Letter to Rachel from KCB from St. Petersburg dated November 12th 1894

Mrs. C. R. Breckinridge portrait taken by C.M. Bell, photographer, 1894. https://www.loc.gov/item/2016693572/.

Today (in 2020) if we want to share news with all our friends and family, you send an email or post it on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Type one message and send/share it and you’re done.

But KCB didn’t have that technology. She had to write each and every letter by hand. And a lot of times she was writing the same thing – the same details and the same information – each and every time.

In this letter to her sister-in-law Rachel (wife of KCB’s brother William “Willie” Waller Carson), KCB recounts again the struggle she is having finding an apartment that’s not too big, not too small and the appreciate grandeur for their station – all within a tight budget.


November 12th 1894

My dear Rachel, 

I have had a great deal to do since getting here, and I am not sure whether I have written to your or brother Willie.  If I have and should repeat myself in this letter your must overlook it.  We have found it difficult to find a suitable appartment.  Nobody except those able to keep up palaces has a house.  We have not been able to get anything satisfactory, furnished and have at last taken one unfurnished.  It needs some alterations and repairs and that with getting the furniture will keep us out of it a month longer I presume.  All the appartments we saw are evidently built for company.  The rooms for entertaining are very handsome, the bed rooms most (illegible).  One of the parlors in our appartment is 40 x 33 feet, there are two other large ones.  All handsomely decorated, with mirrors, inlaid floors etc, and the dining room is very large and beautiful.  We will not be obliged to do much entertaining this winter, because of the Emperor’s death.  In the spring we must give a few dinners to the Diplomatic Corps, who will all entertain us before then, so we can take our time about furnishing a part of our rooms.  The late Emperor’s body arrives here tomorrow morning and for several days ones whole time must be given up to ceremonies of mourning.  It is said it will be the grandest ceremonial ever witnessed in Petersburg, which means perhaps in the world.  As the gorgeousness (sic) here surpasses anything ever heard of outside the Arabian Knights.  Most of the crownded (sic) heads of Europe will be here.  Clifton must be in the procession and I am anxious in consequence.  Although much relieved that he with others will be allowed to wear their hats.  All the men walk ever the Emperor.  And it will be a trying experience.  I expect from what I hear of him that the Emperor who has died was a fine man, and I am sorry he is dead for more reasons than one.  One of them however which affects me personally is that I must put on black.  I never was more surprised than when told this.  Not only black, but heavy crepe including a vail (sic).  I had bought several pretty dresses in London and Paris, gloves etc.  And unfortunately nothing black or white.  One of the biggest departments of the government here is “The Ceremonies.”  It seems to have its hands full.  They direct everything even to your servants livery.  On this occasion they have issued directions to all the Diplomatic corps, and I suppose to all other classes as well, directing mourning for a year, with slight changes each quarter.  Specifying the kind of goods to be worn, the length of the train, the amount of crepe, the shape of the sleeve, the shape of the bonnet and how far back to be worn etc etc.  If one gives a dinner one sends a list of the guests to “The Ceremonies” and they tell you how to seat them.  It prevents mistakes, where mistakes are considered unpardonable, and relieves one of much care and responsibility.  But for this year of mourning it is not enough to have ones black out fit.  There are certain occasions where no Russian wears black and where they would not forgive it in another, as they look upon it as an ill omen to wear it on any fete day or day of rejoicing.  For instance the 9th of November (by the Russian calendar, which is twelve days behind ours) is the Empresses fete day, I don’t yet understand whether that means her birthday or her name day, the latter being always celebrated too.  Although it comes so soon after her husband’s death we all are to be presented to her in white.  The first ceremony after the Emperor died was in church, to pray for “the succession”, we were all notified to wear white gowns, with small white bonnets.  The blessing of the Neva in January is another occasion (sic) when the black is laid aside.  Also for any wedding, christening etc.  I am sure I could never keep up with all these things if it were not for “The Ceremonies” to help me out.  The language spoken almost altogether is french.  And all official circulars are sent out in french to the Diplomatic Corps.  All invitations are in french.  You hear it spoken all the time.  Ofcourse (sic) we are anxious to become proficient.  I am devoting a good deal of time to it and begin to feel more at home.  We have a french governess, who does not speak a word of English, and although it is trying on the children for a while, it will be better for them in the send I am sure.  She speaks a little german so they get on after a fashion when I am not around to translate for them.  She comes by the day for the present until we are established.  We have not been able to have Mr. Boggs come on yet as the hotel is so awfully expensive. He has never written us yet what his terms would be, so we don’t feel quite sure we can get him, but I hope to.

I know you and brother Willie will be glad to hear that we find there is a nice little church here.  Small ofcourse (sic) and poor, for there are not many of our faith.  It is called the British American church.  The minister is English.  They call it Congregational, but I believe the minister is Presbyterian.  There is an English church here as well.  But we will got the other.  Clifton has been twice and liked the minister exceedingly.  Said he was simple, plain and sensible.  He has called but I was out.  I have not been to church myself.  The first Sunday I did not know of it. The last two I could not go because my black was not ready.  I hope to go regularly after this.  

I wish you could see us in our fur wraps.  You could hardly find us.  And when we get them on we feel ready for any amount of cold.  Ofcourse (sic) there is a great deal of sleighing.  Even the public vehicles are on runners after the winters begin and have no covering at all, or only something like a buggy top.  We have thought it cheaper to rent than to buy these things.  We pay a hundred dollars a month, and have the exclusive use of a large (illegible), a double sleigh, a single sleigh, a stylish coachman, fur robes etc.  I was informed when I first came that as a minister’s wife I could never go in a public conveyance.  I am thankful I am allowed to walk sometimes!  Sometime I will tell you about the carriages here they are very curious.  Great love to all. Your devoted sister.

K. C. B

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