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From The Fortnightly Review. her shoulder, “is the great motive power. THE EMPRESS CATHARINE II. I said it aloud in the Chamber. And they
Except Joan of Arc, perhaps, no hung upon my lips, they of the Right,
woman in modern history has attained of the Left, of the Centre, as though they
true greatness. Yet there have been heard the clink of coin and the rustle of banknotes. There was a moment when I grandiose women, like Elizabeth and held them all in my hand. What a tri
Maria Theresa, who, by their heroic umph was in preparation!”
temper or virile conduct of large pol
icies, have won the kind of praise which This is their last conversation; an Mirabeau in an extravagant moment hour later he had left the house, bound bestowed on the daughter of Maria whither he either knew not or would Theresa, when he wrote that the queen not tell, and Norina is left alone with of France was the greatest man in the her child, with a sufficient income court of Louis XVI. Russia celebrates forced on ber, which she regards as un- the centenary of the last of these lawfully acquired, and with which she women who have so imposed themwill deem it her duty to make all the selves on the imagination of Europe. reparation in her power. Thus ends Her story is romantic, her character of this sad but able novel.
curious interest. In the Russia which As readers must perceive, con- she entered, in her own words, "a temporary Italian views of their own penniless girl," she was for a generation political men and methods, as depicted the “cynosure of nations,” and the idol by their own writers, are neither hope of the most renowned, if not the greatful nor noble, and furnish no worthy est intellects of her time. Tried, ceroutcome of the efforts and sacrifices tainly, by the test of achievement so made but so recently on Italy's behalf dear to bistory, “the Semiramis of the by the men of a generation that has not North," as Voltaire delighted to call her, even yet died. And already their tra- deserved her title of "the Great." If ditions and aims seem dead! There her memory recalls more than one dark appears to be a moral abyss between and infamous tragedy, she had but en. fathers and sons. Certainly neither tered, as Machiavelli recommended, the the present situation nor the outlook is school of her age. The line of Romanof cheerful. We have purposely refrained awaits its Æschylus: Europe, which has from much comment, and have allowed seen her Borgias and her Baglionis, has the Italians to speak for themselves; not seen since the Claudian Cæsars a the dark picture therefore proceeds house so impiously stained with its own from no foreign bias or misconception blood as that which gave autocrats to of men and events. Here is undoubt- the Russias during the 17th and 18th edly food for mournful consideration. centuries. How hard it is for the Still, nations resemble individuals. crimes about a throne to cover themItaly's successes were too sudden and selves with silence and the creeping vast, her head was turned, she grew forgetfulness of time! conceited, and overestimated her strength. She is now reaping the results of precipitation. With the conse
"MADAME LA RESSOURCE." quent suffering has come reflection-
It is January, 1744, and the Com. these novels prove it-and reflection mandant of Stettin, Prince of Anhaltmust ultimately reawaken her innate Zerbst zu Dornburg, is keeping New good sense, and she will return to the Year festivities at his castle of Zerbst, right path, so unfortunately aban- when suddenly couriers from Berlin, doned. The present phase must be a couriers from St. Petersburg. throw passing one; so all Europe hopes and
every one into wild commotion. For believes. The hour ere dawn is dark- the Czarina Elizabeth, casting about for est. May this be Italy's pre-daylight a wife for her nephew, the young moment.
