From Staryi Peterburg; Razskazy Iz Byloi Zhizni Stolitsy, by M. I. Pylyaev (St. Petersburg, 1889; pgs. 385-88.)

Emperor Paul introduced a thorough reform of military standards and instituted Prussian drill and methods. Suvorov used to say, “Russians have always beaten Prussians, so what would we want to borrow from them?” When Suvorov received wooden rulers to measure soldiers’ queues and side curls, he said, “Hair powder is not gunpowder, curls are not cannons, a queue is not a sword, and I am not a German, but a born Russian.” These words led to a break between the emperor and field marshal.

Much earlier, when Paul was still at Gatchina and beginning to introduce his new methods, his mother, Empress Catherine, called them “burdensome fashions”. According to Bolotov, the Izmailovskii Regiment, commanded by Constantine Pavlovich [Paul’s second son - M.C.], learned the new drill movements in a single night and thus gave the emperor such satisfaction that he wept with joy. Muffs and sheepskin overcoats were driven out of the guards, and a coat which previously cost 120 roubles cost only 22 under Paul.

Service in the guards under Catherine had been very easy, and officers on duty sometimes wore dressing gowns. It even happened that a woman put on her husband’s uniform and carried out his duties in his place. This was during the war with Sweden when Colonel Mellin’s wife took her husband’s place, donning his uniform and standing in front of the troops.

In Paul’s time, coats were wide and allowed ease of movement; narrow and tight ones appeared in Alexander I’s reign, which along with curls, queues, and tricorns drove soldiers to tears. If a soldier was getting ready to appear on parade, then on the night before he would have to arrange his hair, grease it with fat, and powder it with flour. The soldier with his hair thus prepared slept that night sitting upright, so as not to flatten his curls. There were instances when rats gnawed off the queues of sleeping men. Similarly uncomfortable for the soldiers was the enormous three-cornered hat. When double-time was commanded during drill, hats would fly off heads. The training drill therefor had a special command for picking up hats.

In his Notes, A. M. Turgenev (c.f. Russkiya Starina, 1887) tells of the suffering he had to endure in regard to these military reforms, when he was prepared for court duty on one of the first days of the new emperor’s reign. He says:

At five o’clock in the morning I was already at the company courtyard. Two Gatchina costumiers were already ready, experts in the arts of arranging hair according to the established style and fitting accouterments by the regulations. In an instant they had seized my head in order to “block” it in the approved style, and the fun began. They sat me down on a bench in the middle of a room and trimmed my hair in front close with a comb. Then one of the costumiers, a little less than seven feet tall, began to rub the front of my head with a thin sharpened piece of chalk. Even if God allows me to live on this earth another 73 years, I will still never forget that treatment!
Five or at the most six minutes of the costumiers vigorously rubbing my head brought me to such a state that I became afraid that I was going to be sick. I saw the room and everything in it swimming. Millions of sparks swirled wherever I looked, and tears streamed from my eyes. I asked the sergeant on duty to stop Monsieur Costumier for a few minutes so as to give my poor head a rest. My request was honored, and Monsieur Professor of Regulation Head Blocking deigned to declare to the sergeant that the dry preparation of my head was complete, and that now it only remained to wet and dry it. I trembled when I heard the costumier’s pronouncement. The wetting operation commenced. So as not to wet my undershirt, a mat sack replaced the powder gown [pudromantel’]. The costumier positioned himself exactly in front of my face, filled his mouth with some of the soldiers’ homebrew kvas beer, and began to spray my cranium as from a fire hose. As soon as he had wet me to the skull, the other costumier set to liberally sprinkling flour on my head from a powder box, strewing it all directions. At the end of this operation, they arranged my hair with a comb and ordered me to sit still and not turn my head, thus giving time for the crown of paste on my head to dry. Behind, they tied a 15-inch iron rod into my hair to shape a regulation queue. They rolled my side locks into massive curls using a bent wire which encompassed my cranium and held the curled falconets on both sides, level with the middle of my ears. By nine o’clock that morning the flour crown had hardened on my skull like lava spewed from a volcano, and under its protection I could stand outside in the rain or snow without harm for several hours, like a marble garden statue.

End of translation.


Translated by Mark Conrad, 1999.