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respect to the sanctity of his own oath; and yet the importance of keeping sworn faith must have been well known to a prince who one day said, "The irreligious cannot be tolerated because, by sapping religion, they turn into ridicule the sacredness of an oath, which is the foundation of all society."
It is true that, on this occasion, pushing right into wrong, as he too often did, he mutilated and banished to Siberia a miserable creature who, when drunk, had been guilty of blasphemy. So intolerant was he against intolerance. The raskolniks were, and still are, the blind and uncompromising enemies of all innovation. One of them, at that period, even believed that he might avenge heaven by an assassination. Under the guise of a suppliant, this fanatic had easily penetrated into the chamber of the prince; he was already within reach of him, and, while he feigned to implore him, his hand was seeking for the dagger under his clothes, when, fortunately, it dropped and betrayed the assassin, by falling at the feet of the czar.
This abortive crime had made the persecution rage with redoubled fury when, all at once, a frightful report was spread; it was soon confirmed that several hundred of these wretched beings had taken refuge in a church, and, rather than abjure their superstitions, had set fire to their asylum, leaving nothing but their ashes to their persecutor. A horrible sacrifice, which, however, was not useless. Peter saw his error; his intolerance was only political- it was enlightened by these flames, which religious intolerance witnessed with such atrocious joy.
Yet, unable to forgive these sectaries an obstinacy which was victorious over his own, he once more tried against them the weapon of ridicule. He ordered that they should wear a bit of yellow stuff on their backs, to distinguish them from his other subjects. This mark of humiliation, however, they considered as a distinction. Some malignant advisers endeavoured to rouse his anger again, but he replied, "No; I have learned that they are men of pure morals; they are the most upright merchants in the empire; and neither honour nor the welfare of the country will allow of their being martyred for their errors. Besides, that which a degrading badge and force of reason have been unable to effect will never be accomplished by punishment; let them, therefore, live in peace.'
These were remarkable words, and worthy the pupil of Holland and England, worthy of a prince to whom superstition was a most inveterate enemy. In reality, he was a believer, but not credulous; and even while he knelt on the field of victory, he gave thanks to God alone for the reward of so many toils, and could separate the cause of heaven from that of the priests; it was his wish that they should be citizens. We have seen that he subjected them to the same taxes as his other subjects; and because the monks eluded them he diminished their numbers. He unmasked the superstitious impostures of the priests, who all sought to close up every cranny by which the light might have a chance of reaching them.
For this reason, they held St. Petersburg in abhorrence. According to their description of it, this half-built city, by which Russia already aspired to civilisation, was one of the mouths of hell. It was they who obtained from the unfortunate Alexis a promise that it should be destroyed. Their prophecies repeatedly fixed the epoch at which it would be overthrown by the wrath of heaven. The labours upon it were then suspended, for so great was the fear thus inspired that the orders of the terrible czar were issued almost in vain.
On one occasion, these lying priests were for some days particularly active; they displayed one of their sacred images, from which the tears flowed miraculously; it wept the fate which impended over those who dwelt in this new
[1719 A.D.] city. "Its hour is at hand," said they, "and it will be swallowed up, with all its inhabitants, by a tremendous inundation." On hearing of this miracle of the tears, the treacherous construction which was put upon it, and the perturbation which it occasioned, Peter thought it necessary to hasten to the spot. There, in the midst of the people, who were petrified with terror, and of his tongue-tied court, he seized the miraculous image, and discovered its mechanism; the multitude were stupefied with a pious horror, but he opened their eyes by showing them, in those of the idol, the congealed oil, which was melted by the flame of tapers inside, and then flowed drop by drop through openings artfully provided for the purpose.
At a later period he did still more; the horrible execution of a young Russian by the priests was the cause. This unfortunate man had brought back from Germany a highly valuable knowledge of medicine, and had left there some superstitious prejudices. For this reason all his motions were watched by the priests; and they at last caught up some thoughtless words against their sacred images. They immediately arrested the regenerated young Russian, sentenced him without mercy, and put him to a torturing death. But this individual evil produced a general good. Indignant at their cruelty, Peter deprived the clergy of the right of condemning to death. The priests lost a jurisdiction which they alleged they had possessed for seven centuries, from the time of Vladimir the Great, and thus the source of their power was forever annihilated by this execrable abuse of it.
It was particularly in that sanguinary year, so fatal to the last hope which the old Russians placed in his successor, that Peter seemed in haste to sever them from their ancient customs, by giving an entirely new form to the administration of his empire. As far back as 1711, he had already replaced the old supreme court of the boyars by a senate, a sovereign council, into which merit and services might obtain admission, independent of noble origin. Subsequently, and every year, other changes had been effected. Thus, in 1717, he brought from France, along with a commercial treaty, the institution of a general police. But, in 1718, instead of the old prikaz, he substituted, at one stroke, colleges for foreign affairs, naval affairs, finance, justice, and commerce, and fixed, by a general regulation, and with the utmost minuteness, the functions and privileges of each of them.
