The Russian Review/Volume 1/April 1916/The First Russian Consul at Boston

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
The First Russian Consul at Boston  (1916) 
by Leo Wiener

The First Russian Consul at Boston.

By Leo Wiener.

Professor of Slavonic Languages and Literatures in Harvard University.

Aleksyey Grigorevich Evstafev, or, as he wrote his name in English, Alexis Eustaphieve, was born in 1779 in the Territory of the Don Cossacks. It is not known what his early education was, but apparently his family was able to grant the children better advantages than fell to the lot of most Cossacks, for a brother of his is mentioned by him later as a surgeon of a hospital in the Ukraine. When Alexis was twenty years old, he was sent to London to serve as a chorister in the Russian church which had always been maintained there in connection with the Russian embassy. The two years passed by him in the English metropolis he spent not only in perfecting himself in music, the chief object of his vocation, especially in learning to play the violin, but also in acquiring a literary knowledge of the English language. He soon developed an indomitable desire to become an English man of letters. He made his anonymous debut in 1806 with a prose translation of Sumorokov's tragedy, "Demetrius the Impostor."

Eustaphieve's Russian training fell within the last decade of the eighteenth century, when the rhetorical element, mingling with the newly borrowed English sentimentalism, formed the prevailing tone of all literary productions, and neither his studies in England, nor his sober experiences in Boston and New York ever succeeded in eradicating that dialectic exultation which lies at the basis of all of Sumorokov's works. The Press received this attempt favorably, as the first of its kind, and thought that the translation did credit to a foreigner's skill in the English language.

Encouraged by his first success and sharing the enthusiasm of his countrymen for Russia under Alexander the First, he next year uttered some rhapsodical prophecies in a pamphlet, "Advantages of Russia in the Present Contest with France," to which he appended a short description of the Cossacks, who then formed the subject of universal interest, and gave still wider scope to his blind admiration of Alexander in another pamphlet, "A Key to the Recent Conduct of the Emperor of Russia" (1808), in which he put the best possible interpretation on the Emperor's action in the Peace of Tilsit. The first of his sketches, like his translation of the tragedy, made the critics speak indulgently of the Russian's proficiency in English composition; but they, at the same time, "wished it contained a little more information and a little less rhetoric." In Russia, the two pamphlets, but especially the second, attracted the attention of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the author was transferred to the office of the Embassy at the Court of St. James.

When, in 1809, Alexander decided to send consuls to America and to be represented by ministers at Washington, the choice for the secondary positions fell upon men already acquainted with the English language or promising to distinguish themselves in the service. Thus, while the first minister, Pahlen, owed his selection merely to Imperial favor, his secretary, Poletica, who a decade later himself became the Russian minister in the United States, was a really capable man, who at home belonged to the famous literary club of the Arzamas, and who profited by his stay in America by writing down his impressions in French, for the benefit of his own countrymen and of others in Europe. This work, though somewhat meagre in details, found favor even in America and was at once translated into English, under the title, "A Sketch of the Internal Condition of the United States of America and of their Political Relations with Europe." Poletica himself carried through life a warm attachment for England and America and was, on account of his strong Anglo-Saxon propensities, nicknamed at home a Methodist and Quaker.

