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Charles Piazzi Smyth
In coming to Russia, it had been our desire not only to see its lions, but to carry them away with us, so far as that could be managed on photographic plates...
C. Piazzi Smyth Three Cities in Russia, in two volumes, Vol.I (London: Lovell, Reeve & Co., 1862), Chapter III, First View of the Kremle, p.398.
In coming to Russia, it had been our desire not only to see its lions, but to carry them away with us, so far as that could be managed *on photographic plates, in order to allow our friends at home an opportunity of seeing for themselves, and giving an original opinion on the very objects as they exist in nature. In short, we had brought our photographical apparatus to Russia for something more than merely to say we had brought it; yet up to the present time, we could not claim to have done much more. Why was this? Well, in a general summation that we took during our night on the railway, of all our past proceedings in St. Petersburg, we were rather inclined to attribute it to the too kind endeavours of some of our friends there to preserve our dignity for us. "Photograph," said they, " in the open streets; oh no! that would never do;" and they immediately set to work to place obstacles in the way of our degrading ourselves so far in their decorous eyes.
"These fine Egyptian sphinxes resting on the granite quay of the Neva, we should so like," we said, "to picture them."
"Well, if you can do it from a boat on the river, all well and good; we'll go and help you in that case," returned they. But every photographer will know that a boat foundation was impossible to dry plates. So then we tried another subject, the tombs of St. Alexander Nevski Cemetery. They were allowed to be beautiful, touching, and truly Russian; but then the site was too closely bordering on the publicity of the streets; and though our friends were acquainted with the Archimandrite, and had previously extolled his learning and liberality, they were now simply silent.
After that we asked wildly, right and left, how to get leave to photograph public buildings and scenes in St. Petersburg? One person said, "Oh, just go and photograph them, there is no difficulty about it." Happily however for ourselves, a kindly old lawyer warned us, just in time, not to think of doing so without first obtaining official permission, or the police would certainly be down upon us. Thus spake the man of law; and on one of the last evenings of being in St. Petersburg, we so far verified this advice, that seeing a Frenchman levelling his camera to take a view of the Champ de Mars and Suvorova statue, and conducting his proceedings without official interference, we went straight up to him, and on inquiring, were told that he had received an express license from Count Shuvalov, at his office in the Bolshaya Morskaya.
So having ruminated on all this during our journey, and having found, as already related, after arrival in Moskva, the mass of our letters of introduction fruitless, what must we do but sit down, as we did on the evening of the first, and write off an official letter to the Governal-General of Moskva, Count Strogonov, asking for leave to photograph in the city under his rule, and appointing ten o'clock next morning for our calling upon him for an answer.
Now therefore, as our prescribed morning had arrived, we mounted a drosliky and drove straight away to the Government House, a grand colonnaded building in modern Italian style, occupying one side of an open square. In writing of all this, at home in Edinburgh, we fear that we were a little impudent in addressing so great a functionary; and, as we now look upon it, there is something of that sort of dizzy feeling which comes over one when thinking by the fireside of how you dared, on some particular excursion, to walk quite unconcernedly along such and such dangerous goat-paths on the face of a precipice with a yawning gulf of many hundred, possibly thousand feet below. At the time, however, it did not appear at all extraordinary to us, for we were so wrapped up in the notion of doing what should be thought by the highest local authorities to be the right thing, that we simply went straight on and accomplished the part.
Arriving therefore at the palace's grand entrance, with a card previously prepared, and indicating as well as we could to the soldiers on guard that it was the "Guvernateur " we wished to see, we were shown in from one group of orderlies to another, and then upstairs into a waiting-room, where an aide-de-camp took the card and our statement of business in French. Alter an absence of a few minutes he returned, and requesting us to follow him, led the way through long and handsomely decorated saloons, and finally opening a door at the further end, presented us to the Governor-General in person.
He was a noble-looking veteran, was the Count Strogonov; tall, thin, and somewhat careworn, but more thoughtful; with a large brain, long as well as high, and deeply-seated eyes. His room was something of the library sort, and his table before him covered with work in hand. He had been a little surprised with the naiveness of the request, as such authorizations, he said, were generally rather affairs of the police, but on the present occasion there was no need even for that; and he informed us most courteously that we might go and photograph anywhere we pleased in Moskva, without fear of interruption from any one. So thus, in three minutes, our affair was accomplished; and then, feeling legitimately free of the city, we set out to discover the Kremle on foot, happy at the idea that anything which should strike us as strange or rare by the way, we could now fearlessly plot to bring away in the camera.