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We must acknowledge that in many respects Catherine was far from irreproachable; her very accession to the throne casts a dark shadow on her moral image. But the reproaches that must be made to her on this account cannot but be counteracted by the thirty-four years of greatness and prosperity which Russia enjoyed under her and to which the popular voice has given the appellation of the Age of Catherine.SHEHEBALSKI.b

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THERE are few names so popular in Russia and so dear to her as that of Catherine II. The generation of men who belonged to her time spoke of her with the most profound emotion. Memoirs and reminiscences of her contemporaries breathe almost without exception the same ardent devotion sort of worship of her. In opposition to these feelings, foreign reports of her represent her as cruel, heartless, and unscrupulous to the last degree. Some authors represent her as a sort of monster. However strange such contradictions may appear, they can readily be accounted for. Foreigners view Catherine II more from the side of her external policy, which was certainly often unsparing and unscrupulous in the means employed; they refer caustically to her private life, which was certainly not irreproachable. Russians, on the other hand, felt above all the influence of her interior administraton, which onctrasted sharply from that of her predecessors by its mildness, and which was full of useful and liberal reforms. The Russians of her day could not remain indifferent to the glory with which Catherine surrounded Russia. And thus to the descendants of Catherine, acquainted as they are with the reports

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given of her both by Russians and foreigners, she appears as the two-faced god of antiquity; her visage when turned to the neighbouring powers is stern and unwelcoming; that, on the contrary, which is turned toward Russia is full of majesty and mildness.

The state of affairs was very much entangled when Catherine ascended the throne, both in the interior of the empire and in respect to exterior policy. One of the first acts of the new empress was the conclusion of peace with all those who had taken part in the Seven Years' War. Not seeing any advantage to Russia in helping the king of Prussia in his war against the German emperor and his allies, Catherine did not consider it necessary to assist the latter. "I am of tolerably martial tastes," said she, in the first days after her accession to the throne, to one of the ambassadors to the Russian court, "but I will never begin war without a cause; if I begin war, it will not be as the empress Elizabeth did — to please others, but only when I find it favourable for myself." These words are characteristic of all Catherine's further foreign policy; to listen to them was not without profit for foreign courts, which, during the preceding reigns, had certainly been over-spoiled by the complaisance of the Russians.

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The next circumstance must have enlightened them still further as to how little Catherine had the intention of allowing herself to be restrained by considerations which did not tend to the furtherance of the glory and prosperity of her dominions. We have already seen by what persistency-sometimes even to the sacrifice of their dignity-the preceding governments had succeeded in obtaining the recognition of their right to the imperial title. France had recognised it only under Elizabeth, and that under the condition that at all foreign courts the Russian ambassador must, as previously, yield the precedence to the French ambassador; the late empress Elizabeth herself engaged that this should be done. When Catherine came to the throne, it was proposed to her to renew this engagement; she, however, very decidedly refused to do so, and commanded that it should be declared that she would break off all relations with those courts that did not recognise her in the quality of empressa title, she added, which, however, was in no degree more exalted than that of the czars. Such were the first acts of the new empress in regard to foreign governments: they were bold, firm, and determined.b


The interior condition of Russia and the position at that time occupied by Catherine are best described by herself, in her own words. In the very beginning of the year 1764 the procurator-general, A. I. Glebov, was removed from his functions. As his successor in this weighty and responsible office the empress named Prince A. A. Viasemski. The procurator-general had to superintend the finances of the empire, to direct the senate, and to govern all the interior affairs of the nation, thus uniting in himself the powers of minister of finance, of justice, and of home affairs. He was subordinate to none except the law, the good of the country, and the will of the empress. He was the right hand of the empress: "In cases where you may be in doubt,' said Catherine to him, "consult with me, and put your trust entirely in God and in me; and I, seeing how gratifying your conduct is to me, will not forsake you." Prince Viasemski was still a young man - he was not yet thirtyseven years of age. A pupil of the land-forces cadet corps, he had taken part in the Prussian War-not, however, in the character of a brave soldier, but as the executor of "secret orders." At the accession of Catherine to the