Similarly, the Consul-General Dashkov was a man of inferior caliber who later, when he took Pahlen's place in Washington, made himself very much disliked in the United States, and in the unfortunate incident of the arrest of the Russian consul-general for criminal misconduct almost brought about a rupture of diplomatic relations. But two of his minor associates, Svinin and Eustaphieve, the consul at Boston, were men of more than ordinary ability. Upon his return to Russia, Svinin developed a prodigious activity in art and literature, and in his practical aspects of life and love of material progress showed unmistakably his indebtedness to America. His activity in this direction really began when he was in this country. In the two years of his trans-Atlantic sojourn he drew and painted a mass of American scenes, for which he was later offered the immense sum of 25,000 roubles. He contributed an excellent portrait of Alexander and a drawing of a Cossack of the Don, and a Memoir on the Cossacks to the Portfolio, published in Philadelphia. He wrote a series of articles for a Russian periodical, giving a general view of the Republic of the United States, its religious sects, the newly invented steamboats, the Niagara Falls, and the sports of the Indians, and collected these into a volume, adding to it a series of interesting illustrations. He carefully studied the construction of steamboats, took keen interest in the trial-trip of Fulton's new boat, the Paragon, on the Hudson, made the offer to his Government to build steamboats for Russia at his own expense; but in this he was thwarted by Fulton's grant to build such vessels, which he had obtained through John Quincy Adams' intervention but of which he did not take advantage, leaving it to Oberhüttenverwalter Berd, known in Russia for his mechanical skill, to rig up a steamboat which later plied between St. Petersburg and Cronstadt. Unfortunately, Svinin's profitable stay in the United States was cut short in 1813, when he took General Moreau, whose acquaintance he had made here, back to Europe, to fight for Russia and against Napoleon.

Eustaphieve was the only one who remained in America a greater length of time. In the almost half a century of his American life, he, by slow process of transmutation, passed over from a perfervid love of his own country to an equally ardent admiration for everything American, which went so far that he made the reports to his Government in English. He began his career in America by interpreting the acts of his Emperor to the public, but he soon strove to gain a social position in the country of his residence and to give tone to the milieu in which he moved. In his inexhaustible ambition he combined the activities which usually belong to a number of distinct and unrelated individuals: he was a man of letters, wrote political pamphlets, and tried himself in poetry and the drama; he succeeded in putting three of his productions on the stage and cultivated the acquaintance of the famous actors of the day; he was proficient on the violin, and occasionally helped out the Boston Symphony; he acted as an art critic and for a while was Boston's dramatic critic; he was one of the chief advocates of homoeopathy in its incipient stages, gaining the approval of Hahnemann himself.

His ability, though remarkable in many respects, was not proportionate to his sublime ambition, and he earned scorn and derision as well as admiration and approval, and his enemies were as plentiful as were his friends. Nothing could daunt him and, after each virulent attack by his critics, he rose Antaeus-like against his opponents, hurling his mighty thunderbolts against them and growing bolder in his critiques. In Russia he was regarded as a man of great prominence, but there, too, his enemies were as powerful as his friends were great, and he never succeeded in getting the official advancement which was due him or the emoluments which would raise him above a life of mediocre ease and at times even downright want. His name has completely passed out of memory, though historical works occasionally refer to him as "the well-known Russian Consul."

In the beginning of 1811, Eustaphieve had sufficiently progressed in his social status to dare to put one of his dramas on the stage, but he did not yet feel justified in proclaiming his authorship. On March 5th the newspapers announced that a new tragedy in five acts, "Mazepa, Hetman of the Ukraine, written by a gentleman," would be given on the following evening. The program gave a brief account of Mazepa and informed the public that the hero of the play was the only real personage, the rest of the characters being fictitious, that the plot could not be traced from history, and that "as the offspring of imagination it was fairly submitted to the ordeal of public judgment." No lesser lights than Messrs. Duff, Entwistle and Darley, and the Mrs. Darley and Powell took the chief parts, while Mr. Vaughan spoke the prologue. The first two performances did not draw large crowds, and for the third night, March 11th, the author found it necessary to have the tragedy curtailed, to bring it within histrionic bounds. Though the papers announced that his Excellency and Suite would probably honor Mazepa and the Theater with their attendance that evening, and though they spoke with commendation of the tragedy as "an attempt in a higher walk than any we have witnessed in this town," the theater was not packed, and the play was not given again until April 24th, as a benefit for Messrs. Vaughan and Robertson.

