Lord Keith — My Appointment to Meet the King in the Garden of Sans- Souci My Conversation with Frederick the Great — Madame Denis The Pomeranian Cadets — Lambert — I Go to Mitau My Welcome at the Court, and My Administrative Journey
The fifth day after my arrival at Berlin I presented myself to the lord-marshal, who since the death of his brother had been styled Lord Keith. I had seen him in London after his return from Scotland, where he had been reinstated in the family estates, which had been confiscated for Jacobinism. Frederick the Great was supposed to have brought this about. Lord Keith lived at Berlin, resting on his laurels, and enjoying the blessings of peace.
With his old simplicity of manner he told me he was glad to see me again, and asked if I proposed making any stay at Berlin. I replied that I would willingly do so if the king would give me a suitable office. I asked him if he would speak a word in my favour; but he replied that the king liked to judge men’s characters for himself, and would often discover merit where no one had suspected its presence, and vice versa.
He advised me to intimate to the king in writing that I desired to have the honour of an interview. “When you speak to him,” the good old man added, “you may say that you know me, and the king will doubtless address me on the subject, and you may be sure what I say shall not be to your disadvantage.”
“But, my lord, how can I write to a monarch of whom I know nothing, and who knows nothing of me? I should not have thought of such a step.”
“I daresay, but don’t you wish to speak to him?”
“That is enough. Your letter will make him aware of your desire and nothing more.”
“But will he reply?”
“Undoubtedly; he replies to everybody. He will tell you when and where he will see you. His Majesty is now at Sans-Souci. I am curious to know the nature of your interview with the monarch who, as you can see, is not afraid of being imposed on.”
When I got home I wrote a plain but respectful letter to the king, asking where and at what time I could introduce myself to him.
In two days I received a letter signed “Frederick,” in which the receipt of my letter was acknowledged, and I was told that I should find his majesty in the garden of Sans-Souci at four o’clock.
As may be imagined I was punctual to my appointment. I was at Sans- Souci at three, clad in a simple black dress. When I got into the court-yard there was not so much as a sentinel to stop me, so I went on mounted a stair, and opened a door in front of me. I found myself in a picture-gallery, and the curator came up to me and offered to shew me over it.
“I have not come to admire these masterpieces,” I replied, “but to see the king, who informed me in writing that I should find him in the garden.”
“He is now at a concert playing the flute; he does so every day after dinner. Did he name any time?”
“Yes, four o’clock, but he will have forgotten that.”
“The king never forgets anything; he will keep the appointment, and you will do well to go into the garden and await him.”
I had been in the garden for some minutes when I saw him appear, followed by his reader and a pretty spaniel. As soon as he saw me he accosted me, taking off his old hat, and pronouncing my name. Then he asked in a terrible voice what I wanted of him. This greeting surprised me, and my voice stuck in my throat.
“Well, speak out. Are you not the person who wrote to me?”
“Yes, sire, but I have forgotten everything now. I thought that I should not be awed by the majesty of a king, but I was mistaken. My lord-marshal should have warned me.”
“Then he knows you? Let us walk. What is it that you want? What do you think of my garden?”
His enquiries after my needs and of his garden were simultaneous. To any other person I should have answered that I did not know anything about gardening, but this would have been equivalent to refusing to answer the question; and no monarch, even if he be a philosopher, could endure that. I therefore replied that I thought the garden superb.
“But,” he said, “the gardens of Versailles are much finer.”
“Yes, sire, but that is chiefly on account of the fountains.”
“True, but it is not my fault; there is no water here. I have spent more than three hundred thousand crowns to get water, but unsuccessfully.”
“Three hundred thousand crowns, sire! If your majesty had spent them all at once, the fountains should be here.”
“Oh, oh! I see you are acquainted with hydraulics.”
I could not say that he was mistaken, for fear of offending him, so I simply bent my head, which might mean either yes or no. Thank God the king did not trouble to test my knowledge of the science of hydraulics, with which I was totally unacquainted.
He kept on the move all the time, and as he turned his head from one side to the other hurriedly asked me what forces Venice could put into the field in war time.
“Twenty men-of-war, sire, and a number of galleys.”
“What are the land forces?”
“Seventy thousand men, sire; all of whom are subjects of the Republic, and assessing each village at one man.”
“That is not true; no doubt you wish to amuse me by telling me these fables. Give me your opinions on taxation.”
