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The almost daily theatrical representations produced at court gave rise to the idea of organising similar representations at the corps des Cadets. The empress took a lively interest in them; she often assisted at them and lent her diamonds for the women's costumes. In their turn these representations could not but assist the development of a taste for the stage, for dramatic art and literature in general and from amongst the number of cadet actors not a few became well-known writers, as for instance Beketov, Kheraskov, and Sumarokov.
We must dwell for a few moments on Sumarokov a man who in his time enjoyed an extensive literary reputation and secured for himself the appellation of Father of the Russian Stage. The love of literature, and especially of the stage, was already developed in Sumarokov when he was in the corps des Cadets; when he was afterwards made aide-de-camp to Razumovski, he could almost daily assist at operas and ballets. At that period he read with avidity the dramatic authors then in fashion: Corneille, Racine, Voltaire, and Molière became his idols; he decided to try to imitate them in his own native language, then very undeveloped, and in 1747 he wrote a tragedy, the Chorists.
It was not the merits of this work, which were very insignificant, but the unwontedness of the appearance of an original Russian tragedy, and besides that the fact of its being in verse, that so astounded and enraptured his contemporaries that they proclaimed Sumarokov the "Russian Racine"; encouraged by such a success he wrote a second and yet, a third tragedy; he took up comedy (for which he had hardly any more vocation) and in fact wrote a whole repertory; there were, however, no actors; because neither in St. Petersburg nor in Moscow did there any longer exist such companies and such theatres as were begun in the time of Peter.
Meanwhile, far away from both capitals, in Iaroslav there was formed, almost of itself without any commands or even any encouragement being given, a Russian dramatic company which is indissolubly bound up with the name of Volkov. Theodore Volkov was the son of a merchant and had been educated in the Iaroslav seminary, where, following the example of the Academy of Kiev, and others, representations of a spiritual or religious character were given. They produced a great impression upon the young merchant; when later on he managed to get to St. Petersburg and saw on the stage of the corps des Cadets a dramatic representation given with scenery, lighting, and mechanical contrivances, Volkov was stupefied with rapture and astonishment. Being to the highest degree sensitive to every artistic impression, being a painter, a musician, and a sculptor - all self-taught - Volkov was also endued with that constancy and patience without which even gifted natures do not attain to any results. Volkov studied the material side of scenic art to the smallest details that is, the arrangement of the machinery, of the scenes, etc.; when he returned to Iaroslav he asked his parents, with whom he lived, to let him have an empty tanner's shed; there he arranged a pit and a stage, and making up a company of young merchants like himself, sons of citizens and clerks, gave representations which aroused the enthusiasm of all the spectators. The intelligent and practical Volkov, seeing how the population of Iaroslav flocked to his representations, named a price for them - a five kopeck piece for the first rows - and thus little by little he amassed a sum with which in 1752 he was able to build a general public theatre with room for one thousand spectators.
The taste for the stage had meanwhile greatly spread in St. Petersburg; in various private houses dramatic representations were given at evening par
ties; it was therefore not surprising that the Iaroslav theatre soon began to be talked of. The empress invited Volkov to come to St. Petersburg with his company, as she wished to see his representations given on the stage of the court theatre. She was remarkably pleased with them, and four years later issued an ukase for the establishment of a public theatre. The first director of this theatre and almost the only dramatic writer was Sumarokov; according to the testimony of contemporaries Volkov was one of its most talented actors and his friend and fellow worker Dmitrievski a great artist.