Encouraged by his dramatic success and anxious to continue the literary career begun by him in England, Eustaphieve published early in 1812, "Reflections, Notes, and Original Anecdotes, illustrating the Character of Peter the Great, to which is added a tragedy in five acts entitled "Alexis, the Czarewitz." In his panegyric on Peter the Great, in whom he apparently found the prototype for Alexander I., to whom the volume was dedicated, he refuted the charges of cruelty which had been preferred against the Tsar, and surrounded him with an aureole of glory, investing him with all the virtues in the calendar of saints. In so far as this eulogy gave evidence of a patriotic spirit in the author, it found favor with the American critics, but his extravagant praise only provoked their smiles. A captious writer, signing himself "Claudio," put his sentiment in verse:

"Oh! then, Alexis, cease thy lay,
Nor think that Fame will ever pay
For time thus idly thrown away,
Or add to thy celebrity!"

The tragedy, which forms the second part of the book, was intended as a vindication of Peter from the charge of having killed his own son. Eustaphieve, no doubt, had intended to put this blank verse tragedy on the stage, but the approaching war of France with Russia for a time enlisted his literary ambition into another, more profitable direction, that of a champion of contemporary Russia and of a prophet of the final supremacy of his native country. In May 1812, his "The Resources of Russia, in the Event of a War with France, and an Examination of the Prevailing Opinion Relative to the Political and Military Conduct of the Court of St. Petersburgh, with a Short Description of the Cozaks," was published anonymously. The Russian successes of the following year, as predicted by him, soon raised him high in the esteem of American readers, and his pamphlet was three times reprinted in the United States and several times in England. But in England it roused the ire of the Edinborough Review, on account of the author's attack upon the English Government, and he was severely taken to task for his utterances. Eustaphieve enjoyed nothing better than a stiff fight, and he retaliated with a "Reply to the Edinborough Reviewers," in which he did not mince matters, and incidentally accused them of getting their good reviews, not from Englishmen, but from Walsh of Philadelphia. It was an irony of fate that Eustaphieve should find himself soon facing Walsh himself, whom he attacked vigorously and unsparingly in a long postscript to the "Reflections on the War of 1812," translated and expanded by him from the Russian of Chuykevitch.

The "Russian Consul of Boston" became an authority on European matters, and in 1815 his "Memorable Predictions on the Late Events in Europe," which had been published the year before, were supplemented by "More Predictions Concerning the Second Downfall of Bonaparte." His reputation was particularly great among the men of the Federalist party, who looked with favor and joy upon the downfall of Napoleon, and who, for a year or two, kept celebrating the Russian victories all along the Atlantic Coast, from Newburyport to Georgetown. In the middle of March 1813, there appeared in the Boston papers an appeal to the citizens to celebrate the downfall of France, "to unite in a grateful and national festival on this glorious and auspicious event, and to invite the Consul of his Imperial Majesty of all the Russias, to participate with us on the joyous occasion." In inviting Eustaphieve, T. H. Perkins, the chairman of the committee of arrangements, wrote, "It will not be forgotten that it was you who made known to the American people 'The Resources of Russia,' nor that what we now know as history, was prophetically announced by you, as the fate of the Despot, who vainly thought, that your countrymen might be added to the number of his vassals. We rejoice with you, that the oppressed and humiliated nations of the Continent of Europe are now bursting their shackles, and that your gallant Emperor is hailed as the Deliverer of the Commercial World.'