This was the first conversation I had ever had with a monarch. I made a rapid review of the situation, and found myself much in the same position as an actor of the improvised comedy of the Italians, who is greeted by the hisses of the gods if he stops short a moment. I therefore replied with all the airs of a doctor of finance that I could say something about the theory of taxation.
“That’s what I want,” he replied, “for the practice is no business of yours.”
“There are three kinds of taxes, considered as to their effects. The first is ruinous, the second a necessary evil, and the third invariably beneficial”
“Good! Go on.”
“The ruinous impost is the royal tax, the necessary is the military, and the beneficial is the popular.”
As I had not given the subject any thought I was in a disagreeable position, for I was obliged to go on speaking, and yet not to talk nonsense.
“The royal tax, sire, is that which deplenishes the purses of the subject to fill the coffers of the king.”
“And that kind of tax is always ruinous, you think.”
“Always, sire; it prevents the circulation of money — the soul of commerce and the mainstay of the state.”
“But if the tax be levied to keep up the strength of the army, you say it is a necessary evil.”
“Yes, it is necessary and yet evil, for war is an evil.”
“Quite so; and now about the popular tax.”
“This is always a benefit, for the monarch takes with one hand and gives with the other; he improves towns and roads, founds schools, protects the sciences, cherishes the arts; in fine, he directs this tax towards improving the condition and increasing the happiness of his people.”
“There is a good deal of truth in that. I suppose you know Calsabigi?”
“I ought to, your majesty, as he and I established the Genoa Lottery at Paris seven years ago.”
“In what class would you put this taxation, for you will agree that it is taxation of a kind?”
“Certainly, sire, and not the least important. It is beneficial when the monarch spends his profits for the good of the people.”
“But the monarch may lose?”
“Once in fifty.”
“Is that conclusion the result of a mathematical calculation?”
“Such calculations often prove deceptive.”
“Not so, may it please your majesty, when God remains neutral.”
“What has God got to do with it?”
“Well, sire, we will call it destiny or chance.”
“Good! I may possibly be of your opinion as to the calculation, but I don’t like your Genoese Lottery. It seems to me an elaborate swindle, and I would have nothing more to do with it, even if it were positively certain that I should never lose.”
“Your majesty is right, for the confidence which makes the people risk their money in a lottery is perfectly fallacious.”
This was the end of our strange dialogue, and stopping before a building he looked me over, and then, after a short silence, observed —
“Do you know that you are a fine man?”
“Is it possible that, after the scientific conversation we have had, your majesty should select the least of the qualities which adorn your life guardsmen for remark?”
The king smiled kindly, and said —
“As you know Marshal Keith, I will speak to him of you.”
With that he took off his hat, and bade me farewell. I retired with a profound bow.
Three or four days after the marshal gave me the agreeable news that I had found favour in the king’s eyes, and that his majesty thought of employing me.
I was curious to learn the nature of this employment, and being in no kind of hurry I resolved to await events in Berlin. The time passed pleasantly enough, for I was either with Calsabigi, Baron Treidel, or my landlady, and when these resources failed me, I used to walk in the park, musing over the events of my life.
Calsabigi had no difficulty in obtaining permission to continue the lottery on his own account, and he boldly announced that henceforward he would conduct the lottery on his own risk. His audacity was crowned with success, and he obtained a profit of a hundred thousand crowns. With this he paid most of his debts, and gave his mistress ten thousand crowns, she returning the document entitling her to that amount. After this lucky drawing it was easy to find guarantors, and the lottery went on successfully for two or three years.
Nevertheless Calsabigi ended by becoming bankrupt and died poor enough in Italy. He might be compared to the Danaides; the more he got the more he spent. His mistress eventually made a respectable marriage and returned to Paris, where she lived in comfort.
At the period of which I am speaking, the Duchess of Brunswick, the king’s sister, came to pay him a visit. She was accompanied by her daughter who married the Crown Prince of Prussia in the following year. I saw the king in a suit of lustring trimmed with gold lace, and black silk stockings on his legs. He looked truly comic, and more like a theatrical heavy father than a great king. He came into the hall with his sister on his arm and attracted universal attention, for only very old men could remember seeing him without his uniform and top-boots.
I was not aware that the famous Madame Denis was at Berlin, and it was therefore an agreeable surprise to me to see her in the ballet one evening, dancing a pas seul in an exquisite manner. We were old friends, and I resolved to pay her a visit the next day.
