"St. Petersburg," in Encyclopaedia Britannica (1797), IV

{237} PETERSBURG (St), a city of the province of Ingria in Russia, and capital of the whole empire. It is situated in N. Lat. 59. 26. 23. and E. Long. 30. 25. from the first meridian of Greenwich. It was founded in the year 1703 by Czar Peter the Great, whose ambition {238} it was to have a fleet on the Baltic; for which reason he determined to found a city which might become the centre of trade throughout all his dominions. The spot he pitched upon was a low, fenny, uncultivated island, formed by the branches of the river Neva, before they fall into the gulph of Finland. In the summer this island was covered with mud; and in winter became a frozen pool, rendered almost inaccessible by dreary forests and deep morasses, the haunts of bears, wolves, and other savage animals. Having taken the fort of Nattebourg, and the town of Neischanz, in the year 1703, this mighty conqueror assembled in Ingria above 300,000 men, Russians, Tartars, Cossacks, Livonians, and others, even from the most distant parts of his empire, and laid the foundation of the citadel and fortifications, which were finished in four months, almost in despite of nature. He was obliged to open ways through forests, drain bogs, raise dykes, and lay causeways, before he could pretend to found the new city. The workmen were ill provided with necessary tools and implements, such as spades, pick-axes, shovels, planks, and wheel-barrows: they were even obliged to fetch the earth from a great distance in the skirts of their garments, or in little bags of old mats and rags sewed together. They had neither huts nor houses to shelter them from the severity of the weather: the country, which had been defolated by war, could not accomodate such a multitude with provisions; and the supplies by the lake Ladoga were often retarded by contrary winds. In consequence of these hardships, above 100,000 men are said to have perished: nevertheless the work proceeded with incredible vigour and expedition; while Peter, for the security of his workmen, formed a great camp, in such a manner, that his infantry continued in Finland, and his cavalry were quartered in Ingria. Some Swedish cruizers being descried in the neighbourhood, the Czar posted a body of troops in the isle of Rutazari, by whom the Swedes were repulsed, and the work met with no farther interruption. The buildings of the city kept pace with the fortress, which is the centre of the town, surrounded on all sides by the Neva; and in little more that a year, above 30,000 houses were erected. At present there may be about double that number in Petersburg, though many of them are paultry and inconsiderable. In order to people this city, Peter invited hither merchants, artificers, mechanics, and seamen, from all the different countries of Europe: he demolished the town of Nieuschants, and brought hither not only the materials of the houses, but the inhabitants themselves. A thousand families were drawn from Moscow; he obliged the nobility to quikt their palaces in and about Moscow, and take up their residence at Petersburg, in a much more cold and comfortless climate. Finally, resolving to remove hither the trade of Archangel, he issued an ordonnance, importing, that all such merchandise as had been conveyed to Archangel, in order to be sold to foreigners, should now be sent to Petersburg, where they should pay no more than the usual duties. These endeavours and regulations have rendered this one of the greatest and most flourishing cities in Europe. The Russian boyars and nobility have built magnificent palaces, and are now reconciled to their situation. At first many houses were built of timber; but these being subject to sudden conflagrations in spite of all the precautions that could be taken, the Czar, in the year 1714, issued an order, that all new houses should be walled with brick and covered with tiles. The fort is an irregular hexagon, with opposite bastions. This, together with all the rest of the fortifications, was in the beginning formed of earth only; but in the sequel they were faced with strong walls, and provided with casemates, which are bomb-proof. In the curtain of the fort, on the right hand side, is a noble dispensary, well supplied with excellent medicines, and enriched with a number of porcelain vases from China and Japan. From one of the gates of the fort a draw-bridge is thrown over an arm of the river, in which the Czar's galleys and other small vessels are sheltered in the winter. The most remarkable building within the fort is the cathedral, built by the direction of an Italian architect. Petersburg is partly built on little islands, some of which are connected by draw-bridges, and partly on the continent. In the highest part, on the banks of the Neva, the Czar fixed his habitation, or ordinary residence, built of free stone and situated so as to command a prospect of the greater part of the city. Here likewise is a royal foundery; together with the superb houses of many noblemen. The marshy ground on which the city is built, being found extremely slippery, dirty, and incommodious, the Czar ordered every inhabitant to pave a certain space before his own door. In the year 1716, Peter, taking a fancy to the island Wasili-Osterno, which he had given as a present to prince Menzikoff, resumed the grant, and ordered the city to be extended into this quarter. He even obliged the boyars, or nobles, to build stone-houses on this spot, though they were already in possession of others on the side of Ingria: accordingly this is now the most magnificant part of the city. On the other side of a branch of the Neva stands the Czar's country or summer palace, provided with a fine garden and orangery. On the bank of the same river is the slaboda, or suburbs, in which the Germans generally choose their habitation. Petersburg is very much subject to dangerous inundations. In the year 1715, all the bastions and draw-bridges were either overwhelmed or carried away. The breadth, depth, and rapidity of the Neva, have rendered it extremely difficult, if not impracticable, to join the islands and the continent by bridges. Besides, Peter was averse to this expedient for another reason: resolved to accustom his subjects to navigation, he not only rejected the prospect of a bridge, but also ordered that no boat should pass between the islands and the continent, except by the help of sails only. In consequence of this strange regulation, many lives were lost: but at length he gained his point; and by habituating his sluggish Muscovites to the dangers of the sea, in a little time produced a breed of hardy sailors. The adjacent country is so barren, that the town must be supplied with provisions from a great distance; consequently they are extremely dear. Here are woods in plenty, consisting of pine, fir, alder, birch, poplar, and elm; but the oak and beech are generally brought from Casan. In winter the weather is extremely cold, and hot in the summer. In June the length of the night does not exceed three hours, during which the na- {239} tives enjoy a continued twilight: but in December the sun is not visible more than three hours above the horizon.

