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Kief floating pavilions carry them down struction" to the delegates, saturated as the Dnieper; the prince magician alone it is with Montesquieu and the rest, has a hundred and twenty of his be- shows her abreast of her time. Politiloved musicians. Again the same mise- cians of the old school, indeed, shuden-scène: operatic Cossacks rowing out dered at its array of grandiloquent from either shore, the village of yester- maxims-"there are bombs enough in day in the foreground, roofless façades it," cried Panin, "to bring the walls in the middle distance; the same re- about our ears." She is here, in spite of views in successive provinces of hussars all that has been said, exactly where out of her own escort! The greatest of we invariably find her, neither a day in optimists saw everything and affected front of her age nor a day behind. Reto see through nothing-the works of form of the ex cathedrâ sort was just his Highness surpass conception. Sud- then in the air. From the Tagus to the denly spring appears, glittering on the Dnieper, and from Copenhagen to the enamelled meadows and majestic river, Vatican, Europe was crowded with they journey to the music of the galleys paternal monarchs and earnest minisbetween throngs of spectators from ters, who were willing to do almost thirty nations. Every morning a fresh everything for the people and nothing scene opens, the days "travel more by them. The world had not seen quickly than they themselves." At statesmen so sincere, enlightened, and Kaniof she is met by his Majesty of plausible. A generation later, on the Poland, none other than Poniatowski, meeting of the National Assembly, the the lover of Peterhof in the old days! despotic reformation of Montesquieu at Kherson, on an eastern gate, appears and Voltaire will still seem about to be the famous legend, "The road to Byzan- translated into action. Men read their tium;" and there it is the Holy Roman Rousseau: soon they will understand emperor who is drawn into her train,- him; they will also understand that they have already mapped out the "Non de nobis sine nobis," which was Ottoman dominions. So with excur- the haughty motto of the Hungarian sions and alarums eastward by magnates. Poltava of glorious memory to the new "Glory of Catharine," her city of Ekaterinoslav; and last of all through undulating steppes to the gorgeous palace piled upon the sand at Inkerman, where after banquetings a curtain falls away, and behold-the pasteboard fortifications of Sevastopol! where a green-wood squadron anchored beneath them splutters forth its husky artillery. Splendide mendax! The West applauded frantically; never had such a travelling-show been seen in Europe. At home, too, the cult of appearances. went hand in hand with generosity and enthusiasm. "C'est presque un monde," she writes to Voltaire, "à créer, à unir, à conserver!" First comes the administration of justice, and her ukase of 1762, on its abuses, has a ring of sincerity that can hardly be mistaken. There is a real courage again in her dealings with the clergy. Four years later she summons a great assembly to Moscow to consider a new code; and her "InLIVING AGE. VOL. XII. 623
But her attention soon became diverted. She was not, as Gunning thought, insincere, only fickle; she wanted patience and continuity of aim. The "states-general” had produced an excellent effect in the world, and, in fact, had afforded her information afterwards turned to account. Her eye is on the Turk; as with the second Pitt, had it not been for this cursed war we should have seen greater things. "Beginnings-only beginnings!" exclaims an eye-witness, "there are plenty of sketches to be seen, but where is the finished picture?" Another reports that shoals of academies and secondary schools bear witness to Catharine's enthusiasm for education, but that some exist only on paper, while others seem to have everything everything except scholars. Things are done hastily, and without just measure or proportion; the imitative talent of the Russian does not seem to carry him quite far enough. At her death, says a historian who
wrote eight years after it, most of her foundations were already in ruins; everything seemed to have been abandoned before completion. Yet we must not forget that liberal ideas were in themselves a revelation to the Russia of her days, and that after a succession of contemptible sovereigns she appeared as the first worthy successor of Peter. It was already something for a woman there to be governed by large social conceptions, has it not been said even elsewhere that the politics of women are proper names? You may say what you will, she saved the European tradition of Peter the Great, and was in a sense the creator of modern Russia.