I must tell the reader (supposing I ever have one), that when I was about twelve years old I went to the theatre with my mother and saw, not without much heart-beating, a girl of eight who danced a minuet in so ravishing a manner that the whole house applauded loudly. This young dancer, who was the pantaloon’s daughter, charmed me to such a degree that I could not resist going to her dressing-room to compliment her on her performance. I wore the cassock in those days, and she was astonished when she heard her father order her to get up and kiss me. She kissed me, nevertheless, with much grace, and though I received the compliment with a good deal of awkwardness I was so delighted, that I could not help buying her a little ring from a toy merchant in the theatre. She kissed me again with great gratitude and enthusiasm.
The pleasantest part about this was that the sequin I had given for the ring belonged to Dr. Gozzi, and so when I went back to him I was in a pitiable state, for I had not only spent money which did not belong to me, but I had spent it for so small a favour as a kiss.
I knew that the next day I should have to give an account of the money he had entrusted to me, and not having the least idea as to what I should say, I had a bad night of it. The next morning everything came out, and my mother made up the sequin to the doctor. I laugh now when I think of this childish piece of gallantry, which was an omen of the extent to which my heart was to be swayed by the fair sex.
The toy-woman who had sold me the ring came the next day at dinner- time to our house, and after producing several rings and trinkets which were judged too dear, she began to praise my generosity, and said that I had not thought the ring I had given to pretty Jeannette too dear. This did my business; and I had to confess the whole, laying my fault to the account of love, and promising not to do such a thing again. But when I uttered the word love, everybody roared with laughter, and began to make cruel game of me. I wished myself a mile away, and registered an interior resolve never to confess my faults again. The reader knows how well I kept my promise.
The pantaloon’s little daughter was my mother’s goddaughter, and my thoughts were full of her. My mother, who loved me and saw my pain, asked me if I would like the little girl to be asked to supper. My grandmother, however, opposed the idea, and I was obliged to her.
The day after this burlesque scene I returned to Padua, where Bettina soon made me forget the little ballet-girl. I saw her again at Charlottenbourg, and that was now seventeen years ago.
I longed to have a talk with her, and to see whether she would remember me, though I did not expect her to do so. I asked if her husband Denis was with her, and they told me that the king had banished him because he ill-treated her.
I called on her the day after the performance, and was politely received, but she said she did not think she had had the pleasure of seeing me before.
By degrees I told her of the events of her childhood, and how she enchanted all Venice by the grace with which she danced the minuet. She interrupted me by saying that at that time she was only six years old.
“You could not be more,” I replied, “for I was only ten; and nevertheless, I fell in love with you, and never have I forgotten the kiss you gave me by your father’s order in return for some trifling present I made you.”
“Be quiet; you gave me a beautiful ring, and I kissed you of my own free will. You wore the cassock then. I have never forgotten you. But can it really be you?”
“It is indeed.”
“I am. delighted to see you again. But I could never have recognized you, and I suppose you would not have recognized me.”
“No, I should not have known you, unless I had heard your name mentioned.”
“One alters in twenty years, you know.”
“Yes, one cannot expect to have the same face as at six.”
“You can bear witness that I am not more than twenty-six, though some evil speakers give me ten years more.”
“You should not take any notice of such calumnies, my dear. You are in the flower of your age, and made for the service of love. For my part, I congratulate myself on being able to tell you that you are the first woman that inspired me with a real passion.”
We could not help becoming affectionate if we continued to keep up the conversation in this style, but experience had taught us that it was well to remain as we were for the present.
Madame Denis was still fresh and youthful looking, though she persisted in abbreviating her age by ten years. Of course she could not deceive me, and she must have known it, nevertheless, she liked me to bear outward testimony to her youthfulness. She would have detested me if I had attempted to prove to her what she knew perfectly well, but did not care to confess. No doubt she cared little for my thoughts on the subject, and she may have imagined that I owed her gratitude for diminishing her age, as it enabled me to diminish my own to make our tales agree. However, I did not trouble myself much about it, for it is almost a duty in an actress to disguise her age, as in spite of talent the public will not forgive a woman for having been born too soon.
I thought her behaviour augured well, and I hoped she would not make me languish long. She shewed me her house, which was all elegance and good taste. I asked her if she had a lover, and she replied with a smile that all Berlin thought so, but that it was nevertheless deceived on the principal point, as the individual in question was more of a father than a lover.
“But you deserve to have a real lover; I cannot conceive how you can do without one.”
“I assure you I don’t trouble myself about it. I am subject to convulsions, which are the plague of my life. I want to try the Teplitz waters, which are said to be excellent for all nervous affections; but the king has refused his permission, which I, nevertheless, hope to obtain next year.”
