30. A banquet for the Prince of Wales given by the Governor-General of Moscow
A Month in Russia during the Marriage of the Czarevitch [Alexander Alexandrovitch] by Edward Dicey.
(Edward James Stephen Dicey (1832-1911) was an author and journalist, and as leader writer of the Daily Telegraph he wrote accounts of visits to America, Russia, Italy, the Holy Land, and Egypt. He was editor of the Observer 1867-70, and was called to the bar in 1875. He greatly influenced public opinion by his knowledge, humour, judgement and vivid style.)
Not the least interesting of the many sights of Moscow was that of the guns captured from the Grande Armee in 1812, which are all arranged in the courtyard of the Kremlin. 365 French, 189 Austrian, 123 Prussian, 70 Italian, 34 Bavarian, 4o Neapolitan, 22 Dutch, and 5 Polish guns, make up the long muster-roll of 848 guns.
After the stock sights had been seen, the Prince [of Wales] went through the bazaars, where he made some purchases, and looked in at the great Moskovski Traktir, the tea-mart restaurant of Moscow. All day long the Royal party was followed by a mob of idlers, who never seemed to grow tired of staring at the Prince. Even the sealskin pea-jacket which his Royal Highness wore was an object of never-failing curiosity on the part of the bystanders. The short winter day was soon over, and it was dark before the royal sightseers got back to the Kremlin. At seven the Princes, with their suites, were to dine with Prince Dolgorouki, the Governor-General of Moscow. The Russians may be barbarians; but if so, barbarians understand hospitality far better than civilized nations. Everybody who was in any way connected with the Royal party had lodgings provided for him in the Kremlin; and the authorities went out of their way to show civility to any Englishman who happened to be passing through Moscow on the occasion of the Prince's visit. The expense incurred in entertaining the Royal visitors must have been considerable. On the Prince's arrival at the Kremlin, the halls were lighted up with 9,000 wax candles to receive him as he passed along, and everything was conducted on the same scale of lavish liberality.
Anything more gorgeous of its kind than the Governor's banquet it has never been my lot to witness. On arriving at the palace, I was shown up a broad flight of stairs, decked out with flowers blazing with light and colour. Footmen, clad in rich red liveries, stood upon every step, bowing their powdered heads as the guests came following each other. At the doorway stood Prince Dolgorouki, shaking hands with each new comer, and addressing to each a few civil words in French. A long suite of rooms, lighted with endless chandeliers, hung with yellow damask, were thrown open to the guests, who strolled up and down them at their leisure. The square in front of the palace was illuminated with the electric light; and from between the window curtains you could look out on the great snow-covered space, and on the strange masses of fur-clad spectators, flitting to and fro from out the deep shadows into the dazzling spots of light. Soon after seven there was a stir in the rooms, and the Royal visitors made their entrance, being received in the same manner as the ordinary guests. Then servants entered the room, bearing trays loaded with liqueur bottles. For those who were ready to accommodate themselves to Muscovite customs, there were also plates of caviar, smoked herrings, and cheese. Then the band struck up 'God save the Queen', the folding doors were thrown open, and the company entered the banqueting hall. At the cross table facing the doorway, the royal guests took their seats, the Prince of Wales sitting on the right hand of Prince Dolgorould; the side tables were reserved for persons not belonging to the staff of the Princes who seated themselves wherever they thought fit. In all there were about a hundred persons present. In the galleries looking over the hall there were numbers of ladies, but at the tables there were none. The menu of the dinner — precisely as I received it — was as follows:
Potages: Chasseur I l'Anglaise; consomme aux legumes. Hors-d'oeuvre: Petits vol-au-vent a la Mariniere; Petites bouchees a la Reine. Relevas: Esturgeons a la Russe; Faisans I la Valliere. Entrees: Poulets a la Villeroi; Creme de gelinottes aux truffes. Punch. Rot: Cailles, perdreaux, chapons; Salade aux concombres frais. Entremets: Asperges en branches et petits pois a la Parisienne; pain de fruits a la Béarnaise; glaces a la Napolitaine.
Looking on the question after the fumes of the wines and viands have passed away, I can truly say that never, even at a private house, do I remember to have had a better dinner. Where everything was good, it is invidious to select articles for praise. But the 'creme de gelinottes aux truffes' (gelinotte is a sort of Russian partridge) was one of those dishes you think of after they have been eaten and digested; and asparagus in the month of November, as fine and as large as you would get it in London in June, is a thing to reflect upon. Every moment the servants behind your chair kept placing fresh filled glasses before you. I counted thirteen different sorts of wines, not to mention liqueurs. All were good; the Chateau d'Iquem and the red Burgundy perhaps the best. The champagne, like all Russian champagne I have yet drunk, was too sweet for English taste; that, however, is a matter of detail. But excellent as the dinner was, the splendour of the appointments struck me even more forcibly. Massive gold forks and spoons, which one would have liked to carry away as a souvenir, were laid before every plate; against the white marble walls, footmen stood erect and motionless, in their gorgeous liveries, not for use, but ornament. Flowers were strewed about everywhere; the immense silver epergnes were a sight to gaze at. During the whole of the repast the band played with a precision I have not yet heard in Russia. A friend of mine, who has had considerable experience in the details of civic banquets, estimated the cost of the entertainment at some fourteen hundred pounds; and, comparing the prices of Moscow and London, I should think the estimate was below the mark ...
Then there was a move to another room, where a company of Tyrolese singers gave their national entertainment. We have most of us seen the self-same persons perform the same songs and dances in our own country, and all I need say is, that the yodel was as loud and the waltzing as perfect as usual. But the next entertainment provided for the Royal visitors was one not to be matched, I think, west of the Vistula. In a saloon at the end of the suite of rooms we found seated a company of some forty gipsies. The faces were the same as those which Londoners know so well at Ascot and Epsom; but instead of being dressed in rags and tatters, these gipsy men and women were clad in rich silks and gorgeous colours, which contrasted strangely with their dark olive skin and tawny hands .
The women, in a circle, gazed upon the scene with their large, dark, lascivious eyes, as if they possessed a sort of magic power to attract those who looked upon them. The men stood behind, tambourine in hand, still, and to all outward look, utterly unconcerned. Then the Governor gave the signal, and the entertainment began. It is impossible to describe it in words. A long, low, guttural cry from the mouths of all the women seemed to open the ball; sometimes wailing, sometimes piercing in shrillness, but always fitted to a strange weird harmony, the sound of many voices rose and fell. Then one or two of the handsomest and youngest took up the dialogue in a sad sing-song tone; and then, before you exactly knew when song changed to motion, the women were whirling round in a wild fantastic measure. The strange feature was that their feet hardly seemed to move. The arms were thrown forwards and up and down again, the head rocked to and fro, the body quivered, the shoulders shook, and with every pulsation of the frame the chorus of seated women shrieked in unison. Somehow the feet moved, but you could scarcely trace their motion. If you fancy a woman walking in her sleep, half fastened to one spot with terror, half maddened with a fever of passion which sets in motion every muscle of her frame, you will form some idea of that gipsy dance which began with a cry and ended with a scream.