Grand Duke Peter of Holstein, nomi
nated heir-presumptive to all the night, after Madame Tchoglokof, who Russias, has accepted advice from
was charged with the surveillance of Frederick, soon to become “the Great.” the grand ducal ménage, had retired, She is formally desirous of a visit from under the impression that she had the Princess of Zerbst and her daughter, locked every one up safely, he would Sophie-Frederika, now fifteen years of call for lights again, like a schoolboy, age, and already noticeable for her good and make Catharine and her attendants looks and good sense. Not a moment is play with marionettes on the counterto be lost. So eastward, northward, the pane till one, two, three o'clock in the sleighs hurry them through the white morning. He had been more or less leagues of snow, to arrive within six drunk, to credit his enemies, since the weeks at the Russian court, now estab- age of ten; and Catharine declares he lished in Moscow. With little state or had a mortal aversion to the bath, ceremony, nevertheless, for the princely which it seems was then a Russian, not house of Zerbst is poor as it is ancient, a German observance. When ordered Sophie's wardrobe, she informs us her- by the empress to take one as penance self, consists just of three, or it may be during Lent, he replied that it was refour dresses, with twelve chemises. pugnant to his moral nature and unFor here begins that singular autobi- suited to his physical constitution, ography; an unauthenticated fragment, nothing, he said, but the most vital conit is true, but a self-portraiture con- siderations could induce him to risk the vincing as any in literature. At Mos- empress's displeasure, but he was not cow they made the best of impressions; prepared to die; and life was dearer to the czarina was graciousness itself; him than her Majesty's approbation. and within eighteen months the young Both were obstinate, and the dispute princess had been received into the led to the most terrific outburst of rage Greek Church as Catharine, and mar- on the part of the czarina that Cathried to the grand duke, himself only arine had yet witnessed. On another seventeen years old. But already she occasion his wife discovered him prehad learned not to expect happiness. siding over a court-marshal in full regi. He was, if we believe the accounts of mentals, with a large rat in the centre him, senseless and boorish in the ex- of the room, which had just been sustreme. Certainly he did not pretend to pended with all the formalities of a the least affection for Catharine. A military execution. It appeared that few days after her arrival, he had cou- the unfortunate beast had transgressed fided to her, “as his cousin,” that be the laws of war; it had climbed the ramwas "ardently in love with one of the parts of a cardboard fortress, and had maids of honor; since, however, the em- actually eaten two pith sentries on duty press desired it, he had resigned him at the bastions. It was to be exposed self, and was willing to marry her to the public view as an example during instead!" She was forced, according three days following! Catharine, unto her assertion, to listen to confidences luckily, was so lost to the fitness of of a like nature during many years. things as to betray open merriment. His puerilities and eccentricities, we The grand duke was furious; and she are told, amounted almost to madness. had to retire, excusing herself with He was fond of drilling dogs and tin difficulty on account of her ignorance soldiers, together with his disgusted of military discipline. The affair sensuite. But, like everyone else about sibly aggravated the estrangement bethe court, he lived in terror of the tween them. strong-willed, strong-drinking czarina. Of Elizabeth, who led an eccentric life His kennel must be kept a secret, and with her
peculiar intimates, was accordingly located in his wife's Catharine knew little; but she was the bedroom. He would spend hours in- victim of unrelenting if petty doors, cracking whips or emitting weird tyranny, which kept jealous watch over sounds musical instruments. At every word and movement, deprived
her of any attendant of whom she made morning star of a pleasure-loving soa friend, and dictated every minute cir- ciety, "full of life, and splendor, and cumstance of her life. It was like joy." She says that she never considnothing so much as a dame-school, even ered herself extremely beautiful, but to the various tutors and governesses "she was able to please, et cela était ordered her by the czarina. When her mon fort." All contemporary testifather died, she was allowed a week's mony bears out this singular faculty of mourning; at the end of that time the attracting others, rarest of natural empress sent a command to leave off, gifts, but to a woman such as Catharine “she was
a grand-duchess, and her a very perilous one. Not even those set father was not a king.” But Catharine to spy upon her could resist her personal was not of the stuff from which are magnetism. She could be beautiful ol modelled the monuments of docility. terrible, playful or majestic at pleasure. Little by little, as her character de- At St. Petersburg there were few wits, velops, she acquires proud and lonely and her intellectual superiority to those self-dependence. She awakens to intel. about her was sufficient to gain her the lectual interests; from the first, indeed, nickname among her husband's friends she had fung herself with ardor into the of Madame la Ressource. Despite study of Russian history and language. Peter's difficult relations with her, he During these early years books are her would refer to her in most of his pergreat distraction; "dix-huit années plexities, especially when political, cond'ennui et de solitude,” we read in an nected with his duchy of Holstein. "I epitaph written by herself, “lui firent don't understand things very well mylire bien des livres.” After a trial in the self,” he would explain to strangers, wilderness of third-rate contemporary “but my wife understands everything." fiction, Voltaire stirs her intellect. And We observe in the