I felt ardently disposed, and I thought she was pleased with the restraint I put upon myself.
“Will you be annoyed,” said I, “if I call upon you frequently?”
“If you don’t mind I will call myself your niece, or your cousin, and then we can see each other.”
“Do you know that that may possibly be true? I would not swear that you were not my sister.”
This sally made us talk of the friendship that had subsisted between her father and my mother, and we allowed ourselves those caresses which are permitted to near relations; but feeling that things were going too far we ceased. As she bade me farewell, she asked me to dine with her the next day, and I accepted.
As I went back to my inn I reflected on the strange combinations which made my life one continuous chain of events, and I felt it my duty to give thanks to eternal Providence, for I felt that I had been born under a happy star.
The next day, when I went to dine with Madame Denis, I found a numerous company assembled. The first person who greeted me with the warmth of an old friend was a young dancer named Aubri, whom I had known at Paris and at Venice. He was famous for having been the lover of one of the most exalted Venetian ladies, and at the same time her husband’s pathic. It was said that this scandalous intimacy was of such a nature that Aubri used to sleep between the husband and wife. At the beginning of Lent the State Inquisitors sent him to Trieste. He introduced me to his wife, who danced like himself and was called La Panting. He had married her at St. Petersburg, from which city he had just come, and they were going to spend the winter in Paris. The next person who advanced to greet me was a fat man, who held out his hand and said we had been friends twenty-five years ago, but that we were so young then that it would be no wonder if we did not know each other. “We knew each other at Padua, at Dr. Gozzi’s,” he added; “my name is Joseph da Loglio.”
“I remember you,” I replied, “in those days you were violoncello at the Russian chapel.”
“Exactly; and now I am returning to my native land to leave it no more. I have the honour to introduce you to my wife, who was born at St. Petersburg, but is a daughter of Modonis the violinist, whose reputation is European. In a week I shall be at Dresden, where I hope to have the honour of seeing Madame Casanova, your mother.”
I was delighted to find myself in such congenial society, but I could see that Madame Denis did not relish these recollections extending over a quarter of a century, and I turned the conversation to the events at St. Petersburg which had resulted in Catherine the Great ascending the throne. Da Loglio told us that he had taken a small part in this conspiracy, and had thought it prudent to get out of the way. “Fortunately,” he added, “this was a contingency I had long provided against, and I am in a position to spend the rest of my days in comfort in Italy.”
Madame Denis then observed:
“A week ago a Piedmontese, named Audar, was introduced to me. He had been a chief mover in the conspiracy, and the empress gave him a present of a hundred thousand roubles and an order to leave Russia immediately.”
I heard afterwards that this Audar bought an estate in Piedmont on which he built a fine mansion. In two or three years it was struck by a thunder-bolt, and the unfortunate man was killed in the ruins of his own house. If this was a blow from an Almighty hand, it could not, at all events, have been directed by the genius of Russia, for if the unfortunate Peter III. had lived, he would have retarded Russian civilization by a hundred years.
The Empress Catherine rewarded all the foreigners who had assisted her in her plots most magnificently, and shewed herself grateful to the Russians who had helped her to mount the throne; while, like a crafty politician, she sent such nobles as she suspected to be averse to revolution out of the country.
It was Da Loglio and his pretty wife who determined me to betake myself to Russia in case the King of Prussia did not give me any employment. I was assured that I should make my fortune there, and Da Loglio promised to give me good instructions.
As soon as this worthy man left Berlin my intimacy with Madame Denis commenced. One night when I was supping with her she was seized with convulsions which lasted all the night. I did not leave her for a moment, and in the morning, feeling quite recovered, her gratitude finished what my love had begun twenty-six years before, and our amorous commerce lasted while I stayed at Berlin. We shall hear of her again at Florence six years later.
Some days after Madame Denis took me to Potsdam to shew me all the sights of the town. Our intimacy offended no one, for she was generally believed to be my niece, and the general who kept her either believed the report, or like a man of sense pretended to believe it.
Amongst other notable things I saw at Potsdam was the sight of the king commanding the first battalion of his grenadiers, all picked men, the flower of the Prussian army.
