Elizabeth Lady Craven disapproves of Venice, drinks the water in Tartary

Elizabeth Craven (née Berkeley, 1750-1828) had seven children and possibly as many affairs.  

She also had opinions.


An acquaintance of Johnson and Boswell and a friend of Horace Walpole, Lady Craven was a prolific author of second-rate plays, bad musical compositions, and travel journals. Today she is best known for the latter, for reasons that may become apparent when you consider her initial opinion of Venice: “The innumerable quantity of gondolas...that look like swimming coffins, added to the dismal scene; and, I confess, Venice on my arrival struck me rather with horror than with pleasure.”

To be fair to Venice, she did eventually come to see it in a more favorable light.

In 1789, she published an account of her travels through the Russian empire in A Journey through the Crimea to Constantinople.

In this work, Lady Craven opined that parts of the “Venice of the North”—St. Petersburg—could be positively civilized, unlike its Italian counterpart. “Dans le ligne Anglais,” she wrote of what we now call the English Embankment, “...I find English grates, English coal, English hospitality, to make me welcome, and the fire-side cheerful.”

While she welcomed the creature comforts that reminded her of home, she also lamented the homogenizing force exerted by European fashion on Petersburg society. “The Empress and the Princess D’Ashkow [Dashkova] are the only ladies who wear Russian dress,” she complained. “It is I think a very handsome one; and I am more surprised every day, that nations do not preserve their own fashions—and not copy one country that is at present only the ape of every other.”

Unlike most of the other English ladies to visit Russia in the eighteenth century (and there were many), Lady Craven ventured far outside the capitals. After passing through a certain Tatar village outside of Perekop (which she did not find particularly clean), she recalled finding some lovely “downs” suitable for outdoor rest and refreshment. “I stopped there and made tea,” she wrote, then quickly added: “You must not suppose, my dear Sir, though I have left my coach and harp at Petersburgh, that I have not all my little necessaries even in a kibitka [a small type of Russian carriage]—a tin kettle in a basket holds my tea equipage, and I have my English side-saddle tied behind my carriage.”

Roughing it in the Tatar countryside, for Craven, involved a limited diet: “What I have chiefly lived upon is new milk, in which I melt a little chocolate.” One must also give her credit for her bravery in drinking the local water: “At every place I have stopped at I asked to taste the water from curiosity, I have always found it perfectly good.” So much the better for brewing tea.