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[1763 A.D.] throne he was already quartermaster-general. In 1763 he was entrusted with the pacification of the peasants in the eastern provinces of Russia. He was well educated, industrious, and was recognised by everyone as an absolutely honest man. It was this last circumstance that determined Catherine's choice. Having selected for herself her "closest helper," with whom she would have to be in constant relations, the empress considered it necessary once for all to have a clear explanation with him, and with her own hand wrote him "instructions" in which she expressed her own views on Russia, on the chief branches of the administration, and on herself personally, drawing her portrait for him as empress:

"The Russian Empire," wrote Catherine, "is so vast in its extent that any other form of government excepting that of an autocratic sovereign would be prejudicial to it; for any other would be slow of accomplishment and would include in itself a multitude of diverse interests and passions which tend to the weakening of the administrative power. No, there must be one sovereign, invested with authority to destroy evil, and who esteems the public welfare as his own. Other rulers are, in the words of the Gospel, hirelings."

The first institution in the empire is the senate. Catherine thus describes it to the young procurator-general: "In the senate you will find two parties, but in my opinion a wise policy does not require that much regard should be paid to them, lest too much firmness should thus be given them: in this manner they will disappear the sooner; I have only kept a watchful eye over them and have used men according to their capabilities for one object or another. Both parties will now try to catch you for their side. In one you will find men of upright character, although not of far-seeing intellects; in the other I think their views are wider, but it is not clear whether they are always advantageous. Some think that because they have been in one or another country for a long time, everything must be arranged in politics for the good of their beloved land, and everything else without exception meets with their criticism, in spite of the fact that all interior administration is founded on the law of the rights of nations. You must not regard either one party or the other, but be courteous and dispassionate in your behaviour to both, listening to everything, having only the good of the country and justice in view, and walking in firm steps to the shortest road to truth."

The senate "by its want of attention to the deeds of certain of my forefathers left its fundamental principles, and oppressed other courts through which the lower tribunals fell greatly into decline. The servility and meanness of persons in these tribunals is indescribable and no good can be expected until this evil is done away with. Only the forms of bureaucracy are fulfilled, and people do not dare to act uprightly although the interests of the state thus suffer. The senate having once passed its proper bounds, it is now difficult to accustom it to the necessary order in which it should stand. Perhaps for the ambition of some members, the former measures have some charm, but at any rate while I live, it will remain my duty to command."

The "servility" of the members of the government offices was ascribed to the senate, but the senate was not to repair the evil it had occasioned. By a ukase of the 19th of December, 1763, Catherine required that the " government offices should be filled by worthy and honest men." The motive of this ukase is explained in the above cited instructions to Prince Viasemski. In these instructions Catherine draws his attention to the great burdensomeness for the people of the duties on salt and wine, but she confides to his particular care the question of silver or copper money, which had long inter

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ested her, as well as the position of trade and commerce. "This very delicate matter," she says, "of which many persons find it unpleasant to hear must however be looked into and examined by you." Catherine did not conceal from herself that the laws required amending. "Lack of time alone," she says, "has prevented the introduction of reforms."

Catherine did not forget to tell the young procurator-general what her views were on the frontier country of Russia: "Little Russia, Livonia, and Finland are provinces that must be governed in conformity with their privileges; to violate them by revoking them all suddenly would be quite unseemly, to call them foreign countries, however, and treat them on such a basis would be more than an error it might rightly be called stupidity. These provinces, as also that of Smolensk, must by the lightest possible means be gradually russianised so that they shall cease to be looked upon as wolves in the forest. The attainment of such an object is quite easy if sensible persons are chosen for the governors of these provinces. When there is no longer a hetman in Little Russia, we must endeavour to abolish even the appellation of hetman."

