Sir John Barrow.

A memoir of the life of Peter the Great online

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avers that ** Catharine had not left his bolster for
three nights, and in her arms he expired on the 28th
January, about four o'clock in the morning."

There is fiomething in the history of this family
of Moens which is not very clear. Whether the
story told by Mrs. Vigors, the wife of the British
resident, confirmed by Bruce, and also by General
Gordon, respecting the mistress of Peter, of the same
name, has any connexion with the Moenses con-
cerned in this transaction, which dates nearly thirty
years from the former, theire are now no means of
knowing; but it may be remarked that, while it is told
in three or four different ways by as many different
writers, others who lived at the time, and therefore
most likely to be acquainted with what occurred,
are wholly silent as to any such transaction, — ^Nes«
tesuranoi, Mottley, Lacombe, StsehllR. It has been
revived, however, about two years ago, by a French
general, and told in a style so theatrical, and Peter is
made to perform the character of Othello in a manner
so superlatively ludicrous, as to divest the story of
all possible chance of obtaining belief.*

It may be supposed that, as soon as the breath
was out of the body of Peter, the party, and they
who composed it were both numerous and respect-
able, which favoured the son of the unfortunate
Tzarovitz, would st»id forward to urge his claim to
the succession, in opposition to Catharine, whose
friends loudly declared that the very act of corona-

* Histoire de Roisia, &c^ par Segur.

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lion established her claim. In this short conflict it
may be remarked, not a syllable was uttered by the
opposite party aguinst her loyalty and fidelity to her
deceased nusband, which they would have been most
eager to bring forward on such an occasion, had
there existed the slightest suspicion of any improper
conduct on her part. There were, indeed, thrown
out some vague insinuations, after she mounted the
throne, of her having, as Coxe has observed, " short-
ened the life of Peter by poison ;" but those reports,
says Voltaire, ** which were scattered abroad, were
the mere opinions of some superficial foreigners^'
(he might have added, of the secretaries and hang-
ers-on of the corps diplomatique), " who without
any grounds, wantonly indulged the wretched plea-
sure of imputing the wont of crimes to those whose
interests they suppose it is to commit them/' But,
as this author very justly adds, " so far was it from
being Catharine's interest that the emperor should
be sent out of the world, that his preservation w»b,
of all things, most necessary to her.*^ Catharine in
fact had no reason to suppose, at least no public
reason could be assigned, that Peter ever intended
her for the succession; it was contended indeed
that the very act of coronation implied this, and
more particularly as Peter placed the crown himself
on her head ; but it does not appear that he ever sig-
nified any such intention, or that the coronation con-
veyed any right to the succession. There were, be-
sides, two heirs to the succession living, his daughter
Anne Petrowna, wife to the Duke of Holstein, and
his grandson Peter, the issue of the unfortunate
Alexis, both of whom had their partisans, tmd either
of whom had a priority of claim to Catharine. It is
plain, therefore, that the life, and not the death of
Feter, would be the object of her care and preserva-

Menzikoff, who was well aware that no time wa»
to be lost, assembled the friends of Catharine, while

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Peter was on the eve of expiring, removed the trea-
sure to the citadel, secured the generals of the guards,
and gained over the archbishop of Novogorod. The
empress was summoned from the couch of her dying
consort, whose last sighs were breathed in her arms,
to appear before the senators, the great officers of
state, the bishops, and the officers of the army and
navy, and delivered a speech before them, after which
the air resounded with " Long live the Empress Cath-
arine!" — ^a proclamation was immediately issued
announcing her accession : and thus Catharine suc-
ceeded to the throne on the very day of her hus-
band's demise.

The body was removed into the great hall of the
palace, followed by the imperial family, the senate,
all persons of distinction, and an innumerable train oi
citizens ; it was then laid on a bed of state, and every-
body admitted to kiss the hand of the deceased till
the day of his interment, which was on the Slst
March, 1735. On the Idth of the same month died
the princess Natalia Petrowna, the emperor's third
daughter by Catharine. The funeral obsequies of
the father and daughter were performed together
with grcE^t pomp and solemnity.

