[ Russian art and theatre in the Silver Age. ] Autograph 'Russian diary' of Sir John Pollock, giving a vivid account of a cultural tour (Moscow, St Petersburg), meeting luminaries (Stanislavski, Danchenko, Andreyev, Ginzburg, Repin, Korsh, Nordman).

Sir John Pollock [ Sir Frederick John Pollock, 4th Baronet ] (1878-1963), author [ Prince Bariatinsky; Stanislavski; Danchenko; Andreyev,; Ginzburg; Repin; Korsh; Nordman; Moscow Arts Theatre ]
Publication details: 
St Petersburg and Moscow, Russia; Kuokkala, Finland. 3 August to 4 September 1911.
SKU: 19638

36pp., 4to. Neatly and closely written, with each page on a separate leaf of ruled paper. 24 lines to the page. In fair condition, lightly aged. First page headed 'Diary.' On reverse of last page: 'Russian diary | 1911'. The author is not named, but this unpublished item is from the papers of Sir John Pollock, and is in his hand. Sir (Frederick) John Pollock (1872-1963), 4th Baronet of Hatton (Eton; Trinity College, Cambridge; Harvard Law School) is an unaccountably-neglected figure, but from a duinguisehed legal family (including his father, Sir Freerick Pollock, an English jurist best known for his History of English Law before the Time of Edward I, written with F.W. Maitland, and his lifelong correspondence with US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes". His brief obituary in The Times (23 July 1963) is headed 'Playwright and Author', but the best account of his career is the one he himself contributed to Who's Who. Pollock took great interest in Russian affairs, his numerous works including 'War and Revolution in Russia' in 1918, and 'The Bolshevik Adventure' the following year. His plays include a translation of Tolstoy's 'The Man who was Dead' (1912) and a version of 'Anna Karenina' (1913), as well as an original piece titled 'For Russia!' (1915). Of particular relevance to the present item are his original play 'Rosamond' (1910), and his version of Prince Bariatinsky's 'The Great Young Man', produced at the Kingsway Theatre, London, on 31 October 1911. Between 1915 and 1918 he would be Chief Commissioner in Russia and Poland of the Great Britain to Poland and Galicia Fund under the Russian Red Cross, after which he would forge a journalistic career as European correspondent of a number of Fleet Street newspapers, including The Times. The present item is a vivid and evocative artefact of the Russian Silver age. Pollock employs all his journalistic skills, and his entertaining and shrewd account is worthy of publication. Pollock packs a large amount into a single month's visit, and there are numerous descriptions of the sights of St Petersburg and Moscow (galleries, museums, cemeteries, restaurants, market) on the eve of the Russian Revolution, but the diary's main interest is the light it casts on the Silver Age cultural milieu, and in particular the world of the theatre in which Pollock was himself a practitioner (for the background see Catherine Schuler, 'Women in Russian Theatre: The Actress in the Silver Age', (1996). The main members of Pollock's party are 'the P. & Pss.', i.e. Pollock's future wife the actress Lydia Yavorska (née Hubbenet), Princess Bariatinsky (1874-1921) and her husband Prince Vladimir Bariatinsky (1843-1914). (As noted above, Pollock's translation of Bariatinsky's 'The Great Young Man' would be played in London within two months of his return from Russia.) More information about his travelling companions is provided towards the end of the diary, when he paraphrases a Russian newspaper report stating that he is one of 'three English travellers, a dramatist, a professor, & a journalist'. These may be the members of his party to whom he refers as 'the Fs' – almost certainly 'the Forsyths', who feature several times – and 'the B's' (latterly 'the Bees'). Among the individuals Pollock encounters are the playwright Leonid Nikolaievich Andreyev (1871-1919), who acts as the party's guide in Moscow; the scuptors Ilya Yakovlevich Ginzburg (1859-1939) and Léopold Bernhard Bernstamm (1859-1939); the Moscow theatre proprietor Fyodor Korsh (1852-1923); and others including 'Prince Sumbator' ('intendant of the Imperial theatre at Moscow'), 'Ostrovsky' (relation of the playwright?) and 'Fedotov'. There are several visits to 'Penaty', the celebrated home in Kuokalla of the writer Natalia Borisovna Nordman-Severova (1863-1914), sufragette and vegetarian, which she shared with the artist Ilya Repin (1844-1930), leader of 'The Itinerants'. The pair were noted for their hospitality, and their house (a short train ride from St Petersburg in what was then Finland) was thrown open to literary and artistic visitors every Wednesday. The highlight of the diary is Pollock's account of his visit to the Moscow Art Theatre ('the Artistic Theatre') of Stanislavski and Danchenko on 29/16 August 1911, where he witnesses a rehearsal of Tolstoy's 'The Living Corpse' and meets Stanislavski (who had withdrawn from the staging of the piece because of a disagreement over his new 'System'). The visit was not