At the same time, when capable Russians were not to be found, he appointed his Swedish prisoners, and the most eminent of the foreigners, to fill these administrative and judicial situations. He was careful to give the highest offices to natives, and the second to foreigners, that the native officers might support, against the pride and jealousy of their countrymen, these foreigners who served them as instructors and guides. For the purpose of forming his young nobles for the service of the state, he adjoined a considerable number of them to each college; and there merit alone could raise them from the lowest stations to the first rank.
RENEWED HOSTILITIES WITH SWEDEN (1719-1721 A.D.)
The death of Charles XII was immediately followed by a revolution in Sweden. His sister Ulrica Eleonora, who was married to the crown prince of Hesse-Cassel, succeeded him on the throne; but the constitution was changed, the despotic authority of the crown was reduced to a mere shadow, and the queen and her husband became the tools of an oligarchy who usurped all the powers of the state. The czar and the new queen mutually protested their desire for peace; but Peter at the same time announced to the Swedish plen
ipotentiaries that, if the propositions he had made were not accepted within two months, he would march forty thousand men into Sweden to expedite the negotiations.
A project for the pacification of the north, the very opposite from that conceived by Görtz, was formed by the diet of Brunswick. The concocters of this scheme started from the principle that the German possessions of Sweden were more onerous than profitable to that power, as the occasions of interminable wars. It was resolved, therefore, that they should be abandoned to the powers that had conquered them; but as it was reasonable that the new possessors should purchase the ratification of their titles by some services to the common cause, they were required to aid Sweden in recovering possession of Finland and of Livonia, the granary of that kingdom. Of all the czar's conquests nothing was to be left to him but St. Petersburg, Kronstadt, and Narva; and, if he refused to assent to this arrangement, all the contracting powers were to unite their forces and compel him to submit. This was one of those brilliant and chimerical schemes with which diplomatists sometimes allow their minds to be so dazzled as not to be convinced of their impracticability until after a lavish waste of blood.
Whilst the allies were in imagination depriving Peter of his conquests, Siniavin, his admiral, took from the Swedes two ships of the line and a brigantine, which were carrying corn to Stockholm. The queen of Sweden, however, encouraged by the promises made her by Lord Carteret, the ambassador of George I, intimated to the czar that she would break off the conferences at Åland if he did not consent to restore all the provinces he had conquered. By way of reply, Peter went in June, 1719, with a fleet of 30 ships, 150 galleys, and 300 barges, carrying in all 40,000 men, to Aland, took up his station for a while under the cliffs of the island of Lämeland, and sent Apraxin to ravage the wastes on the right of Stockholm, whilst Lessy destroyed everything on the left of the city. North and south Telge, Nyköping, Norköping, Osthammer, and Oregrund, together with two small towns, were burned, besides 150 noble mansions, 43 mills, 1,360 villages, 21 copper, iron, and tile works - among the iron works one was worth 300,000 dollars; 100,000 cattle were slaughtered, and 80,000 bars of iron thrown into the sea. The mines were blown up and the woods set on fire, and Stockholm itself was seriously threatened. Meanwhile, the English fleet under Admiral Norris again entered the Baltic. Peter sent a message to the English admiral asking peremptorily whether he came only as a friend to Sweden or as an enemy to Russia. The admiral's answer was that as yet he had no positive orders. This equivocal reply did not hinder Peter from keeping the sea, and incessantly harrassing the Swedes before the eyes of their naval allies.
The Swedish oligarchs and their mock king' had reckoned in vain upon the intercession of the English ambassador, and the aid of the admiral and his fleet. Carteret was not even listened to by Peter, and Admiral Norris did not venture to attack the Russians, because he knew that the English nation was dissatisfied with the politics of their king and of his ministers, who favoured his Hanoverian plans. The Swedes were at length obliged to acquiesce in the Russian demands; negotiations for peace were again commenced in Nystad at the end of the year 1720, but their conclusion was only brought about at the close of the following year by the exercise of some further cruelties on the part of the Russians. The Swedes had demanded a
Ulrica had ceded the crown to her husband.
[1721 A.D. cessation of hostilities during the whole time in which the negotiations were pending, but Peter only granted it till May, 1721, in order to compel the council of state to come to a resolution by that time; and as they still procrastinated, the whole coast of Sweden was again plundered and devastated
in the month of June.
The Russian incendiaries landed in sight of the English, whose fleet under Admiral Norris, still continued in the Baltic, but did not venture to lend any assistance to the Swedes. The whole coast, from Gefle as far as Umea, was ravaged; four small towns, nineteen villages, eighty nobles' and five hundred peasants' houses burned; twelve iron-works and eight sawmills destroyed; six galleys and other ships carried away. Peter's plenipotentiaries at last prevailed for he so jocularly called his soldiers and sailors who were committing such horrible destruction in Sweden. Negotiations were again opened in Nystad, a small town in Finland, and the war of twenty-one years was closed by a peace dictated by the conquering czar. The provinces ceded to Russia by the Peace of Nystad (September 10th, 1721) were Livonia, Esthonia, and Karelia, together with Viborg, Kexholm, and the island of Ösel; on the other hand, Peter restored Finland, with the exception of Viborg and Kexholm, and promised to pay two millions of dollars, but in the first years of the peace scarcely paid off half a million.