But to her philosophic friends at Paris it mattered little whether her designs were in the parchment or any other stage. Since Voltaire had hailed her as the Northern Semiramis, no adulation was enough to translate their enthusiasm; the "charms of Cleopatra," for example, were united in her to "the soul of Brutus." On her side she "distributed compliments in abundance, gold medals also (but more often in bronze), and from time to time even a little money." La Harpe, Marmontel, Volney, Galiani, and many others fallen silent in these days were sharers in her bounty. She would buy the books of some specially favored and instal them at home again as "her librarians.". Only one or two, d'Alembert, Raynal, stood aloof, with the mistrustful Jean-Jacques, who refused the demesne of Gatschina! Diderot came to St. Petersburg in those days, declaiming for two, three, five hours with unmatched copiousness of discourse, astounding Catharine with his large argument and fiery eloquence, and entertaining her hugely by his oblivion of everything once fairly launched on his foaming torrent. The philosopher who, borne on spiritual hurricanes, would leap from his chair at Princess Dashkof's, striding to and fro as he spat upon the floor in his excitement, forgot himself equally in the presence of Semiramis. "In the heat of exposition he brought his hands down on the imperial
knees with such force and iteration" that Catharine complained they had turned black and blue. But for all that she would egg on this strange wild-fowl. "Allons," she would exclaim, a table once set safely between them, "entre hommes tout est permis!" As for Voltaire, his proudest title was that of "lay preacher of the religion of Saint Catharine." Her correspondence with him, which begins the year after her accession and continues until his death, is in truth a kind of journalism, written partly by herself, partly by others. Its object is to keep the friend of princes and dictator of literary opinion au courant with her ideas, measures, and general policy. She is not content now, however, with the applause of her generation; she aims at commanding the sources of history itself. Here she motions posterity to take its stand behind contemporaries in the church of Voltaire's foundation, while the archpriest of Ferney prostrates himself with iterated formula "Te Catharinam laudamus, te Dominam confitemur." For St. Catharine was an interested reader of that correspondence of Dide. rot's with her sculptor Falconet, whose theme is the solidity of posthumous fame. Rulhière had already written an account of the events of 1762, of which he had been an eye-witness; she had tried first to buy him, and then to have him thrown into the Bastille. She will search Venice for a pliable historian; and her own letter on the coup d'état, together with her memoirs, show how strong in her was that "besoin de paroistre" analyzed by the great Pascal a century before. Catharine, be quite certain of it, is no earnest seeker after truth; rather "the plain man," with something of the acuteness as well as the insensibility of common sense. The "Philosophes" were the interest of the cultivated, "as scholars had been in one century, painters in another, theologians in a third." They had the ear of Europe, who rest now in Mr. Morley's bosom. But Catharine confessed years after, "Your learned men in ist bored me to extinction. There was only my good protector Voltaire.
Do you know it was he who made me the inconsequence in their ideas, for the mode?"
With what a quaint inconsequence her truer self appeared at the Revolution? She, who will foresee Napoleon,1 was rudely shocked by the fall of the Bastille. The Revolution touched her in her tenderest point. With every year, in spite of her sentiments and cosmopolitan culture, this Princess of Zerbst became more and more fervently autocratic and Russian. She had jestingly asked her doctor to bleed away the last drop of her German blood. No one ever had a more fanatical hero-worship for the Russian himself, or a deeper enthusiasm for the greatness in his history. It was in the political sphere that her convictions lay, and, she had a vague but passionate belief in what she and Russia might do together. Yet here were these declaimers threatening to overrun Europe, and "Equality setting peoples at the throats of kings!" The cant about fraternity, the catchwords and sentiment, vanish like smoke. No anathemas on the Revolution were fiercer than those of the "Ame Républicaine," who had burned to restore the ancient institutions of Athens. The hostess of Diderot breathed fiery indig nation against "these Western atheists;" and the nationalization of church property, the very first of her own reforms, becomes, in the men of '89, an "organized brigandage." There is an economy of truth, said Burke. Semiramis, like Romeo, "hung up philosophy," and the bust of her "preceptor," Voltaire, accompanied Fox to the base. ment!
Enfin tout prilosophe est banni de céans Et nous ne vivons plus qu'avec les honnêtes gens!
