A Doctor's Memories
Victor C. Vaughan, M.D.

Table of Contents

Appendix 2

Russia in 1897

The International Medical Congress met in Moscow in 1897, and I had the pleasure of being a delegate and taking a part in the proceedings. In this chapter I will not discuss the learned papers and epoch-making discoveries presented but will tell of the incidental observations and experiences some of which subsequent events have brought into prominence. Our family decided to make the trip an occasion for the extension of our knowledge of the big world and those who dwelled within the regions to be visited. Early in June, Mrs. Vaughan, the three older boys and I, with our bicycles, landed at Antwerp. A few days later, about mid-afternoon, we rode into Brussels in a heavy rain, with our scant belongings attached to our handlebars. We had our membership cards in the Touring Club of France and our guidebook directed us to the Hotel Bordeaux. We found this hostelry uninviting and the proprietor seeing our predicament showed us undesirable apartments for which he demanded unreasonable prices.

I had been in Brussels before and knew something of the city; so I said that we would go to the Hotel de l’Univers. This provoked the mirth of the boniface who predicted that in our dress we would not get farther than the door. This decided the matter and within a few minutes we were telling our story and making our appeal for shelter to the dignified, beribboned porter of the more inviting, hotel. Soon we were drying our garments before a big fire in a spacious, handsomely furnished room. When the dinner hour approached, the porter came, asking if we desired our meals served in our rooms or would we go to table d’hote in the large dining room. Asked about the fitness of our raiment, he told us that an Ecumenical Council of the English church was in progress in the city; that some of the chief dignitaries were residing in the hotel; that these might regard us inquiringly; but that other guests would look upon us as a distinguished bishop, possibly an archbishop and his family; so to the dining room we went. We gave some days to seeing the capital of Belgium during which time our gastronomical needs were supplied at the bountifully laden table d’hote. Some months later, Mrs. Vaughan, one of the boys and I, properly clothed, drove to the Hotel de l’Univers. As the dignified porter greeted us he asked: “Where are the other boys?”

Leisurely and pleasantly we rode through Waterloo, spending a day on the battlefield, Mons, Mauberge, Guise, Le Fer, St. Quentin, Soissons, Compiegne to Paris. It was cherry time and we made the purchase of these and the drinking of light beverages excuses to stop, linger in the homes of the peasants and try out our French. Previous visits had made us acquainted with Paris, its beauties in architecture and city decorations, its treasures in art, literature, and science and its wickedness, but this was our introduction to the rural and village population of France. These were joyous days spent in touring this portion of la belle France. Little did we dream that the clouds of war were to anchor here for more than four years and pour down their missiles of destruction on this part of the earth; that its productive fields, then rich with harvests of fruit and grain, would be plowed by shells of dynamite; that its small cities and villages, then overflowing with hospitality and comfort to us as wayfarers, would be sacked and burned by savage Huns; that even the air, which we then breathed so joyously, would be filled with poisonous gases; that the fair prospect, upon which we then looked, would be converted into an inferno, surpassing in its terror and cruelty the descriptions of hell by Dante; that our sons would be called to aid in arresting the ruthless progress of the invader; that our firstborn, then the leader, the life and the joy of our party, would today be sleeping in the soil of France.

Some are now inclined to chide France for her continued resentment toward Germany. It is easy to forget injuries done another, but he who has felt the heel of the barbarian on his neck long bears the scar.

Before leaving Ann Arbor, I had received from the secretary of the Moscow Congress a letter asking me for the names of our party and of the points where we intended to enter and leave Russia and suggesting that I call upon my Paris banker for further information. On doing this I found passports into Russia relieving us from all customs inspections and granting free transportation for all members of the party over Russian railroads.

A few weeks later, the small hotel at Vevey where we were stopping was thrown into excitement by the arrival of a gentleman from Russia with his family, numbering fourteen. The next morning as we sat in the spacious garden, looking out over Lake Geneva, the Russian gentleman joined us, saying that we were Americans and he wanted to know us. He was Mr. Alexander Barry; born and reared in St. Petersburg; graduated at the Polytechnic School at Zurich in 1872; went to America; worked for two years as a day laborer in the car shops of Jacobson and Wiley at Detroit; met with all accident resulting in a broken leg; was under the care of Dr. Herman Kiefer; returned to Russia; had shops in seven cities, employing in each from 2,000 to 3,000 men; resided in Moscow; was returning to that city in a few days; would secure hotel accommodations for us and would meet us at the station on our arrival.

We traveled via Munich, Vienna, Cracow and Warsaw, lingering for a few days at each of these places. We kind left our two older sons at Vevey, and were joined at Munich by Dr. Alice Brown and at Warsaw by Dr. Novy, his wife and two sons, so we made up a party of eight.

