[Transcriber's note: Footnotes moved to end of text.]
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
VOL. XIII.—MAY, 1864.—NO. LXXIX.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1864, by TICKNOR AND FIELDS, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.
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A CRUISE ON LAKE LADOGA.
"Dear Q.,—The steamboat Valamo is advertised to leave on Tuesday, the 26th, (July 8th, New Style,) for Serdopol, at the very head of Lake Ladoga, stopping on the way at Schluesselburg, Konewitz Island, Kexholm, and the island and monastery of Valaam. The anniversary of Saints Sergius and Herrmann, miracle-workers, will be celebrated at the last-named place on Thursday, and the festival of the Apostles Peter and Paul on Friday. If the weather is fine, the boat will take passengers to the Holy Island. The fare is nine rubles for the trip. You can be back again in St. Petersburg by six o'clock on Saturday evening. Provisions can be had on board, but (probably) not beds; so, if you are luxurious in this particular, take along your own sheets, pillow-cases, and blankets. I intend going, and depend upon your company. Make up your mind by ten o'clock, when I will call for your decision.
I laid down the note, looked at my watch, and found that I had an hour for deliberation before P.'s arrival. "Lake Ladoga?" said I to myself; "it is the largest lake in Europe,—I learned that at school. It is full of fish; it is stormy; and the Neva is its outlet. What else?" I took down a geographical dictionary, and obtained the following additional particulars: The name Lad'oga (not Lado'ga, as it is pronounced in America) is Finnish, and means "new." The lake lies between 60 deg. and 61 deg. 45' north latitude, is 175 versts—about 117 miles—in length, from north to south, and 100 versts in breadth; receives the great river Volkhoff on the south, the Svir, which pours into it the waters of Lake Onega, on the east, and the overflow of nearly half the lakes of Finland, on the west; and is, in some parts, fourteen hundred feet deep.
Vainly, however, did I ransack my memory for the narrative of any traveller who had beheld and described this lake. The red hand-book, beloved of tourists, did not even deign to notice its existence. The more I meditated on the subject, the more I became convinced that here was an untrodden corner of the world, lying within easy reach of a great capital, yet unknown to the eyes of conventional sight-seers. The name of Valaam suggested that of Barlaam, in Thessaly, likewise a Greek monastery; and though I had never heard of Sergius and Herrmann, the fact of their choosing such a spot was the beginning of a curious interest in their history. The very act of poring over a map excites the imagination: I fell into conjectures about the scenery, vegetation, and inhabitants, and thus, by the time P. arrived, was conscious of a violent desire to make the cruise with him. To our care was confided an American youth, whom I shall call R.,—we three being, as we afterwards discovered, the first of our countrymen to visit the northern portion of the lake.
The next morning, although it was cloudy and raw, R. and I rose betimes, and were jolted on a droshky through the long streets to the Valamo's landing-place. We found a handsome English-built steamer, with tonnage and power enough for the heaviest squalls, and an after-cabin so comfortable that all our anticipations of the primitive modes of travel were banished at once. As men not ashamed of our health, we had decided to omit the sheets and pillow-cases, and let the tooth-brush answer as an evidence of our high civilization; but the broad divans and velvet cushions of the cabin brought us back to luxury in spite of ourselves. The captain, smoothly shaven and robust, as befitted his station,—English in all but his eyes, which were thoroughly Russian,—gave us a cordial welcome in passable French. P. drove up presently, and the crowd on the floating pier rapidly increased, as the moment of departure approached. Our fellow-pilgrims were mostly peasants and deck—passengers: two or three officers, and a score of the bourgeois, were divided, according to their means, between the first and second cabins. There were symptoms of crowding, and we hastened to put in preemption-claims for the bench on the port—side, distributing our travelling sacks and pouches along it, as a guard against squatters. The magic promise of na chai (something to buy tea with) further inspired the waiters with a peculiar regard for our interest, so that, leaving our important possessions in their care, we went on deck to witness the departure.
By this time the Finnish sailors were hauling in the slack hawsers, and the bearded stevedores on the floating quay tugged at the gangway. Many of our presumed passengers had only come to say good-bye, which they were now waving and shouting from the shore. The rain fell dismally, and a black, hopeless sky settled down upon the Neva. But the Northern summer, we knew, is as fickle as the Southern April, and we trusted that Sergius and Herrmann, the saints of Valaam, would smooth for us the rugged waters of Ladoga. At last the barking little bell ceased to snarl at the tardy pilgrims. The swift current swung our bow into the stream, and, as we moved away, the crowd on deck uncovered their heads, not to the bowing friends on the quay, but to the spire of a church which rose to view behind the houses fronting the Neva. Devoutly crossing themselves with the joined three fingers, symbolical of the Trinity, they doubtless murmured a prayer for the propitious completion of the pilgrimage, to which, I am sure, we could have readily echoed the amen.
The Valamo was particularly distinguished, on this occasion, by a flag at the fore, carrying the white Greek cross on a red field. This proclaimed her mission as she passed along, and the bells of many a little church pealed God-speed to her and her passengers. The latter, in spite of the rain, thronged the deck, and continually repeated their devotions to the shrines on either bank. On the right, the starry domes of the Smolnoi, rising from the lap of a linden—grove, flashed upon us; then, beyond the long front of the college of demoiselles nobles and the military storehouses, we hailed the silver hemispheres which canopy the tomb and shrine of St. Alexander of the Neva. On the left, huge brick factories pushed back the gleaming groves of birch, which flowed around and between them, to dip their hanging boughs in the river; but here and there peeped out the bright green cupolas of some little church, none of which, I was glad to see, slipped out of the panorama without its share of reverence.
For some miles we sailed between a double row of contiguous villages,—a long suburb of the capital, which stretched on and on, until the slight undulations of the shore showed that we had left behind us the dead level of the Ingrian marshes. It is surprising what an interest one takes in the slightest mole-hill, after living for a short time on a plain. You are charmed with an elevation which enables you to look over your neighbor's hedge. I once heard a clergyman, in his sermon, assert that "the world was perfectly smooth before the fall of Adam, and the present inequalities in its surface were the evidences of human sin." I was a boy at the time, and I thought to myself, "How fortunate it is that we are sinners!" Peter the Great, however, had no choice left him. The piles he drove in these marshes were the surest foundation of his empire.
The Neva, in its sudden and continual windings, in its clear, cold, sweet water, and its fringing groves of birch, maple, and alder, compensates, in a great measure, for the flatness of its shores. It has not the slow magnificence of the Hudson or the rush of the Rhine, but carries with it a sense of power, of steady, straightforward force, like that of the ancient warriors who disdained all clothing except their swords. Its naked river-god is not even crowned with reeds, but the full flow of his urn rolls forth undiminished by summer and unchecked beneath its wintry lid. Outlets of large lakes frequently exhibit this characteristic, and the impression they make upon the mind does not depend on the scenery through which they flow. Nevertheless, we discovered many points the beauty of which was not blotted out by rain and cloud, and would have shone freshly and winningly under the touch of the sun. On the north bank there is a palace of Potemkin, (or Potchomkin, as his name is pronounced in Russian,) charmingly placed at a bend, whence it looks both up and down the river. The gay color of the building, as of most of the datchas, or country-villas, in Russia, makes a curious impression upon the stranger. Until he has learned to accept it as a portion of the landscape, the effect is that of a scenic design on the part of the builder. These dwellings, these villages and churches, he thinks, are scarcely intended to be permanent: they were erected as part of some great dramatic spectacle, which has been, or is to be, enacted under the open sky. Contrasted with the sober, matter-of-fact aspect of dwellings in other countries, they have the effect of temporary decorations. But when one has entered within these walls of green and blue and red arabesques, inspected their thickness, viewed the ponderous porcelain stores, tasted, perhaps, the bountiful cheer of the owner, he realizes their palpable comforts, and begins to suspect that all the external adornment is merely an attempt to restore to Nature that coloring of which she is stripped by the cold sky of the North.
A little farther on, there is a summer villa of the Empress Catharine,—a small, modest building, crowning a slope of green turf. Beyond this, the banks are draped with foliage, and the thinly clad birches, with their silver stems, shiver above the rush of the waters. We, also, began to shiver under the steadily falling rain, and retreated to the cabin on the steward's first hint of dinner. A table d'hote of four courses was promised us, including the preliminary zakouski and the supplementary coffee,—all for sixty copeks, which is about forty-five cents. The zakouski is an arrangement peculiar to Northern countries, and readily adopted by foreigners. In Sweden it is called the smoergas, or "butter-goose" but the American term (if we had the custom) would be "the whetter." On a side-table there are various plates of anchovies, cheese, chopped onions, raw salt herring, and bread, all in diminutive slices, while glasses of corresponding size surround a bottle of kuemmel, or cordial of caraway-seed. This, at least, was the zakouski on board the Valamo, and to which our valiant captain addressed himself, after first bowing and crossing himself towards the Byzantine Christ and Virgin in either corner of the cabin. We, of course, followed his example, finding our appetites, if not improved, certainly not at all injured thereby. The dinner which followed far surpassed our expectations. The national shchee, or cabbage-soup, is better than the sound of its name; the fish, fresh from the cold Neva, is sure to be well cooked where it forms an important article of diet; and the partridges were accompanied by those plump little Russian cucumbers, which are so tender and flavorous that they deserve to be called fruit rather than vegetables.