The room which we occupied at the inn faced a walk by which the king passed when he came from the castle. The shutters were all closed, and our landlady told us that on one occasion when a pretty dancer called La Reggiana was sleeping in the same room, the king had seen her in ‘puris naturalibus’. This was too much for his modesty, and he had ordered the shutters to be closed, and closed they had remained, though this event was four years old. The king had some cause to fear, for he had been severely treated by La Barbarina. In the king’s bedroom we saw her portrait, that of La Cochois, sister to the actress who became Marchioness d’Argens, and that of Marie Theresa, with whom Frederick had been in love, or rather he had been in love with the idea of becoming emperor.
After we had admired the beauty and elegance of the castle, we could not help admiring the way in which the master of the castle was lodged. He had a mean room, and slept on a little bed with a screen around it. There was no dressing-gown and no slippers. The valet shewed us an old cap which the king put on when he had a cold; it looked as if it must be very uncomfortable. His majesty’s bureau was a table covered with pens, paper, half-burnt manuscripts, and an ink- pot; beside it was a sofa. The valet told us that these manuscripts contained the history of the last Prussian war, and the king had been so annoyed by their accidentally getting burnt that he had resolved to have no more to do with the work. He probably changed his mind, for the book, which is little esteemed, was published shortly after his death.
Five or six weeks after my curious conversation with the monarch, Marshal Keith told me that his majesty had been pleased to create me a tutor to the new corps of Pomeranian cadets which he was just establishing. There were to be fifteen cadets and five tutors, so that each should have the care of three pupils. The salary was six hundred crowns and board found. The duty of the tutors was to follow or accompany the cadets wherever they went, Court included. I had to be quick in making up my mind, for the four others were already installed, and his majesty did not like to be kept waiting. I asked Lord Keith where the college was, and I promised to give him a reply by the next day.
I had to summon all my powers of self-restraint to my assistance when I heard this extravagant proposal as coming from a man who was so discreet in most things, but my astonishment was increased when I saw the abode of these fifteen young noblemen of rich Pomerania. It consisted of three or four great rooms almost devoid of furniture, several whitewashed bedrooms, containing a wretched bed, a deal table, and two deal chairs. The young cadets, boys of twelve or thirteen, all looked dirty and untidy, and were boxed up in a wretched uniform which matched admirably their rude and rustic faces. They were in company with their four governors, whom I took for their servants, and who looked at me in a stupefied manner, not daring to think that I was to be their future colleague.
Just as I was going to bid an eternal farewell to this abode of misery, one of the governors put his head out of the window and exclaimed —
“The king is riding up.”
I could not avoid meeting him, and besides, I was glad enough to see him again, especially in such a place.
His majesty came up with his friend Icilius, examined everything, and saw me, but did not honour me with a word. I was elegantly dressed, and wore my cross set with brilliants. But I had to bite my lips so as not to burst out laughing when Frederick the Great got in a towering rage at a chamber utensil which stood beside one of the beds, and which did not appear to be in a very cleanly condition.
“Whose bed is this?” cried the monarch.
“Mine, sire,” answered a trembling cadet.
“Good! but it is not you I am angry with; where is your governor?”
The fortunate governor presented himself, and the monarch, after honouring him with the title of blockhead, proceeded to scold him roundly. However, he ended by saying that there was a servant, and that the governor ought to see that he did his work properly. This disgusting scene was enough for me, and I hastened to call on Marshal Keith to announce my determination. The old soldier laughed at the description I gave him of the academy, and said I was quite right to despise such an office; but that I ought, nevertheless, to go and thank the king before I left Berlin. I said I did not feel inclined for another interview with such a man, and he agreed to present my thanks and excuses in my stead.
I made up my mind to go to Russia, and began my preparations in good earnest. Baron Treidel supported my resolve by offering to give me a letter of introduction to his sister, the Duchess of Courland. I wrote to M. de Bragadin to ‘give me a letter for a banker at St. Petersburg, and to remit me through him every month a sum which would keep me in comfort.
I could not travel without a servant, and chance kindly provided me with one. I was sitting with Madame Rufin, when a young Lorrainer came in; like Bias, he bore all his fortune with him, but, in his case, it was carried under his arm. He introduced himself thus:
“Madam, my name is Lambert, I come from Lorraine, and I wish to lodge here.”
“Very good, sir, but you must pay for your board and lodging every day.”
“That, madam, is out of the question, for I have not got a farthing, but I shall have some money when I discover who I am.”
“I am afraid I cannot put you up on those conditions, sir.”
He was going away with a mortified air, when my heart was touched, and I called him back.
“Stay,” said I, “I will pay for you to-day.”
Happiness beamed over his face.