The CHARACTER of Pctcr the Great, as has been
shown in the course of this Memoir, was a strange
compound of contradictions. Owing to the circum-
stances in which he was placed, and the determina-
tion to execute the plan he had conceived of re-
modelling the customs and institutions of his coun-
try, he had to maintain a constant struggle between
his good and evil genius. Nothing was too great,
nothing too little for his comprehensive mind. The
noblest undertakings were mixed with the most
farcical amusements ; and the most laudable institu-
tions for the benefit and improvement of his subjects
were followed by shaving their beards and docking

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their skirts; — ^kind-hearted benevolent, and humane,
he set no value on human life. Owing to these, and
many other incongruities, his character has neces-
sarily been represented in various points of view
and in various colours by his biographers. Of him,
however, it can scarcely be said, that

" The evil which men do, lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones."

With the exception of a few foreign writers, who
have generally compiled their memoirs from polluted
sources, the reverse of the aphorism may be applied
to Peter. His memory, among his countr3rmen, who
ought to be the best judges, and of whom he was at
once the scourge and the benefactor, is held in the
highest veneration, and is consecrated in their his-
tory and their public monuments to everlasting
fame. The magnificent equestrian statue, erected
by Catharine II. ; the waxen figure of Peter in the
museum of the academy founded by himself ; the
dress, the sword, and the hat which he wore at the
battle of Pultowa, the last pierced through with a
ball ; the horse that he rode in that battle ; the
trousers, worstedstockings, shoes, and cap, which
he wore at Zaandam, all in the same apartment ;
his two favourite dogs, his turning-lathe and tools,
with specimens of his workmanship ; the iron bar
which he forged with his own hand at Olonitz ; the
Little Grandsire, so carefully preserved as the first
germ of the Russian navy ; and the wooden hut in
which he lived while superintending the first foun-
dation of Petersburg ;— these, and a thousand other
tangible memorials, all preserved with the utmost
care, speak in most intelligible language the opinion
which the Russians hold of the Father of his Country.

The following is transcribed from the History of
Peter the Great, by Major-general Gordon, who had
many opportunities of Imowing personally, and heax^

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816 MBMOn OF

ing from others, the leading features of his char-
acter: —

" Thus died Peter I. Emperor of Russia, who cer-
tainly deserved the epithet Great as much as any
prince that ever lived. When we consider the
method he took to reform his empire : his drawing
the natives, by de^ees, into a taste for military
affairs, beginning mmself at the lowest degree to
show example to others ; his travelling into foreign
countries to observe the customs and manners of
the inhabitants; his raising, disciplining, and sup-
porting such great armies and fleets ; his introducing
learning, manufactures, and handicrafts of all kinds;
with the great length to which he brought commerce
and navigation, tmngs altogether unknown to that
people ; the prudent measures he took to weaken
and reduce his enemies ; in short, the reforming his
country in every particular, as well the ecclesiastical
state as the civil, is so extraordinary, that I do not
believe, since the creation of the world, ever monarch
was at so great pains, or did the like ; and all within
the space of thirty years. The great fatigue he
underwent, together with his other excesses, short-
ened his days. He was severe rather than cruel,
never pardoned a malefactor, except those of his
own blood, and some few of his greatest favourites.
He looked upon some things as crimes, which in
other countries are not treated with that severi^
they deserve, — such as concussion and taking of
bribes. His leaving the empire to that once mean
woman, Catharine, was a suiprise, not only to Rus-
sia, but the whole world : yet, considering the great
affection and esteem he always had for her, his con-
fidence in her prudence and justice, and the many
eminent services she had done him, it was the most
prudent step he could take, and nothing less than
what he ought to have done ; for if he had left the
empire to his grandson. Prince Peter, who succeeded
her, she and her children had been sent to Siberia, or

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some worse place, where she would have ended her
days in misery ; the leaving her in possession of the
whole was the only means to make her safe.

**• He was at little or no expense about his person;
and by living rather like a private gentleman than a
prince, he saved wholly that great expense which
other monarchs are at in supporting the grandeur of
their courts. He was a lover of company and a
man of much humour and pleasantry, exceedingly
facetious, and of vast natural parts. He took his
bottle heartily, so must all the company ; for when
he was merry himself, he loved to see everybody
so; though at the same time he could not endure
habitual drinkers. He never kept guards about his
person, nor was ever accompanied by above &ve or
six persons, at most. He never could abide cere-
mony, but loved to be spoken to frankly and without
reserve. To sum up all, his fellow never sat upon
that throne ; and I question very much, if ever an-
other of so great abilities will succeed him !"*