The Czar Peter, who was indefatigable in his endeavours to improve and civilize his subjects, neglected nothing which he thought could contribute to these purposes. He condescended even to institute and regulate assemblies at Petersburg: these were opened at five in the afternoon, and the house was shut at ten: between these hours the fashionable people of both sexes met without ceremony, danced, conversed, or played either at cards of at chess, this last being a favourite diversions among the Russians. There was likewise an apartment appointed for drinking brandy and smoking tobacco. Plays and operas were likewise introduced for the same purposes; but as Peter had little relish, and less taste, for those entertainments, they were performed in a very awkward manner in his lifetime: however, since his death these performances have been brought to a greater degree of art and decorum.

This great northern legislator established, in the neighbourhood of Petersburg, manufactures of linen, paper, saltpetre, sulphur, gunpowder, and bricks, together with water-mills for sawing timber. He instituted a marine academy, and obliged every considerable family in Russia to send at least one son or kinsman, between the ages of ten and eighteen, to this seminary, where he was instructed in navigation, learned the languages, was taught to perform his exercises, and to live under the severest discipline. To crown his other plans for reformation, he granted letters patent for founding an academy, upon a very liberal endowment; and though he did not live to execute this scheme, his empress, who survived him, brought it to perfection. It was modeled on the plans of the royal society in London, and the academy of France. Mr Bullfinger opened it in the year 1726, with an eloquent speech on the design and utility of an academy of sciences; and the professors, who have always distinguished themselves by their merit and erudition, published an annual collection of their transactions; a talk the more easy, as they have the benefit of printing-presses, well managed, at Petersburg.

Peter the Great has been much censured for transferring the seat of the empire from Moscow to St Petersburg; the former of which lay nearer to the centre of his dominions. But these objections will have but little weight with those who consider the consequences of the removal. The new city is nearer than Moscow was to the more civilized parts of Europe; and from an intercourse with them the manners of the Russians have been improved, and the nobility in particular have lost much of their feudal importance. Above all, the grand object of Peter, that of having a formidable navy in the Baltic, has certainly been obtained, and the Empress of Russia is now the arbitress of the north, and in some degree the mediatrix of all Europe. In short, the erection of St Petersburg was perhaps one of the best acts of Peter's reign, and has in its consequences been the most beneficial. Indeed it is at least probable, that if through any revolution the seat of government should be again transferred to Moscow, we should nowhere see the traces of those memorable improvements, which the passing century has given birth to, but in the annals of history; and Russia would again, in all probability, relapse into her original barbarism.