“What have you got in that little bundle?” said I.
“Two shirts, a score of mathematical books, and some other trifles.”
I took him to my room, and finding him tolerably well educated, I asked him how he came to be in such a state of destitution.
“I come from Strasburg,” he replied, “and a cadet of a regiment stationed there having given me a blow in a coffee-house I paid him a visit the next day in his own room and stabbed him there.
“After this I went home, made up my bundle, and left the town. I walked all the way and lived soberly, so that my money lasted till this morning. To-morrow I shall write to my mother, who lives at Luneville, and I am sure she will send me some money.”
“And what do you think of doing?”
“I want to become a military engineer, but if needs must I am ready to enlist as a private soldier.”
“I can give you board and lodging till you hear from your mother.”
“Heaven has sent you in my way,” said he, kissing my hand gratefully.
I did not suspect him of deceiving me, though he stumbled somewhat in his narrative. However my curiosity led me to write to M. Schauenbourg, who was then at Strasburg, to enquire if the tale were true.
The next day I happened to meet an officer of engineers, who told me that young men of education were so plentiful that they did not receive them into the service unless they were willing to serve as common soldiers. I was sorry for the young man to be reduced so low as that. I began to spend some time with him every day in mathematical calculations, and I conceived the idea of taking him with me to St. Petersburg, and broached the subject to him.
“It would be a piece of good fortune for me,” he replied, “and to shew my gratitude I will gladly wait on you as a servant during the journey.”
He spoke French badly, but as he was a Lorrainer I was not astonished at that. Nevertheless I was surprised to find that he did not know a word of Latin, and that his spelling was of the wildest description. He saw me laughing, but did not seem in the least ashamed. Indeed he said that he had only gone to school to learn mathematics, and that he was very glad that he had escaped the infliction of learning grammar. Indeed, on every subject besides mathematics, he was profoundly ignorant. He had no manners whatever; in fact, he was a mere peasant.
Ten or twelve days later I received a letter from M. de Schauenbourg, saying that the name of Lambert was unknown in Strasburg, and that no cadet had been killed or wounded.
When I shewed Lambert this letter he said that as he wished to enter the army he thought it would be of service to him to shew that he was brave, adding that as this lie had not been told with the idea of imposing on me I should forgive it.
“Poverty,” said he, “is a rascally teacher, that gives a man some bad lessons. I am not a liar by disposition, but I have nevertheless told you a lie on another and a more important matter. I don’t expect any money whatever from my poor mother, who rather needs that I should send money to her. So forgive me, and be sure I shall be a faithful servant to you.”
I was always ready to forgive other men’s peccadilloes, and not without cause. I liked Lambert’s line of argument, and told him that we would set out in five or six days.
Baron Bodisson, a Venetian who wanted to sell the king a picture by Andrea del Sarto, asked me to come with him to Potsdam and the desire of seeing the monarch once again made me accept the invitation. When I reached Potsdam I went to see the parade at which Frederick was nearly always to be found. When he saw me he came up and asked me in a familiar manner when I was going to start for St. Petersburg.
“In five or six days, if your majesty has no objection.”
“I wish you a pleasant journey; but what do you hope to do in that land?”
“What I hoped to do in this land, namely, to please the sovereign.”
“Have you got an introduction to the empress?”
“No, but I have an introduction to a banker.”
“Ah! that’s much better. If you pass through Prussia on your return I shall be delighted to hear of your adventures in Russia.”
Such was the second interview I had with this great king, whom I never saw again.
After I had taken leave of all my friends I applied to Baron Treidel, who gave me a letter for M. de Kaiserling, lord-chancellor at Mitau, and another letter for his sister, the Duchess of Courland, and I spent the last night with the charming Madame Denis. She bought my post-chaise, and I started with two hundred ducats in my purse. This would have been ample for the whole journey if I had not been so foolish as to reduce it by half at a party of pleasure with some young merchants at Dantzic. I was thus unable to stay a few days at Koenigsberg, though I had a letter to Field-Marshal von Lewald, who was the governor of the place. I could only stay one day to dine with this pleasant old soldier, who gave me a letter for his friend General Woiakoff, the Governor of Riga.
I found I was rich enough to arrive at Mitau in state, and I therefore took a carriage and six, and reached my destination in three days. At the inn where I put up I found a Florentine artiste named Bregonei, who overwhelmed me with caresses, telling me that I had loved her when I was a boy and wore the cassock. I saw her six years later at Florence, where she was living with Madame Denis.
