sank on their knees as one man.
In the midst of the profound silence that ensued the Czar's sonorous voice was heard from one end of the market-place to the other. “Wherefore,” he cried, "are you revolting against Heaven ? Are you not the children of Holy Russia ? and do you pretend to imitate the revolutionists of other nations ? Brothers, be yourselves once more! It is God who afflicts us. Instead of murmuring against the chastisement, let us acknowledge the power of Him who inflicts it, and supplicate Him to arrest the scourge that is ravaging our country.” Then the Emperor knelt down, bowed his forehead to the granite steps, and the repentant crowd, after uniting in his prayers, silently and respectfully withdrew.
But it is time to draw our sketch of the great Northern city to a close. Of its literary, artistic, and scientific institutions we have not spoken, nor of its various arrangements for active benevolence to the unfortunate or afflicted. In these respects it would present few distinctive traits, although in all of them it has attained a highly commendable development. Much that displays itself in the daily life as well as in the institutions of St. Petersburg is still transitional. The new is still struggling with the old. Russia is preparing for a future, but he would be a rash man who would attempt to forecast the outcome of the forces now asserting themselves within her boundaries. If the capital stands firm upon its thousands of piles, in spite of pessimist prophets, it no doubt has a brilliant prospect before it as the capital of the Russia of the future.