The advantage of women in affairs of this sort is, that they are natural opportunists, and care nothing for the tyranny of your system. There is a wise
1 Mr. Gladstone and others have recently been discussing remarkable historical prophesies. Catharine's forecast of Napoleon is, if not one of the most extraordinary, certainly one of the most vividly defined to be found in history. See her correspondence with Grimm, 13th Jan., 1791, 12th Feb., 1794, etc.
logic of the universe is not professed from an academic chair. "Moi," she says, "je ne suis qu'un composé de batons rompus!" Voltaire had learnt from Bayle, and Catharine tells us she had learnt from Voltaire to distrust "the men of a system." "Stulti sunt innumerabiles," said Erasmus, and theirs was but an ingenious foolishness. Diderot, on that adventurous visit of his, was bursting with eagerness to take Russia off the wall, and put it "in the kettle of magicians." Never before now had such projects been seen in a government office! He gesticulated by the hour; she was delighted to listen. He drew up scores of schemes; they were as well-ordered, as regular as his own meals. But presently he realized that no one had taken him seriously! Catharine once remarked herself that she wrote on "sensitive skins, while his material was foolscap." And finally, like Mercier de la Rivière, he departed wiser, and a little hurt. "A..wonderful man," she said afterwards to Ségur, "but a little too old-and a little too young!" His "Plan of a University for Russia," which had an appreciable influence on education elsewhere, has never to this day, says Waliszewski, been translated into Russian.
How natural again, and with what vivid abandon, she presents herself in her correspondence with Grimm! He lives in Paris, factotum and confidant, passes his life in executing her commissions. To him she talks, rather than writes, as she talks to her intimates, in overwhelming voluble fashion, gossiping, punning, often playing the buffoon, as she does with that little set of hers at her retreat of the "Hermitage." Persons, even places, have their nicknames. St. Petersburg is the "duckpond;" Grimm himself the "Fag," "Souffredouleur," "George Dandin," "M. le Baron de Thunder-ten-Tronck." Frederick the Great appears as "Herod" (a palpable hit that!), the diplomats as "Wind-bags," "Pea-soup," "die Perrückirte Haüpter;" Maria Theresa becomes "Maman;" Gustavus of Sweden, "Falstaff;" and so on. There is no ques
tion here of making a figure; often she has nothing to say, she writes purely to give her extravagance an outlet. We have her here as though we had been present at one of those sparkling conversations which, in old days, used to send Grimm sleepless to his rooms, but of which nothing remained memorable, which in truth charmed by their vivacity rather than by wit-by that verve which so often supplies the place of brilliancy. This familiar note will appear in her letters to the Emperor Joseph; as unlike those addressed to Herod as the letters to Grimm are unlike those to Mme. Geoffrin or Voltaire. He was also des nôtres. She, who judged men in general poorly enough, though she used them incomparably well, not only recognized (unlike most of his contemporaries) but was fascinated by the element of greatness in that extraordinary man. She used him it is true, as she used Orlof and Patiomkin; her good fortune helped her as it did before, and will again; their great alliance against the Ottoman brought her everything, and him nothing. Still, no foreigner ever dazzled her as he, who could so little impose himself on his age. "He will live unrivalled," she wrote in her enthusiasm, "his star is in the ascendant, he will leave all Europe behind!" A wandering star, alas! He will go before her to the grave, the great failure of his generation, in the bitterness of death dictating that saddest of epitaphs, "Here lies one who never fulfilled an aim." Impar congressus! like Michelet's Charles the Bold, "il avait trop voulu, des choses infinies."
She was notable in her day for that vitality and "character" by which she absorbed to herself men so diverse as the histrionic, gigantesque Patiomkin, and the cold and calculating Grimm. They were her great endowments. Her buoyant enthusiasm, her huge self-confidence, her audacity and impetus seemed sometimes to enable men and carry them off their feet. Her gaiety was constitutional; but had it not been so, she would have been happy on principle. "Madame, il faut être gaie. Il
n'y a que cela qui fait qu'on surmonte tout." Her animal spirits were unfailing, though her sense of humor was incomplete. Her secretary brings her a dispatch; she doubles him up with it in the manner of the historic company at Angel's, and invites him by way of reparation to join her at blind-man'sbuff with her grand-children. SainteBeuve has praised her intellect, yet its chief characteristic was a superb common sense. She had read widely enough, but she had not the true passion for literature. Nuance, the delicate play of wit or imagination, were lost upon her. Her authors are Corneille first of all, and Plutarch, who just then was greatly in the mode at Paris, especially among women. But her sense sometimes carried her farther than others were carried by genius. "Que je plains, ces pauvres savans! ils n'osent jamais prononcer ces quatre mots, je ne sais pas, qui sont si commodes pour nous autres ignorans." The "let us dare to be ignorant," does not take us farther than that! All the world knows her speech about torture to the Moscow assembly-an excellent way of ending a sickly innocent, and of letting a stout rogue go free. Listen to her again: "Euler (whom she had settled at St. Petersburg) nous prédit la fin du monde pour le mois de juillet de l'année qui vient. Il fait venir tout exprès pour cela deux comètes, qui feront je ne sais quoi à Saturne, qui à son tour viendra nous détruire. Or, la grande-duchesse m'a dit de n'en rien croire, parce que les prophéties de l'Evangile et de l'Apocalypse ne sont pas encore remplies, et notamment l'Antéchrist n'est point venu, ni toutes les croyances réunies. Moi, à tout cela je réponds comme le barbier de Séville. Je dis à l'un: 'Dieu Vous bénisse,' et à l'autre: 'Va te coucher!' et je vais mon train."