When we went on deck to light our Riga cigars, the boat was approaching Schluesselburg, at the outlet of the lake. Here the Neva, just born, sweeps in two broad arms around the island which bears the Key-Fortress,—the key by which Peter opened this river-door to the Gulf of Finland. The pretty town of the same name is on the south bank, and in the centre of its front yawn the granite gates of the canal which, for a hundred versts, skirts the southern shore of the lake, forming, with the Volkhoff River and another canal beyond, a summer communication with the vast regions watered by the Volga and its affluents. The Ladoga Canal, by which the heavy barges laden with hemp from Mid-Russia, and wool from the Ural, and wood from the Valdai Hills, avoid the sudden storms of the lake, was also the work of Peter the Great. I should have gone on shore to inspect the locks, but for the discouraging persistence of the rain. Huddled against the smoke-stack, we could do nothing but look on the draggled soldiers and mujiks splashing through the mud, the low yellow fortress, which has long outlived its importance, and the dark-gray waste of lake which loomed in front, suggestive of rough water and kindred abominations.
There it was, at last,—Lake Ladoga,—and now our prow turns to unknown regions. We steamed past the fort, past a fleet of brigs, schooners, and brigantines, with huge, rounded stems and sterns, laden with wood from the Wolkonskoi forests, and boldly entered the gray void of fog and rain. The surface of the lake was but slightly agitated, as the wind gradually fell and a thick mist settled on the water. Hour after hour passed away, as we rushed onward through the blank, and we naturally turned to our fellow-passengers in search of some interest or diversion to beguile the time. The heavy-bearded, peasants and their weather-beaten wives were scattered around the deck in various attitudes, some of the former asleep on their backs, with open mouths, beside the smoke-stack. There were many picturesque figures among them, and, if I possessed the quick pencil of Kaulbach, I might have filled a dozen leaver of my sketch-book. The bourgeoisie were huddled on the quarter-deck benches, silent, and fearful of sea-sickness. But a very bright, intelligent young officer turned up, who had crossed the Ural, and was able to entertain us with an account of the splendid sword-blades of Zlataoust. He was now on his way to the copper mines of Pitkaranda, on the northeastern shore of the lake.
About nine o'clock in the evening, although still before sunset, the fog began to darken, and I was apprehensive that we should have some difficulty in finding the island of Konewitz, which was to be our stopping-place for the night. The captain ordered the engine to be slowed, and brought forward a brass half-pounder, about a foot long, which was charged and fired. In less than a minute after the report, the sound of a deep, solemn bell boomed in the mist, dead ahead. Instantly every head was uncovered, and the rustle of whispered prayers fluttered over the deck, as the pilgrims bowed and crossed themselves. Nothing was to be seen; but, stroke after stroke, the hollow sounds, muffled and blurred in the opaque atmosphere, were pealed out by the guiding bell. Presently a chime of smaller bells joined in a rapid accompaniment, growing louder and clearer as we advanced. The effect was startling. After voyaging for hours over the blank water, this sudden and solemn welcome, sounded from some invisible tower, assumed a mystic and marvellous character. Was it not rather the bells of a city ages ago submerged, and now sending its ghostly summons up to the pilgrims passing over its crystal grave?
Finally a tall mast, its height immensely magnified by the fog, could be distinguished; then the dark hulk of a steamer, a white gleam of sand through the fog, indistinct outlines of trees, a fisherman's hut, and a landing-place. The bells still rang out from some high station near at hand, but unseen. We landed as soon as the steamer had made fast, and followed the direction of the sound. A few paces from the beach stood a little chapel, open, and with a lamp burning before its brown Virgin and Child. Here our passengers stopped, and made a brief prayer before going on. Two or three beggars, whose tattered dresses of tow suggested the idea of their having clothed themselves with the sails of shipwrecked vessels, bowed before us so profoundly and reverently that we at first feared they had mistaken us for the shrines. Following an avenue of trees, up a gentle eminence, the tall white towers and green domes of a stately church gradually detached themselves from the mist, and we found ourselves at the portal of the monastery. A group of monks, in the usual black robes, and high, cylindrical caps of crape, the covering of which overlapped and fell upon their shoulders, were waiting, apparently to receive visitors. Recognizing us as foreigners, they greeted us with great cordiality, and invited us to take up our quarters for the night in the house appropriated to guests. We desired, however, to see the church before the combined fog and twilight should make it too dark; so a benevolent old monk led the way, hand in hand with P., across the court-yard.
The churches of the Greek faith present a general resemblance in their internal decorations. There is a glitter of gold, silver, and flaring colors in the poorest. Statues are not permitted, but the pictures of dark Saviours and Saints are generally covered with a drapery of silver, with openings for the head and hands. Konewitz, however, boasts of a special sanctity, in possessing the body of Saint Arsenius, the founder of the monastery. His remains are inclosed in a large coffin of silver, elaborately chased. It was surrounded, as we entered, by a crowd of kneeling pilgrims; the tapers burned beside it, and at the various altars; the air was thick with incense, and the great bell still boomed from the misty tower. Behind us came a throng of our own deck-passengers, who seemed to recognize the proper shrines by a sort of devotional instinct, and were soon wholly absorbed in their prayers and prostrations. It is very evident to me that the Russian race requires the formulas of the Eastern Church; a fondness for symbolic ceremonies and observances is far more natural to its character than to the nations of Latin or Saxon blood. In Southern Europe the peasant will exchange merry salutations while dipping his fingers in the holy water, or turn in the midst of his devotions to inspect a stranger; but the Russian, at such times, appears lost to the world. With his serious eyes fixed on the shrine or picture, or, maybe, the spire of a distant church, his face suddenly becomes rapt and solemn, and no lurking interest in neighboring things interferes with its expression.
One of the monks, who spoke a little French, took us into his cell. He was a tall, frail man of thirty-five, with a wasted face, and brown hair flowing over his shoulders, like most of his brethren of the same age. In those sharp, earnest features, one could see that the battle was not yet over. The tendency to corpulence does not appear until after the rebellious passions have been either subdued, or pacified by compromise. The cell was small, but neat and cheerful, on the ground-floor, with a window opening on the court, and a hard, narrow pallet against the wall. There was also a little table, with books, sacred pictures, and a bunch of lilacs in water. The walls were whitewashed, and the floor cleanly swept. The chamber was austere, certainly, but in no wise repulsive.
It was now growing late, and only the faint edges of the twilight glimmered overhead, through the fog. It was not night, but a sort of eclipsed day, not much darker than our winter days under an overcast sky. We returned to the tower, where an old monk took us in charge. Beside the monastery is a special building for guests, a room in which was offered to us. It was so clean and pleasant, and the three broad sofa-couches with leather cushions looked so inviting, that we decided to sleep there, in preference to the crowded cabin. Our supply of shawls, moreover, enabled us to enjoy the luxury of undressing. Before saying good-night, the old monk placed his hand upon R.'s head. "We have matins at three o'clock," said he; "when you hear the bell, get up, and come to the church: it will bring blessing to you." We were soon buried in a slumber which lacked darkness to make it profound. At two o'clock, the sky was so bright that I thought it six, and fell asleep again, determined to make three hours before I stopped. But presently the big bell began to swing: stroke after stroke, it first aroused, but was fast lulling me, when the chimes struck in and sang all manner of incoherent and undevout lines. The brain at last grew weary of this, when, close to our door, a little, petulant, impatient bell commenced barking for dear life. R. muttered and twisted in his sleep, and brushed away the sound several times from his upper ear, while I covered mine,—but to no purpose. The sharp, fretful jangle went through shawls and cushions, and the fear of hearing it more distinctly prevented me from rising for matins. Our youth, also, missed his promised blessing, and so we slept until the sun was near five hours high,—that is, seven o'clock.
The captain promised to leave for Kexholm at eight, which left us only an hour for a visit to the Konkamen, or Horse-Rock, distant a mile, in the woods. P. engaged as guide a long-haired acolyte, who informed us that he had formerly been a lithographer in St. Petersburg. We did not ascertain the cause of his retirement from the world: his features were too commonplace to suggest a romance. Through the mist, which still hung heavy on the lake, we plunged into the fir-wood, and hurried on over its uneven carpet of moss and dwarf whortleberries. Small gray boulders then began to crop out, and gradually became so thick that the trees thrust them aside as they grew. All at once the wood opened on a rye-field belonging to the monks, and a short turn to the right brought us to a huge rock, of irregular shape, about forty feet in diameter by twenty in height. The crest overhung the base on all sides except one, up which a wooden staircase led to a small square chapel perched upon the summit.
The legends attached to this rock are various, but the most authentic seems to be, that in the ages when the Carelians were still heathen, they were accustomed to place their cattle upon this island in summer, as a protection against the wolves, first sacrificing a horse upon the rock. Whether their deity was the Perun of the ancient Russians or the Jumala of the Finns is not stated; the inhabitants at the present day say, of course, the Devil. The name of the rock may also be translated "Petrified Horse," and some have endeavored to make out a resemblance to that animal, in its form. Our acolyte, for instance, insisted thereupon, and argued very logically—"Why, if you omit the head and legs, you must see that it is exactly like a horse." The peasants say that the Devil had his residence in the stone, and point to a hole which he made, on being forced by the exorcisms of Saint Arsenius to take his departure. A reference to the legend is also indicated in the name of the island, Konewitz,—which our friend, the officer, gave to me in French as Chevalise, or, in literal English, The Horsefied.
