Travelogues about nicholas i’s Russia: belgian monarchists versus Astolphe marquis de Custine

Emmanuel Waegemans


The article focuses on the account of Belgian traveller Jan Nolet of his trip to Russia published in 1843 and known as A Trip to the North. In 1842 two Belgians went on a trip to Russia, a far-away country, still rarely visited by Europeans. They were Jean-Baptist David, a renowned representative of Flemish culture and a canon, and his younger fellow traveller, Dutchman Jan Nolet de Brauwere van Steeland. They both were opposed to the Belgian revolution of 1830 which led to the establishment of constitutional monarchy in the country with it later becoming a model to follow for the leading European countries. In Russia under Nicholas I they found the kind of rule that complied with their views, i. e. that characterized by discipline but also justice, absolute rule combined with trust in a beneficent tsar that rules the country without a conflicting opposition or insolent parliament. They visited Moscow and Saint Petersburg and saw things unfamiliar to them, and were amazed by what they discovered. They write respectfully and with a deep understanding about Russia and Russians, and they appreciate the majestic ruler Nicholas I. It is all the more noteworthy, because after the suppression of the Polish uprising of 1831, the West’s favourable attitude to Russia (after Peter the Great’s reforms and Catherine II’s regime, after Alexander I’s victory over Napoleon) was exhausted. It is this event that marks the start of constant criticism of Russia’s ways and actions by western journalists and travellers which continued until as long as 1917. The perception of Russia expressed by the Belgian travellers is also interesting because the same period is marked by the publication of a book by Astolphe de Custine, a French publicist, who criticised many sides of the Russian reality.


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