The erection of such a city as Petersburg in so short a time is truly wonderful. Mr Coxe says his mind was filled with astonishment, when he reflected that so late as the beginning of this century the ground on which it stands was one vast morass, occupied by a very few fishermens huts. The present divisions of the town, some of which we have already mentioned, are called, 1. The Admirality quarter; 2. The Vassili Ostrof or Island; 3. The Fortress; 4. The Island of St Petersburg; and, 5. The various suburbs of Livonia, of Moscow, of Alexander Nevski, and Wiburgh.

The present Empress has done so much for this city, that she may not improperly be called its second foundress. It is, nevertheless, still an infant place, and, as Mr Wraxhall observes, "only an immense outline, which will require future empresses, and almost future ages, to complete."

"The streets in general, says a late traveller, are broad and spacious; and three of the principal ones, which meet in a point at the Admirality, and reach to the extremities of the suburbs, are at least two miles in length. Most of them are paved; but a few are still suffered to remain floored with planks. In several parts of the metropolis, particularly in the Vassili Ostrof, wooden houses and habitants, scarcely superior to common cottages, are blended with the public buildings; but this motley mixture is far less common than at Moscow, where alone can be formed any idea of an ancient Russian city. The brick houses are ornamented with a white stucco, which has led several travellers to say that they are built with stone; whereas, unless I am greatly mistaken, there are only two stone structures in all Petersburg. The one is a palace, building by the empress upon the banks of the Neva, called the marble palace; it is of hewn granite, with marble columns and ornaments; the other is the church of St Isaac, constructed with the same materials, but not yet finished.

"The mansions of the nobility are many of them vast piles of building, but are not in general upon so large and magnificent a scale as several I observed at Moscow: they are furnished with great cost, and in the same elegant style as at Paris or London. They are situated chiefly on the south side of the Neva, either in the Admirality quarter, or in the suburbs of Livonia and Moscow, which are the finest parts of the city." See NEVA.

"Petersburg, although it is more compact that the other Russian cities, and has the houses in many streets contiguous to each other, yet still bears resemblance to the towns of this country, and is built in a very straggling manner. By an order lately issued from government, the city has been inclosed within a rampart, the circumference whereof is 21 versts, or 14 English miles."

The same accurate observer calculates the number of inhabitants at Petersburg, and makes the medium number 130,000.

We have already said that Petersburg is very liable to be inundated. An inundation of a very alarming nature took place when Mr Coxe was there in September {240} 1777, of which the following account was given in Journal St Petersburg, September 1777: "In the evening of the 9th, a violent storm of wind blowing at first S.W. and afterwards W. raised the Neva and its various branches to so great an height that at five in the morning the waters poured over their banks, and suddenly overflowed the town, but more particularly the Vassili Ostrof and the island of St Petersburg. The torrent rose in several streets to the depth of four feet and an half, and overturned, by its rapidity, various buildings and bridges. About seven, the wind shifting to N.W. the flood fell as suddenly; and at mid-day most of the streets, which in the morning could only be passed in boats, became dry. For a short time the river rose 10 feet 7 inches above its ordinary level."

Mr Kraft, professor of experimental philosophy to the Imperial Academy of Sciences, has written a judicious treatise upon the inundation of the Neva, from which the following observations were extracted by Mr Coxe. "These floods are less alarming than formerly, as the swelling of the river to about six feet above its usual level, which used to overflow the whole town, have no longer any effect, excepting upon the lower parts of Petersburg; a circumstance owing to the gradual raising of the ground by buildings and other causes.