autobiography a he leads her, too, spell-bound by that fixed idea to "gain over” as many peoincomparable verve and intellectual ple as possible, to attach them to her agility of his; she surrenders herself to interests; partly because of the opposithe illusion of his brilliant assurance, tion to the czarina's circle, which graddancing like some triumphant will-o'- ually came to characterize the “Jeune the-wisp over the obscure deeps and Cour," but specially in the service of perplexities of things. In a hundred those vague, ambitious foreshadowings ways, evil and good, she will remain the which from her first years in Russia pupil of Voltaire. He has his part in her had possessed her mind. Clear-sighted, social test of philosophical speculations; with a keen sense of her husband's he has his part also, be sure of it, in her inadequacy to his position, warned by long devotion to ideals of monarchy ex- the implacable hostility of his mistress pressed for her in Henri Quatre and Elizabeth Vorontsof and her relations, Louis Quatorze. After Voltaire and above all with a passionate thirst to Mme. de Sévigné, Montesquieu, Baro- realize her presentiment of greatness, nius, Tacitus, Bayle, Brantôme, and the she was instinctively preparing for early volumes of the "Encyclopædia.” some emergency, she knew not exactly But her gay, expansive nature was not what. As for the more precise premonicapable for long of purely intellectual tions of the "Memoirs,” they are what or stoic consolation. In a moral en- would naturally appear to her after the vironment such as that of Elizabeth's fait accompli. Ambition, calculation court it was too easy for the reader of looking before and after, patience in Brantôme to seek elsewhere the "love" adversity, quickness to note and use romances had spoken of but marriage the weaknesses of those about her, a had denied her. She was remarked by steady indifference to unessentials, a all in her day for her gift of fascination. political intelligence unhampered by the To outward observers she seemed at keener sensibilities—these are the mas. this time a radiant and happy presence, ter traits of the Catharine of the autoas Burke saw Marie-Antoinette, the biography.
So far, then, of these earlier years, Orlofs. Three regiments, to whom while we have the "Memoirs" with us. vodka had judiciously been disposed We must now pass quickly over many beforehand, took the oath of allegiance things.
with enthusiasm; and others followed suit. Peter was thunderstruck. On the
advice of Marshal Münnich he em"JE REGNERAI SEULE ICI !”
barked for Cronstadt, where he was The motto of the Romanofs might be challenged, and demanded admittance taken from “Macbeth:” “The near in
as emperor. Il n'y a plus d'empereur ! blood; the nearer bloody.” But in that replied the commandant, Talitsine. He sombre history there is no darker page hurried back again, and after agonies than the conspiracy of 1762. In of indecision, finally abdicated. “He January Elizabeth died, and the grand had lost his crown," as Frederick said duke ascended
the throne quietly scornfully, "like a naughty child sent to enough as Peter III. But the position bed with a whipping." of Catharine was worse than before. So far the revolution had been bloodThe czar was completely under the in- less, but its darker hour was to come. fluence of her enemies; he insulted her “I placed the deposed emperor under in public; and it seemed certain that his the command of A. Orlof, with four next step would be to divorce her, throw chosen officers and a detachment of her into prison, and marry Elizabeth quiet and sober men, and sent him to a Vorontsof. He had once already or- distance of twenty-seven versts from dered her arrest, which his uncle had St. Petersburg to place called afterwards persuaded him to retract. Ropscha, very retired, but very pleasThe very reforms with which he had ant”—so runs Catharine's account to begun his reign worked against him. Poniatowski. On the 15th he was dead; He had made himself unpopular not of "hemorrhoidal colic,” said the official only with the clergy, but with the announcement, strangled, as Europe Préobrajenski Guards, which, like the rightly believed, by Alexis Orlof with prætorians of the Roman Empire, dis- his own hands. It is hardly possible posed of the throne. He smoked and that this hideous murder was without drank till three or five o'clock in the Catharine's at least tacit consent. She morning, writes the French ambassa- certainly condoned the crime. There dor; yet he would be up again at seven was danger in a name; and her senti. mancupring his troops. He would ment was doubtless that of Lord Essex order a hundred cannon to be fired to- when the fate of Strafford hung in the gether that he might have a foretaste of balance, Stone dead hath no fellow! Alwar, and his eccentricities in general ready, where the Neva turns towards were intensified by absolute power. the Baltic, one wretched boy-czar lanThe history of the coup d'état is still ob- guished beneath the melancholy forscure. A considerable party, however, tress of the Schlüsselburg. Two years, formed round Catharine: the brothers and he, too, after having known the Gregory and Alexis Orlof won over bitterness of life, will be violently done several regiments, and the Princess to death in his turn. But Voltaire Dashkof gained adherents in society. wrote to Madame du Deffand, “I am Matters were precipitated by the acci- aware that people reproach her with dental arrest of one of the conspirators; some bagatelles apropos of that husand although their plans were inco- band of hers; however, one really canherent, the good fortune of Catharine not intermeddle in these family squabcarried her through. At five o'clock in bles!" the morning of the 9th of July Alexis Such was the tragedy of Peter III. Orlof entered her room at Peterhof, and He died, as Catharine said, unpitied: told her to set out for St. Petersburg, a fool, echo her friends, who perished in where she was to be proclaimed imme. his folly. But history is precise and diately. She hastened there with the simple; truth complex and difficult.