We must here speak of another still more remarkable Russian native genius- Lomonosov. It is well known how, when he was a youth of sixteen, devoured by a thirst for knowledge, he secretly left the paternal roof and made his way on foot from Kholmogori to Moscow. How unattractive must life and learning have appeared to him in those early days! "Having only one altyn (a three-kopeck piece) a day for salary, it was impossible for him to spend more on food than a halfpenny a day for bread and a halfpenny worth of kvass (a kind of beer or mead); the rest had to go for paper, books, and other necessities." Thus he described his life in the Zaikonospaskvi Ecclesiastical Academy to Ivan Shuvalov and concluded with the following words: "I lived thus for five years and did not abandon science!" Theodore Prokopovitch, when he was already an old man, visited the Moscow academy a few years before his death; he noticed Lomonosov there and praised him for his laboriousness and learning. In 1737 Lomonosov was sent abroad to perfect himself and placed himself under the surveillance of the then famous scholar, Wolff, who, while despising him for his disorderly life, spoke with respect of his capacities and success in study. Lomonosov followed the lectures of the German professors and amused himself with the German students. The news of Minikh's great victories and the taking of Khotin reached him; his patriotic feelings were aroused, and he wrote an ode. When the verses were received in St. Petersburg everyone was struck with their harmony; and when Lomonosov returned from Germany in the beginning of Elizabeth's reign his reputation as a poet had already preceded him the more he wrote the greater his fame became. Poetry, however, was not Lomonosov's strongest point, and verses do not occupy a quarter of his entire works. His mind worked even more than his imagination, and his scholarly writings are striking in their variety. He composed a grammar of the Russian language from which several generations have learned; he laid down rules of versification, the foundation of which are even now recognised by everyone; he wrote on chemistry, physics, astronomy, metallurgy, geology; he composed a Russian history, wrote a hypothesis concerning the great learned expeditions and memoranda bearing on questions of the state (as for instance measures for increasing and maintaining the population in Russia): in fact, Lomonosov's extraordinary intellect seemed to touch upon every branch of mental activity. He was made a member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, but there the German element reigned supreme and Lomonosov was one of those who, while venerating the work of Peter the Great and the European learning introduced by him, yet was oppressed by foreign tutorage and took offence when the Germans put forward their own countrymen to the detriment of meritorious Russians. Continual disputes and quarrels arose between Lomonosov and his fellow members; nor, being of a very impetuous and obstinate nature, was Lomonosov always in the right. His rough and sharp measures frequently led him into quarrels even outside the academy, for instance with his literary brethren, Frediakovski and Sumarokov. All this might greatly have injured Lomonosov, but for
tunately for him he possessed powerful protectors in the persons of Count Worontzov and Count Razumovski, who liked to show favour to the first Russian scholar and poet.
But the strongest, truest, and most constant of his protectors was Ivan Shuvalov. Shuvalov had many defects his character was weak, lazy, and careless; but he nevertheless represented one of the most consolatory types of his epoch: strong, energetic types were not uncommon in the first half of the eighteenth century, but gentle, benevolent, indulgent natures were rarely to be met with. Shuvalov was not captivated by clamorous deeds, like the men of Peter's time, but by the peaceful progress of science and art. Therefore if the weakness of his character made him an instrument for the ambitious designs of his cousin, his heartfelt sympathies drew him towards Lomonosov, of whom he naturally learned much and what is of more importancewith whom he devised means for the spread of education in Russia. The result of these deliberations was a vast plan for the establishment of schools throughout the governments, and finally of a university in Moscow. The establishment of a university seemed of the first necessity, as it was to furnish Russia with teachers; this had been Peter's intention with regard to the academy, but it had not been fulfilled. In his report to the senate upon this subject, Shuvalov wrote that it would be desirable to appoint a "sufficient number of worthy men of the Russian nationality, acquainted with the sciences, to spread education in distant parts among the common people, so that thus superstition, dissent, and other like heresies proceeding from ignorance might be destroyed." The senate approved Shuvalov's proposition and in 1755 the University of Moscow was founded.
We have given as just and complete a picture of the period of the empress Elizabeth as is possible in view of the scarcity of information obtainable concerning many circumstances of that time. Elizabeth left behind her if not a great memory yet, broadly speaking, a good one. Her administration may be reproached with much: in its foreign policy it was not sufficiently independent; it was not sufficiently watchful in interior affairs, where oversights occasioned special evils; moreover examples of unlawful enrichment attained huge dimensions. But her reign may be said to have led Russia out of bondage to the Germans, while the level of education was not in the smallest degree lowered, but on the contrary considerably raised. Much that brought forth such brilliant fruits under Catherine II was sown under Elizabeth.d
Estimates of Elizabeth
Bain' finds it a peculiar glory of Elizabeth Petrovna that she followed always in the footsteps of her illustrious father. Noting that Russia was the creation of Peter (before him there having been only Muscovy), he notes also that this new principality was many times in danger during the fifteen years following his death. And he sees in Elizabeth the power that sustained the empire. Beneath her beneficent sceptre," he declares, "Russia may be said to have possessed itself again." He credits her with possessing her father's sovereign gift of choosing and using able councillors; and with having "an infinite good nature, radiant affability, and patriarchal simplicity, which so endeared her to her subjects as to make her, most deservedly, the most popular of Russian monarchs." In common with other critics, he feels that she laid the foundation upon which Catherine II was to build. He declares that all the great captains who were to serve Catherine with such effect-men like Rumiantsev, Suvarov, Riephin, Besborodko, the Panins and the Galitzins were brought up in the school of Elizabeth.