straightforward to organise. At the end of 27/14 August Pollock had read a report in the morning papers 'stating that the Pss had been to the Artistic Theatre to see Noumerovitch-Danchekor [sic] and to ask that three English travellers, a dramatist, a professor, & a journalist, might be shewn the theatre; and that arrangements had been made for them to see a rehearsal of gipsies for Tolstoy's “Living Corpse.”' As Pollock explains: 'Her object in going was in fact to give the P's new play there, but she had also asked if we could see something; so on this being published I at once wrote on the P's advice to N-D to thank him for his kindness: - thus he would have greater difficulty in not inviting us.' Two days later (29/16 August) following a visit by Pollock and the Prince to 'the house of the Boyar Romanovs', the pair were joined by Andreyev, sitting in the gardens of the Kremlin and visiting St. Basil's Cathedral ('as curious inside as out'). Then followed visit to the Moscow Art Theatre: 'Back to hotel, packed, early dinner, and all to the Artistic Theatre, wh. we found that the rehearsal was already proceeding in the foyer. It was not exactly a rehearsal as a performance by the gipsies in order that the members of the company might absorb the gipsy spirit & be able to reproduce it in the play; only three or four real gipsies will be engaged actually to take part. Thus one had a kind of double performance: of the 40 gipsies, and of the members of the company looking on whose expressions were of the highest interest. The secretary of the theatre told me afterwards that this gipsy troupe was considered the best in Russia; at the same time it seems to be thought that the day of the pure gipsies is over and that they are becoming modernised & Europeanised. If this is so, it seemed remarkably little evident; the gipsies looked & sang like anything but Europeans and were as far as I could judge thoroughly characteristic of their race. Afterwards I was glad to find that the Pss. & Stanislavsky both shared my feeling with regard to their singing (as did the P. in a less degree), which was that it was horrible. They have an astonishing go and intensity, and seemed unable to sing anything but fortissimo; their voices are rasping & strident, kept amazingly under control; their style and their music are the negation of music & beauty. The foyer is very big, but Stanislavsky remarked that they were as much out of place in a house as an orchestra in a cupboard; they belong to the prairie and their singing belongs to it. If it sounded to me like anything in the world, it was what one might imagine negroes without voice, trained on Strauss' operas, would produce if trying to sing Venetian music. I can understand that their fierceness and the eagerness they put into emotion that I believe is the most wishy-washy twaddle have the effect of a powerful stimulant on jaded nerves & drunken senses in overheated restaurants; their method is violently sensual; but I don't see how a healthy person of decent taste in his right mind cant find them brutal & degrading. They were of course enormously interesting &^ clever, & everyone enjoyed them as such. The Fs however thought the whole performance one of great beauty; probably because it supplied them with the life & entrain that their feeble & overfed bodies lack. I was told that, this being the off season, and the engagement being among artists, the troupe was paid 200 roubles; at a restaurant and for private reasons they would charge twice as much & not sing so long. They must I think have sung about 10 songs, solos with choruses, & encored two or three; at the end they sang an impromptu welcome to the prominent actors present, starting with Yaronka, and three did a short violent dance, while the rest sang. Both men & women were hideous; only two of the latter were tolerable. The types vary surprisingly; some quite European, blonde & stupid, like housemaids; some entirely negro; some Mongolian; and one, the best singer, a lithe little devil like a clever wicked Italian woman. They are also said to be very clever at getting money out of people | After the performance we were given tea & shewn over the theatre, simply & well fitted up; there is a revolving stage with the centre part made to rise & fall electrically in various directions. | Stanislavski. Noumerovitch-Danchenko & General Stakevitch [for 'Stankevich'?], who is the third partner, received us all most kindly. They talked about London as a delightful possibility, but not as a thing settled, & seemed afraid of it. Stakevitch said their big German tour had resulted in a loss of 80,000 r. Stanislavsky spoke of Gordon-Craig's work in high terms, and said that all the ideas of their forthcoming Hamlet were his, in particular the construction of all the scenery by straight hanging lines wh. by rearrangement & combinations of lighting can be made to assume any shape at will, but also that G-C. was almost impossible to deal with, that he would go away without notice leaving his work