The stones and bushes were dripping from the visitation of the mist, and the mosquitoes were busy with my face and hands while I made a rapid drawing of the place. The quick chimes of the monastery, through which we fancied we could hear the warning boat-bell, suddenly pierced through the forest, recalling us. The Valamo had her steam up, when we arrived, and was only waiting for her rival, the Letuchie (Flyer), to get out of our way. As we moved from the shore, a puff of wind blew away the fog, and the stately white monastery, crowned with its bunch of green domes, stood for a moment clear and bright in the morning sun. Our pilgrims bent, bareheaded, in devotional farewell; the golden crosses sparkled an answer, and, the fog rushed down again like a falling curtain.
We steered nearly due north, making for Kexholm, formerly a frontier Swedish town, at the mouth of the River Wuoxen. For four hours it was a tantalizing struggle between mist and sunshine,—a fair blue sky overhead, and a dense cloud sticking to the surface of the lake. The western shore, though near at hand, was not visible; but our captain, with his usual skill, came within a quarter of a mile of the channel leading to the landing-place. The fog seemed to consolidate into the outline of trees; hard land was gradually formed, as we approached; and as the two river-shores finally inclosed us, the air cleared, and long, wooded hills arose in the distance. Before us lay a single wharf, with three wooden buildings leaning against a hill of sand.
"But where is Kexholm?"
"A verst inland," says the captain; "and I will give you just half an hour to see it."
There were a score of peasants, with clumsy two-wheeled carts and shaggy ponies at the landing. Into one of these we clambered, gave the word of command, and were whirled off at a gallop. There may have been some elasticity in the horse, but there certainly was none in the cart. It was a perfect conductor, and the shock with which it passed over stones and leaped ruts was instantly communicated to the os sacrum, passing thence along the vertebrae, to discharge itself in the teeth. Our driver was a sunburnt Finn, who was bent upon performing his share of the contract, in order that he might afterwards with a better face demand a ruble. On receiving just the half, however, he put it into his pocket, without a word of remonstrance.
"Suomi?" I asked, calling up a Finnish word with an effort.
"Suomi-lainen" he answered, proudly enough, though the exact meaning is, "I am a Swamplander."
Kexholm, which was founded in 1295, has attained since then a population of several hundreds. Grass grows between the cobble-stones of its broad streets, but the houses are altogether so bright, so clean, so substantially comfortable, and the geraniums and roses peeping out between snowy curtains in almost every window suggested such cozy interiors, that I found myself quite attracted towards the plain little town. "Here," said I to P., "is a nook which is really out of the world. No need of a monastery, where you have such perfect seclusion, and the indispensable solace of natural society to make it endurable." Pleasant faces occasionally looked out, curiously, at the impetuous strangers: had they known our nationality, I fancy the whole population would have run together. Reaching the last house, nestled among twinkling birch-trees on a bend of the river beyond, we turned about, and made for the fortress,—another conquest of the Great Peter. Its low ramparts had a shabby, neglected look; an old drawbridge spanned the moat, and there was no sentinel to challenge us as we galloped across. In and out again, and down the long, quiet street, and over the jolting level to the top of the sandhill,—we had seen Kexholm in half an hour.
At the mouth of the river still lay the fog, waiting for us, now and then stretching a ghostly arm over the woods and then withdrawing it, like a spirit of the lake, longing and yet timid to embrace the land. With the Wuoxen come down the waters of the Saima, that great, irregular lake, which, with its innumerable arms, extends for a hundred and fifty miles into the heart of Finland, clasping the forests and mountains of Savolax, where the altar-stones of Jumala still stand in the shade of sacred oaks, and the song of the Kalewala is sung by the descendants of Wainamoeinen. I registered a vow to visit those Finnish solitudes, as we shot out upon the muffled lake, heading for the holy isles of Valaam. This was the great point of interest in our cruise, the shrine of our pilgrim-passengers. We had heard so little of these islands before leaving St. Petersburg, and so much since, that our curiosity was keenly excited; and thus, though too well seasoned by experience to worry unnecessarily, the continuance of the fog began to disgust us. We shall creep along as yesterday, said we, and have nothing of Valaam but the sound of its bells. The air was intensely raw; the sun had disappeared, and the bearded peasants again slept, with open mouths, on the deck.
Saints Sergius and Herrmann, however, were not indifferent either to them or to us. About the middle of the afternoon we suddenly and unexpectedly sailed out of the fog, passing, in the distance of a ship's length, in to a clear atmosphere, with a far, sharp horizon! The nuisance of the lake lay behind us, a steep, opaque, white wall. Before us, rising in bold cliffs from the water and dark with pines, were the islands of Valaam. Off went hats and caps, and the crowd on deck bent reverently towards the consecrated shores. As we drew near, the granite fronts of the separate isles detached themselves from the plane in which they were blended, and thrust boldly out between the dividing inlets of blue water; the lighter green of birches and maples mingled with the sombre woods of coniferae; but the picture, with all its varied features, was silent and lonely. No sail shone over the lake, no boat was hauled up between the tumbled masses of rock, no fisher's hut sat in the sheltered coves,—only, at the highest point of the cliff, a huge wooden cross gleamed white against the trees.
As we drew around to the northern shore, point came out behind point, all equally bold with rock, dark with pines, and destitute of any sign of habitation. We were looking forward, over the nearest headland, when, all at once, a sharp glitter, through the tops of the pines, struck our eyes. A few more turns of the paddles, and a bulging dome of gold flashed splendidly in the sun! Our voyage, thus far, had been one of surprises, and this was not the least. Crowning a slender, pointed roof, its connection with the latter was not immediately visible: it seemed to spring into the air and hang there, like a marvellous meteor shot from the sun. Presently, however, the whole building appeared,—an hexagonal church, of pale-red brick, the architecture of which was an admirable reproduction of the older Byzantine forms. It stood upon a rocky islet, on either side of which a narrow channel communicated with a deep cove, cleft between walls of rock.
Turning in towards the first of these channels, we presently saw the inlet of darkest-blue water, pushing its way into the heart of the island. Crowning its eastern bank, and about half a mile distant, stood an immense mass of buildings, from the centre of which tall white towers and green cupolas shot up against the sky. This was the monastery of Valaam. Here, in the midst of this lonely lake, on the borders of the Arctic Zone, in the solitude of unhewn forests, was one of those palaces which Religion is so fond of rearing, to show her humility. In the warm afternoon sunshine, and the singular luxuriance of vegetation which clothed the terraces of rock on either hand, we forgot the high latitude, and, but for the pines in the rear, could have fancied ourselves approaching some cove of Athos or Euboea. The steamer ran so near the rocky walls that the trailing branches of the birch almost swept her deck; every ledge traversing their gray, even masonry, was crowded with wild red pinks, geranium, saxifrage, and golden-flowered purslane; and the air, wonderfully pure and sweet in itself, was flavored with delicate woodland odors. On the other side, under the monastery, was an orchard of large apple-trees in full bloom, on a shelf near the water; above them grew huge oaks and maples, heavy with their wealth of foliage; and over the tops of these the level coping of the precipice, with a balustrade, upon which hundreds of pilgrims, who had arrived before us, were leaning and looking down.
Beyond this point, the inlet widened into a basin where the steamer had room to turn around. Here we found some forty or fifty boats moored to the bank, while the passengers they had brought (principally from the eastern shore of the lake, and the district lying between it and Onega) were scattered over the heights. The captain pointed out to us a stately, two-story brick edifice, some three hundred feet long, flanking the monastery, as the house for guests. Another of less dimensions, on the hill in front of the landing-place, appeared to be appropriated especially to the use of the peasants. A rich succession of musical chimes pealed down to us from the belfry, as if in welcome, and our deck-load of pilgrims crossed themselves in reverent congratulation as they stepped upon the sacred soil.
We had determined to go on with our boat to Serdopol, at the head of the lake, returning the next morning in season for the solemnities of the anniversary. Postponing, therefore, a visit to the church and monastery, we climbed to the summit of the bluff, and beheld the inlet in all its length and depth, from the open, sunny expanse of the lake to the dark strait below us, where the overhanging trees of the opposite cliffs almost touched above the water. The honeyed bitter of lilac and apple blossoms in the garden below steeped the air; and as I inhaled the scent, and beheld the rich green crowns of the oaks which grew at the base of the rocks, I appreciated the wisdom of Sergius and Herrmann that led them to pick out this bit of privileged summer, which seems to have wandered into the North from a region ten degrees nearer the sun. It is not strange if the people attribute miraculous powers to them; naturally mistaking the cause of their settlement on Valaam for its effect.
The deck was comparatively deserted, as we once more entered the lake. There were two or three new passengers, however, one of whom inspired me with a mild interest. He was a St. Petersburger, who, according to his own account, had devoted himself to Art, and, probably for that reason, felt constrained to speak in the language of sentiment. "I enjoy above all things," said he to me, "communion with Nature. My soul is uplifted, when I find myself removed from the haunts of men. I live an ideal life, and the world grows more beautiful to me every year." Now there was nothing objectionable in this, except his saying it. Those are only shallow emotions which one imparts to every stranger at the slightest provocation. Your true lover of Nature is as careful of betraying his passion as the young man who carries a first love in his heart. But my companion evidently delighted in talking of his feelings on this point. His voice was soft and silvery, his eyes gentle, and his air languishing; so that, in spite of a heavy beard, the impression he made was remarkably smooth and unmasculine. I involuntarily turned to one of the young Finnish sailors, with his handsome, tanned face, quick, decided movements, and clean, elastic limbs, and felt, instinctively, that what we most value in every man, above even culture or genius, is the stamp of sex,—the asserting, self-reliant, conquering air which marks the male animal. Wide-awake men (and women, too) who know what this element is, and means, will agree with me, and prefer the sharp twang of true fibre to the most exquisite softness and sweetness that were ever produced by sham refinement.