Was there no light, no touch of nobility was her ambition to be Grand Moat all in that strange chaotic tempera- narque of the North, and to show the ment? No reverence in the boy who Paris of Louis Quinze that the age of would kneel to the picture of the great Olympian sovereignty was not yet past. Frederick? No generosity in the czar Hence her sensitiveness to Western who sacrificed victory to a sentiment; opinion, her assiduous court to the men who a bolished the hateful "secret of intellect, her anxiety to be admired chancery," torture, monopolies, and and feared in Europe. Nowhere is this refused a statue of gold offered by St. pose, this consciousness of a gallery, Petersburg, "desiring rather to raise more evident than in the sphere of fora monument in the hearts of his peo- eign policy. The great Peter had fulple"? There was something inarticu- filled the dream of Ivan in reaching the late there, surely-in the would-be Baltic, and so in her wars with the musician who must shut himself up for Turk Catharine realized the aim of hours to scrawk madly, passionately, on Peter by forcing her way to the Black a crazy violin, and whose last request Sea. But a Hellenic Empire at Conwas for his confidant and instrument. stantinople haunts her dreams. She “What is history,” said Napoleon, “but a stirs up Greek against Ottoman, and her fiction agreed upon ?" Such, neverthe trumpeter Voltaire heralds less, is the form and spirit of the hap- Sparta and Athens; she calls her grandless Peter as portrayed by his enemies. son Constantine, and surrounds him
with Greek nurse and servants. Her
famous progress southward, the most THE SEMIRAMIS OF THE NORTH.'
eccentric pageant in history, is typical This was the Catharine of Elizabeth's of Patiomkin's régime. This extraorcourt, and protagonist of that revolu- dinary man-mountebank, writes the tion which first made her known to English envoy, "esprit rêveur," says Europe. But it was the sovereign who the keener-eyed Prince de Ligne-a dazzled her contemporaries, and still barbarian, of terrific appearance;1 fan. lives splendidly with the great czar in tastic beyond the verge of madness, acthe annals of Russia. That exuberant quired a greater influence with Cathpersonality of hers is so eloquent, so arine than any other man of her reign. omnipresent in the sphere of politics, He had been created Prince of Taurida that one is often the most luminous :(the Crimea) after the conquest of the illustration of the other. There is a note southern provinces; and was resolved you will find common to her grandiose to dazzle Europe and his sovereign with schemes of territorial expansion, of in- her new acquisitions. In January, 1787, tellectual enlightenment and domestic she set out on her triumphal journey. reform. It is the note of theatricality, A huge retinue accompanied her, toof extravagance, of
The gether with the foreign ambassadors, strangest chimeric fantasy sometimes Cobenzl, Fitzherbert, and Ségur, the here possesses her, hitherto prosaic last of whom has described this strange enough in so many ways; and it com
procession. Forty miles were covered municates itself to men like the Orlofs, every day. There is a palace at every Patiomkin, Suvarof. It is, I think, M. stopping place; towns and villages dot Leroy-Beaulieu, who remarks that in what six months ago had been a howlRussia the shows of things are more ing wilderness. Painted forests seem important than reality. So rite, cere- to clothe the horizon; fertile solitudes monial, the spectacular, the symbolic, Swarm with gaily dressed peasants, seem to have a power there greater imported for this occasion only. From than in any other people of civilization. But stronger still was Catharine's over
1 He was a giant, and had an eye gouged out by mastering desire to play to the applause derstanding at billiards.
Alexis Orlof, the consequence of a slight misun
Thereafter, with a of Europe. She had conceived herself humor all his own, Alexis named him “the Cyas the heroine of a grandiose drama. It clops."