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PETER THE GREAT.
Russia is indebted to this sovereign for much of her present greatness. He was a barbarian, but a bar. barian who possessed great qualities. He changed the manners, customs, and laws of the empire ; and, though he ruled his subjects with the most arbitrary despotism, he still lives in the memory of the Russians as the Father of his Country. The history of his reign offers one of the most singular chapters in the annals of Europe.
He was the third son of the Czar Alexis Michaelovitz, a man of a liberal mind, who had accomplished some reforms and improvements in the political and social condition of the empire. Peter was born at Moscow, on the 11th of June, 1672. On the death of his eldest brother, Feodor, he was nominated to the succession in preference to his brother Iwan, who was set aside for incapacity. Their sister, the princess Sophia, taking umbrage at this, set on foot a mutiny of the Strelitzes or guards, and a revolution took place, accompanied with much bloodshed. Peter's maternal
SKETCHES FROM THE HISTORY OF RUSSIA.
kindred and all their adhérents fell by massacre. Peter narrowly escaped with his life; he fled, at the commencement of the insurrection, to a convent near Moscow, and was pursued by the Strelitzes, who found him before the altar, and were deterred from striking a fatal blow only by feelings of reverence or superstition. The commotions were at length quieted by an accommodation. Iwan and Peter were proclaimed joint sovereigns. Both were crowned accordingly; and the Princess Sophia was declared regent, as both the Czars were boys. The schemes of this ambitious princess thus seemed to be fully accomplished.
Notwithstanding Peter's youth, -he being only ten • years of age, at the time of the revolution, — he appears
to have given some indications of great qualities, which excited the jealousy of his profligate sister, who dreaded lest he might one day prove the ruin of her authority. She accordingly did not scruple to form a plan to corrupt his morals and cripple the energies of his mind. His education was neglected, and he was encouraged in every species of excess and debauchery, by being placed amidst the most profligate companions. But, as a good education can never create a great character, neither can a bad one utterly spoil it. Heroic qualities may be modified, but they cannot be extinguished, by accidents. Peter contracted early habits of intemperance, and coarseness of manners; his natural violence of temper was augmented, and his health impaired, by his intercourse with these vicious companions ; but his manly spirit was not broken, and he soon showed a disposition to rebel against the control which was exercised over him.
It is a singular fact, that Peter, to whom the Rus. sians are indebted for the creation of their navy, enter: tained in his youth a most unconquerable antipathy to the water. From the sixth to the fourteenth year of his age, he was so fearful of this element, that he could not look upon so much as a pond or a rivulet without the greatest terror. For this reason he never walked in the garden of the palace, which is watered by the river Moskwa ; nor would he traverse a bridge which crossed the smallest brook, unless the windows of his coach were shut close. This remarkable disposition originated in an accident. When he was about five years old, his mother had him one day asleep in her lap as was riding in her coach. Passing over a dam where there was a heavy fall of water, the loud noise awaked him in such a fright as threw him into a fever, which, after he recovered, left on his spirits a terror of the water, that nothing apparently could over
With the maturity of his faculties, he grew more and more dissatisfied with the authority of his sister. He married against her will, in his eighteenth year, and claimed a seat at the council board. Violent altercations arose between them. Sophia was ambitious and overbearing, Peter was irascible and stubborn. An open rupture was the consequence. She excluded him from the council, and is said to have formed a conspiracy, in conjunction with Prince Galitzin, against his life or liberty. The chief of the Strelitzes and six hundred others of that body were engaged in the plot, and Peter with difficulty escaped to a monastery. He was there joined by loyal subjects from all quarters,
so that he was soon enabled to seize all the disaffected persons. By force of torture, a confession of the conspiracy was obtained. Sophia was confined for life in a convent, Galitzin was banished to Siberia, and Peter assumed the reins of government in 1689. His brother Iwan never interfered with his authority, and died in 1696.
He immediately began the vast undertaking of reforming the whole system of government and the manners of the people, in which he was opposed by the jealousies of every class of his subjects, who looked upon these changes as subversive of their ancient constitution. Peter's untiring energy, however, overcame all obstacles. He first directed his attention to the army. He entered the ranks as a private soldier, and rose through all the intermediate stages before he obtained a commission. He caused all the young nobles to follow his example. He made the soldiers lay aside their long coats, shave their beards, and dress their hair, and in a very short time he had an army of five thousand men, disciplined and trained on the German plan. He had by much practice conquered his youthful aversion for the water, and, walking one day by the river at Moscow, had his curiosity aroused by the sight of a decayed sloop, of foreign construction, which he was told would sail against the wind. He caused the vessel to be repaired by a Dutch shipwright whom his father had invited into Russia, and took much pleasure in watching her manœuvres. He learned to manage her himself, and soon after had several small vessels built, with which he made excursions on the lake of Perislav. His partiality for ships increased in
such a manner, that, in 1693, he visited the port of Archangel, and made a short voyage on the White Sea, attended by all the merchant vessels in the harbour. In the following year, he spent several months in similar excursions. His attachment for every thing con. nected with maritime affairs now grew to a passion, and he resolved to be no longer dependent on foreigners for his ships ; accordingly he sent a number of young Russians to Venice, Leghorn, and Holland, to learn the art of ship-building.
In 1694, a war with the Turks opened to him views of aggrandizement on the Black Sea, and the next year he marched with an army to besiege Azof. A naval force was found necessary, and Peter equipped a flotilla with such celerity that he was enabled the year following to defeat the Turkish galleys and capture the place. Of this conquest he was justly proud. He caused his army to make a triumphal entry into Moscow, in which his generals and admirals took the precedence over himself, as the Czar had served only as a volunteer in the campaign.
As his mind expanded, he became more sensible of the barbarism of his vast empire, and of his own deficiency in knowledge to improve and civilize it. He resolved to educate himself by foreign travel, not in the ordinary manner of royal tours, which generally serve but for the gratification of a vague curiosity, but by a residence of some duration in those places which he thought most proper for affording the instruction he wanted. It was an interesting and extraordinary circumstance in the history of mankind, that the despotic monarch of a mighty dominion should descend