"Upon tracing the principal inundations, the professor informs us, that the most ancient, of which there is any tradition, happened in 1691, and is mentioned by Weber, from the account of some fishermen inhabiting near Nieschants, a Swedish redoubt upon the Neva, about three miles from the present fortress of Petersburg. At that period the waters usually rose every five years; and the inhabitants of the district no sooner perceived the particular storms which they had been taught from fatal experience to consider as forerunners of a flood, than they took their hovels to pieces, and, joining the timbers together in the form of rafts, fastened them to the summits of the highest trees, and repaired to the mountain of Duderof, which is distant six miles from their place of abode, where they waited until the waters subsided.

"The highest inundations, excepting the last of 1777, were those of the 1st of November 1726, when the waters rose 8 feet 2 inches; and on the 22d of October 1752, when they rose 8 feet 5 inches.

"From a long course of observations the professor draws the following conclusion. The highest floods, namely, those which rise about six feet, have generally happened in one of the four last months of the year: no sensible effect is ever produced by rain or snow; a swell is sometimes occasioned by the accumulation of masses of ice at the mouth of the Neva; but the principal causes of the overflowing of that river are derived from violent storms and winds blowing south west or north west, which usually prevail at the autumnal equinox; and the height of the waters is always in proportion to the villence and duration of those winds. In a word, the circumstances most liable to promote the overflowings of the Neva, are when, at the autumnal equinox, three or four days before or after the full or new moon, that luminary being near her perigæum, a violent north-west wind drives the waters of the northern ocean, during the influx of the tide, into the Baltic, and is accompanied, or instantaneously succeeded, by a south-west wind in that sea and the gulf of Finland. All these circumstances concurred at the inundation of 1777: it happened two days before the autumnal equinox, four before the full moon, two after her passing through the perigæum, and by a storm at south-west, which was preceded by strong west winds in the northern ocean, and strong north winds at the mouth of the Baltic."

See Notices et Remarque sur les debordemens de la Neva à St Petersbourg, accompagnées d'une carte representant la crue et la diminution des eaux, &c. in Nov. Ac. Pet. for 1777, P. II. p. 47. to which excellent treatise we would refer the curious reader for further information.

All our readers have unquestionably heard of the equestrian statue of Peter I. in bronze. We shall give an account of that extraordinary monument in Mr Coxe's own words. "It is (says he) of a colossal size, and is the work of Monsieur Falconet, the celebrated French statuary, cast at the expense of Catherine II. in honour of her great predecessor, whom she reveres and imitates. It represents that monarch in the attitude of mounting a precipice, the summit of which he has nearly attained. He appears crowned with laurel, in a loose Asiatic vest, and sitting on a housing of bear-skin: his right hand is stretched out as in the act of giving benediction to his people; and his left holds the reins. The design is masterly, and the attitude is bold and spirited. If there be any defect in the figure, it consists in the flat portion of the right hand; and, for this reason, the view of the left side is the most striking, where the whole appearance is graceful and animated. The horse is rearing upon its hind legs; and its tail, which is full and flowing, slightly touches a bronze serpent, artfully contrived to assist in supporting the vast weight of the statue in due equilibrium. The artist has, in this noble essay of his genius, represented Peter as the legislator of his country, without any allusion to conquest and bloodshed; wisely preferring his civil qualities to his military exploits. The contrast between the composed tranquility of Peter (though perhaps not absolutely characteristic) and the fire of the horse, eager to press forwards, is very striking. The simplicity of the inscription corresponds to the sublimity of the design, and is far preferable to a pompous detail of exalted virtues, which the voice of flattery applies to every sovereign without distinction. It is elegantly finished in brass characters, on one side in Latin, and on the opposite in Russian. Petro primo Catharina secunda 1782, i.e. Catharine II. to Peter I.

