Extracts from the Menoirs of Princess Natalya Borisovna Dolgoruki. (1714-1771)

[excerpted from Anthology of Russian Literature From the Earliest Period to the Present Time, Leo Wiener, ed. and Tr. Pt. 1 (New York, 1902), pp. 233-241]

My mind totters when I recall all that has befallen me after my happiness which at that time appeared to me to be eternal. I did not have a friend to teach me that I ought to walk more warily on the slippery road of pleasure. My Lord! What a threatening storm arose against me, and what calamities from the whole world befell me! Lord! Give me strength to tell of my sufferings, that I may describe them for the information of the curious and the consolation of the afflicted who, thinking of me, might be consoled. I have passed all the days of my life in misery, and have experienced all: persecution, exile, want, separation from my beloved one,-- everything that one can think of. I do not boast of my endurance, but will boast of the mercy of the Lord who has given me so much strength to bear all that I have borne up to now. It would be impossible for a man to endure such strokes, if the power of the Lord did not strengthen him from on high. Consider my bringing up, and my present state!

Here is the beginning of my misery that I had never expected. Our Emperor had departed from this life, and before I had expected it, there was a change of the crown. It evidently bad pleased God to chastise the people for their sins: a merciful Tsar was taken away from them, and great was the weeping in the nation. All my relatives came together, were sorrowing and weeping, and wondering how to announce to me the calamity. I generally slept late, until nine o'clock; as soon as I awoke, I noticed that the eyes of all were in tears; though they were careful to hide it, yet it was quite obvious they had been weeping. I knew that the Tsar was sick, and even very sick, but I had great hope the Lord would not abandon His orphans. They were of necessity compelled to tell me the truth. As soon as this news reached my ears, I lost my consciousness; when I regained it, I kept on repeating: " I am lost, lost! " No other words left my lips but " lost." However they tried to console me, they could not stop my weeping, nor keep me quiet. I knew too well the custom of my country, that all the favourites perish with the death of their Emperors: what could I, then, expect? Yet, I did not think that the end would be as bad as it actually was, for though my fiancé was beloved by the Tsar, and had many distinctions, and all kinds of affairs of State had been entrusted to him, yet I placed some hope in his honest acts. Knowing his innocence, and that he had not been tainted by any improper conduct, it appeared to me that a man would not be accused without a proper judicial trial, or be subject to disfavour, and be deprived of his honours and possessions; I learned only later that truth is not helpful in misfortune.

So I wept unconsolably. My relatives, in their search for means of consoling me, pointed out to me that I was yet a young person, and had no reason to grieve so senselessly; that I could reject my fiancé if things went badly with him, and that there were other suitors who were not of less worth than he, even if they had not his high honours. And indeed there was a suitor who was very anxious to have me, but I did not like him, though all my relatives wanted me to marry him. That proposition weighed so heavily upon me, that I was not able to answer them. Consider yourself, what kind of a consolation that could be to me, and how dishonourable such an act would have been,-- to be ready to marry him when he was great, but to refuse him the moment he was cast into misfortune. I could not agree to any such unscrupulous advice; I resolved at once to live and die together with him to whom I had given my heart, and not to allow anyone else to share my love. It was not my habit to love one to-day and another to-morrow; such is the fashion in the world, but I proved to the world that I was faithful in love. I have been a companion to my husband in all his troubles, and I am telling the truth when I assert that in all my misery I never repented having married him, and did not murmur against the Lord for it. He is my witness: I bore everything while loving him, and as much as was in my power, I kept up his courage. My relatives were evidently of a different opinion, and therefore advised me otherwise, or maybe they simply pitied me.

Towards evening my fiancé came to my house, and complained to me of his misfortune. He told me of the pitiable death of the Emperor, who did not lose consciousness to the last, and bid him good-bye. While lie told me all this, we both wept, and swore to each other that nothing should separate us but death; I was ready to go with him through all the terrestrial misfortunes. Thus it grew worse from hour to hour. Where were those who formerly had sought our protection and friendship? They had all hid themselves, and my relatives stood aloof from me; they all left me for the new favourites, and all were afraid to meet me, lest they should suffer through the suspicion under which I was. It were better for a person not to be born in this world, if he is to be great for a while, and then will fall into disgrace: all will soon despise him, and no one will speak to him.