The day after my departure from Memel, I was accosted in the open country by a man whom I recognized as a Jew. He informed me that I was on Polish territory, and that I must pay duty on whatever merchandise I had with me.
“I am no merchant,” said I, “and you will get nothing out of me.”
“I have the right to examine your effects,” replied the Israelite, “and I mean to make use of it.”
“You are a madman,” I exclaimed, and I ordered the postillion to whip him off.
But the Jew ran and seized the fore horses by the bridle and stopped us, and the postillion, instead of whipping him, waited with Teutonic calm for me to come and send the Jew away. I was in a furious rage, and leaping out with my cane in one hand and a pistol in the other I soon put the Jew to flight after applying about a dozen good sound blows to his back. I noticed that during the combat my fellow- traveller, my Archimedes-in-ordinary, who had been asleep all the way, did not offer to stir. I reproached him for his cowardice; but he told me that he did not want the Jew to say that we had set on him two to one.
I arrived at Mitau two days after this burlesque adventure and got down at the inn facing the castle. I had only three ducats left.
The next morning I called on M. de Kaiserling, who read the Baron de Treidel’s letter, and introduced me to his wife, and left me with her to take the baron’s letter to his sister.
Madame de Kaiserling ordered a cup of chocolate to be brought me by a beautiful young Polish girl, who stood before me with lowered eyes as if she wished to give me the opportunity of examining her at ease. As I looked at her a whim came into my head, and, as the reader is aware, I have never resisted any of my whims. However, this was a curious one. As I have said, I had only three ducats left, but after I had emptied the cup of chocolate I put it back on the plate and the three ducats with it.
The chancellor came back and told me that the duchess could not see me just then, but that she invited me to a supper and ball she was giving that evening. I accepted the supper and refused the ball, on the pretext that I had only summer clothes and a black suit. It was in the beginning of October, and the cold was already commencing to make itself felt. The chancellor returned to the Court, and I to my inn.
Half an hour later a chamberlain came to bring me her highness’s compliments, and to inform me that the ball would be a masked one, and that I could appear in domino.
“You can easily get one from the Jews,” he added. He further informed me that the ball was to have been a full-dress one, but that the duchess had sent word to all the guests that it would be masked, as a stranger who was to be present had sent on his trunks.
“I am sorry to have caused so much trouble,” said I.
“Not at all,” he replied, “the masked ball will be much more relished by the people.”
He mentioned the time it was to begin, and left me.
No doubt the reader will think that I found myself in an awkward predicament, and I will be honest and confess I was far from being at my ease. However, my good luck came to my assistance.
As Prussian money (which is the worst in Germany) is not current in Russia, a Jew came and asked me if I had any friedrichs d’or, offering to exchange them against ducats without putting me to any loss.
“I have only ducats,” I replied, “and therefore I cannot profit by your offer.”
“I know it sir, and you give them away very cheaply.”
Not understanding what he meant, I simply gazed at him, and he went on to say that he would be glad to let me have two hundred ducats if I would kindly give him a bill on St. Petersburg for roubles to that amount.
I was somewhat surprised at the fellow’s trustfulness, but after pretending to think the matter over I said that I was not in want of ducats, but that I would take a hundred to oblige him. He counted out the money gratefully, and I gave him a bill on the banker, Demetrio Papanelopoulo, for whom Da Loglio had given me a letter. The Jew went his way, thanking me, and saying that he would send me some beautiful dominos to choose from. Just then I remembered that I wanted silk stockings, and I sent Lambert after the Jew to tell him to send some. When he came back he told me that the landlord had stopped him to say that I scattered my ducats broadcast, as the Jew had informed him that I had given three ducats to Madame de Kaiserling’s maid.
This, then, was the key to the mystery, and it made me lose myself in wonder at the strangeness of the decrees of fortune. I should not have been able to get a single crown at Mitau if it had not been for the way in which I scattered my three remaining ducats. No doubt the astonished girl had published my generosity all over the town, and the Jew, intent on money-making, had hastened to offer his ducats to the rich nobleman who thought so little of his money.
I repaired to Court at the time appointed, and M. de Kaiserling immediately presented me to the duchess, and she to the duke, who was the celebrated Biron, or Birlen, the former favourite of Anna Ivanovna. He was six feet in height, and still preserved some traces of having been a fine man, but old age had laid its heavy hand on him. I had a long talk with him the day after the ball.