After some fifteen or twenty miles from the island, we approached the rocky archipelago in which the lake terminates at its northern end,—a gradual transition from water to land. Masses of gray granite, wooded wherever the hardy Northern firs could strike root, rose on all sides, divided by deep and narrow channels. "This is the scheer," said our captain, using a word which recalled to my mind, at once, the Swedish skaer, and the English skerry, used alike to denote a coast-group of rocky islets. The rock encroached more and more as we advanced; and finally, as if sure of its victory over the lake, gave place, here and there, to levels of turf, gardens, and cottages. Then followed a calm, land-locked basin, surrounded with harvest-fields, and the spire of Serdopol arose before us.
Of this town I may report that it is called, in Finnish, Sordovala, and was founded about the year 1640. Its history has no doubt been very important to its inhabitants, but I do not presume that it would be interesting to the world, and therefore spare myself a great deal of laborious research. Small as it is, and so secluded that Ladoga seems a world's highway in comparison with its quiet harbor, it nevertheless holds three races and three languages in its modest bounds. The government and Its tongue are Russian; the people are mostly Finnish, with a very thin upper-crust of Swedish tradition, whence the latter language is cultivated as a sign of aristocracy.
We landed on a broad wooden pier, and entered the town through a crowd which was composed of all these elements. There was to be a fair on the morrow, and from the northern shore of the lake, as well as the wild inland region towards the Saima, the people had collected for trade, gossip, and festivity. Children in ragged garments of hemp, bleached upon their bodies, impudently begged for pocket-money; women in scarlet kerchiefs curiously scrutinized us; peasants carried bundles of freshly mown grass to the horses which were exposed for sale; ladies with Hungarian hats crushed their crinolines into queer old cabriolets; gentlemen with business-faces and an aspect of wealth smoked paper cigars; and numbers of hucksters offered baskets of biscuit and cakes, of a disagreeable yellow color and great apparent toughness. It was a repetition, with slight variations, of a village-fair anywhere else, or an election-day in America.
Passing through the roughly paved and somewhat dirty streets, past shops full of primitive hardware, groceries which emitted powerful whiffs of salt fish or new leather, bakeries with crisp padlocks of bread in the windows, drinking-houses plentifully supplied with qvass and vodki, and, finally, the one watch-maker, and the vender of paper, pens, and Finnish almanacs, we reached a broad suburban street, whose substantial houses, with their courts and gardens, hinted at the aristocracy of Serdopol. The inn, with its Swedish sign, was large and comfortable, and a peep into the open windows disclosed as pleasant quarters as a traveller could wish. A little farther the town ceased, and we found ourselves upon a rough, sloping common, at the top of which stood the church with its neighboring belfry. It was unmistakably Lutheran in appearance,—very plain and massive and sober in color, with a steep roof for shedding snow. The only attempt at ornament was a fanciful shingle-mosaic, but in pattern only, not in color. Across the common ran a double row of small booths, which had just been erected for the coming fair; and sturdy young fellows from the country, with their rough carts and shaggy ponies, were gathering along the highway, to skirmish a little in advance of their bargains.
The road enticed us onward, into the country. On our left, a long slope descended to an upper arm of the harbor, the head of which we saw to be near at hand. The opposite shore was fairly laid out in grain-fields, through which cropped out, here and there, long walls of granite, rising higher and higher towards the west, until they culminated in the round, hard forehead of a lofty hill. There was no other point within easy reach which promised much of a view; so, rounding the head of the bay, we addressed ourselves to climbing the rocks, somewhat to the surprise of the herd-boys, as they drove their cows into the town to be milked.
Once off the cultivated land, we found the hill a very garden of wild blooms. Every step and shelf of the rocks was cushioned with tricolored violets, white anemones, and a succulent, moss-like plant with a golden flower. Higher up there were sheets of fire-red pinks, and on the summit an unbroken carpet of the dwarf whortleberry, with its waxen bells. Light exhalations seemed to rise from the damp hollows, and drift towards us; but they resolved themselves into swarms of mosquitoes, and would have made the hill-top untenable, had they not been dispersed by a sudden breeze. We sat down upon a rock and contemplated the widespread panorama. It was nine o'clock, and the sun, near his setting, cast long gleams of pale light through the clouds, softening the green of the fields and forests where they fell, and turning the moist evening haze into lustrous pearl. Inlets of the lake here and there crept in between the rocky hills; broad stretches of gently undulating grain-land were dotted with the houses, barns, and clustered stables of the Finnish farmers; in the distance arose the smokes of two villages; and beyond all, as we looked inland, ran the sombre ridges of the fir-clad hills. Below us, on the right, the yellow houses of the town shone in the subdued light,—the only bright spot in the landscape, which elsewhere seemed to be overlaid with a tint of dark, transparent gray. It was wonderfully silent. Not a bird twittered; no bleat of sheep or low of cattle was heard from the grassy fields; no shout of children, or evening hail from the returning boats of the fishers. Over all the land brooded an atmosphere of sleep, of serene, perpetual peace. To sit and look upon it was in itself a refreshment like that of healthy slumber. The restless devil which lurks in the human brain was quieted for the time, and we dreamed—knowing all the while the vanity of the dream—of a pastoral life in some such spot, among as ignorant and simple-hearted a people, ourselves as untroubled by the agitations of the world.
We had scarce inhaled—or, rather, insuded, to coin a paradoxical word for a sensation which seems to enter at every pore—the profound quiet and its suggestive fancies for the space of half an hour, when the wind fell at the going down of the sun, and the humming mist of mosquitoes arose again. Returning to the town, we halted at the top of the common to watch the farmers of the neighborhood at their horse-dealing. Very hard, keen, weather-browned faces had they, eyes tight-set for the main chance, mouths worn thin by biting farthings, and hands whose hard fingers crooked with holding fast what they had earned. Faces almost of the Yankee type, many of them, but relieved by the twinkling of a humorous faculty or the wild gleam of imagination. The shaggy little horses, of a dun or dull tan-color, seemed to understand that their best performance was required, and rushed up and down the road with an amazing exhibition of mettle. I could understand nothing of the Finnish tongue except its music; but it was easy to perceive that the remarks of the crowd were shrewd, intelligent, and racy. One young fellow, less observant, accosted us in the hope that we might be purchasers. The boys, suspecting that we were as green as we were evidently foreign, held out their hands for alms, with a very unsuccessful air of distress, but readily succumbed to the Russian interjection "proch" (be off!) the repetition of which, they understood, was a reproach.
That night we slept on the velvet couches of the cabin, having the spacious apartment to ourselves. The bright young officer had left for the copper mines, the pilgrims were at Valaam, and our stout, benignant captain looked upon us as his only faithful passengers. The stewards, indeed, carried their kindness beyond reasonable anticipations. They brought us real pillows and other conveniences, bolted the doors against nightly intruders, and in the morning conducted us into the pantry, to wash our faces in the basin sacred to dishes. After I had completed my ablutions, I turned dumbly, with dripping face and extended hands, for a towel. My steward understood the silent appeal, and, taking a napkin from a plate of bread, presented it with alacrity. I made use of it, I confess, but hastened out of the pantry, lest I should happen to see it restored to its former place. How not to observe is a faculty as necessary to the traveller as its reverse. I was reminded of this truth at dinner, when I saw the same steward take a napkin (probably my towel!) from under his arm, to wipe both his face and a plate which he carried. To speak mildly, these people on Lake Ladoga are not sensitive in regard to the contact of individualities. But the main point is to avoid seeing what you don't like.
We got off at an early hour, and hastened back to Valaam over glassy water and under a superb sky. This time the lake was not so deserted, for the white wings of pilgrim-boats drew in towards the dark island, making for the golden sparkle of the chapel-dome, which shone afar like a light-house of the daytime. As we rounded to in the land-locked inlet, we saw that the crowds on the hills had doubled since yesterday, and, although the chimes were pealing for some religious service, it seemed prudent first to make sure of our quarters for the night. Accordingly we set out for the imposing house of guests beside the monastery, arriving in company with the visitors we had brought with us from Serdopol. The entrance-hall led into a long, stone-paved corridor, in which a monk, bewildered by many applications, appeared to be seeking relief by promises of speedy hospitality. We put in our plea, and also received a promise. On either side of the corridor were numbered rooms, already occupied, the fortunate guests passing in and out with a provoking air of comfort and unconcern. We ascended to the second story, which was similarly arranged, and caught hold of another benevolent monk, willing, but evidently powerless to help us. Dinner was just about to be served; the brother in authority was not there; we must be good enough to wait a little while;—would we not visit the shrines, in the mean time?