half-done, that they had to keep him away while the practical work was being done so as to be free from interruption & objection, that G-C had left them without sufficient designs for the costumes, and that he – Stanislavski – had to do all the executive work.' He describes Stanislavsky as 'a man of about 6 ft 1, and fifty years of age I shd. think – perhaps more, with silver grey hair, & a most charming & interesting expression'. Another interesting passage is the account of Pollock's first visit to Nordman's house at Kuokalla, on 9 August/28 July. Nordman was a suffragette and vegetarian, and her dietary arrangements made her an unusual hostess. Following a visit in the morning to the Winter Palace, which Pollock finds '[i]nterminable & dreary', the party travel in the evening to Kuokalla, 'about 1½ hour into Finland': 'Drive of about 2 m. from station to “Penates,” house of Repin the painter & Mme Nordman. Tea & after bathed in shallow sea. Large company at dinner including Bernstam, the Secretary of the Academy des Beaux-Arts, who did a bust of the Pss. and also the monument of Peter the Great saving people from the flood in front of the Winter Palace, Mrs Shevkin-Kupernic-Polinova, the Pss. great friend & well known poetess & her sister. The dinner wholly vegetarian – no eggs, milk, butter, or cheese – at a round table with a turning centre & drawers to put the dirty plates; no servants in the room, and speeches during dinner: no one allowed to help anyone else, on penalty of making a speech or singing a song – with the result that a man named I think Werther [corrected to 'Waechter'] sang exquisitely (baritone) several songs in Russian.' After dinner the Forsyths are forced out of their hotel room 'owing to filthy stench from w.c.', and spend the night 'all in my room, Marion on bed, F. & I on chairs'. (For the sequel to the vegetarian story, see below for the Prince's indisposition, 'due probably to eating some pate de foie gras smuggled to the Repins' dinner'.) The diary begins with an account of the party's 'long but extremely pleasant voyage' to St Petersburg. On the day of their arrival (3 August/21 July) he takes the Fs 'to see church erected in memory of Alexander II, an erection of supreme costliness & with beautiful things, but whole effect not beautiful.' A long description of the church follows, beginning with the fact that it is 'partly built over the river & enclosed in a shrine is the actual spot where the Tsar was assassinated with part of the canal railings against wh. he fell; this, in the simplicity of the spot, preserved in its entirety with the original dust & stones shattered by the force of the bomb, and in the beauty of the canopy, is the most impressive thing in the church.' After noting that 'the shrine alone is said to have cost £125,000 sterling', and that 'the green blue & yellow ribbed enamel bulbs on the several spires look like advertisements of pneumatic tires' he records that he has dinner with the Princess, her sister and her brother 'Surgeon General Hubbenet'. The days that follow are filled with visits to the sights of St Petersburg (palaces, gardens, islands, art galleries), as the city enjoys 'gorgeous' hot weather. On 5 August/23 July he leaves 'Norman's letter for O'Byrne at the British embassy. Captain Kotzebue & another friend of the B's to dine'. Two days later his party dine in the open air in the gardens of the Palace of the Tauride ('wh. douma sits'), before attending an 'endless & tedious' popular performance of 'Anna Karenina', 'in wooden theatre, something like Oberammergau'. The following day (8 August/27 July) he goes with the 'B's & F's to the Museum of Alexander III – modern paintings & drawings, all Russian', where he is particularly impressed by 'the Repins & Verestchagins'. On 10 August/28 July Pollock is impressed by the rapids at Imatra and the party have a 'capital swim' in the Vuoksi River ('P. Pss. & I: Repin bathing lower down'). They are back in St Petersburg for the holiday celebrating the 'Birthday of the Tsarevitch' on 12 August/30 July: he lunches with the Bariatinskys at Pavlovsk, before dining with 'O'Beirne at his rooms'. The following day's entry describes a visit to 'Tsarskoe Selo', which he finds 'as fascinating as the Winter Pal. is hideous'. In the evening he takes a train with the Bariatinskys 'to , to stay with the Polinoffs'. They return to the Rapins at Kuokala on 16/3 August: 'After tea photos taken and the P. read his play ['The Comedy of Death'] to assembled company, while I wrote. Great discussion at dinner, carried on by speeches in Russian, about the duties of women in the world; a rich young poetess of terrific appearance, [added later: 'The Pss. later described her to me as “only a sort of house-poetess.”'] rather like Miss Bunnion in “Mrs. Perkin's Ball,” maintaining that they ought to have lots of children and aim first of all at making their husbands comfortable. The Pss. answered her in a tremendous fighting speech that evoked prolonged cheers from the table, and others kept