Lady Buchanan, the brilliant wife of Britain's representative in Russia, The position of Ambassadress in St. Petersburg is no sinecure, and woman's tact is required there, perhaps, to a greater extent than in any other capital Photo, Keturah Callings
At Court functions the new Ambassadress, being the last arrival, takes her official place at the end of the row of Ambassadresses, and before all the wives of Ministers of Legation, and advances in place when a new Ambassadress appears at another Embassy.
The balls at the Winter Palace are gorgeous in the extreme. The wonderful malachite room, and the noble galleries and reception rooms are decorated with almost barbaric splendour. The Tsar and the Tsarina open the ball themselves, leading the stately polonaise, and the function is terminated by the mazurka, a national dance replacing the cotillon of other Continental capitals. At the smaller balls, to which only a privileged minority is invited, the gallery is transformed into a veritable palm forest. They are called les bals des palmiers, and supper - tables are arranged around the stems of the trees. During the supper, which is served hot by an army of gorgeously clad flunkeys, the Emperor moves through the seated throng, saying a word to one or another of his guests. Private entertainments among the grande monde of St. Petersburg are on a most lavish scale, and unite sumptuousness with the most recherche modern refinement. The hours are somewhat different from those of other cities; dinner is very early, and is a sort of Barmecide feast, which begins at six o'clock. As balls and receptions begin towards midnight, many ladies retire to rest after dinner, and emerge with renewed energy for the evening functions. The latter often terminate with the "seconde soiree," a purely Russian institution, when hostesses receive on their return home from balls and parties, until the morning hours are well advanced.
The Russian Christmas is held on January 7, and the New Year a week later. One of the most interesting of ceremonies is the blessing of the waters of the Neva by the Metropolitan, or head of the Russian Church. The Emperor and all Court officials assist at the function. A procession is formed, headed by the clergy in full vestments, and passes through the state apartments of the palace, lined by the pick of the Imperial troops in gala uniform, to a small chapel, erected for the purpose on the edge of the river. As all members of the procession must be bareheaded, most of them wear wigs to protect themselves from the cold, for the temperature is often fifteen degrees below freezing point. Windows overlooking the Neva are placed at the disposal of the corps diplomatique, who can watch the procession file out to the chapel, where a small hole is cut in the ice, through which the priest blesses the waters.
A sumptuous luncheon follows the ceremony. All officiating members and guests are present.
The British Embassy is housed in a stately palace of the old Russian type, in the most fashionable quarter of the town. It is anglicised by an English style of furnishing, by the portraits of English monarchs, and by the English livery of the servants.
The post of British Ambassadress is no sinecure, and the " craft of sex " is needed in entertaining such an exacting and cosmopolitan society as is the Russian. Visiting, entertaining, and charity all claim their due share of her attention.
Visiting hours are earlier than here, and can be relegated to the forenoon. The English colony, which is not very numerous, and the adherents of the English Church rely on ambassadorial protection.
Among recent Ambassadresses one may cite Lord Alington's gifted daughter, Lady Hardinge, who is now Vicereine of India, and her successor, Lady Nicholson, a sister of the Dowager Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava, both of whom won golden opinions in Russia.
Lady Georgina Buchanan's charming and accomplished daughter has also been welcomed as a great addition to Russian society. Her perfect knowledge of French, the universal language of diplomacy, is of the greatest advantage to her in this cosmopolitan capital. Small luncheon parties and dejeuners dansants are given in her honour, and her own little reunions at the Embassy include all the most charming members of the jeunesse doree of St. Petersburg.
Diplomacy is said to be the most romantic of all careers, and this is peculiarly true in a land sacred to miracle, where a mixture of the supernatural and the historical colours the greyness of every-day life, and where inherited impressions pervade so many venerable traditions.
There is no lack here of food for the mind and the imagination. The magnificent Imperial library, which contains also Lampi's famous portrait of Catherine II., is a mine of information in itself, while the picture galleries and museums are second to none. The wealth and insouciance of the upper classes stand out in vivid contrast to much that is sinister and sombre in the lives of the people. Local colour is lacking nowhere, and the book of life in St. Petersburg is eloquent of the sufferings of humanity, its wounds and its passions, as well as of its wealth and happiness.
By "Madge" (Mrs. Humphry)
The English Sense of Superiority - Courteous Tolerance of other Manners and Customs - Table
Manners Abroad - Etiquette in United States and in France
Nations, like individuals, incline to self-appreciation, to an over-estimate of their good qualities and a vague slurring-over of their defects.
The English, perhaps more than any other European nation, indulge in a sense of superiority, which shows itself more or less crudely according to social status, or, rather, to the education, which marks the various strata. Curiously combined with this is a tendency to self-criticism in print, and more particularly in the correspondence columns of the papers. But this does not appear to diminish that "guid conceit o' oorsels " which is agreeable to the possessor and fatal to popularity.