From the Memoirs of Adrian Moyseevich Gribovski

[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. 405-411]

The Empress's [Catherine II.] manner of life was of late years the same: In the winter she resided in the large Winter Palace, in the middle story, above the right, smaller entrance. Her own rooms were few. Upon ascending a small staircase, one entered into a room where, for the immediate dispatch of the Empress's orders, there stood behind a screen a writing table with writing material for the secretaries of state and other officers. This room faced a small court, and from it you passed into the boudoir, with its windows on the Palace Square. Here stood a toilet table. Of the two doors in this room, the one to the right led into the diamond room, the other, to the left, into the sleepingroom, where the Empress generally received her reports. From the sleeping-room one passed straight into the interior boudoir, and to the left - into the study and mirror room, from which one way led into the lower apartments, and the other, over a gallery, into the so-called Neighbouring House. In these apartments the Empress lived until spring, but sometimes she removed earlier to the Tauric Palace, which had been built by Prince Potemkin on the bank of the Neva.

The main building of this latter palace was only one story high, on purpose, it seems, that the Empress should not be annoyed by staircases. Here her rooms were larger than in the Winter Palace, especially the study in which she received the reports. In the first days of May she always went incognito to Tsarskoe Selo, and from there she returned, also incognito, in September to the Winter Palace. Her apartments in Tsarskoe Selo were quite large and tastefully furnished. All know the magnificent gallery in which the Empress frequently took a walk, particularly on Sundays when the park was filled with a large crowd of people that used to come down from St. Petersburg. She received the reports in the cabinet, or in the sleeping-room.

The Empress's time and occupations were arranged in the following manner: She rose at seven, and was busy writing in her cabinet until nine (her last work was on the Senate Regulations). She once remarked in her conversation that she could not live a day without writing something. During that time she drank one cup of coffee, without cream. At nine o'clock she passed into the sleeping-room, where almost in the entrance from the boudoir she seated herself in a chair near the wall. Before her stood a table that slanted towards her and also to the opposite direction, where there was also a chair. She then generally wore a sleeping-gown, or capote, of white gros de Tours, and on her head a white crêpe bonnet which was poised a little towards the left. In spite of her sixty-five years, the Empress's face was still fresh, her hands beautiful, her teeth all well preserved, so that she spoke distinctly, without lisping, only a little masculinely. She read with eyeglasses and a magnifying glass. Having once been called in with my reports, I found her reading in this way. She smiled and said to me: " You, no doubt, do not need this apparatus! How old are you ? " And when I said: " Twenty-six, " she added: " But we have, in our long service to the Empire, dulled our vision, and now we are of necessity compelled to use glasses." It appeared to me that " we " was used by her not as an expression of majesty, but in the ordinary sense.

Upon another occasion she handed me an autograph note which contained some references for her Senate Regulations for verification, and said: " Laugh not at my Russian orthography. I will tell you why I have not succeeded in mastering it. When I came here, I applied myself diligently to the study of Russian. When my aunt, Elizabeth Petrovna, heard of this, she told my Court mistress that I ought not to be taught any more,-- that I was clever enough anyway. Thus, I could learn Russian only from books, without a teacher, and that is the cause of my insufficient knowledge of orthography." However, the Empress spoke quite correct Russian, and was fond of using simple native words, of which she knew a great number. "I am very happy," she said to me, " that you know the order of the Chancery. You will be the first executor of my Regulations before the Senate. But I caution you that the Chancery of the Senate has overpowered the Senate, and that I wish to free it from the Chancery. For any unjust decisions, my punishment for the Senate shall be: let them be ashamed! " I remarked that not only the Senate, but also other bureaus that are guided by the General Reglement, are hampered in the transaction of their business by great inconveniences and difficulties that demand correction. " I should like very much to see those inconveniences and difficulties of which you speak to me in such strong terms. The General Reglement is one of the best institutions of Peter the Great." Later on, I presented to her Highness my notes upon the General Reglement, which I read to her almost every afternoon of her residence in Tsarskoe Selo' in 1796, and which were honoured by her undivided august approval. (These notes must be deposited with other affairs in the Archives of the Foreign College.)

After occupying her seat, of which I spoke above, the Empress rang a bell, and the valet of the day, who uninterruptedly remained outside the door, entered and, having received his order, called in the persons. At that time of the day, the Chief Master of Police and the Secretary of State waited daily in the boudoir; at eleven o'clock there arrived Count Bezborodko; for the other officers certain days in the week were set apart: for the Vice-Chancellor, Governor, Government Procurator of the Government of St. Petersburg, Saturday; for the Procurator-General, Monday and Thursday; Wednesday for the Superior Procurator of the Synod and Master General of Requests; Thursday for the Commander-in-Chief of St. Petersburg. But in important and urgent cases, all these officers could come any other time to report.