The arts were indifferent to her, and she was insensible to the simplicity of true greatness. She idolized a Zubof, but Kosciusko was immured at St. Petersburg till the day of her death, and she never even learnt his precise name. Yet she brought to society and politics
much of that protean activity which was the distinction of her teacher Voltaire in the field of letters. She did much for education, and something for Russian literature. She herself wrote, or collaborated in plays, whose performances the Holy Synod had to attend-and applaud-in a body. She also published translations, pamphlets, books for her grandchildren, a history of Russia to the fourteenth century, and even helped to edit a newspaper. Unlike Frederick, she did not despise the language of her country. She put her court to school, and at the "Hermitage" so many lines of Russian were learnt every day. But Radistchev said: "Fear and silence reign round Tsarkoë-Sielo. The silence of death is there, for there despotism has its abode." He received the knout and Siberia, because his words were true. She lived, as he said, remote from her people. Beggars were forbidden to enter Moscow, lest she should see them; but a rumor ran after her return from the South that Alexis Orlof led her into a barn where were laid out the bodies of all who had died of hunger on the day of her triumphal entry. Like Peter the Great, she even in some ways intensified serfdom. hundred and fifty thousand "peasants of the Crown" were handed over by her as serfs to her lovers. Their proprietors could send them with hard labor to Siberia; they could give them fifteen thousand blows for a trifling offence; a Saltykof tortured seventy-five to death. Sed ignoti perierunt mortibus illi! their day will come, but not yet.
This is not the place to describe the campaigns of Rumiantsof, Patiomkin, and the rest, against Sweden and the Ottomans. Her own ideas in the field of foreign policy we have already seen. After the Revolution another policy, that of spurring on Gustavus and the Western powers to a crusade against France, takes the first place. It gave them something to think about, she explained to Ostermann, and she "wanted elbow-room." The third Polish partition explains why she was so anxious for "elbow-room." Schemes of the kind were common enough in the
eighteenth century, everybody was dismembered on paper by every one else; it was but a delicate attention reserved for a neighbor in times of trouble and sickness. And John Sobieski had foretold the doom of Poland a hundred years before. But it remains a blot upon her name. For her final fate overtook Póland not, as is commonly said, because of her internal anarchy (sedulously fostered by the foreign powers), but because that anarchy seemed about to disappear. The spirit of reform had penetrated to Warsaw, and after the Constitution of May 3rd Catharine was afraid of a revival of the national forces similar to that which had followed the reforms of 1772 in her neighbor Sweden. She was aided by traitors from within, a'quali era più cara la servitù che la liberta della loro patria; and on the field of Maciejovitsy they were able to cry, "Finis Poloniæ!" No question has been more obscured. The fashion of liberal thought has changed, the history, like that of town and gown, has been written by the victorious aggressors, and Poland is become the rendezvous of the political sophistries, as it has been the cockpit of the political ruffianism, of all Europe. But Catharine could boast that she had pushed the frontiers of Russia farther than any sovereign since Ivan the Terrible. "I came to Russia a poor girl. Russia has dowered me richly, but I have paid her back with Azof, the Crimea, and the Ukraine."
There remains the side of her which attracted Byron, and which no one has failed to seize. The beginnings of her moral descent are there before us in the memoirs; ennui and solitude weighed upon her; and as she gained greater liberty she sought distractions which, at first, were harmless. The third stage was the infamous command of the empress, the grand duke and she have no children; the succession must be secured. If Soltykof, as Catharine implies, were the father of her son Paul, the sovereigns who have since occupied the throne of Russia are Romanofs only in name.1 From this point till her death
1 But there is a distinct resemblance between