A quarter of an hour after my arrival, the ball began with a polonaise. I was a stranger with introductions, so the duchess asked me to open the ball with her. I did not know the dance, but I managed to acquit myself honourably in it, as the steps are simple and lend themselves to the fancy of the dancer.
After the polonaise we danced minuets, and a somewhat elderly lady asked me if I could dance the “King Conqueror,” so I proceeded to execute it with her. It had gone out of fashion since the time of the Regency, but my companion may have shone in it in those days. All the younger ladies stood round and watched us with admiration.
After a square dance, in which I had as partner Mdlle. de Manteufel, the prettiest of the duchess’s maids of honour, her highness told me that supper was ready. I came up to her and offered my arm, and presently found myself seated beside her at a table laid for twelve where I was the only gentleman. However, the reader need not envy me; the ladies were all elderly dowagers, who had long lost the power of turning men’s heads. The duchess took the greatest care of my comforts, and at the end of the repast gave me with her own hands a glass of liqueur, which I took for Tokay and praised accordingly, but it turned out to be only old English ale. I took her back to the ball when we rose from table. The young chamberlain who had invited me told me the names of all the ladies present, but I had no time to pay my court to any of them.
The next day I dined with M. de Kaiserling, and handed Lambert over to a Jew to be clothed properly.
The day after I dined with the duke with a party consisting only of men. The old prince made me do most of the talking, and towards the end of the dinner the conversation fell upon the resources of the country which was rich in minerals and semi-minerals. I took it into my head to say that these resources ought to be developed, and that they would become precious if that were done. To justify this remark I had to speak upon the matter as if I had made it my principal study. An old chamberlain, who had the control of the mines, after allowing me to exhaust my enthusiasm, began to discuss the question himself, made divers objections, but seemed to approve of many of my remarks.
If I had reflected when I began to speak in this manner that I should have to act up to my words, I should certainly have said much less; but as it was, the duke fancied that I knew much more than I cared to say. The result was that, when the company had risen from the table, he asked me if I could spare him a fortnight on my way to St. Petersburg. I said I should be glad to oblige him, and he took me to his closet and said that the chamberlain who had spoken to me would conduct me over all the mines and manufactories in his duchies, and that he would be much obliged if I would write down any observations that struck me. I agreed to his proposal, and said I would start the next day.
The duke was delighted with my compliance, and gave the chamberlain the necessary orders, and it was agreed that he should call for me at day-break with a carriage and six.
When I got home I made my preparations, and told Lambert to be ready to accompany me with his case of instruments. I then informed him of the object of the journey, and he promised to assist me to the best of his ability, though he knew nothing about mines, and still less of the science of administration.
We started at day-break, with a servant on the box, and two others preceding us on horseback, armed to the teeth. We changed horses every two or three hours, and the chamberlain having brought plenty of wine we refreshed ourselves now and again.
The tour lasted a fortnight, and we stopped at five iron and copper manufactories. I found it was not necessary to have much technical knowledge to make notes on what I saw; all I required was a little sound argument, especially in the matter of economy, which was the duke’s main object. In one place I advised reforms, and in another I counselled the employment of more hands as likely to benefit the revenue. In one mine where thirty convicts were employed I ordered the construction of a short canal, by which three wheels could be turned and twenty men saved. Under my direction Lambert drew the plans, and made the measurements with perfect accuracy. By means of other canals I proposed to drain whole valleys, with a view to obtain the sulphur with which the soil was permeated.
I returned to Mitau quite delighted at having made myself useful, and at having discovered in myself a talent which I had never suspected. I spent the following day in making a fair copy of my report and in having the plans done on a larger scale. The day after I took the whole to the duke, who seemed well pleased; and as I was taking leave of him at the same time he said he would have me drive to Riga in one of his carriages, and he gave me a letter for his son, Prince Charles, who was in garrison there.
The worthy old man told me to say plainly whether I should prefer a jewel or a sum of money of equivalent value.
“From a philosopher like your highness,” I replied, “I am not afraid to take money, for it may be more useful to me than jewels.”
Without more ado he gave me a draft for four hundred albertsthalers, which I got cashed immediately, the albertsthaler being worth half a ducat. I bade farewell to the duchess, and dined a second time with M. de Kaiserling.
The next day the young chamberlain came to bring me the duke’s letter, to wish me a pleasant journey, and to tell me that the Court carriage was at my door. I set out well pleased with the assistance the stuttering Lambert had given me, and by noon I was at Riga. The first thing I did was to deliver my letter of introduction to Prince Charles.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52