Here we remained about a week, while a vessel was being fitted out to take us down the river. All that was terrible to me, and I ought to pass it in silence. My governess, to whose care I had been entrusted by my mother, did not wish to leave me, and had come with me to the village. She thought that we would pass all the days of our misfortune there; but things turned out differently, and she was compelled to leave me. She was a foreigner, and could not endure all the hardships; yet, as much as she could she did for me in those days: went on the ill-starred vessel that was to take us away, fixed everything there, hung the walls with tapestry to keep out the dampness, that I might not catch a cold; she placed a pavilion on board, partitioned off a room, in which we were to live, and wept for me all the time.

At last there arrived the bitter day when we must depart. We were given ten people to attend oil us, and a woman for each person, in all, five. I had intended to take my maid with me, but my sisters-in-law dissuaded me: they gave me theirs to take her place, and gave me another maid for an assistant to the laundresses, who could do nothing else but wash clothes; I was compelled to agree to their arrangement.

My maid wept, and did not want to part from me. I asked her not to importune me with her tears, and to take things as fate had decreed. Such was my equipment: I had not even my own serf, and not a penny of money. My governess gave me every kopek she had; it was not a great sum, only sixty roubles, and with that I departed. I do not remember whether we went on foot to the vessel, or whether we drove to it in a carriage. The river was not far from our house; there I bid good-bye to my family, for they had been permitted to see us off.

I stepped into the cabin, -and saw how it was fixed up: my governess had done all she could to help me in my evil plight. I had to thank her here for the love she had shown to me, and for the education she had given me; I also bid her farewell, not expecting ever to see her again: we grasped each other's necks, and my hands grew stiff with cold, and I do not remember how we were torn from each other. I regained consciousness in the place that served as a cabin. I was lying in the bed, and my husband was standing over me, holding me by my hand, and making me smell some salts. I jumped down from my bed, ran upstairs, thinking that I would still catch a glimpse of it all, but those were all unfamiliar scenes,-- we had sailed away a long distance. Then I noticed that I had lost a pearl that I wore on my finger; I evidently dropped it in the water as I bade my family farewell; I was not even sorry for it,other thoughts were occupying me: life was lost, and I was left alone, had lost all for the sake of one man. And thus we sailed all night long.

The next day there was a stiff breeze; there was a storm on the river, and the thunder sounded more terrible on the water than on land, and I am naturally very much afraid of thunder. The vessel rolled from side to side, and every time it thundered people fell down. My younger sister-in-law was very much frightened, and wept and cried aloud. I thought the world had come to an end; we were compelled to make for the shore, where we passed a sleepless night in terror. As soon as it dawned, the storm subsided; we continued our voyage, which lasted three weeks. Whenever the weather was quiet, I sat near the window in the cabin; I wept or washed my kerchiefs, while the water was nearby. At times I bought a sturgeon, and, tying him to a rope, let him swim by my side, so that I was not the only captive, but the sturgeon with me. Whenever the wind began to rock the boat, my head began to ache, and I felt nauseated; then they took me out on deck, where I lay unconscious until the wind subsided, being covered with a fur coat: on the water the winds are piercing. Often he sat by my side, to keep me company. When the storm was over, I rested, but I could not eat much from nausea.