The first one to be called in to the Empress was the Chief Master of Police, Brigadier Glazov. He made a verbal report on the safety of the capital and other occurrences, and presented a note, written at the office irregularly and badly on a sheet of paper, containing the names of arrivals and departures on the previous day of people of all conditions who had taken the trouble to announce their names at the toll-house, for the sentinels stopped no one at the toll-house, nor inquired anything of them,-- in fact there existed then no toll- gates; anybody received a passport from the Governor at any time he asked for it, and without any pay, and could leave the city whenever he wished: for this reason the list of arrivals and departures never could be very long. After the Chief Master of Police left, the Secretaries of State who had any business had themselves announced by the valet, and were let in one by one. I was one of them. Upon entering the sleeping-room, I observed the following ceremony: I made a low obeisance to the Empress, to which she responded with a nod of her head, and smilingly gave me her hand, which I took and kissed, and I felt the pressure of my own hand; then she commanded me to take a seat. Having seated myself on the chair opposite, I placed my papers on the slanting table, and began to read. I suppose the other reporting officers acted in the same way, when they entered the room of the Empress, and that they met with the same reception.

About eleven o'clock the other officers arrived with their reports, as mentioned above, and sometimes there came Field-Marshal Count Suvorov Rymnikski, who then, after the conquest of Poland, resided at St. Petersburg. When he entered, he first prostrated himself three times before the image of the Holy Virgin of Kazan, which stood in the comer, to the right of the door, and before which there burned an undying lamp; then he turned to the Empress, prostrated himself once before her, though she tried to keep him from it, and, taking him by the hand, lifted him and said: "Mercy! Alexander Vasilevich, are yon not ashamed to act like that ? " But the hero worshipped her and regarded it as his sacred duty to express his devotion to her in that manner. The Empress gave him her hand, which he kissed as a relic, and asked him to seat himself on the chair opposite her; two minutes later she dismissed him. They used to tell that Count Bezborodko and a few others prostrated themselves in the same way before her, but not before the Holy Virgin.

At these audiences in the Winter and Tauric Palaces, the military officers wore uniforms, with their swords and shoes, but boots on holidays; civil officers wore during week-days simple French coats, but on holidays gala dresses; but at Tsarskoe Se16, both the military and civilians wore dresscoats on week-days, and only on holidays the former put on uniforms, and the latter French coats with their swords.

The Empress was busy until noon, after which her old hair-dresser, Kozlov, dressed her hair in her interior boudoir. She wore her hair low and very simple; it was done up in the old fashion, with small locks behind her ears. Then she went into the boudoir, where we all waited for her; our society was then increased by four spinsters who came to serve the Empress at her toilet. One of them, M. S. Aleksyeev, passed some ice to the Empress, who rubbed her face with it, probably in order to show that she did not like any other washes; another, A. A. Polokuchi, pinned a crêpe ornament to her hair, and the two sisters Zvyerëv handed her the pins. This toilet lasted not more than ten minutes, and during that time the Empress conversed with some one of the persons present, among whom there was of ten the Chief Equerry, Lev Sergyeevich Naryshkin, and sometimes Count Strogonov, who were her favourite society. Having bid the company good-bye, the Empress returned with her maids into the sleeping-room, where she dressed herself for dinner, with their aid and with the aid of Marya Savishna, while we all went home. On week-days the Empress wore simple silk dresses, which were all made almost according to the same pattern, and which were known as Moldavian; the upper garment was usually of lilac or greyish colour, and without her decorations,- her lower garment white; on holidays she wore a brocade gown, with three decorationsthe crosses of St. Andrew, St. George and St. Vladimir, and sometimes she put on all the sashes that belong to these decorations, and a small crown; she wore not very highheeled shoes.

Her dinner was set for two o'clock. During the week there were generally invited to dinner, of ladies, the Maid of Honour Protasov and Countess Branitski; of gentlemen, Adjutant- General P. V. Passek, A. A. Naryshkin, Count Strogonov, the two French emigrants, the good Count Esterhazy and the black Marquis de Lambert, at times ViceAdmiral Ribas, Governor-General of the Polish provinces Tutolmin, and finally the Marshal of the Court, Prince Baryatinski. On holidays there were invited also other military and civil officers who lived in St. Petersburg down to the fourth class, and, on special celebrations, down to the sixth class. The ordinary dinner of the Empress did not last more than an hour. She was very abstemious in her food: she never breakfasted, and at dinner she tasted with moderation of not more than three or four courses; she drank only a glass of Rhine or Hungarian wine; she never ate supper. For this reason she was, in spite of her sixty-five years and industrious habits, quite well and lively. At times, indeed, her legs swelled and sores were opened up, but that only served to purify her humours, consequently was advantageous for her health. It is asserted that her death took place solely through the closing up of these sores.

After dinner all the guests immediately departed. The Empress was left alone: in summer she sometimes took a nap, but in winter never. She sometimes listened, until the evening assembly, to the foreign mail which arrived twice a week; sometimes she read a book, or made cameo imprints on paper; this she did also during the reading of her mail by P. A., or Count Markov, or Popov; but the latter was rarely invited to read, on account of his poor pronunciation of French, though he was nearly always present in the secretary's room. At six o'clock there assembled the aforementioned persons, and others of the Empress's acquaintance whom she specially designated, in order to pass the evening hours. On Hermitage days, which were generally on Thursdays, there was a performance, to which many ladies and gentlemen were invited; after the performance they all went home. On other days the reception was in the Empress's apartments. She played rocambole or whist, generally with P. A., E. V. Chertkov and Count Strogonov; there were also card- tables for the other guests. At ten o'clock the Empress retired to her inner apartments; at eleven she was in bed, and in all the rooms reigned a deep silence.