I had promised Mr. Barry to telegraph him on leaving Warsaw. The hour of the train’s departure was uncertain, as was then the case with all Russian trains, so I did not telegraph until the train had started. I was informed that the telegram could be sent only in Russian. After some search through the train I found a Warsaw doctor who kindly made the translation and relieved me from further care in that matter. We left Warsaw about 10 A.M. and reached Moscow about 5 P.M. the next day. The train was a special of first class ears with sleeping accommodations and filled with delegates, among whom we found many friends, American, English, French, and German. At Minsk and Smolensk we were greeted by reception committees and were provided with abundant refreshments. We found Mr. Barry in his rubber tired carriage drawn by Orloff horses at the Moscow station and soon were in comfortable rooms at the Hotel Shveivsariia. We had asked Mr. Barry to secure rooms for us in a distinctively Russian hotel; we did not wish to be in a cosmopolitan hostelry. We were the only foreigners in this house and none of its staff spoke any foreign language.

Having deposited us with our luggage at the hotel, Mr. Barry drove away, saying that he would call in half an hour and take us to dinner. We drove to Petrovsk Park and dined at the famous Hermitage Restaurant. It was a distinctive Russian dinner, everything, except tea and coffee, being native products. We selected our fish as it swam in the pool. The wines including a fair champagne were made from grapes grown in Russian soil. Mr. Barry’s hospitality was unbounded. His family being in Switzerland, he called his sister from her summer home, opened his house, and insisted on our being at home.

The day after our arrival proved to be the holiest of the many holy days that then bedeviled the Russian calendar and Mr. Barry came early and took us through the Kremlin. As a guide he was so efficient that soon, as many as could keep within hearing distance joined our party, and I was surprised at many of the statements he made. Standing by the great bell he said: “We Russians say: we have the greatest bell in the world, but it was never rung; the greatest gun but it was never fired; the greatest Czar but he never rules; the present Czar is an untried boy and we must wait some years before we can place an estimate on him.” I was greatly surprised at the freedom with which not only Mr. Barry but his friends, to whom he introduced us, spoke of their government, its institutions and their management. Should I today in Washington speak as critically of President Coolidge and his administration as the Russians in 1897 did of their Czar and his ministers, I should expect to see the cold shoulder of many of my friends turned toward me, if I met with no greater evidence of disapproval.

At a dinner I quoted a French author who said: “Russia is an absolute democracy in an absolute monarchy.” “Yes,” spoke up Mr. Barry. “That is the exact truth and if there is anything worse than an absolute monarchy it is an absolute democracy. “ Then, he proceeded to tell how franchises were secured from “mirs” by bribing the elders, how titles were bought and sold, how the church impoverished the people by feeding them upon superstition and exacting tithes, how the governors of the provinces bartered privileges, etc., etc. I received the impression from these educated Russians whom I met, the number of course being small, that they were not blind to the many and obvious defects of their government. I could not discern that they had any religion. The uneducated, and I was told that illiteracy then included more than 70 per cent of the population of the empire, regarded their government as a politico-religious burden placed upon them by heaven and were at heart bitterly antagonistic to their priests, who, so far as I could ascertain, were for the most past an ignorant, idle, pestiferous lot. I am not at all surprised at the antichurch attitude taken by the Soviet Government.

From the Kremlin Mr. Barry took us to a Metropolitan service at the Church of Our Saviour, a splendid marble temple, built by the Russians as a thanksgiving to God for their deliverance from Napoleon. The great cathedral was packed with thousands of standing natives interspersed here and there with small groups of foreigners. The service was in old Russian which nobody, with the possible exception of the Metropolitan, understood. There was a choir of 400 male voices without any instrumental accompaniment. Such church music I have never heard elsewhere. The sound waves began in the distance, approached nearer and nearer and swept through and over the great throng in overwhelming harmony. At one time I found myself quite isolated from my party and wedged into a group of ragged, dirty pilgrims. Their faces were ecstatic with religious fervor. One tried to prostrate himself and bring his forehead to the floor, but the crowd was too dense. I saw another with every visible evidence of extreme poverty hunt through his rags and draw out a copper which he bestowed upon a companion apparently even more pinched by want than himself.