The advice was sensible, as well as friendly, and we followed it. Entering the great quadrangle of the monastery, we found it divided, gridiron-fashion, into long, narrow court-yards by inner lines of buildings. The central court, however, was broad and spacious, the church occupying a rise of ground on the eastern side. Hundreds of men and women—Carelian peasants—thronged around the entrance, crossing themselves in unison with the congregation. The church, we found, was packed, and the most zealous wedging among the blue caftans and shining flaxen heads brought us no farther than the inner door. Thence we looked over a tufted level of heads that seemed to touch,—intermingled tints of gold, tawny, silver-blond, and the various shades of brown, touched with dim glosses through the incense-smoke, and occasionally bending in concert with an undulating movement, like grain before the wind. Over these heads rose the vaulted nave, dazzling with gold and colors, and blocked up, beyond the intersection of the transept, by the ikonostast, or screen before the Holy of Holies, gorgeous with pictures of saints overlaid with silver. In front of the screen the tapers burned, the incense rose thick and strong, and the chant of the monks gave a peculiar solemnity to their old Sclavonic litany. The only portion of it which I could understand was the recurring response, as in the English Church, of, "Lord, have mercy upon us!"
Extricating ourselves with some difficulty, we entered a chapel-crypt, which contains the bodies of Sergius and Herrmann. They lie together, in a huge coffin of silver, covered with cloth-of-gold. Tapers of immense size burned at the head and foot, and the pilgrims knelt around, bending their foreheads to the pavement at the close of their prayers. Among others, a man had brought his insane daughter, and it was touching to see the tender care with which he led her to the coffin and directed her devotions. So much of habit still remained, that it seemed, for the time being, to restore her reason. The quietness and regularity with which she went through the forms of prayer brought a light of hope to the father's face. The other peasants looked on with an expression of pity and sympathy. The girl, we learned, had but recently lost her reason, and without any apparent cause. She was betrothed to a young man who was sincerely attached to her, and the pilgrimage was undertaken in the hope that a miracle might be wrought in her favor. The presence of the shrine, indeed, struck its accustomed awe through her wandering senses, but the effect was only momentary.
I approached the coffin, and deposited a piece of money on the offering-plate, for the purpose of getting a glimpse of the pictured faces of the saints, in their silver setting. Their features were hard and regular, flatly painted, as if by some forerunner of Cimabue, but sufficiently modern to make the likeness doubtful. I have not been able to obtain the exact date of their settlement on the island, but I believe it is referred to the early part of the fifteenth century. The common people believe that the island was first visited by Andrew, the Apostle of Christ, who, according to the Russian patriarch Nestor, made his way to Kiev and Novgorod. The latter place is known to have been an important commercial city as early as the fourth century, and had a regular intercourse with Asia. The name of Valaam does not come from Balaam, as one might suppose, but seems to be derived from the Finnish varamo, which signifies "herring-ground." The more I attempted to unravel the history of the island, the more it became involved in obscurity, and this fact, I must confess, only heightened my interest in it. I found myself ready to accept the tradition of Andrew's visit, and I accepted without a doubt the grave of King Magnus of Sweden.
On issuing from the crypt, we encountered a young monk who had evidently been sent in search of us. The mass was over, and the court-yard was nearly emptied of its crowd. In the farther court, however, we found the people more dense than ever, pressing forward towards a small door. The monk made way for us with some difficulty,—for, though the poor fellows did their best to fall back, the pressure from the outside was tremendous. Having at last run the gantlet, we found ourselves in the refectory of the monastery, inhaling a thick steam of fish and cabbage. Three long tables were filled with monks and pilgrims, while the attendants brought in the fish on large wooden trenchers. The plates were of common white ware, but the spoons were of wood. Officers in gay uniforms were scattered among the dark anchorites, who occupied one end of the table, while the bourgeoisie, with here and there a blue-caftaned peasant wedged among them, filled the other end. They were eating with great zeal, while an old priest, standing, read from a Sclavonic Bible. All eyes were turned upon us as we entered, and there was not a vacant chair in which we could hide our intrusion. It was rather embarrassing, especially as the young monk insisted that we should remain, and the curious eyes of the eaters as constantly asked, "Who are these, and what do they want?" We preferred returning through the hungry crowd, and made our way to the guests' house.
Here a similar process was going on. The corridors were thronged with peasants of all ages and both sexes, and the good fathers, more than ever distracted, were incapable of helping us. Seeing a great crowd piled up against a rear basement-door, we descended the stairs, and groped our way through manifold steams and noises to a huge succession of kitchens, where caldrons of cabbage were bubbling, and shoals of fish went in raw and came out cooked. In another room some hundreds of peasants were eating with all the energy of a primitive appetite. Soup leaked out of the bowls as if they had been sieves; fishes gave a whisk of the tail and vanished; great round boulders of bread went off, layer after layer, and still the empty plates were held up for more. It was grand eating,—pure appetite, craving only food in a general sense: no picking out of tidbits, no spying here and there for a favorite dish, but, like a huge fire, devouring everything that came in its way. The stomach was here a patient, unquestioning serf, not a master full of whims, requiring to be petted and conciliated. So, I thought, people must have eaten in the Golden Age: so Adam and Eve must have dined, before the Fall made them epicurean and dyspeptic.
We—degenerate through culture—found the steams of the strong, coarse dishes rather unpleasant, and retreated by a back-way, which brought us to a spiral staircase. We ascended for a long time, and finally emerged into the garret of the building, hot, close, and strawy as a barn-loft. It was divided into rooms, in which, on the floors covered deep with straw, the happy pilgrims who had finished their dinner were lying on their bellies, lazily talking themselves to sleep. The grassy slope in front of the house, and all the neighboring heights, were soon covered in like manner. Men, women, and children threw themselves down, drawing off their heavy boots, and dipping their legs, knee-deep, into the sun and air. An atmosphere of utter peace and satisfaction settled over them.
Being the only foreign and heterodox persons present, we began to feel ourselves deserted, when the favor of Sergius and Herrmann was again manifested. P. was suddenly greeted by an acquaintance, an officer connected with the Imperial Court, who had come to Valaam for a week of devotion. He immediately interested himself in our behalf, procured us a room with a lovely prospect, transferred his bouquet of lilacs and peonies to our table, and produced his bottle of lemon-syrup to flavor our tea. The rules of the monastery are very strict, and no visitor is exempt from their observance. Not a fish can be caught, not a bird or beast shot, no wine or liquor of any kind, nor tobacco in any form, used on the island. Rigid as the organization seems, it bears equally on every member of the brotherhood: the equality upon which such associations were originally based is here preserved. The monks are only in an ecclesiastical sense subordinate to the abbot. Otherwise, the fraternity seems to be about as complete as in the early days of Christianity.
The Valamo, and her rival, the Letuchie, had advertised a trip to the Holy Island, the easternmost of the Valaam group, some six miles from the monastery, and the weather was so fair that both boats were crowded, many of the monks accompanying us. Our new-found friend was also of the party, and I made the acquaintance of a Finnish student from the Lyceum at Kuopio, who gave me descriptions of the Saima Lake and the wilds of Savolax. Running eastward along the headlands, we passed Chernoi Noss, (Black-Nose,) the name of which again recalled a term common in the Orkneys and Shetlands,—noss, there, signifying a headland. The Holy Island rose before us,—a circular pile of rock, crowned with wood, like a huge, unfinished tower of Cyclopean masonry, built up out of the deep water. Far beyond it, over the rim of the lake, glimmered the blue eastern shore. As we drew near, we found that the tumbled fragments of rock had been arranged, with great labor, to form a capacious foot-path around the base of the island. The steamers drew up against this narrow quay, upon which we landed, under a granite wall which rose perpendicularly to the height of seventy or eighty feet. The firs on the summit grew out to the very edge and stretched their dark arms over us. Every cranny of the rock was filled with tufts of white and pink flowers, and the moisture, trickling from above, betrayed itself in long lines of moss and fern.
I followed the pilgrims around to the sunny side of the island, and found a wooden staircase at a point where the wall was somewhat broken away. Reaching the top of the first ascent, the sweet breath of a spring woodland breathed around me. I looked under the broken roofage of the boughs upon a blossoming jungle of shrubs and plants which seemed to have been called into life by a more potent sun. The lily of the valley, in thick beds, poured out the delicious sweetness of its little cups; spikes of a pale-green orchis emitted a rich cinnamon odor; anemones, geraniums, sigillarias, and a feathery flower, white, freckled with purple, grew in profusion. The top of the island, five or six acres in extent, was a slanting plane, looking to the south, whence it received the direct rays of the sun. It was an enchanting picture of woodland bloom, lighted with sprinkled sunshine, in the cold blue setting of the lake, which was visible on all sides, between the boles of the trees. I hailed it as an idyl of the North,—a poetic secret, which the Earth, even where she is most cruelly material and cold, still tenderly hides and cherishes.
A peasant, whose scarlet shirt flashed through the bushes like a sudden fire, seeing me looking at the flowers, gathered a handful of lilies, which he offered to me, saying, "Prekrasnie" (Beautiful). Without waiting for thanks, he climbed a second flight of steps and suddenly disappeared from view. I followed, and found myself in front of a narrow aperture in a rude wall, which had been built up under an overhanging mass of rocks. A lamp was twinkling within, and presently several persons crawled out, crossing themselves and muttering prayers.
"What is this?" asked a person who had just arrived.
"The cave of Alexander Svirski," was the answer.
Alexander of the Svir—a river flowing from the Onega Lake into Ladoga—was a hermit who lived for twenty years on the Holy Island, inhabiting the hole before us through the long, dark, terrible winters, in a solitude broken only when the monks of Valaam came over the ice to replenish his stock of provisions. Verily, the hermits of the Thebaid were Sybarites, compared to this man! There are still two or three hermits who have charge of outlying chapels on the islands, and live wholly secluded from their brethren. They wear dresses covered with crosses and other symbols, and are considered as dead to the world. The ceremony which consecrates them for this service is that for the burial of the dead.