The great moment had arrived for Eustaphieve. He accepted the invitation in an enthusiastic manner. The celebration took place on March 25. It was a glorious affair. An Oratorio was prepared in the Stone Chapel. The solemnities consisted of airs, a recitative and choruses of nearly two hundred amateurs. Famous musicians, such as Hewitt and Graupner, furnished the instrumental music; Rev. Mr. Channing offered up a solemn prayer, and Dr. Freeman selected his Scripture readings in such a way that they fully rendered the course of the political events in Europe. Two thousand people were edified by this impressive church celebration, and at four o'clock the subscribers to the festival assembled at the Exchange for a feast, at which Hon. Harrison G. Otis, assisted by a number of distinguished gentlemen, presided. The hall was appropriately decorated. When "The Emperor of Russia" was given as a toast, a curtain was drawn which disclosed a transparent likeness of Alexander in full uniform, with the motto "Alexander, the Deliverer of Europe." When a toast in honor of Moscow was announced, another transparency was unveiled, representing "Moscow in Flames." Otis delivered an address on the emancipation of Europe from thraldom and the rescue of America from a great danger, finishing it with a toast to "Alexander the Great, Emperor of all the Russias,—he weeps not for the conquest of a new world, but rejoices in the salvation of the old." After toasts to the American national rulers, the Russian nation and the Russian armies, there followed a Russian ode, and after many more toasts and more odes, the Russian Consul was called for a toast. The Consul was not well trained in public speaking, and so the President read the toast prepared by him. It ended with the following reference to himself:

"With regard to myself individually, 'Thanks' is the only word I am capable of uttering. You have cherished me, you have received me as one of your own, you have kindly overlooked my defects, and magnified my little deserts. I can say no more. I will wear you in the core of my heart, and if ever I forget what I owe you, or if ever I wilfully render myself unworthy of your friendship, I shall become the destroyer of my own happiness. Citizens of Boston: To comply with the established custom, and my feverish wish, I will, with your permission, give you the toast which is the titlepage to the sentiments I have ever entertained,— The Capital of Massachusetts! The first to resist aggression and the last to remember an injury. May it ever in politics and morals be the leading star in America!"

After the Consul had retired, the following was given: "The Russian Consul, the Gentleman and the Scholar,—the ornament of his own country and the friend of ours." The celebration ended with an ode on "Boney's Retreat," written by a lad of fifteen, to the tune of "Yankee Doodle."

Eustaphieve's "Alexis" was put on the stage on March 23rd of next year, with Mr. and Miss Holman and Mr. Young playing the principal parts. The performance was a success, the reputation of the author serving as an inducement for Boston society to attend. "The representation of this play was highly creditable to the performers," said one paper, "and Mr. Eustaphieve may congratulate himself on having conquered where it is not dishonorable to fail."

Boston was at the height of its admiration for everything Russian, and so the performance of "Alexis" was repeated on April 11th with the addition, "for the first time in America, and for that night only," of a melodrama in three acts, with Russian national music, selected and arranged by Mr. Hewitt, called "the Faithful Wife, or the Cozaks on the Road to Paris," in which the outlandish names of Roubinin, Mohroon, Chichak, Bournovilie were apparently intended to increase the terror caused by the Cossacks. Alexander's portrait (a true likeness) appears raised upon the Cozaks' spears, and is followed by a correct transparency of Moscow in flames, both painted from an original picture by Mr. Penniman, for the late Russian festival. The whole to be concluded with the celebrated Grand Russian Polonesso, as performed at the Imperial Palace at St. Petersburgh."

Emboldened by his dramatic success, Eustaphieve at once proceeded, anonymously it is true, to proclaim himself as Boston's chief dramatic critic, on the pages of the New England Palladium and Commercial Advertiser. On January 2nd 1815, he wrote: "Whence comes it that the stage, which, like a double-edged instrument, cuts right or wrong according to the direction given it, should be so slightly regarded among us, that the eye of Criticism, vigilant in other respects, scarcely ever deigns to rest upon it, or passes by only with a casual and transient glance? In any other civilized country, the operation of this machine, at once useful and dangerous, is watched with an anxiety and jealousy, fully proportionate to its acknowledged importance: Why then is it neglected among ourselves? Are we more virtuous, or more different, and less likely to be influenced by the scene of fiction, than our European ancestors and brethren? Or are its powerful effects weakened and neutralized by a voyage, which Thalia and Melpomene must necessarily make across the Atlantic in order to visit us? I have often put these questions to myself and to my friends, who, as often, instead of resolving them, answered only by asking why I do not myself remedy the neglect complained of, by putting on the garb of Critic, and thus lead the way for other abler pens in a career so honourable and important. I confess I have often felt tempted to adopt this advice, but diffidence, and a lurking hope that someone will yet precede me, have till now witheld me, and it was not till I witnessed the representation of the Iron Chest on Monday last week, that my impatience overcame my fears and I yielded to the temptation."

