Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Baltic voyage

Princess Lieven to Earl Grey

St. Petersburg,
Aug. 6th /18th, 1834.

Your first letter was indeed a pleasure to me, my dear lord, and its arrival afforded me the one happy moment I have experienced since I bid you good-bye. Ours was indeed a sad parting, and every day I realize more and more the pain and the bitterness of what I feel. Time brings healing to every grief, but what I have lost in this separation so wounds me that I hardly imagine I shall ever get the better of this sorrow.

I wrote to you from Hamburg. The Baltic voyage, after leaving that port, was most horrible. We struck on a rock near the desolate island I was telling you about at Woburn, where the post only comes once a year. During ten long hours we hung literally between life and death. You were often in my thoughts, my dear lord, and I knew you would have given me all your pity. At times it seemed sad to me to have to die so soon; but I had lost England, and I felt I had little in life to regret.

You can imagine what my condition was on arriving at Petersburg after all this. During the first few days I was too ill to go out to the country to see the Emperor and Empress. They, however, have come in to Petersburg, and I have been passing the last two days at the Palace. Their reception of me was most friendly. The Emperor well understands all my regrets, and thus I find myself at liberty to give free expression to all I feel--and I make full use of my freedom. It is a sort of pleasure to me, and I have no inclination for any other just now, unless it be the pleasure of seeing their Majesties again, for I love all the Imperial Family with my whole heart. The young Czarewitch is most charming. You cannot imagine anybody more handsome. He is in every way interesting; he has a most intelligent, sweet face, and a manner of speech and ways that are all one can most desire. I shall love him, I know, as my own son, and in his service I have both interest and occupation, as also my pleasure.

It remains to be seen how I shall get on in my dear native land. The climate, the manners, and the society will all be somewhat of trials to me. To begin with, we are to be left all alone with our young charge. The Emperor sets out in three weeks on a voyage that will take him as far as Siberia. The Empress is going to pass two months at Berlin. The Ministers remain in Petersburg. My husband, therefore, in three weeks' time enters on his important charge of Governor to the Heir of the Crown. Till then we shall be occupied in setting up house. We have found one that I think will suit us perfectly, and it has what to my eyes is the merit of being situated on the English Quay.

Poor Mrs. Arbuthnot's death shocked me greatly. I should not be at all surprised if this event were to lead to the Duke of Wellington marrying again. I wish he would choose Georgina Bathurst, for he could not do better. All the news you send interests me in the highest degree. I wish I could agree with you in thinking that your present Premier has in him the qualities necessary for carrying on the Government as one would wish; but frankly I have no faith in his principles. He may become Radical or he may turn Tory; at least, this is my opinion of him--but I should hasten to add that as a private individual I like and esteem him very highly. There is in him the naivete of a child, and this used to charm me completely; but he never seemed to have the stuff in him for the Premier Minister. I trust the event will prove me to have been in the wrong.

Aug. 9th / 21st
Until to-day I was prevented from finishing my letter, and now I am in the midst of my packing before going into the country to join the Court. So I must close this. I met Mr. Bligh again with the greatest possible delight; he is English, and we talked of England! He is a most agreeable man, and is very popular both in general society and at our Foreign Office.

Adieu, my dear lord; I would I could travel to Howick in the place of this letter. You must not forget me; I trust to having news of you every fortnight, and this will be to me a great, great pleasure. Write of everything. Your letters reach me perfectly safely, and I am curious to hear of all that goes on in England.

A thousand kindest regards to Lady Grey, to Lady Georgiana, and to your son Charles. I love them all with my whole heart, and you more than all of them put together.

P.S. --You cannot conceive the astonishment which was caused here by the news of your retirement, or rather of the manner in which it was brought about. They understand nothing of these things, and I have failed to give them any lucid explanation of what has taken place. Your conduct is clear enough, but what the others have done--ah, mon Dieu ! You would, however, be satisfied if you heard how they judge you and know you here; and it is such a pleasure to me to hear you thus spoken of.

-from the Correspondence of Princess Lieven and Earl Grey edited and translated by Guy le Strange (London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1890) vol. 3, pp. 9-12.

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