From this time forward, the despotic sway and military oppression of Russia became the dread of all neighbouring countries and people. All contributed to the external greatness and splendour of the ruler of a barbarous but powerful race of slaves, whom he constrained to adopt the vestments of civilisation. The czar commanded in Poland and Scandinavia, where weak or wicked governments were constantly in dread from the discontent of the people. He also gained an influence in Germany, which ultimately caused no small anxiety to the emperor and the empire. The Russian minister Bestuzhev played the chief part in Sweden in all political affairs, sometimes by counsel and sometimes by threats, sometimes by mediation and sometimes by commands. Bestuzhev was powerful in the Swedish council, and at the same time, in compliance with the wishes of his master, allured artists, artisans, workmen, and all those who had been deprived of occupation or ruined by the late inroads of the Russians, to remove with their tools, manufactures, and trades to Russia. Peter employed these people in all parts of his empire to raise up manufactories, to originate trades, and to set mines and iron-works in action.
The Russian minister spoke in a no less commanding tone in Copenhagen than in Sweden, for Denmark was also frightened by Peter's threats to adopt and second the cause of the duke of Holstein. The duke was detained in Russia by repeated promises, of whose fulfilment there was little prospect. The Poles, through Russian mediation, were at length reconciled to their king, and the Russians not only kept firm possession of Courland, but remained in Poland itself, under the pretence of preserving the peace of the country. Peter, nevertheless, in his negotiations with Görtz and Charles XII, had showed himself well inclined to sacrifice King Augustus to his plans; but this scheme was frustrated by the death of Charles.
PETER AS ADMINISTRATOR
Peter had now achieved a prodigious amount of external and internal power; yet the original nucleus of it all was nothing more than fifty young
companions in debauchery, whom he transformed into soldiers, and the remains of a sailing-boat, which had been left forgotten in a magazine. In twenty-five years this seed, nursed by a skilful and vigorous hand, had, on the one part, produced two hundred thousand men, divided into fifty-five regiments, and cantoned, with three hundred field pieces, in permanent quarters; a body of engineers, and, particularly, of formidable artillery-men; and fourteen thousand pieces of cannon, deposited in a great central establishment, in the fortresses, and three military magazines on the frontiers of the three chief national enemies, the Turks, the Poles, and the Swedes. On the other hand, from the relics of the sailing boat had arisen thirty ships of the line, a proportionate number of frigates and smaller vessels of war, two hundred galleys with sails and oars, and a multitude of experienced
But with what treasures did Peter undertake the moral and physical transformation of such an extensive empire? We behold an entire land metamorphosed, cities containing a hundred thousand souls, ports, canals, and establishments of all kinds, created; thousands of skilful Europeans attracted, maintained and rewarded; several fleets built, and others purchased; a permanent army of a hundred and twenty thousand men, trained, equipped, provided with every species of arms and ammunition, and several times renewed; subsidies of men and money given to Poland; and four wars undertaken. One of these wars spread over half of Europe and when it lasted twenty-one years the treasury from which it was fed still remained full. And Peter, whose revenues on his accession did not exceed a few hundred thousand pounds, declared to Munich that he could have carried on the war for twenty-one years longer without contracting any debt.
Will order and economy be sufficient to account for these phenomena? We must, doubtless, admire them in the czar, who refused himself every superfluity at the same time that he spared nothing for the improvement of his empire. Much must have been gained when, after having wrested the indirect taxes from the boyars, who were at once civil, military, and financial managers, and from those to whom the boyars sold in portions the collecting of them, Peter, in imitation of Holland, entrusted the finances to committees composed of select merchants. We may also feel less surprised at the increase of his revenue, after we have seen him subjecting to taxation the clergy as well as the laity; suppressing a number of monasteries, by forbidding monastic vows to be taken before the age of fifty; and uniting their estates to the domains of the crown, which were swelled by confiscations, by the reversion of his brother Ivan's appanage, and by his conquests from the Swedes.
We must remark, at the same time, that he had opened his states to foreign commerce and to the treasures of Europe, which were carried thither to be exchanged for the many raw materials which had hitherto remained valueless; we must consider the augmentation of revenue which necessarily ensued, and the possibility of requiring to be paid in money a multitude of taxes which had previously been paid in kind. Thus, in place of quotas of provisions, which were brought from great distances and were highly oppressive to the people, he substituted a tax; and the sum raised was applied to the payment of contractors. It is true that even under this new system the state was shamefully robbed; for the nobles contrived in secret to get the contracts into their own hands, in order to fatten upon the blood of the people; but Peter at length perceived them; the evil betrayed itself by its own enormity. The czar then created commissions of inquiry, passed whole days in them, and, during several years, keeping these great peculators always in sight, made
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