Monday, March 26, 2012

Alex and Abe

Tsar Alexander II
Synchronicity.  The Russian Tsar Alexander II and U.S. President Abraham Lincoln.  The connection?  Freedom. 
It began with Nikolai Sheremetev, grandson to the Russian Field Marshall and heir to the wealthiest estate in the country.  It involved a woman.  Her name was Praskovia Kovalyova.  She had been born a serf in 1768 in the Sheremetev family home the year Nikolai turned nineteen. 

Footnote:  By the mid eighteenth century human bondage had become a thriving institution in Russia. Introduced a few hundred years earlier by Ivan the Terrible (1553)  it is estimated that by 1762 when Catherine II became Empress of the country more than ten million souls were the legal property of either noblemen, private industry or the government.  Serfs were the equivalent of America's African slaves only they had not been imported from another continent so they shared the same heredity as the gentry who owned them.  Of course this could be said of a number of the slaves in the Thomas Jefferson household as well.

Anyway, Baby Praskovia grew to be an exceptionally beautiful young lady.  She also had a wonderful saprano voice that made her a favorite at the nocturnal sing-a-longs organized by the young aristocrat among his best endowed female serfs.  The estate's bevy of beauties kept him so occupied that as his forth decade approached he was still a very happy bachelor.  Without a wife or legitimate children to distract him, Nikolai was free to pursue his passions with great intensity.  Beside serfing, his love of opera was nearly obsessive and he made it his goal to assemble the finest performance company in all of Russia.  This gave Praskovia a leg up on the other house maids for her voice was so magnetic, so enthralling, so incredibly superb, that Nikolai fell hook, line and sinker for her.   With an hour glass figure and the voice of an angel, the music world followed Nikolai's lead and welcomed petite Praskovia with open arms.  She soon became the diva of the opera house as well as her master's devoted lover. 

Nikolai Sheremetev
Praskovia Kovalyova

After her debut in 1779, noblemen and women began to flock to Koskovo to experience the young singer's exquisite voice and delicate beauty.  Her leading role as Belinda in Antonio Belines "La colinie"  show cased her polished talent and new-won fans were introduced to her as Zhemgukova or in English, "Pearl." 

For the next twenty years Pearl's fame grew as did her sophistication within the world of Russian celebrity.  She soon became  fluent in both French and Italian and mastered the harp and clavichord.  Empress Catherine II was so impressed with her dramatic performance as Elaine in "Les Mariages samnities" that the ruling monarch insisted on meeting Praskovia and rewarding her with an exquisitely crafted diamond ring.

But great opera is full of tragedy.  When Pearl was just twenty-eight she contracted tuberculosis and the damage inflicted on her lungs forced her to leave the stage.  In homage to her career, Nikolai Sheremetev disband the opera company. Two years later, Nikolai granted Pearl and her other family members their freedom and then, in a secret ceremony in Moscow, they married.

To put the event in perspective, Nikolai Sheremetev marrying beautiful Praskovia in 1801 would have been the equivalent of Presidential hopeful Thomas Jefferson taking the plunge with his then slave-lover Sally Hemings.  It was an unacceptable.  A complete outrage!  The big difference of course, was Sheremetev had the guts to do it, while Jefferson was too much of a lilly white aristocrate to jeopardize his political career.  But the Russians are a passionate people and love is the greatest passion of all.

Within a few months of their marriage, Praskovia became pregnant and in February of 1803 she gave birth to their son Dmitry.  Sadly, the stress of the pregnancy had so debilitated Pearl, that her health collapsed and she died three weeks later.  Heartbroken, Nicholas could not attend her funeral and confined himself to his room.  He lived the remainder of his life in self-imposed seclusion and died six years later.   His entire estate, the richest in Russia, then passed to little D., the son of a nobleman and a serf.   

Fast forward to 1855.

Honest Abe
Catherine the Great's grandson, Tsar Alexander II, is strolling the streets of Kuskovo with the now salt and pepper haired Dmitry.  The 58 year old nobleman tells Alex the story of the great love affair between his mom and dad.  The Tsar is so taken by it, that he goes home and immediately signs the initial decree that leads to the freeing of all Russians serfs; an event which will occur in 1861, the same year that  Abraham Lincoln will take the long train ride from his home in Springfield, Illinois to Washington DC.  

In order to thwart an assassination attempt planned for Baltimore, Maryland, Lincoln will travel the last few miles in disguise and slip into the capitol unannounced during the early morning hours.  There he will assume his elected position as President of the United States.  Two years later Honest Abe will sign the Emancipation Proclamation which will lead to the freedom of 3.1 million slaves held in bondage in the United States.  

Pretty cool.   The evolution of humanity occurring world wide and in sync before the first gutta-percha coated telegraph line was laid across the ocean floor.  Bravo!  

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