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“Feasting and fasting”: Easter in St. Petersburg

“The Russian People pass their lives in a continual and alternate succession of feasting and fasting,” John Quincy Adams stated to his mother without so much as a salutation. From his vantage point as minister plenipotentiary to St. Petersburg in 1811, Adams wrote to his parents about Russian politics, court life, and traditions. Based on the eight pages he dedicated to it, one of the customs that intrigued John Quincy most was how Russians celebrated Easter.

Panaromic view of St. Petersburg by J. A. Atkinson, c.1807.(Library of Congress)


In mid-February seven weeks of “rigorous lent” began during which believers should eat “absolutely nothing but bread and salt.” John Quincy acknowledged that the severity of the restrictions were somewhat abated in practice, and that “among the highest class of the nobility there are persons not extremely scrupulous about observing the fast at-all.” This laxity came at a price, however, as the public was severely critical of those who did not follow the orders of the Church. For this reason, “there are few even of the highest ranks, but choose to be thought regular in their practice.” He added that the Imperial family was “punctilious in setting the example.”

Besides being without the foods to which they were accustomed, theaters were closed for all seven weeks of Lent. “No entertainments are given, and the families which profess to be scrupulous in their duties neither pay nor receive visits.” In place of the usual merriments, there were religious services three or four times a week. In the last week of lent, called “Passion-week,” there were ceremonies every day.

On Good Friday, funeral processions led into churches where elaborate representations of Christ’s sepulcher were erected and lit until the midnight services on Easter morning. At the stroke of midnight, cannons were fired to signal the start of three- or four-hour services in all the churches of St. Petersburg.

As a foreign minister, John Quincy was permitted to attend services in the chapel in the Imperial palace. He arrived at the palace “in full dress as to Court” and was ushered into the chapel just before midnight. He soon heard the thunder of cannons and observed Emperor Alexander I and the Imperial family process into the candlelit chapel. Attendants distributed lit wax tapers as the all-male choir performed. At the conclusion of the Mass, seven priests formed a line before the Emperor, each holding a holy relic. The Emperor kissed each relic and “embraced the Priests themselves.” John Quincy wrote that the other members of the Imperial family followed in succession, “excepting that the Priests instead of being embraced by the Ladies, kiss’d their hands.” He informed Abigail that this was a new trend with which many believers from all ranks of society were displeased because it removed the “primitive equality of all Christian believers” and “the purity of Christian innocence” from the tradition. He writes that many preferred “the good old smack upon the cheek and lips, which they boast of as having always been given at Easter.” Interestingly, John Quincy noted, “Every individual in the chapel. . .was understood to have the privilege of going up and embracing the Emperor.” The people attending the ceremony excitedly exercised this privilege, keeping the Emperor kissing and embracing for a full hour.

On the afternoon of Easter Sunday, St. Isaac’s Square became home to “Rope-dancers, Chinese-Shadows, puppet-shows, mechanical and optical representations, strange animals, and the like delights of the Populace.” The square, John Quincy related, was also filled with twenty or thirty carnival rides, “filled by a succession of men, women and children who keep them in perpetual motion.” He observed that the fair was enjoyed only by “the lowest classes,” and that anyone who owned or could hire a carriage spent the afternoon circling the Square, “beholding all these amusements. . .and at the same time exhibiting themselves, and their Carriages, and Liveries and Horses, in Spectacle to one Another.”

One tradition that pervaded all classes was the custom of giving eggs, which was “as universal as that of kissing,” John Quincy told his mother. Those in the lower classes exchanged hard-boiled eggs that were dyed red. People with greater wealth gifted artificial eggs made of everything from marble and porcelain to candied sugar. John Quincy assured Abigail that his four-year-old son was partaking in the festivities. “Boxes of Sugar-plums assume this form in presents for children, much to the entertainment of master Charles.” Charles also had the opportunity to gaze in shop windows lavishly decorated with “multitudes of these artificial eggs, of various sizes, suspended by silk ribbons of all the gaudy Colours” and to hear street vendors hawk the candy eggs, gingerbread, and other candy. “In short,” John Quincy concluded, “these objects are so multiplied at these times before the eyes of a Stranger to the Custom, that he would almost be induced to believe that in Russia, breeding eggs, and kissing was the business of human life.”

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 6 April, 2018, 12:00 AM

Charles Cornish Pearson and the Great War, Part IV


This is the fourth post in a series about the wartime experience of Charles Cornish Pearson. Go back and read Part I, Part II, and Part III for the full story.

After a short hiatus, I’m happy to return to the story of Sgt. Charles Cornish Pearson of the 101st Machine Gun Battalion in World War I. We last heard from him in April 1918, so I’ll pick up now in May. I’ve been looking forward to this installment because it was during this month that Charles wrote some of my favorite letters in the collection.