One of the happenings at the Congress has gotten into current literature in distorted form. The city of Moscow voted a prize of 10,000 francs to the living man who had done the most for medicine and asked the Congress to name the recipient. The Congress did the only thing it could do; it appointed a committee to select the man. The chairman was the great German pathologist, Rudolf Virchow, and fortunately I was one of the members. Here was a chance for a reenactment of the story of the apple of discord. The committee was in a quandry and greatly regretted the duty imposed upon it. For obvious reasons the recipient could not be a man from one of the great nations. There were two or three meetings. The wise chairman, who was a politician as well as a scientist, said `’ We will prayerfully consider this matter, meet Sunday morning and decide it.” We met in the gorgeous hall of the nobles; the chairman, tactfully speaking in French, proposed the name of Henri Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross, giving as his qualifications his personal poverty and his nationality, a Swiss. After Dunant’s death I read in several European and American publications the statement that the poverty of his later years had been relieved by a pension granted him by the Empress of Russia. At the next meeting of the Congress the Moscow pension, which was to be continuous, was awarded to a Spaniard. I do not know what has become of it since. Alas! International Medical Congresses are, temporarily at least, moribund, and Moscow has probably had other uses for its money. These International Congresses of Medicine and other sciences seemed for a while to promise peace between nations, since science saw a multitude of ways in which the race might spend its energies more profitably than in war Had the Kaiser had the vision and intellect of Virchow the great catastrophe might have been averted.

We had great fun with the droshky drivers. There were no fixed tariffs and the rule was that one must bargain with the driver before entering the cab or pay whatever he charged on alighting. We would wander to distant parts and then stop at some corner and call “Hotel Shveivsariia.” Soon there would be about us a host of drivers and the bargaining would begin in pantomime. They would indicate by the sweep of the arms a great distance and by the fingers the number of rubles, generally beginning with ten. The price would have been more had the men possessed more fingers. We would make our offer by extending fingers, generally beginning with one. The play was invariably interrupted by some native addressing us in German, French, or English: “Brother, you are a stranger, where do you want to go? How much does the driver want? Get into this cab; the charge will be so and so.”

One evening I beat a driver down to a ridiculous sum. He was to take us to Petrovsk Park, wait until we dined, and drive us back to the hotel. On our return I handed him three times the amount agreed upon. He began to make the change; I made him understand that he was to keep the whole. Dull as he was he was not slow in comprehending me on this point. He dropped the reins, threw his arms about me, and, drawing me to his breast, kissed me on both cheeks. I never tipped another droshky driver.

The Polish Jew in Cracow on receiving a gratuity lifted the donor’s coat tail with ceremony and kissed the hem of the garment.

The Grand Duke Sergius, afterward assassinated, received the delegates and there were many banquets and musical entertainments. We heard much good music in Russia, then the breeding place for great musicians. We heard Chaliapin for the first time and since his coming to this country we have never lost an opportunity. In my seventy-fifth year I would walk a mile tonight and pay the fee from my scanty purse to hear him repeat The Two Grenadiers; then every nerve in my anatomy thrills from its roots in brain or cord to the minutest ramifications. In my opinion, the Russians in both music and literature are the most natural and realistic people in all the world.

We spent some hours in a convict camp, where about three thousand had been assembled preparatory to transportation to Siberia. There were no political prisoners among these. When a community (mir) decided through its board of elders that a member was unfit to continue in it, he was not sent to prison or hung, but his name was stricken from the roll, he was declared legally dead, and was vent to Siberia. If the condemned man had a wife she could accompany him or remain as a widow. I cannot think that cruelty is a Russian characteristic. He may permit suffering through his ignorance, indifference or fatalistic attitude of mind, but the practice of any barbarity I believe to be foreign to his nature. Possibly a wider acquaintance might change this opinion.

Nothing could better illustrate the utter incapacity of the Russians in practical matters than the way they failed to provide for the transportation of their guests at the International Congress of 1897. Even the Soviet Government has made great improvement in this particular. Their hospitality was prodigal in an extreme degree, but it was unorganized and resulted in much confusion and discomfort. Each delegate and each member of his party carried a pass from the point of entering to that of leaving the country. The special trains consisted of compartment cars, each compartment providing for four passengers, and convertible into a most comfortable bedroom at night, but there were no reservations and one had to risk limb and life in securing a place. We experienced some discomfort on our ride from Warsaw to Moscow, but later we saw an unbelievable tumult. Some hundreds of delegates were to go one night from Moscow to St. Petersburg, we among the number. For two days before notices in many languages were distributed and posted, saying that at 7 P.M. the regular train carrying no delegates would leave; at 7:30 and again at 8 o’clock special trains for delegates only would go. Each delegate was asked to have his pass stamped before entering a train. Mr. Barry, promising us that we would see something we had never seen before, took us to the station before 7 o’clock, seated us in a gallery where we could look down into the spacious waiting room, told us to keep out of the crowd, not to worry, and assured us that we would ride to St. Petersburg that night in comfort. There we sat, comfortably smoking, drinking tea, and eating cakes. An old man, who might have sat for a portrait of Moses, or some other Hebrew patriarch, stood at a small table in the waiting room, with his official stamp in his hand. Delegates, in droves of fifty or more, shouting and gesticulating in all the languages of the civilized world, filled the waiting room, crowded about the old man, knocked over his table, and disregarding the stamp, filled successively each of the three scheduled trains. Two or three policemen did appear but they were treated with the same rude courtesy bestowed upon Moses. When the last train pulled out an announcement was made that there would be no more trains for St. Petersburg that night, and the lights were turned down. Mr. Barry put us into his waiting carriage, told the coachman to drive about the parks and to return by 11 o’clock. There was a beautiful moon and we enjoyed the ride and tried to recall scenes from Tolstoy, Turgenef, and Dostoievsky. On our return we found the waiting room lighted and occupied by a moderate number of quiet people among whom we did not see a delegate’s badge. Each of us had a comfortable bed and passed over the 400 miles of smooth road in dreamless sleep. When the door of our compartment opened in St. Petersburg the next morning, we were greeted by a handsome man in the full dress uniform of a colonel. This was the foreman of Mr. Barry’s St. Petersburg shops, who had secured rooms for us on Nevski Prospect, and under whose guidance we saw the city built by Peter the Great and its environs. The institution which most interested us was that for experimental medicine, situated on a beautiful wooded island, encircled by the branching Neva and occupied by the most eminent of Russian scientists who with every available facility were devoting their lives to research. Medical men know of the great achievements secured by their labors. Here Dr. Novy and I met Fraulein Schultze, who had been a fellow student with us in Koch’s laboratory in 1888.

