Friday, September 5, 2008

ennui with resignation

Princess Lieven to Earl Grey.

St. Petersburg,
Aug. 24th\Sept. 5th, 1834.

Many, many thanks, my dear lord, for your letter of August 15. No one cares for me here as you do--at any rate, no one tells me they do--and I have now more need than ever of your friendship. . . . It is all a sad change for me.

Everything you write of your family affairs is to me of the greatest interest, and I entreat you to continue, and by so doing enable me still to live on, in fancy, the life of your own dear and beautiful country. My other correspondents do little or nothing for me. Lady Cowper very naturally prophesies that all must go well, and that her brother [Lord Melbourne] will find everything come easy to his hand. She has her interests so bound up in the present Ministry that her opinions, and even her facts, must be taken with caution. One must stand among the spectators to see the play fairly; the actors themselves cannot possibly judge of the effect. And this, believe me, is the fruit of my observations during the twenty-two years I passed in England watching those who in turn have been at the head of affairs. I have found no exceptions, not even in your case. The statesman in power is surrounded by flatterers. He is naturally little prone to give credence to uncomfortable facts, and those who are interested in obtaining Ministerial favours keep all disagreeable matters from his knowledge. It is the way in all countries, and your country in particular forms no exception.

Now pray write me all the news you hear, and your opinions on it all. The present Government has your goodwill, but you will not fail to see their faults, and the greatest of all faults is for them to imagine themselves indispensable. This is abject folly, and I was surprised to hear that Lord Melbourne could be such a coxcomb. I really did not give him credit for it.

You will see by all this that my heart is still in England. You wish, however, to have news of me, and hence I must recall the fact that I am writing to you from Russia. My dear lord, I spend my day wearying my body and resting my mind. No one would imagine that this suited me remarkably well, but I have no other choice at present. Life at Court is not what I was made for. I rarely now dine with their Majesties in private, or with so few at table as to allow of pleasant conversation. There are generally dinners of a hundred or two hundred people, after which in the evening there is card-playing or a ball, following on which comes supper. And this is my day. At these soirees I no longer play a prominent part; I am only a spectator, and I regret I am no longer twenty years of age, for then I should be able to amuse myself. I turn my eyes to right and to left looking for succour, but those who might aid me go and establish themselves at the whist-tables, where everybody has to play extremely well and stake extremely high. I therefore remain glued to my chair, suffer ennui with resignation--and the next day begin it all over again. I know nothing as to what life we shall lead when the Emperor and Empress are away. Nothing has been settled as yet, except that we are to pass the time in the country, with our young charge. On the 1st November I go and establish myself in town. I shall be wondrous well cared for there in all material points, but whether my mental requirements will be equally well provided for remains to be seen. I should like to send you the plan of my house, or, at any rate, that of the floor I am to occupy, in order that you may be able to form an idea of me when I am at home.

Your bracelet I always wear, and the ring Lady Grey gave me, and I shall never leave either of them off.

Sept. 6th.
The Russian messenger who arrived yesterday brought me your letter No. 3; thank you once more for so faithfully writing to me. Of all the friends I have left in England, it is you who are the most constant in friendship; and I only hope you will not weary of me. I had seen in the papers the account of your triumphal march through the North Country; it pleased me, and made me feel very proud for you. I am delighted also to learn that you are on such good terms with Lord Durham. For everything that is of concern to you interests me.

What the Times says amuses me greatly; its strictures on the Chancellor are most biting. If, as you have always told me, the Times represents public opinion, all this is not very favourable to the Government. And if the Ministry really does not enjoy the public favour (and seeing they have no great talents in the Cabinet), I am curious to know how they will manage to keep on their legs. They will take a good deal of beating, however, to make them resign, for they have a marvellous tenacity of will for keeping in office. Lord Palmerston has become very amiably disposed towards Russia, now that he no longer has my husband to deal with. This is what I had foreseen, and for Russia a good understanding with England is of too great importance for me to complain of the personal sacrifice. . . .

Your letters reach me perfectly securely. I tell you this once and for all, so you can write everything to me without any fear of the Foreign Office.

Sept. 8th

I must close this now. The great fete is just going to begin. Ever since early morning Petersburg has been inundated with masses of troops--a hundred thousand men in all, they say. It will be very fine and imposing, and it is being done as a last tribute to the memory of the Emperor Alexander I. Adieu, my dear lord. Pray keep in mind the very great pleasure your letters afford me. A thousand most friendly regards.

-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. 12-16.

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