Things were relatively quiet for Charles’ battalion after the terrible Battle of Seicheprey in northeastern France. Philip S. Wainwright says very little about the month of May 1918 in his History of the 101st Machine Gun Battalion, except that it “passed uneventfully.” But I imagine these calmer periods gave soldiers time to pause and reflect on their experiences, for better or worse. Certainly Charles wrote longer and more introspective letters this month, and in them he took a broader look at the war he’d been fighting for almost a year. He was housed in barracks somewhere near Seicheprey when he wrote to his parents on the 5th.

Please get the idea of the awfulness of this war out of your head […] We are not such a terribly afraid lot and as long as they keep us supplied with the necessary articles of food clothing & ammunition why we don’t kick a great deal. Money supplies & less politics are what we need over here and I hope the people in the U.S. will gradually awaken to these facts & the sooner they do so why the sooner the war will be over.


As for his recent “exciting experiences,” Charles showed remarkable composure (or at least put on a brave face for his family). His letters give us a fascinating look into the psychology of soldiers in the trenches.

Now that we have done our bit at the Front & had a taste of gas, shells air raids etc. why there isn’t much new to experience & one settles down to take it all as it comes. Do our bit & then try to forget about it as quickly as possible. […] We aren’t down hearted, but don’t think that we forget the serious side of this business and realize that the next day may be the time that we get our stomachful a plenty. Its all a matter of chance anyway & […] it makes little difference what you do, if its your turn, why you get it. 


Fifteen days later, still enjoying the well-deserved rest and relaxation, he wrote at length to his younger sister Jean. The collection came with one photograph of her, taken ca. 1910-1915.



Jean—short for Jeannette—was about 26 years old in 1918 and lived in Masters, Colorado, with her husband Thomas B. McPherson and, I think, a young son and daughter. Unfortunately, the MHS doesn’t hold her letters to Charles, but she’d been a steadfast correspondent, often sending cigarettes and care packages. His letter, dated 20 May, reveals not only his affection for her, but also his sense of humor, compassion, and humility. After reassuring Jean that things were fairly quiet (“You don’t care for excitement these days after you have had a little of it”), he launched into a description of another soldier named Charlie. I particularly like his euphemism “over the weather,” which was a new one for me.

[He] was a little Sicilian in my old squad who when ever he got tight found the English language a little beyond him. […] He sure was a comical chap and furnished us with many a laugh. Used to always call me “Boss” and when he came in evenings a little bit over the weather would have to sit on the edge of my bunk and tell me all his troubles. Poor Charlie, he was not a success at the front. He developed a case of shell shock and was sent back to the Base and suppose we will never see him again.


Later he corrected a misunderstanding in his endearingly modest way.

Where do you get that “Hero” stuff in your last letter? Indifference to fear etc. Don’t you believe it for a minute. Yours truly is just as frightened as the next fellow and can duck and run for dug-out just as quick as the next fellow. Still this fear stuff doesn’t figure a great deal at that; you may be scared to death still if you have to do something why you have to, that is all.


And he explained in no uncertain terms who the real heroes were, downplaying his own hardships and betraying not even a trace of self-pity.

Besides as far as danger goes we don’t get it the way the doughboys do, he is the fellow that stands the brunt of this war and deserves the credit even more than any other line of service, aviators not excepted. Why? because he stands real hardship which many of us are lucky to get out of. He goes up to the trenches for six or seven days at a stretch, lives in mud and water, gets very little sleep and eats when he gets a chance […] To see those boys hiking back from the trenches makes one (who doesn’t get that part of the game) think that doughboy is the fellow to be pitied.


Stay tuned for Part V of Charles’ story.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 30 March, 2018, 12:00 AM

“Across wide fields of melting snow / The winds of summer softly blow”: The Easter poems of Lucy Larcom

On March 20th we marked the spring equinox here in New England with the arrival of our fourth nor’easter of the month. After a warmer-than-average February we found ourselves bundling up for a colder-than-average March and spring has seemed further around the corner than it ought to be. In this week that marks both the Jewish Passover and Christian Easter holidays, I decided to share a poem for spring from New England poet Lucy Larcom. 


Many of you have likely encountered nineteenth-century writer Lucy Larcom through her autobiographical work A New England Girlhood (1889) which tells the story of her childhood in Beverly, Massachusetts and her experience working in the mills of Lowell before she traveled west to Illinois to become a teacher and later returned to Massachusetts to make her living as a writer and editor. In 1891, Larcom published a small collection of Easter poems, Easter Gleams with Riverside Press an imprint of Houghton, Mifflin & Company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Riverside had also published Larcom’s Girlhood three years before. Below are the poems “Ring! Happy Bells!” (5) poem “Sunrise” (13) from Easter Gleams.