the ball rolling. Afterwards Mme Nordman told me that the Russian Bunion was engaged to be married to a man who would certainly rob her of all her money: of course, she said, an officer.' In the days that follow he pays a couple of visits to the Hermitage, whose treasures he describes with appreciation. On 18/5 August, after a visit to the Hermitage, the party are met by the singer Waechter, who 'took us back to hotel in his motorcar [added in margin: 'Charron'] & all lunched hotel. After in motorcar to Academie des Beaux-Arts to see studio of Guinsbourg the sculptor, who has an unofficial position there. Thought his work charming & thoroughly sincere. [added in margin: 'Many groups of children playing & bathing.; a fine sketch of group at revolutionary meeting in 1905 never finished.'] On to recently founded Tolstoy museum, of wh. Guinsbourg is curator or secretary. Portraits of Tolstoy by Repin & many others, busts of Guinsbourg & other, photos of T., letters, works about T., collections of caricatures: all very interesting & well-shewn. The Fs back to hotel, & rest in the motor to a cemetery to see someone or other's tomb; but driver lost way & after getting almost bogged in one of the principal roads on the outskirts of St. P., gave it up & came back: […] Count Leo Tolstoy [Cyrillic here] & Ostrovsky to dinner. Dined in private room to avoid huge Cook's crowd in restaurant.' The following day the party go by boat to the 'Maison du Peuple', where they find Ostrovsky, 'who shewed us over the new theatre, being built in the grounds. It seemed bad in shape, being circular (the auditorium), but the stage will be huge & elaborate. It will seat 4000 people & be ready in two months, tho' only the shell is up now. Prince Oldenburg, the president of the Temperance Soc: owning nominally the whole place (for it is said to be largely subsidised by the Tsar, on a “panem et circenses” principle), brings barrels of beer and a balalaika orchestra to encourage the workmen. […] Lunched at Contstantis, Rumanoff, journalist [later referred to as 'theatrical journalist'], joining us, and afterwards with Pss., Blagovestchenskaya, & self to Tsarkoe-Selo; thence by landau to Pulova and were shewn over the observatory by the assistant curator'. On 20/7 August they visit the house of Peter the Great, and then travel by train to Vatny Ostrov where they join a crowd of 'anything between 50 & 120 thousand people' watching 'a historical pageant play of the conquest of Siberia by Yermak', with a battle scene taking place on islands in the lake. Two days later he encounters, in the Hermitage, 'Frederick Harrison [Sir Frederick Harrison (1844-1914), railway manager?] & Godfrey Harrison, with the Roskills, all on the SS. Mantra (P&O) now at Kronstadt. They with a huge party in their company have been to Moscow & now are at the Hotel de France wh. they are a great nuisance, overcrowding the rooms & spoiling the kitchen by overworking it. | The German named singer to lunch. His name appears really to be Betther. With him a German pianist and one of the younger Nobels, who had been 3 years in England. A Swede by origin, he speaks Swedish, some Finnish, English, French, German & Italian, works in the cream-separator business – a Swedish patent that is sold all over the world, & has with his brother three motors.' Also on 22/9 August he travels with a 'large party to Peterhof by motor. The Fs & the pianist in a Knight-Daimler; Pss., Blag., Mme Nordman, Bettherr, in Charron; Nobel drove me in brand new 38 h.p. K-Daimler 2 seater, just delivered from works; P. & Fedotoff by train. Did the 17 miles in about 50 minutes'. They travel through the park and '[o]ut in the motors into the country, & had a capitally organised picnic supper at a farm close by an imperial shooting box (nobody there) on top of a hill. Beautiful view with setting sun. Back in dark to Peterhof & heard music in the park.' On 23/10 August, after another visit to the Hermitage, they travel to Kuokalla for dinner with the Repins, then walk 'to wooden theatre & had performance of Mme Nordman's one-act women's rights play with herself in chief part. Songs by Mmes Fedotoff & Nordman – recitations by Pss. Repin, Mme N., Pss., Fed., painter & afterwards walked over fields & woods to Ollila & met late train, the others dining in Kuokala.' On 24/11 August he goes with 'Blag.' and 'Alexei' to 'part of the central market, and bought a fine bell for the races for A. K. Met there by the Pss. And all on to [Cyrillic] a wonderful collection of small shops under long arcades & in endless courts, off the [Cyrillic], to buy uniforms. Almost all the people here are Jewish, & one sees wonderful Oriental types; scarcely anyone seemed to be buying, and as we went along they all clustered round us trying to sell furs & antiques & embroideries. I saw two Jews bargaining over some splendid sable skins. After going into two shops fruitlessly we found all we wanted in a third, and after much bargaining by the Pss. & Alexei finally secured ten uniforms with epaulettes