"I viewed," says Coxe, "not without peculiar
veneration and awe, the sepulchre which contains
the body of Peter I. ; the sternness, or rather the
ferocity of whose disposition neither spared age,
nor sex, nor the dearest connexions : and who yet,
with a strong degree of compunction, was accus-
tomed to say, * I can reform m3r people, but I can-
not reform myself.' A royal historian has justly
observed of Peter, that he redeemed the cruelties
of a tyrant by the virtues of a legislator. We must,
readily allow that he considerably reformed and civ-
ilized his subjects ; that he created a navy, and new-
modelled his army ; that he encouraged the arts and
sciences, promoted agriculture and commerce, and
laid the foundation of Russian grandeur. But, in-
stead of exclaiming in the language of panegyric,

* Gordon's History of Peter the Great.

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Erabe8C& an ! Hie vir mazimus tibi nihil debuit ;
Exulta, datura ! Hoc stupendium tuum est*^ —

we may, on the contrary, venture to regret that he
was not taught the lessons of humanity ; that his
sublime but unruly genius was not controlled and
improved by proper culture ; nor his savage nature
corrected and softened by the refinements of art.
And if Peter failed in enhghtening the mass of his
subjects to the full measure of his wishes, the failure
was occasioned by his own precipitate temper, by
the chimerical idea of introducing the arts and sci-
ences by force, and of performing in a moment what
can only be the gradual work of time, by violating
the established customs of his people, and, in con-
tradiction to the dictates of sound policy, requiring
an immediate sacrifice of prejudices sanctioned by
ages. In a word, his failure was the failure of a
superior genius wandering without a guide ; and the
greatest eulogium we can justly offer to his extra-
ordinary character is, to allow that his virtues were
his own, and his defects those of education and

* Blush, Art ! this hero owed thee nothing ;

Exult, Nature ! for this prodigy is all thy own.
t Travels in Poland, Russia, &c., by W. Coze, A.M.

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Mr. Mottley, in his second edition, has added the
following^ epitaph, which he said he received from
his worthy and ingenious friend, Christopher Wyvill,
JSsq.f but does not know whether he was the author
of It.


Hie jacent

ReliquiaB, viz mortales,

Petri Alezowitz

Riasiarum ImptraUnit baud opus est dicere,

Hcmorem enim isti Diademati addidit, non


Taceat Antiquitas,

Cedat Alexander,

Gedat Cssar ;

Se facilem pnebet Victoiia

Heroum Ductoribus,

Milites vinci nescioa Imperantibas;

Sed Ills,

Qui in morte sola requiescit,

Non Fams avidos,

Non Bello peritissinaos,

Non homines Mortem temnentes,

Sed Bnita, Tizque humani nominis dignos Subditos

Invenit ;

Etiam hos, compatriis ursis simiUimos, et aversantes

Ezpolivit ;

Barbaritatis Hereditarin fenebras ille Phcebus


Et propria virtute Germanorvm Ylctores vicit.

Alii felioissime Ezercitus duzerunt, hie creatlC.

Erubesce, Ais !

Hie Vir mazittus tibi nihil debuit :

Ezulta, Natura !

Hoc Stupendium tuum est.

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Here lies all that could die

of the immortal

PsTEB Alexiovitz;

It i8 almost superfluous to add,

Emperor of Russia :

A Title

which, instead of adding to his Glory,

became glorious by his wearmg it.

Let Antiouity be dumb,

nor boast ner Alexander,

or her Caesar ;

How easy was Victory,

to Leaders, who were followed by Heroes,

and whose Soldiers folt a noble Disdain

to be thought less awake than their Generalv^

But He,

who in this Place first knew Rest,

found Subjects base and unactite,

unwarhke, — ^unlearned, — nntractable,

neither covetous of Glory,

nor liberal of Danger ;

Creatures with the names of Men,

but with qualities rather brutal than rationale

Yet even These

He polished from their native Ruggedness :

And breaking out, like a new Sun,

to illuminate the Minds of a People,

dispelled their Night of hereditary Darkness r

Till, by Force of his invincible Influence,

He had taught them to conquer

even the Conquerors of Germany !

Other Princes have commanded victorious Aimie» ;

This Commander created them !

Blush, O Art !

At a Hero who owed Thee nothing j

Exult, O Nature !

For Thine was this Prodigy.


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Online LibrarySir John BarrowA memoir of the life of Peter the Great → online text (page 25 of 25)