Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Visit of Peter the Great to Frederick William the First
By Wilhelmine von Bayreuth (1709–1758)
From ‘Memoirs’: Translation of Helena Augusta Victoria

I HAVE, in the preceding year, forgotten to mention the arrival in Berlin of Peter the Great, Emperor of Russia. This episode is curious enough to be worthy of a place in my memoirs. This sovereign, who was very fond of traveling, was on his way from Holland, and was obliged to make a stay in the province of Cleves. As he disliked both society and formalities, he begged the King to let him occupy a villa on the outskirts of Berlin which belonged to the Queen. This villa was a pretty little building, and had been beautifully arranged by the Queen. It contained a gallery decorated with china; all the rooms had most beautiful looking-glasses. The house was really a little gem, and fully deserved its name, “Monbijou.” The garden was lovely; and its beauty was enhanced by its being close to the river.  1
  To prevent any damage,—as these Russian gentlemen are noted for not being particular or over-careful,—the Queen had the whole house cleared out, and removed everything that might get broken. A few days afterward the Emperor and Empress and their suite arrived by water at Monbijou.  2
  The King and Queen received them on the banks of the river. The King gave the Czarina his hand to help her to land. As soon as the Emperor had landed, he shook hands with the King and said, “Brother Frederick, I am very pleased to see you.” He then approached the Queen, wishing to embrace her, which she however declined. The Czarina then kissed my mother’s hand repeatedly; afterwards presenting to her the Duke and Duchess of Mecklenburg, who accompanied them, and four hundred so-called ladies. These were, for the most part, German maids,—ladies’-maids and cooks, who fulfilled the duties of ladies-in-waiting. The Queen did not feel inclined to bow to these; and indeed she treated the Czarina and the princesses of the blood with great coldness and haughtiness, and the King had a great deal of trouble in persuading her to be civil to them. I saw this curious court the next day, when the Czar and Czarina came to visit the Queen. She received them in the state rooms of the castle, met them at the entrance of these rooms, and led the Empress to her audience chamber.  3
  The King and the Emperor followed behind. As soon as the Emperor saw me, he recognized me,—having seen me five years ago,—took me up in his arms and kissed me all over my face. I boxed his ears, and made frantic efforts to get away from him, saying he had insulted me. This delighted him, and made him laugh heartily. They had told me beforehand what I was to say to him, so I spoke to him of his fleet and his victories. He was so pleased that he said he would willingly sacrifice one of his provinces to have such a child as I was. The Czarina too made much of me. The Queen and the Czarina sat on arm-chairs under a canopy, and I stood near my mother, the princesses of the blood standing opposite.  4
  The Czarina was small, broad, and brown-looking, without the slightest dignity of appearance. You had only to look at her to detect her low origin. She might have passed for a German actress, she had decked herself out in such a manner. Her dress had been bought second-hand, and was trimmed with some dirty-looking silver embroidery; the bodice was covered with precious stones, arranged in such a manner as to represent the double eagle. She wore a dozen orders; and round the bottom of her dress hung quantities of relics and pictures of saints, which rattled when she walked, and reminded one of a smartly harnessed mule. The orders too made a great noise, knocking against each other.  5
  The Czar, on the other hand, was tall and well grown, with a handsome face; but his expression was coarse, and impressed one with fear. He wore a simple sailor’s dress. His wife, who spoke German very badly, called her court jester to her aid, and spoke Russian with her. This poor creature was a Princess Gallizin, who had been obliged to undertake this sorry office to save her life; as she had been mixed up in a conspiracy against the Czar, and had twice been flogged with the knout!  6
  At last we sat down to dinner, the Czar sitting near the Queen. It is well known that this sovereign had been poisoned when a young man; and that his nerves had never recovered from it, so that he was constantly seized with convulsions over which he had no control. He was suddenly seized with one of these attacks whilst he was dining, and frightened the Queen so much that she several times tried to get up and leave the table. After a while the Czar grew calmer, and begged the Queen to have no fear, as he would not hurt her. Then taking her hand in his, he pressed it so tightly that she screamed for mercy; at which he laughed, saying that she had much more delicate bones than his Catherine. A ball had been arranged after dinner; but he stole quietly away, and returned on foot to Monbijou.  7
  The following day he visited all the sights of Berlin, amongst others the very curious collection of coins and antiques. Among these last named was a statue representing a heathen god. It was anything but attractive, but was the most valuable in the collection. The Czar admired it very much, and insisted on the Czarina kissing it. On her refusing, he said to her in bad German that she should lose her head if she did not at once obey him. Terrified at the Czar’s anger, she immediately complied with his orders without the least hesitation. The Czar asked the King to give him this and other statues, a request which he could not refuse. The same thing happened about a cupboard inlaid with amber. It was the only one of its kind, and had cost King Frederick I. an enormous sum; and the consternation was general on its having to be sent to Petersburg.  8
  This barbarous court happily left after two days. The Queen rushed at once to Monbijou, which she found in a state resembling that of the fall of Jerusalem. I never saw such a sight. Everything was destroyed, so that the Queen was obliged to rebuild the whole house.  9

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