Before we left Moscow Mr. Barry told us that he would be in St. Petersburg on a certain day, would again assume the role of host and guide and had in mind a wonderful treat for us. By that time we had come to believe that all things, in Russia at least, were possible to Mr. Barry. When he told us this, he wore the countenance of a small boy who had secured a present and could scarcely withhold the desire to inform the recipient of its great value. Several times he repeated: “ Be up early and have your breakfast before I come.” We knew from the daily papers that President Faure of France was then visiting the Czar, but we never suspected that this event had any conneetion with Mr. Barry’s treat. He did come early and impatiently tore us away from a half-finished breakfast. In droshkys we were whirled down Nevski Prospect, across the bridge ornamented with the wonderful horses, and soon were at the quay; were rushed into a waiting boat and quickly carried to Cronstadt. Here we were transferred to a larger boat and on looking about saw three French men-of-war. Suddenly the band on the French flagship began the melodious and plaintive strains of the Russian national anthem and the Czar’s yacht bearing its imperial owner and the French president came out from Peterhof and anchored alongside the flagship. Some hours were devoted to the parting formalities. Many decorations were bestowed, toasts were drunk and lunches served. While we looked on, we were introduced to Mr. Barry’s friends on our boat and had opportunity to finish our breakfast. Among the many interesting men we met the most charming and communicative was the colonel of the Cossack Regiment constituting the Czar’s bodyguard. This man had evidently learned his English by reading an English translation of the Bible. He talked in biblical terms and the burden of his communications was the injustice with which other European nations had treated Russia. As I remember, his discourse ran as follows: “In 1877 we buckled on the armor of Christianity and went down and smote the Turk hip and thigh; then Bismarck and Disraeli robbed us of all we had won. Had it not been for these men there would now be no Armenian atrocities; there would be no Turkey in Europe; but I shall live to see the day when the Russian service will be heard in St. Sofia; the Triple Alliance is against Russia; now France is with us; France and Russia can withstand the Triple Alliance; but the question is what will England do?” I hope that this man lived long enough to see his question about England answered as it was in 1914, but that he died before the Russian debacle came in 1918. Some time after noon the French fleet took its departure, the Russian ship leading the way, the French flagship with President Faure on the bridge following, escorted on each side by a Russian ship on one of which we were. The French bands played the National Anthem and the Russian band took up the Marseillaise, while cannons boomed from the shore. In the midst of this excitement I found that my son had drawn from his capacious pockets a small American flag and was waving it most lustily. I cautioned him but the Cossack colonel, lifting him on his shoulders, told him to wave it. So far as I know, this was the only American flag displayed in the Gulf of Finland that day. In 1912 I was telling Professor Vladmiroff of the day in 1897, when he said: “You heard the Marseillaise the first time it was officially played in Russia since Napoleon’s invasion.”

Late that evening we returned to St. Petersburg tired out with the exertions and excitements of the day, wholly unconscious of the fact that we had witnessed a great historical event and with no vision of the world disturbance with which it was to be connected.

We returned to Paris via Helsingsfors, Abo, Stockholm, Lubeck, Hamburg, and Berlin but met with no unusual experiences. Our Russian journey widened our knowledge of the world and of the people living therein, enabled us to follow more intelligently the catastrophic events that followed and stored our memories with reflections upon which we are dwelling in our old age. We kept in occasional touch with Mr. Barry until the war; since, we have been unable to ascertain anything about him. We would welcome an opportunity to return some of the many kindnesses he bestowed upon us.

A Doctor's Memories
Victor C. Vaughan, M.D.

Table of Contents