Foreboding at Vevey

September 3 2013

“Vevey [1875]. [Bracket in Toynbee. Real date a Monday, perhaps earlier rather than later, between September 27 and November 8.]

“There is a perfect little woman here, mother of a fair-haired child, niece of Gortschakoff. She smokes cigarettes, very small, very elegantly. She told me that Ignatieff never by any chance told the truth. It is a proverb in Russia: ‘II ment comme Ignatieff’.

“She was mentioning the overthrow of previous civilisations by barbaric forces; and we came to the conclusion that it was unlikely that the Tartars, who seem the only available barbarians, would stamp out the civilisation, extended as it is over the World. She expressed her belief that the dark force is developed with the brightness of prosperity all-pervading now; and then suggested that what could provide a force strong, ignorant, barbarian, and widespread, is the lower populations of the various nations of Europe grouped in some such society as the International inbred with communistic and destructive notions” (Journals and Letters of Reginald Viscount Esher, ed. by M. V. Brett, vol. i (London 1934, Nicholson & Watson), p. 34). This passage [which is from the Journals] was brought to the present writer’s attention by his friend J. L. Hammond on the 3rd September, 1934.

This elegant smoker, casting a shadow during the belle époque, might have been the wife of the diplomat Nikolay Girs. The Ignatieff must have been the ambassador to Constantinople at the time, Nikolay Pavlovich Ignatyev.

Esher was the twenty-three-year-old son of Sir William Brett, first Baron Esher 1885, Viscount 1897. See James Lees-Milne, The Enigmatic Edwardian, The Life of Reginald, 2nd Viscount Esher, Sidgwick & Jackson, 1986. The 5th Viscount lives.

Vevey is a beautiful town, sloping towards Lake Geneva.

Old posts:

Tchaikovsky on communism

Davos 1884


A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

2 Responses to “Foreboding at Vevey”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Were they staying at the Grand Hotel du Lac, which had opened in 1868?

    The elegant woman might have been the mother of the niece of Gortschakoff who was married to Girs, but a “fair-haired child” does not sound like a married woman.

    Or he might be referring to a different niece.

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