Having initiated Prince Viasemski into the most secret matters, having reminded him that a procurator-general in the exercise of his functions is obliged to oppose the most powerful personages and that therefore the sovereign power is his only support, Catherine in the following passage expressed her views on her own sovereign power:



"You ought to know with whom you have to do. Occasions will arise daily which will lead you to seek my counsel. You will find that I have no other aims than the highest welfare and glory of the fatherland and desire nothing but the happiness of my subjects of whatever condition they may be. My only aspiration is that both within and without my dominions tranquillity, contentment, and peace should be preserved. I love truth above all things, and you may speak it, fearing nothing; I shall encourage discussion, if good can be accomplished by it. I hear that all esteem you as an honest man; I hope to show you by experience that persons with such qualities can live happily at court. I will add that I require no flattery from you, but solely frankness and sincerity in your dealings, and firmness in the affairs of state." Such an administration programme and such political principles gave Catherine full right to look calmly towards the future.c


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A subject of deep gravity soon claimed her attention - the approaching death of the king of Poland and the consequent opening of the succession. Two parties were contending for power in Warsaw-the court party with minister Brühl and his son-in-law Mniszek at its head, and the party which looked to Russia for support and had for chiefs the Czartoriski. The firstnamed faction wished to assure the succession to the prince of Saxony, an aim in which France and Austria shared, and the second, planning to elect a piast or native noble who should belong to their party, chose as candidate a nephew of the Czartoriski, Stanislaus Poniatovski. Thus France, which in 1733 had waged war in the cause of a piast against the Saxon candidate, now came to support the Saxon against Poniatovski. The face of affairs had completely changed, and the Polish monarchy, growing weaker day by day, arrived at the point where it could no longer stand erect save by the aid of Saxony, a German state. Frederick II had as much reason to dread an increase of power for Saxony as for Poland, since Saxony was an inveterate enemy of Prussia in the empire, as was Poland in the regions of the Vistula. Russia, which had formerly fought against Stanislaus Leszczynski, father-inlaw of Louis XV, was now to oppose the candidate favoured by France and Austria; it was eager also to prevent the accession to the throne of any Polish noble wielding too much power of his own. The choice, therefore, of Stanislaus Poniatovski, a simple gentleman without personal following or influence, met fully the desires of Frederick II, the interests of the Russian Empire, and the private feelings of Catherine II, who was happy to bestow a crown upon one of her former lovers.

When Augustus III finally died, the diets of convocation and of election stirred up great agitation all over the country. The two rival parties waged fiercer strife than ever; at last the Czartoriski called upon the Russian army to help drive out their enemies, and it was under the protection of foreign bayonets that Poniatovski inaugurated that fatal reign during which Poland was to be three times dismembered and in the end wiped completely from the list of nations. Three principal causes were to bring about the ruin of the ancient royal republic:

(1) The national movement in Russia, which aimed to complete its territory on the west and recover, so said its historians, the provinces which had formerly been part of the domain of St. Vladimir, or White Russia, Black Russia, and Little Russia. With the national question was mingled another which had already led, under Alexander Mikhailovitch, to a first dismemberment of the Polish states. Complaints against the operations of the uniates had multiplied in Lithuania, and Russia had frequently attempted to intervene. Peter the Great protested to Augustus II against the treatment accorded to his co-religionists in Poland, and Augustus had issued an edict assuring free exercise of the orthodox religion; but this never went into effect owing to the inability of the monarchy to repress the zeal of the clergy and the Jesuits. In 1723 Peter begged the intervention of the pope, but his petition was refused and the abuses continued.

(2) The covetousness of Prussia. Poland being in possession of western Prussia, that is the lower Vistula including Thorn and Dantzic, eastern Prussia was completely cut off from the rest of the Brandenburg monarchy, which was thus made a divided state. The government of Warsaw committed, moreover, the serious error of confounding Protestant and orthodox dissenters and harassing them alike.

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