I managed, with some difficulty, to creep into Alexander Svirski's den. I saw nothing, however, but the old, smoky, and sacred picture before which the lamp burned. The rocky roof was so low that I could not stand upright, and all the walls I could find were the bodies of pilgrims who had squeezed in before me. A confused whisper surrounded me in the darkness, and the air was intolerably close. I therefore made my escape and mounted to the chapel, on the highest part of the island. A little below it, an open pavilion, with seats, has been built over the sacred spring from which the hermit drank, and thither the pilgrims thronged. The water was served in a large wooden bowl, and each one made the sign of the cross before drinking. By waiting for my turn I ascertained that the spring was icy-cold, and very pure and sweet.
I found myself lured to the highest cliff, whence I could look out, through the trees, on the far, smooth disk of the lake. Smooth and fair as the AEgean it lay before me, and the trees were silent as olives at noonday on the shores of Cos. But how different in color, in sentiment! Here, perfect sunshine can never dust the water with the purple bloom of the South, can never mellow its hard, cold tint of greenish-blue. The distant hills, whether dark or light, are equally cold, and are seen too nakedly through the crystal air to admit of any illusion. Bracing as is this atmosphere, the gods could never breathe it. It would revenge on the ivory limbs of Apollo his treatment of Marsyas. No foam-born Aphrodite could rise warm from yonder wave; not even the cold, sleek Nereids could breast its keen edge. We could only imagine it disturbed, temporarily, by the bath-plunge of hardy Vikings, whom we can see, red and tingling from head to heel, as they emerge.
"Come!" cried P., "the steamer is about to leave!"
We all wandered down the steps, I with my lilies in my hand. Even the rough peasants seemed reluctant to leave the spot, and not wholly for the sake of Alexander Svirski. We were all safely embarked and carried back to Valaam, leaving the island to its solitude. Alexis (as I shall call our Russian friend) put us in charge of a native artist who knew every hidden beauty of Valaam, and suggested an exploration of the inlet, while he went back to his devotions. We borrowed a boat from the monks, and impressed a hardy fisherman into our service. I supposed we had already seen the extent of the inlet, but on reaching its head a narrow side-channel disclosed itself, passing away under a quaint bridge and opening upon an inner lake of astonishing beauty. The rocks were disposed in every variety of grouping,—sometimes rising in even terraces, step above step, sometimes thrusting out a sheer wall from the summit, or lying slant-wise in masses split off by the wedges of the ice. The fairy birches, in their thin foliage, stood on the edge of the water like Dryads undressing for a bath, while the shaggy male firs elbowed each other on the heights for a look at them. Other channels opened in the distance, with glimpses of other and as beautiful harbors in the heart of the islands. "You may sail for seventy-five versts," said the painter, "without seeing them all."
The fearlessness of all wild creatures showed that the rules of the good monks had been carefully obeyed. The wild ducks swam around our boat, or brooded, in conscious security, on their nests along the shore. Three great herons, fishing in a shallow, rose slowly into the air and flew across the water, breaking the silence with their hoarse trumpet-note. Farther in the woods there are herds of wild reindeer, which are said to have become gradually tame. This familiarity of the animals took away from the islands all that was repellent in their solitude. It half restored the broken link between man and the subject-forms of life.
The sunset-light was on the trees when we started, but here in the North it is no fleeting glow. It lingers for hours even, fading so imperceptibly that you scarcely know when it has ceased. Thus, when we returned after a long pull, craving the Lenten fare of the monastery, the same soft gold tinted its clustering domes. We were not called upon to visit the refectory, but a table was prepared in our room. The first dish had the appearance of a salad, with the accompaniment of black bread. On carefully tasting, I discovered the ingredients to be raw salt fish chopped fine, cucumbers, and—beer. The taste of the first spoonful was peculiar, of the second tolerable, of the third decidedly palatable. Beyond this I did not go, for we had fresh fish, boiled in enough water to make a soup. Then the same, fried in its own fat, and, as salt and pepper were allowed, we did not scorn our supper. P. and R. afterwards walked over to the Skit, a small church and branch of the monastery, more than a mile distant; while I tried, but all in vain, to reproduce the Holy Island in verses. The impression was too recent.
The next day was the festival of Peter and Paul, and Alexis had advised us to make an excursion to a place called Jelesniki. In the morning, however, we learned that the monastery and its grounds were to be consecrated in solemn procession. The chimes pealed out quick and joyously, and soon a burst of banners and a cloud of incense issued from the great gate. All the pilgrims—nearly two thousand in number—thronged around the double line of chanting monks, and it was found necessary to inclose the latter in a hollow square, formed by a linked chain of hands. As the morning sun shone on the bare-headed multitude, the beauty of their unshorn hair struck me like a new revelation. Some of the heads, of lustrous, flossy gold, actually shone by their own light. It was marvellous that skin so hard and coarse in texture should produce such beautiful hair. The beards of the men, also, were strikingly soft and rich. They never shave, and thus avoid bristles, the down of adolescence thickening into a natural beard.
As the procession approached, Alexis, who was walking behind the monks, inside the protecting guard, beckoned to us to join him. The peasants respectfully made way, two hands unlinked to admit us, and we became, unexpectedly, participants in the ceremonies. From the south side the procession moved around to the east, where a litany was again chanted. The fine voices of the monks lost but little of their volume in the open air; there was no wind, and the tapers burned and the incense diffused itself, as in the church. A sacred picture, which two monks carried on a sort of litter, was regarded with particular reverence by the pilgrims, numbers of whom crept under the line of guards to snatch a moment's devotion before it. At every pause in the proceedings there was a rush from all sides, and the poor fellows who formed the lines held each other's hands with all their strength. Yet, flushed, sweating, and exhausted as they were, the responsibility of their position made them perfectly proud and happy. They were the guardians of cross and shrine, of the holy books, the monks, and the abbot himself.
From the east side we proceeded to the north, where the dead monks sleep in their cemetery, high over the watery gorge. In one corner of this inclosure, under a group of giant maples, is the grave of King Magnus of Sweden, who is said to have perished by shipwreck on the island. Here, in the deep shade, a solemn mass for the dead was chanted. Nothing could have added to the impressiveness of the scene. The tapers burning under the thick-leaved boughs, the light smoke curling up in the shade, the grave voices of the monks, the bending heads of the beautiful-haired crowd, and the dashes of white, pink, scarlet, blue, and gold in their dresses, made a picture the solemnity of which was only heightened by its pomp of color. I can do no more than give the features; the reader must recombine them in his own mind.
The painter accompanied us to the place called Jelesniki, which, after a walk of four miles through the forests, we found to be a deserted village, with a chapel on a rocky headland. There was a fine bridge across the dividing strait, and the place may have been as picturesque as it was represented. On that side of the islands, however, there was a dense fog, and we could get no view beyond a hundred yards. We had hoped to see reindeer in the woods, and an eagle's nest, and various other curiosities; but where there was no fog there were mosquitoes, and the search became discouraging.
On returning to the monastery, a register was brought to us, in which, on looking back for several years, we could find but one foreign visitor,—a Frenchman. We judged, therefore, that the abbot would possibly expect us to call upon him, and, indeed, the hospitality we had received exacted it. We found him receiving visitors in a plain, but comfortable room, in a distant part of the building. He was a man of fifty-five, frank and self-possessed in his manners, and of an evident force and individuality of character. His reception of the visitors, among whom was a lady, was at once courteous and kindly. A younger monk brought us glasses of tea. Incidentally learning that I had visited the Holy Places in Syria, the abbot sent for some pictures of the monastery and its chosen saints, which he asked me to keep as a souvenir of Valaam. He also presented each of us with a cake of unleavened bread, stamped with the cross, and with a triangular piece cut out of the top, to indicate the Trinity. On parting, he gave his hand, which the orthodox visitors devoutly kissed. Before the steamer sailed, we received fresh evidence of his kindness, in the present of three large loaves of consecrated bread, and a bunch of lilacs from the garden of the monastery.
Through some misunderstanding, we failed to dine in the refectory, as the monks desired, and their hospitable regret on this account was the only shade on our enjoyment of the visit. Alexis remained, in order to complete his devotions by partaking the Communion on the following Sabbath; but as the anniversary solemnities closed at noon, the crowd of pilgrims prepared to return home. The Valamo, too, sounded her warning bell, so we left the monastery as friends where we had arrived as strangers, and went on board. Boat after boat, gunwale-deep with the gay Carelians, rowed down the inlet, and in the space of half an hour but a few stragglers were left of all the multitude. Some of the monks came down to say another good-bye, and the under-abbot, blessing R., made the sign of the cross upon his brow and breast.
When we reached the golden dome of St. Nicholas, at the outlet of the harbor, the boats had set their sails, and the lake was no longer lonely. Scores of white wings gleamed in the sun, as they scattered away in radii from the central and sacred point, some north, some east, and some veering south around Holy Island. Sergius and Herrmann gave them smooth seas, and light, favorable airs; for the least roughness would have carried them, overladen as they were, to the bottom. Once more the bells of Valaam chimed farewell, and we turned the point to the westward, steering back to Kexholm.
Late that night we reached our old moorage at Konewitz, and on Saturday, at the appointed hour, landed in St. Petersburg. We carried the white cross at the fore as we descended the Neva, and the bells of the churches along the banks welcomed our return. And now, as I recall those five days among the islands of the Northern Lake, I see that it is good to go on a pilgrimage, even if one is not a pilgrim.