"The statue, when I was at Petersburgh, was not erected, but stood under a large wooden shed near the Neva, within a few yards of its enormous pedestal. When Falconet had conceived the design of his statue, the base of which was to be formed by an huge rock, he carefully examined the environs of Petersburg, if, among the detached pieces of granite which are scattered about these parts, one could be found of magnitude correspondent to the dimensions of the equestrian figure. After considerable research, he discovered a stupendous mass half buried in the midst of a morass. The expence and difficulty of transporting it were no obstacles to Catherine II. By her order {241} the morass was immediately drained, a road was cut through a forest, and carried over the marshy ground; and the stone, which after it had been somewhat reduced weighed at least 1500 tons, was removed to Petersburg. This more than Roman work was, in less than six months from the time of its first discovery, accomplished by a windlass, and by means of large friction-balls alternately placed and removed in grooves fixed on each side of the road. In this manner it was drawn, with forty men seated upon its top, about four miles to the banks of the Neva; there it was embarked in a vessel constructed on purpose to receive it, and thus conveyed about the same distance by water to the spot where it now stands. When landed at Petersburg, it was 42 feet long at the base, 36 at the top, 21 thick, and 17 high; a bulk greatly surpassing in weight the most boasted monuments of Roman grandeur, which, according to the fond admirers of antiquity, would have baffled the skill of modern mechanics, and were alone sufficient to render conspicuous the reign of the most degenerate emperors.

"The pedestal, however, though still of prodigious magnitude, is far from retaining its original dimensions, as, in order to form a proper station for the statue, and to represent an ascent, the summit whereof the horse is endeavouring to attain, its bulk has been necessarily diminished. But I could not observe, without regret, that the artist has been desirous to improve upon nature; and, in order to produce a resemblance of an abrupt broken precipice, has been too lavish of the chisel. Near it was a model in plaster, to the shape of which the workmen were fashioning the pedestal. It appeared to me, that in this model the art was too conspicuous; and that the effect would have been far more sublime, if the stone had been left as much as possible in its rude state, a vast unwieldy stupendous mass. And indeed, unless I am greatly mistaken, the pedestal, when finished according to this plan, will have scarcely breadth sufficient to afford a proper base for a statue of such Colossal size.

"The statue was erected on the pedestal on the 27th of August 1782. The ceremony was performed with great solemnity, and was accompanied with a solemn inauguration. At the same time the empress issued a proclamation, in which, among other instances of her clemency, she pardons all criminals under sentence of death; all deserters, who should return to their respective corps within a limited time; and releases all criminals condemned to hard labour, provided they had not been guilty of murder."

Mr Coxe informs us, that the weather is extremely changeable in this capital, and the cold is at times extreme; against which the inhabitants take care to provide (see PEASANT), though some of them nevertheless unfortunately fall victims to it. "As I traversed the city, says Mr Coxe, on the morning of 12th January, I observed several persons whose faces had been bitten by the frost: their cheeks had large scars, and appeared as if they had been singed with an hot iron. As I was walking with an English gentleman, who, instead of a fur cap, had put on a common hat, his ears were suddenly frozen: he felt no pain, and would not have perceived it for some time, if a Russian, in passing by, had not informed him of it, and assisted him in rubbing the part affected with snow, by which means it was instantly recovered. This, or friction with flannel, is the usual remedy; but should the person in that state approach fire, or dip the part in warm water, it immediately mortifies and drops off. -- The common people continued at their work as usual, and the drivers plied the streets with their sledges seemingly unaffected by the frost; their beards were incrusted with clotted ice, and the horses were covered with icicles.

"It sometimes happens that coachmen or servants, while they are waiting for their masters, are frozen to death. In order to prevent as much as possible these dreadful accidents, great fires of whole trees, piled one upon another, are kindled in the court-yard of the palace and the most frequented parts of the town. As the flames blazed above the tops of the houses, and cast a glare to a considerable distance, I was frequently much amused by contemplating the picturesque groups of Russians, with their Asiatic dress and long beards, assembled round the fire. The centinels upon duty, having no beards, which are of great use to protect the glands of the throat, generally with handkerchiefs under their chins, and cover their ears with small cases of flannel."