etc, only not boots or swords, for 175 roubles. This took the whole of the afternoon & we didn't get back to the hotel till 8.45.' On 26/13 August there are concerns about the Prince's health as the party travel to Moscow, but he is found to have 'nothing more than an upset inside due probably to eating some pate de foie gras smuggled to the Repin's dinner by the Russian Bunion. Korsh, the director of the theatre, was rung up on the phone & came round to be useful: a very witty, quick man of about 55, of remarkable charm, with big, beautiful, innocent-wicked eyes. Also Andreef, who was the Pss. producer has since been at the Artistic Theatre; friendly, intelligent, & useful. Both speak French well. […] Pss., Fs, & self off with Andreeff to Kreml, where he showed us round the two cathedrals, two other churches, the view from Alex II's monument and I went up the tower of Ivan Veliky whence a splendid view of Moscow, glittering wwith gilt domes & green with suburban gardens. […] After dinner with F's, Pss., Andreeff to Kreml to hear part of a night mass at the Ouspensky Sobor'. A long discussion of Moscow churches follows, after which: 'Back to hotel, & the Pss., Andreev, & I sat up till 12 over tea, with stories of their great Asian tour.' On 24/11 August he goes with 'Blag.' and 'Alexei' to 'part of the central market', where he buys 'a fine bell for the races for A. K.' He is met there by the Princess, and the party travel on to 'a wonderful collection of small shops under long arcades & in endless courts […] Almost all the people here are Jewish, & one sees wonderful Oriental types; scarcely anyone seemed to be buying, and as we went along they all clustered round us trying to sell furs & antiques & embroideries. I saw two Jews bargaining over some splendid sable skins. […] the Pss. & Alexei finally secured ten uniforms with epaulettes etc, only not boots or swords, for 175 roubles.' On 28/15 August 'the P. telephoned to the police in the Kremlin and obtained permission for us all to see over it'. Then 'All to tea with Andreev & his wife, who is an actress at the Artistic Theatre & also has a successful dramatic school. A: shewed me some good designs he had done for staging “As you Like It.” Dined early and whole company with a pleasant elderly journalist who has partly founded a women's paper [Cyrillic] to [Cyrillic] theatre and saw performance of [Cyrillic] - “The Storm” - by Ostrovsky. Some of the acting was not bad, but much was, and the ensemble, scenery, & production in general were hopelessly inefficient. Everyone disgusted by the low level of the performance, wh. however seemed to please a full house. Between the acts round to see Korsh, who has a fine head of the Pss. by Lehmann in his room, after his death to go to the Tretsiakor Gallery. | After the play all to the Literary & Artistic Club to have supper with Prince Sumbator, by birth a Georgian, who is the intendant of the Imperial theatre at Moscow, & also the principal actor under the name of [Cyrillic], besides the author of several successful plays. In literary taste he is a professed Anglomane, and is producing this autumn, besides two Shakespearian plays, 'the Duchess of Padua' and 'Mid-Channel'. We talked about “Rosamund” [Pollock's play, which had been produced in England in 1910 and would be published in 1926] and he promised to read it; and returning later to the subject made me describe the mise-en-scene. I arranged with Andreev to have it copied in St. P., and send one Copy to Sumbator with a letter saying that Andreev would take the answer for me. | Sumbator talked interestingly about the theatre and for an actor seemed a remarkably reasonable & intelligent man. The club is a fine building with a garden in the middle on the first floor, but the best rooms are given up to gambling. There is also a private theatre.' At midnight on 29/16 August, after the visit to the Moscow Arts Theatre, Pollock is accompanied to the station by 'The Bees', and returns to St Petersburg, while they travel to Berlin with 'the Fs'. The following day (30/17 August) he is 'met by Fedotov & Alexei who took me to Ligovka & gave me breakfast. Miss Blagovestchenskaya also came'. They all travel (Pollock 'with my two bags, the bell in the box, & four boxes for the Bees') in 'three isvostchiki to the wharf', where he says goodbye 'to Fed, Blag, & Alexei', before setting sail on SS. Imperatriza Alexandra. The account concludes with a description of his voyage home (Gulf of Finland, Baltic, Kiel, North Sea), the ship having only eighteen passengers ('Decent folk on board, one man foreman of Siberian gold mine, going home for first time in 8 years; another Eastern traveller for Burroughes & Welcome [sic]'), arriving at London Bridge on 4 September. 'To 21 & rang up Mary 12.30, who made me a bed in F. P's room. Total expenses £71 . 10. This includes 10 uniforms for A.K. Costing 175 r. & the bell for A.K. costing 14 . 55 r. = roughly £20 . 10, and cloak costing 22 r. = £2 . 5.' He ends with further details of expenditure.?>