* * * * *
BY A FARMER.
I begin my day with a canny Scot, who was born in Edinburgh in 1726, near which city his father conducted a large market-garden. As a youth, aged nineteen, John Abercrombie (for it is of him I make companion this wet morning) saw the Battle of Preston Pans, at which the Highlanders pushed the King's-men in defeat to the very foot of his father's garden-wall. Whether he shouldered a matchlock for the Castle-people and Sir John Hope, or merely looked over from the kale-beds at the victorious fighters for Prince Charley, I cannot learn; it is certain only that before Culloden, and the final discomfiture of the Pretender, he avowed himself a good King's-man, and in many an after-year, over his pipe and his ale, told the story of the battle which surged wrathfully around his father's kale-garden by Preston Pans.
But he did not stay long in Scotland; he became gardener for Sir James Douglas, into whose family (below-stairs) he eventually married; afterwards he had experience in the royal gardens at Kew, and in Leicester Fields. Finally he became proprietor of a patch of ground in the neighborhood of London; and his success here, added to his success in other service, gave him such reputation that he was one day waited upon (about the year 1770) by Mr. Davis, a London bookseller, who invited him to dine at an inn in Hackney; and at the dinner he was introduced to a certain Oliver Goldsmith, an awkward man, who had published four years before a book called "The Vicar of Wakefield." Mr. Davis thought John Abercrombie was competent to write a good practical work on gardening, and the Hackney dinner was intended to warm the way toward such a book. Dinners are sometimes given with such ends even now. The shrewd Mr. Davis was a little doubtful of Abercrombie's style, but not at all doubtful of the style of the author of "The Traveller." Dr. Goldsmith was not a man averse to a good meal, where he was to meet a straightforward, out-spoken Scotch gardener; and Mr. Davis, at a mellow stage of the dinner, brought forward his little plan, which was that Abercrombie should prepare a treatise upon gardening, to be revised and put in shape by the author of "The Deserted Village." The dinner at Hackney was, I dare say, a good one; the scheme looked promising to a man whose vegetable-carts streamed every morning into London, and to the Doctor, mindful of his farm-retirement at the six-mile stone on the Edgeware Road; so it was all arranged between them.
But, like many a publisher's scheme, it miscarried. The Doctor perhaps saw a better bargain in the Lives of Bolingbroke and Parnell;[A] or perhaps his appointment as Professor of History to the Royal Society put him too much upon his dignity. At any rate, the world has to regret a gardening-book in which the shrewd practical knowledge of Abercrombie would have been refined by the grace and the always alluring limpidity of the style of Goldsmith.
I know that the cultivators pretend to spurn graces of manner, and affect only a clumsy burden of language, under which, I am sorry to say, the best agriculturists have most commonly labored; but if the transparent simplicity of Goldsmith had once been thoroughly infused with the practical knowledge of Abercrombie, what a book on gardening we should have had! What a lush verdure of vegetables would have tempted us! What a wealth of perfume would have exuded from the flowers!
But the scheme proved abortive. Goldsmith said, "I think our friend Abercrombie can write better about plants than I can." And so doubtless he could, so far as knowledge of their habits went. Eight years after, Abercrombie prepared a book called "Every Man his own Gardener"; but so doubtful was he of his own reputation, that he paid twenty pounds to Mr. Thomas Mawe, the fashionable gardener of the Duke of Leeds, to allow him to place his name upon the title-page. I am sorry to record such a scurvy bit of hypocrisy in so competent a man. The book sold, however, and sold so well, that, a few years after, the elegant Mr. Mawe begged a visit from the nurseryman of Tottenham Court, whom he had never seen; so Abercrombie goes down to the seat of the Duke of Leeds, and finds his gardener so bedizened with powder, and wearing such a grand air, that he mistakes him for his Lordship; but it is a mistake, we may readily believe, which the elegant Mr. Mawe forgives, and the two gardeners become capital friends.
Abercrombie afterward published many works under his own name;[B] among these was "The Gardener's Pocket Journal," which maintained an unflagging popularity as a standard book for a period of half a century. This hardy Scotchman lived to be eighty; and when he could work no longer, he was constantly afoot among the botanical gardens about London. At the last it was a fall "down-stairs in the dark" that was the cause of death; and fifteen days after, as his quaint biographers tell us, "he expired, just as the clock upon St. Paul's struck twelve,—between April and May": as if the ripe old gardener could not tell which of these twin garden-months he loved the best; and so, with a foot planted in each, he made the leap into the realm of eternal spring.
A noticeable fact in regard to this out-of-door old gentleman is, that he never took "doctors'-stuff" in his life, until the time of that fatal fall in the dark. He was, however, an inveterate tea-drinker; and there was another aromatic herb (I write this with my pipe in my mouth) of which he was, up to the very last, a most ardent consumer.
In the year 1766 was published for the first time a posthumous work by John Locke, the great philosopher and the good Christian, entitled, "Observations upon the Growth and Culture of Vines and Olives,"—written, very likely, after his return from France, down in his pleasant Essex home, at the seat of Sir Francis Masham. I should love to give the reader a sample of the way in which the author of "An Essay concerning Human Understanding" wrote regarding horticultural matters. But, after some persistent search and inquiry, I have not been able to see or even to hear of a copy of the book.[C] No one can doubt but there is wisdom in it. "I believe you think me," he writes in a private letter to a friend, "too proud to undertake anything wherein I should acquit myself but unworthily." This is a sort of pride—not very common in our day—which does not go before a fall.
I name a poet next,—not because a great poet, for he was not, nor yet because he wrote "The English Garden,"[D] for there is sweeter garden-perfume in many another poem of the day that does not pique our curiosity by its title. But the Reverend William Mason, if not among the foremost of poets, was a man of most kindly and liberal sympathies. He was a devoted Whig, at a time when Whiggism meant friendship for the American Colonists; and the open expression of this friendship cost him his place as a Royal Chaplain. I will remember this longer than I remember his "English Garden,"—longer than I remember his best couplet of verse:—
"While through the west, where sinks the crimson day, Meek twilight slowly sails, and waves her banners gray."
It was alleged, indeed, by those who loved to say ill-natured things, (Horace Walpole among them,) that in the later years of his life he forgot his first love of Liberalism and became politically conservative. But it must be remembered that the good poet lived into the time when the glut and gore of the French Revolution made people hold their breath, and when every man who lifted a humane plaint against the incessant creak and crash of the guillotine was reckoned by all mad reformers a conservative. I think, if I had lived in that day, I should have been a conservative, too,—however much the pretty and bloody Desmoulins might have made faces at me in the newspapers.
I can find nothing in Mason's didactic poem to quote. There are tasteful suggestions scattered through it,—better every way than his poetry. The grounds of his vicarage at Aston must have offered charming loitering-places. I will leave him idling there,—perhaps conning over some letter of his friend the poet Gray; perhaps lounging in the very alcove where he had inscribed this verse of the "Elegy,"—
"Here scattered oft, the loveliest of the year, By hands unseen, are showers of violets found; The redbreast loves to build and warble here, And little footsteps lightly print the ground."
If, indeed, he had known how to strew such gems through his "English Garden," we should have had a poem that would have out-shone "The Seasons."
And this mention reminds me, that, although I have slipped past his period, I have said no word as yet of the Roxburgh poet; but he shall be neglected no longer. (The big book, my boy, upon the third shelf, with a worn back, labelled THOMSON.)
This poet is not upon the gardeners' or the agricultural lists. One can find no farm-method in him,—indeed, little method of any sort; there is no description of a garden carrying half the details that belong to Tasso's garden of Armida, or Rousseau's in the letter of St. Preux.[E] And yet, as we read, how the country, with its woods, its valleys, its hillsides, its swains, its toiling cattle, comes swooping to our vision! The leaves rustle, the birds warble, the rivers roar a song. The sun beats on the plain; the winds carry waves into the grain; the clouds plant shadows on the mountains. The minuteness and the accuracy of his observation are something wonderful; if farmers should not study him, our young poets may. He never puts a song in the throat of a jay or a wood-dove; he never makes a mother-bird break out in bravuras; he never puts a sickle into green grain, or a trout in a slimy brook; he could picture no orchis growing on a hillside, or columbine nodding in a meadow. If the leaves shimmer, you may be sure the sun is shining; if a primrose lightens on the view, you may be sure there is some covert which the primroses love; and never by any license does a white flower come blushing into his poem.
I will not quote, where so much depends upon the atmosphere which the poet himself creates, as he waves his enchanter's wand. Over all the type his sweet power compels a rural heaven to lie reflected; I go from budding spring to blazing summer at the turning of a page; on all the meadows below me (though it is March) I see ripe autumn brooding with golden wings; and winter howls and screams in gusts, and tosses tempests of snow into my eyes—out of the book my boy has just now brought me.
One verse, at least, I will cite,—so full it is of all pastoral feeling, so brimming over with the poet's passion for the country: it is from "The Castle of Indolence":—
"I care not, Fortune, what you me deny: You cannot rob me of free Nature's grace; You cannot shut the windows of the sky, Through which Aurora shows her brightening face; You cannot bar my constant feet to trace The woods and lawns, by living stream at eve: Let health my nerves and finer fibres brace, And I their toys to the great children leave; Of fancy, reason, virtue, nought can me bereave."