Here is what once happened to us: There was a frightful storm, and there was not a person on board who knew where there were the deep places and the shallows, or where we could land. The sailors were merely peasants that had been taken from the plough, and who were sailing where the wind bore them. It was getting dark, the night was near, and the wind did not permit us to make a landing. They threw out an anchor in the middle of the stream, where it was deepest, and the anchor was carried away. The companion of my misfortunes would not let me go on deck, for he was afraid that I would be crushed in the turmoil. The people were running all about the boat: some were pumping out the water, others were tying up the anchor; all were at work. While nothing was being done successfully, the boat was suddenly drawn into an eddy. I heard a terrible noise, and did not know what had, happened. I arose to look out.our boat was standing as if in a box, between two shores. I asked where we were, but nobody could tell me, for they did not know themselves. On one shore there was nothing but a birch wood, but it was not a very thick forest. The earth on that shore began to settle, and the forest slid several fathoms into the river, or eddy, where we were standing. The forest rustled terribly under our very boat, and then we were lifted up, and again drawn into the eddy. Thus it lasted for a long time. All thought that we would perish, and the sailors were ready to save their lives in boats, and to leave us to death. Finally, so much of the land was torn loose that only a small strip was left, and beyond it we could see some water, supposedly a lake. If that strip were carried away, we would be in that lake. The wind was awful, and our end would certainly have come, if God's mercy had not saved us. The wind calmed down, and no more land was being carried away, and we were saved; at daylight we rode out of the eddy into the river, and continued our voyage. That eddy had carried part of my life away; yet I endured it all, all the terrors, for the end of my sufferings was not yet to be: I was preparing myself for greater woes, and God gave me strength for them.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

We reached the provincial town of the island where we were to reside. We were told that the way to that island was by water, and that a change would be made here: the officer of the guard was to return, and we were to be turned over to an officer of the local garrison, with a detachment of twenty-four soldiers. We stayed here a week, while they were fixing the boat that was to take us there, and we were transferred from hand to hand, like prisoners. It was such a pitiable sight that even a heart of stone would be softened. At this departure, the officer wept, and said: " Now you will suffer all kinds of insult. These are not ordinary men: they will treat you like common people, and will show you no indulgence." We all wept, as if we were parting from a relative. We had at least gotten used to him. However badly we were off, yet he had known us in our fortune, and he felt ashamed to treat us harshly.

When they had fixed the boat, a new commander took us to it. It was quite a procession. A crowd of soldiers followed us, as if we were robbers. I walked with downcast eyes, and did not look around: there was a great number of curious people along the road on which they led us. We arrived at the boat. I was frightened when I saw it, for it was quite different from the former one: out of disrespect to us, they gave us a worthless one. The boat was in accordance with the designation which we bore, and they did not care, if we were to perish the next day: we were simply prisoners, -there was no other name for us. Oh, what can there be worse than that appellation ? The honour we received was in conformity with it! The boards on the boat were all warped, and you could see daylight through them; the moment a breeze began to blow, it creaked. It was black with age and soot: labourers had been making fires in it, and no one would have thought to travel in it. It had been abandoned, and was intended for kindling wood. As they were in a hurry with us, they did not dare keep us back long, and gave us the first boat they could find. But maybe they had express orders to drown us. God having willed otherwise, we arrived safely at the appointed place.

We were compelled to obey a new commander. We tried all means to gain his favour, but in vain. How could we have found any means? God grant us to suffer with a clever man! But he was a stupid officer. He had risen from a common peasant to be a captain. He thought he was a great man, and that we must be kept as severely as possible, since we were criminals. He regarded it below his dignity to speak to us; yet in spite of all his arrogance, he came to dine with us. Consider for yourself whether the man had any sense from the way he was dressed: he wore his uniform right over his shirt, and slippers on his bare feet; and thus he sat down to dinner with us! I was younger than the rest, and uncontrollable: I could not help laughing as I looked at his ridiculous get-up. He noticed that I was laughing at him, and said, himself smiling: " Lucky for you that my books have burnt, or I should have a talk with you!" However bitter I felt, I tried to get him to talk more; but he never uttered another word. just think what a commander we were given to watch us in all we did! What were they afraid of? That we would run away? Not their watch kept us back, but our innocence: we were sure that in time they would see their error, and would return us to our former possessions. Besides, we were restrained by the fact that we had a large family. And thus we sailed with the stupid commander a whole month until we arrived at the town where we were to reside.