During the months of January, February and March of that year, he thus criticized at great length the Iron Chest, The Curfew (by Tobin), Jane Shore (by Rowe), Revenge (by Dr. Young), The Merchant of Venice, Catharine and Petruchio, Adelgitha, Romeo and Juliet, Abaellino, The Hero of the North (by Diamond), Richard the Third, Machetto, A School for Scandal, As You Like It, The Provoked Husband, Wives as They Were and Maids as They Are (by Mrs. Inchbald), Education, The Wonder a Woman Keeps Her Secret, The Miller and His Men, Henry the Eighth, and Much Ado About Nothing.

The anonymity did not deceive anyone in Boston. Everybody knew who the author was, and one, W., severely attacked him in the Boston Gazette. On February 9th there appeared the following verses from his pen:

"Critics there are, a set of snarling elves,
Who think no merit due but to themselves;
Who deal out praise, as nature deals out brains,
Or Druggist like,—in pennyweights and grains!
Yet scan their works, and what do we descry;
Nought but pedantic nonsense meets their eye—
Tis thus th' aspiring 'Censor' would be great,—
But his own 'Cossac' justly seals his fate."

The polemic between W. and Eustaphieve and his friends was taken up again in the beginning of the next season, but apparently Eustaphieve for once succumbed to the attacks, for after two or three more criticisms he gave up his endeavors to instruct the Boston public. Up to 1818 we do not again hear of him, except that he joined with others to recommend the purchase of The Landing of the Fathers, which ultimately was purchased by the Pilgrim Society and put on exhibition in Museum Hall, near Brattle Street Chapel, in September 1820.

Eustaphieve was not crushed. He was all the while laboring on a great epic, which at last appeared in 1818, "Demetrius, the Hero of the Don." At the end of the soporific 7000 lines of the seven Cantos the author cheerfully informed the public that that was only the beginning of a much longer work, that "he, therefore, respectfully takes his leave for the present, adding merely that a few notes and a critical essay upon the Epopee, particularly on Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered, are contemplated in connection with the original design of the poem." This was more than the North American Review, heretofore silent in regard to Eustaphieve, was willing to endure. A sarcastic review of "Demetrius" appeared, which brought a long series of counterblasts in the Palladium, avowedly from a friend of Eustaphieve, but more likely by himself, in which he said of the North American Review, "How came this rickety, would-be malicious thing christened by the name of Review, to find its way into the grand literary galaxy of New England?"

Henceforth Eustaphieve disappeared from the pages of the periodicals, but he continued to cultivate the acquaintance of the actors and actresses of his day, and is occasionally mentioned in their reminiscences. Occasionally, too, one comes in the newspapers across some reference to his daughter's musical accomplishments, and in 1828 Longfellow wrote to his father about Miss Eustaphieve, of whom he said, "She is an exceedingly graceful and elegant dancer, and plays beautifully upon the pianoforte."

Soon after, Eustaphieve was transferred to New York, where he apparently developed a similar literary activity, for in 1837 he published a little book on Homœopathy, which in 1846 appeared in an enlarged form, under the title, "Homœopathia Revealed, a Brief Exposition of the Whole System, adapted to General Comprehension, with a note of Psora and Dr. Duringe's Objections, with a sketch of Isopathia, inscribed to John Forbes, M. D., F. R. S." In New York we lose trace of Eustaphieve, and neither American nor Russian sources give us any information on the ultimate fate of this modern Theophrastus Bombastus Paracelsus de Hohenheim, who considered it his duty to act as a mediator between European and American culture.