Ring! Happy Bells!

Ring, happy bells of Easter time!

The world is glad to hear your chime;

Across wide field of melting snow

The winds of summer softly blow,

And birds and streams repeat the chime

Of Easter time.


Ring, happy bells of Easter time!

The world takes up your chant sublime,

The Lord has risen!” The night of fear

Has passed away, and heaven draws near:

We breathe the air of that blest clime,

At Easter time.


Ring, happy bells of Easter time!

Our happy hearts give back your chime!

The Lord has risen! We die no more:

He opens wide the heavenly door;

He meets us, while to Him we climb,

At Easter time.



The Sunrise over the houses!

The beautiful rose of dawn

Reddening the eastern windows, --

The curtains of Night withdrawn!


More lovely than boughs in blossom

The spires and the roof-trees glow.

It is day; and, in God awaking,

Shall the spirit unfold and grow.


On the city, in chrismal splendor,

The blessing of morning falls: --

The Bride coming down out of heaven! --

The pearl-gates, the jasper walls!


The white light enters the casement

Like the wings of the Holy Dove;

And every house is a flower,

A blossom of peace and love.


The sunrise is fair on the gardens,

The groves and the forests afar;

But fairer the trees of manhood,

Of heavenly planting are.


And wide are the green savannahs

That under the dawn unroll;

But broader the landscape opens

In the sunrise of a soul!


The footsteps of morning hasten

Across yonder populous space,

And the dwellings of men are illumined

With the glory of God’s own face.


Who can guess the power of His coming?

He will banish doubt and despair;

The life of His Spirit will kindle

And stir the sleepers there.


Behold the Day Star ascending!

See the hour of His triumph begin!

The sunrise over the houses!

The Christ-light shining in!


In addition to holding a print copy of Easter Gleams and other published works by Larcom, the Massachusetts Historical Society holds Larcom’s diaries, correspondence, and other manuscript materials, principally in the Daniel Dulany Addison collection. We also hold issues of Our Young Folks (1865-1873) and the Lowell Offering (1840-1845), both of which Larcom was deeply involved in as a writer and editor. Researchers interested in accessing Larcom’s writings may visit the library or contact the reader services staff to learn about options for reproduction.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 28 March, 2018, 10:24 AM

World Poetry Day, Porcine Edition

Today, 21 March, is World Poetry Day as proclaimed by UNESCO in 1999. To recognize this designation we will look at a bit of newly-acquired poetry found here in the collections at the MHS. 

A few years ago here on the Beehive I published a post, "Porcineographs and Piggeries" about a man named William Emerson Baker and his vast estate, Ridge Hill Farms. In the original post I included references to a Guide to Ridge Hill Farms held here at the Society, as well as an invitation "to assist in laying the corner stone of a new piggery" on the estate, and my personal favorite, the Porcineograph.* 


The Society recently acquired several more items related to Ridge Hill Farms and Baker, generally, and some that specifically detail the lavish party held to lay the corner stone of his new piggery. In a printing titled "Fete Champetre at the laying of the coner-stone for the new piggery...", a contributor mourns the dearth of verse dedicated to pigs: 



The Pig and the Poets.

Almost every domestic animal has found his Homer among the poets. The horse, the dog, the cat, all have been celebrated in immortal verse. The pig, on the contrary, has been neglected by the brotherhood of bards; and the most persons would find it difficult to cite a single friendly reference to this despised creature in the writings of British poets. The pig seems to have been born under an evil star. He is never esteemed until he is dead. During his life, man gives him the cold shoulder: when he is dead, man takes it back.


What follows this brief lamentation is a series of responses to Baker's invitations to join the festivities, including a handful of poems dedicated to his porcine pals. In honor of World Poetry Day, I present one such poem here. 


To the Ridge Hill Piggery.


Tall oaks from little acorns grow;

Great deeds from little causes flow.

The corner-stone of this new piggery

Is monument of past-time Whiggery,

When porkers, rooting for their dinner,

Cured old Great Britain, that great sinner,

And, making war upon strange gardens,

Set the old lady asking pardons;

And so she yielded up her knavery

That bound our seamen in her slavery.

All honor to the pigs immortal

Who brought the key to freedom's portal!

They shall be praised with feast and song

As years roll on, and ages long, 

And voices chant the glorious bravery

Of those who broke our seamen's slavery;

While grunting piggeries shall proclaim

From shore to shore each glorious name

Of porcine pilgrim, who began

The contest brave, that swiftly ran

Through House and Senate, and put down

The claim to search from Britain's crown.

Let their bold choruses of grunts

Still meet all national affronts,

And stir the hearts of man and beast,

From North to South, from West to East.

All praise to all brave pigs forever!