Another Scotchman, Lord Kames, (Henry Home by name,) who was Senior Lord of Sessions in Scotland about the year 1760, was best known in his own day for his discussion of "The Principles of Equity"; he is known to the literary world as the author of an elegant treatise upon the "Elements of Criticism"; I beg leave to introduce him to my readers to-day as a sturdy, practical farmer. The book, indeed, which serves for his card of introduction, is called "The Gentleman Farmer";[F] but we must not judge it by our experience of the class who wear that title nowadays. Lord Kames recommends no waste of money, no extravagant architecture, no mere prettinesses. He talks of the plough in a way that assures us he has held it some day with his own hands. People are taught, he says, more by the eye than the ear; show them good culture, and they will follow it.
As for what were called the principles of agriculture, he found them involved in obscurity; he went to the book of Nature for instruction, and commenced, like Descartes, with doubting everything. He condemns the Roman husbandry as fettered by superstitions, and gives a piquant sneer at the absurd rhetoric and verbosity of Varro.[G] Nor is he any more tolerant of Scotch superstitions. He declares against wasteful and careless farming in a way that reminds us of our good friend Judge ——, at the last county-show.
He urges good ploughing as a primal necessity, and insists upon the use of the roller for rendering the surface of wheatlands compact, and so retaining the moisture; nor does he attempt to reconcile this declaration with the Tull theory of constant trituration. A great many excellent Scotch farmers still hold to the views of his Lordship, and believe in "keeping the sap" in fresh-tilled land by heavy rolling; and so far as regards a wheat or rye crop upon light lands, I think the weight of opinion, as well as of the rollers, is with them.
Lord Kames, writing before the time of draining-tile, dislikes open ditches, by reason of their interference with tillage, and does not trust the durability of brush or stone underdrains. He relies upon ridging, and the proper disposition of open furrows, in the old Greek way. Turnips he commends without stint, and the Tull system of their culture. Of clover he thinks as highly as the great English farmer, but does not believe in his notion of economizing seed: "Idealists," he says, "talk of four pounds to the acre; but when sown for cutting green, I would advise twenty-four pounds." This amount will seem a little startling, I fancy, even to farmers of our day.
He advises strongly the use of oxen in place of horses for all farm-labor; they cost less, keep for less, and sell for more; and he enters into arithmetical calculations to establish his propositions. He instances Mr. Burke, who ploughs with four oxen at Beaconsfield. How drolly it sounds to hear the author of "Letters on a Regicide Peace" cited as an authority in practical farming! He still further urges his ox-working scheme, on grounds of public economy: it will cheapen food, forbid importation of oats, and reduce wages. Again, he recommends soiling,[H] by all the arguments which are used, and vainly used, with us. He shows the worthlessness of manure dropped upon a parched field, compared with the same duly cared for in court or stable; he proposes movable sheds for feeding, and enters into a computation of the weight of green clover which will be consumed in a day by horses, cows, or oxen: "a horse, ten Dutch stone daily; an ox or cow, eight stone; ten horses, ten oxen, and six cows, two hundred and twenty-eight stone per day,"—involving constant cartage: still he is convinced of the profit of the method.
His views on feeding ordinary store cattle, or accustoming them to change of food, are eminently practical. After speaking of the desirableness of providing a good stock of vegetables, he continues,—"And yet, after all, how many indolent farmers remain, who for want of spring food are forced to turn their cattle out to grass before it is ready for pasture! which not only starves the cattle, but lays the grass-roots open to be parched by sun and wind."
Does not this sound as if I had clipped it from the "Country Gentleman" of last week? And yet it was written ninety-seven years ago, by one of the most accomplished Scotch judges, and in his eightieth year,—another Varro, packing his luggage for his last voyage.
One great value of Lord Kames's talk lies in the particularity of his directions: he does not despise mention of those minutiae a neglect of which makes so many books of agricultural instruction utterly useless. Thus, in so small a matter as the sowing of clover-seed, he tells how the thumb and finger should be held, for its proper distribution; in stacking, he directs how to bind the thatch; he tells how mown grass should be raked, and how many hours spread;[I] and his directions for the making of clover-hay could not be improved upon this very summer. "Stir it not the day it is cut. Turn it in the swath the forenoon of the next day; and in the afternoon put it up in small cocks. The third day put two cocks into one, enlarging every day the cocks till they are ready for the tramp rick [temporary field-stack]."
A small portion of his book is given up to the discussion of the theory of agriculture; but he fairly warns his readers that he is wandering in the dark. If all theorists were as honest! He deplores the ignorance of Tull in asserting that plants feed on earth; air and water alone, in his opinion, furnish the supply of plant-food. All plants feed alike, and on the same material. Degeneracy appearing only in those which are not native: white clover never deteriorates in England, nor bull-dogs.
But I will not linger on his theories. He is represented to have been a kind and humane man; but this did not forbid a hearty relish (appearing often in his book) for any scheme which promised to cheapen labor. "The people on landed estates," he says, "are trusted by Providence to the owner's care, and the proprietor is accountable for the management of them to the Great God, who is the Creator of both." It does not seem to have occurred to the old gentleman that some day people might decline to be "managed."
He gave the best proof of his practical tact, in the conduct of his estate of Blair-Drummond,—uniting there all the graces of the best landscape-gardening with profitable returns.
I take leave of him with a single excerpt from his admirable chapter of Gardening in the "Elements of Criticism":—"Other fine arts may be perverted to excite irregular, and even vicious emotions; but gardening, which inspires the purest and most refined pleasures, cannot fail to promote every good affection. The gayety and harmony of mind it produceth inclineth the spectator to communicate his satisfaction to others, and to make them happy as he is himself, and tends naturally to establish in him a habit of humanity and benevolence."
It is humiliating to reflect, that a thievish orator at one of our Agricultural Fairs might appropriate page after page out of the "Gentleman Farmer" of Lord Kames, written in the middle of the last century, and the county-paper, and the aged directors, in clean shirt-collars and dress-coats, would be full of praises "of the enlightened views of our esteemed fellow-citizen." And yet at the very time when the critical Scotch judge was meditating his book, there was erected a land light-house, called Dunston Column, upon Lincoln Heath, to guide night travellers over a great waste of land that lay a half-day's ride south of Lincoln. And when Lady Robert Manners, who had a seat at Bloxholme, wished to visit Lincoln, a groom or two were sent out the morning before to explore a good path, and families were not unfrequently lost for days[J] together in crossing the heath. And this same heath, made up of a light fawn-colored sand, lying on "dry, thirsty stone," was, twenty years since at least, blooming all over with rank, dark lines of turnips; trim, low hedges skirted the level highways; neat farm-cottages were flanked with great saddle-backed ricks; thousands upon thousands of long-woolled sheep cropped the luxuriant pasturage, and the Dunston column was down.
About the time of Lord Kames's establishment at Blair-Drummond, or perhaps a little earlier, a certain Master Claridge published "The Country Calendar; or, The Shepherd of Banbury's Rules to know of the Change of the Weather." It professed to be based upon forty years' experience, and is said to have met with great favor. I name it only because it embodies these old couplets, which still lead a vagabond life up and down the pages of country-almanacs:—
"If the grass grows in Janiveer, It grows the worst for't all the year."
"The Welshman had rather see his dam on the bier. Than to see a fair Februeer."
"When April blows his horn, It's good both for hay and corn."
"A cold May and a windy Makes a full barn and a findy."
"A swarm of bees in May Is worth a load of hay; But a swarm in July Is not worth a fly."
Will any couplets of Tennyson reap as large a fame?
About the same period, John Mills, a Fellow of the Royal Society, published a work of a totally different character,—being very methodic, very full, very clear. It was distributed through five volumes. He enforces the teachings of Evelyn and Duhamel, and is commendatory of the views of Tull. The Rotherham plough is figured in his work, as well as thirteen of the natural grasses. He speaks of potatoes and turnips as established crops, and enlarges upon their importance. He clings to the Virgilian theory of small farms, and to the better theory of thorough tillage.
In 1759 was issued the seventh edition of Miller's "Gardener's Dictionary,"[K] in which was for the first time adopted (in English) the classical system of Linnaeus. If I have not before alluded to Philip Miller, it is not because he is undeserving. He was a correspondent of the chiefs in science over the Continent of Europe, and united to his knowledge a rare practical skill. He was superintendent of the famous Chelsea Gardens of the Apothecaries Company, He lies buried in the Chelsea Church-yard, where the Fellows of the Linnaean and Horticultural Societies of London have erected a monument to his memory. Has the reader ever sailed up the Thames, beyond Westminster? And does he remember a little spot of garden-ground, walled in by dingy houses, that lies upon the right bank of the river near to Chelsea Hospital? If he can recall two gaunt, flat-topped cedars which sentinel the walk leading to the river-gate, he will have the spot in his mind, where, nearly two hundred years ago, and a full century before the Kew parterres were laid down, the Chelsea Garden of the Apothecaries Company was established. It was in the open country then; and even Philip Miller, in 1722, walked to his work between hedge-rows, where sparrows chirped in spring, and in winter the fieldfare chattered: but the town has swallowed it; the city-smoke has starved it; even the marble image of Sir Hans Sloane in its centre is but the mummy of a statue. Yet in the Physic Garden there are trees struggling still which Philip Miller planted; and I can readily believe, that, when the old man, at seventy-eight, (through some quarrel with the Apothecaries,) took his last walk to the river-bank, he did it with a sinking at the heart which kept by him till he died.