27. ​The Treasury - The Empire of the Czar

Marquis de Custine.

At last I summoned courage to face the Corinthian columns of the Treasury; so braving with closed eyes those dragons of bad taste, I entered the glorious arsenal, where are ranged, as in a cabinet of curiosities, the most interesting historical relics of Russia.

What a collection of armour, of vases, and of national jewels! What profusion of crowns and of thrones, all gathered into the same place! The manner in which they are arranged adds to the effect. It is impossible not to admire the good taste as well as the political wisdom which has presided over the disposition of so many insignia and trophies. The display may be a little boastful, but patriotic pride is the most legitimate of any We forgive a passion which aids us in fulfilling our duties. There is here a profound idea, of which the things are but symbols.

The crowns are placed on cushions raised upon pedestals, and the thrones, ranged along the wall, are reared in separate alcoves. There is wanting only in this evocation of the past, the presence of the men for whom all these things were made. Their absence is equivalent to a sermon on the vanity of human life. The Kremlin without its Czars is like a theatre without lights or actors.

The most respect-worthy, if not the most imposing of the crowns, is that of Monomachus; it was brought from Byzantium to Kiew in in6. Another crown is also said to have belonged to Monomachus, though many consider it yet more ancient than the reign of that prince. In this royal constellation of diadems, are crowns also of the kingdoms of Kazan, Astrachan, and Georgia. The view of these satellites of royalty, maintaining a respectful distance from the star that governs all — the imperial crown — is singularly imposing. Everything is emblematic in Russia: it is a poetical land — poetical as sorrow! What are more eloquent than the tears that fall internally and gather upon the heart? The crown of Siberia is found among the rest. It is an imaginary insignia of Russian manufacture, deposited as though to point out a grand historical fact, accomplished by commercial adventures and soldiers under the reign of Ivan IV, an epoch from whence dates, not exactly the discovery, but the conquest of Siberia. All these crowns are covered with the most enormous and the most costly jewels in the world. The bowels of this land of desolation have been opened to furnish a food for the pride of that despotism of which it is the asylum!

The throne and crown of Poland help to enrich the superb imperial and royal galaxy. So many jewels, enclosed in a small space, blazed in my eyes like the train of a peacock. What sanguinary vanity! I muttered to myself, at each new marvel before which my guides forced me to stop.

The crowns of Peter I, of Catherine I, and of Elizabeth, particularly struck me: — what gold! — what diamonds! — and what dust!! Imperial orbs, thrones, and sceptres — all brought together to attest the grandeur of things, the nothingness of men!

Vases chased in the style of Benvenuto Cellini, cups enriched with jewels, arms and armour, precious stuffs, rich embroideries, costly crystal ware of all lands and all ages, abound in this wonderful collection, of which a real curioso would not complete the inventory in a week. Besides the thrones of all the Russian princes of every age, I was shown the caparisons of their horses, their dress, their furniture; and these various things perfectly dazzled my eyes. The palace in the Arabian Nights is the only picture I can suggest that will give an idea of this marvellous, if not enchanted abode. But here, the interest of history adds to the effect of the magnificence. How many curious events are picturesquely registered and attested by the venerable relics! From the finely-worked helmet of Saint Alexander Newski to the litter which carried Charles XII at Pultawa, each object recalls an interesting recollection, or a singular fact. The Treasury is the true album of the giants of the Kremlin .

If I were ever to see the throne of Russia majestically replaced upon its true basis, in the centre of the empire, at Moscow; if St Petersburg, its stuccoes and gilt work, left to crumble in the marsh whereon it is reared, were to become only what it should have always been, a simple naval port, built of granite, a magnificent entrepOt of commerce between Russia and the West, as, on the other side, Kazan and Nijni serve as steps between Russia and the East; I should say that the Slavonian nation, triumphing by a just pride over the vanity of its leaders, sees at length its proper course, and deserves to attain the object of its ambition. Constantinople waits for it; there arts and riches will naturally flow, in recompense of the efforts of a people, called to be so much the more great and glorious as they have been long obscure and resigned.

The Emperor Nicholas, notwithstanding his practical sense and his profound sagacity, has not discerned the best means of accomplishing such an end. He comes now and then to promenade in the Kremlin; but this is not sufficient. He ought to have recognized the necessity of permanently fixing himself there: if he has recognized it, he has not had the energy to make such a sacrifice, — this is his error. Under Alexander, the Russians burnt Moscow to save the Empire: under Nicholas, God burnt the palace of Petersburg to advance the destinies of Russia; but Nicholas does not answer to the call of Providence. Russia still waits!