Let piggeries multiply; and never

The glorious race, or noble donors,

Live but in health and wealth and honors!*

Mrs. G. L. Ford


Stay tuned to the Beehive for more recently-acquired items relating to the eccentric William Emerson Baker and Ridge Hill Farms. And if you just cannot wait until then, consider Visiting the Library. Who knows, there could be many a piggy punny you just might find funny.




*The Porcineograph provides a small tidbit of information that sheds some light on the topic of Mrs. Ford's poem: "Litigation about the killing of two hogs found trespassing in a garden in Rhode Island in 1811, is said to have resulted in the election of the opposition candidate, Howell, to the United States Senate, and the Declaration of War in 1812." 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 21 March, 2018, 4:28 PM

From Absolute Monarchy to Absolute Demon: “Identity of Napoleon and Antichrist”

As a newer library assistant in the MHS library, I occasionally peruse different subjects in ABIGAIL in the hopes of further familiarizing myself with topics our collections cover. Often, the search topics pertain to my own historical interests. A few months ago I was looking into our Napoleon-related materials when I came across this leviathan of a title: The Identity of Napoleon and Antichrist completely demonstrated, or, A commentary on the chapters of the Scripture which relate to Antichrist [microform] : where all the passages are shown to apply to Napoleon in the most striking manner : and where especially the prophetic number 666 is found in his name, with perfect exactness, in two different manners. 



This “observation,” as defined by the text, has no attributed author but was published by Ezra Sergeant in 1809, the same year the War of the Fifth Coalition was fought. It is no great secret that Napoleon had enemies, but to realize that he was despised enough to be compared as Antichrist was too thought-provoking a concept to let lie. As soon as time afforded, I pulled out the microfilm to take a peek.

Before diving into the topic of their reflection the author takes a few pages to chastise philosophers like Locke, Rousseau, and Voltaire for furthering the spread of deism and religious tolerance, seeing it as promotion for war against Christianity:

We never ought to use against any body the arms of satire and ridicule, which both reason and Religion disown. But to permit in this way the weakest boldly and openly to make war against the strongest, to tolerate it, and not to take care sometimes to set every one at his proper place, is what I consider as entirely abusive.


Throughout the work, the author notes what they consider to be several blatant parallels between passages from the Bible’s book of Revelations and Napoleon’s reign. They conclude that Napoleon and “the beast” share the same origins as the beast is prophesied to emerge from the sea and Napoleon, being Corsican, comes from an island.

The parallel of second beast is given to Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, a French diplomat known for promoting the nationalization of church property in France during the beginnings of the French Revolution. The description of the second beast reads, “And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.” (Revelation 13:12)

Tallyrand played a large role in foreign ministry under Napoleon and was eventually appointed grand chamberlain. He worked to keep peace with the British and encouraged the signing of the Concordat of 1801 which mended the alliance between France and the Papacy.² Unfortunately, he was also an accessory to the kidnapping and execution of a Bourbon prince and attempted to steal from the French National Archive to hide his involvement.¹ While this was a crime to the outside world, it helped to safeguard Napoleon’s rule. The author attributes a great deal of Napoleon’s success to the tireless work of Talleyrand which earns him the parallel.

After assigning the roles of Revelation to different people and countries, the author interprets the symbolism they perceive in the mark of the beast:

And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. (Revelation 13:16-17)

Given that Napoleon’s rule was arguably one of militant conquest the author argues that this mark in the hand or forehead is materialized by the French cockade, typically worn in hats, and the swords of the French military. To make applicable the hindrance of buying and selling in verse 17, the author alludes to Napoleon’s interference with European trade. In 1806, Napoleon issued the Berlin Decrees forbidding trade between his allies and England in the hopes of wounding England’s economy.³ This was not altogether unsuccessful, however, since England ruled the seas and moving goods over land was rather expensive, many of continental Europe’s economies suffered as well.

One of the final and farthest reaching pieces of evidence our author declares is mentioned in the title, “...where especially the prophetic number 666 is found in his name…” The author uses two different series of numbers aligned with letters of the English alphabet to spell out different versions of Napoleon's name. In each case the numerical values assigned to the letters in his name equal 666. 



One can’t help but wonder just how many combinations of numbers and names the author calculated before getting the desired results.

These are just a few highlights of the connections drawn in this work. If you are interested in reading more parallels or perhaps viewing other Napoleon-related materials, check our online catalog, ABIGAIL, and consider stopping by the library for a Visit!



1. "Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand, prince de Bénévent | French statesman and diplomat". Encyclopedia Britannica, Accessed 2018-03-09 at

2. "Concordat Of 1801 | French Religious History". Encyclopedia Britannica, Accessed 2018-03-09 at

3. "Continental System | European History". Encyclopedia Britannica, Accessed 2018-03-09 at


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 14 March, 2018, 12:00 AM

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