Much of this is beyond controversy, but it is necessary to add that the private character of the sovereign was not such as to be spoken of with enthusiasm. Bell' defines its chief feature as voluptuousness. He notes with approval a certain sympathetic trait that led her to the abolition of capital punishment, but he declares that she was, on the whole, "no less feeble in mind than she was vicious in conduct." "Her superstition," he adds, "was equal to her lust; the sight of a person in mourning affected her more than a whole street of starving families; and her conscience reproached her more for violating a fast than for outraging the most sacred of moral virtues. While she encouraged a system of espionage destructive of all domestic freedom and happiness; while she punished with inexcusable rigour the crime of eating an egg on a day of abstinence, she was in no degree offended with the spread of the most baleful vices." But such contradictions as are here suggested between the public efficiency and the private character of a Russian sovereign are no novelty, as we shall have occasion to see in the succeeding pages. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that gossip is likely to exaggerate the frailties of a monarch situated as was Elizabeth. Circumstances that might have passed unnoticed in the history of an ordinary individual were sure to attain the widest publicity, and to be distorted with all the elements of exaggeration that characterise rumours of a disagreeable character. Making due allowance for this, however, there still seems little reason to doubt that Elizabeth's personal views of morality were curiously distorted. Still, in judging her, we may recall Bain's declaration that she had "passed through the bitter but salutary school of adversity." If she had "learnt the necessity of circumspection, deliberation, self-control," she had learnt also to hold in contempt certain of the elementary virtues. Meantime, her outlook upon the political world was wide and clear, and the tactfulness with which she approached her subjects and dealt with those with whom she came into personal contact, was of so subtle an order that her personal popularity was well earned. Her energy and firmness considerably facilitated the task of Catherine II."
PETER III (1762 A.D.)
As Elizabeth, on her death-bed, had confirmed the rights of Peter III; and as the conspirators, deprived of Bestuzhev their guide, were unable to act with energy, the new emperor encountered no opposition. On the contrary, he was immediately recognised by the military; and the archbishop of Novgorod, in the sermon preached on the occasion, thanked heaven that a prince so likely to imitate his illustrious grandfather was vouchsafed to Russia. Catherine was present. She wore a peculiar dress to conceal her pregnancy, and her countenance exhibited some indication of the anxious feeling which she was obliged to repress. Compelled to defer the execution of her ambitious purposes, and uncertain what vengeance the czar might exert for her numerous infidelities, she might well be apprehensive.
But she had no real foundation for the fear. Of all the sovereigns of that or any age, Peter was among the most clement. Whether he thought that clemency might bind to his interests one whose talents he had learned to respect, or that her adherents were too numerous and powerful to allow of her being punished — whether, in short, he had some return of affection for her, or his own conscience told him that she had nearly as much to forgive as he could have, we will not decide. One thing only is certain that, in about three months after his accession, he invested her with the domains held by the
late empress. Certainly his was a mind incapable of long continued resentment. His heart was better than his head. Resolved to signalise his elevation by making others happy, he recalled all whom his predecessor had exiled, except Bestuzhev. Many he restored to their former honours and possessions. Thus the aged Munich was made governor-general of Siberia, restored to his military command; while Biron, who certainly deserved no favour, was reinvested with the duchy of Courland. He did more: he restored the prisoners made by the generals of Elizabeth, and gave them money to defray their passage home. And, as Frederick had always been the object of his idolatry, the world expected the armistice which he published, and which was preparatory to a peace between the two countries.
That declaration was an extraordinary document. In it the emperor declares that, his first duty being the
welfare of his people, that welfare could not be consulted so long as hostilities were continued; that the war, which had raged six years, had produced no advantage to either party, but done incredible harm to both; that he would no longer sanction the wanton destruction of his species; that, in conformity with the divine injunction relative to the preservation of the people committed to his charge, he would put an end to the unnatural, impious strife; and that he was resolved to restore the conquests made by his troops. In this case he had been praised, and with great justice, for his moderation. We fear, however, he does not merit so high a degree of praise of humanity as many writers have asserted. At this moment, while proclaiming so loudly his repugnance to war, he was sending troops into his native principality of Holstein, with the intention of wresting from the king of Denmark the duchy of Schleswig, which he considered the rightful inheritance of his family. He even declared that he would never rest until he had sent that prince to Malabar.
Nor must we omit to add that from the enemy he became the ally of Frederick; that his troops joined with the Prussians to expel the Austrians from the kingdom. His humanity only changed sides; if it spared the blood of Prussians, it had little respect for that of Austrians. We may add, too, that there was something like madness in his enthusiastic regard for Frederick. He corresponded with that monarch, whom he proclaimed his master, whose uniform he wore, and in whose armies he obtained the rank of major-general. Had he been capable of improvement, his intercourse with that far-sighted prince might have benefited him. Frederick advised him to celebrate at Moscow his coronation—a rite of superstitious importance in the eyes of the multitude. He was advised, too, not to engage in the Danish war, not to leave the empire. But advice was lost on him.
In some other respects, Peter deserves more credit than the admirers of Catherine are willing to allow him. (1) Not only did he pardon his personal enemies not only did the emperor forget the wrongs of the grand dukebut on several he bestowed the most signal favours. He suppressed that