PETER THE GREAT.
A. D. 1672-1725.
HIS SERVICES TO RUSSIA.
If I were called upon to name the man who, since Charlemagne, has rendered the greatest services to his country, I should select Peter the Great. I do not say that he is one of the most interesting characters that has shone in the noble constellations of illustrious benefactors whom Europe has produced. Far otherwise: his career is not so interesting to us as that of Hildebrand, or Elizabeth, or Cromwell, or Richelieu, or Gustavus Adolphus, or William III., or Louis XIV., or Frederic II., or others I might mention. I have simply to show an enlightened barbarian toiling for civilization, a sort of Hercules cleansing Augean stables and killing Nemean lions; a man whose labors were prodigious; a very extraordinary man, stained by crimes and cruelties, yet laboring, with a sort of inspired enthusiasm, to raise his country from an abyss of ignorance and brutality. It would be difficult to find a more hard-hearted despot, and yet a more patriotic sovereign. To me he looms up, even more than Richelieu, as an instrument of Divine Providence. His character appears in a double light,—as benefactor and as tyrant, in order to carry out ends which he deemed useful to his country, and which, we are constrained to admit, did wonderfully contribute to its elevation and political importance.
Peter the Great entered upon his inheritance as absolute sovereign of Russia, when it was an inland and even isolated state, hemmed in and girt around by hostile powers, without access to seas; a vast country indeed, but without a regular standing army on which he could rely, or even a navy, however small. This country was semi-barbarous, more Asiatic than European, occupied by mongrel tribes, living amid snow and morasses and forests, without education, or knowledge of European arts. He left this country, after a turbulent reign, with seaports on the Baltic and the Black seas, with a large and powerfully disciplined army, partially redeemed from barbarism, no longer isolated or unimportant, but a political power which the nations had cause to fear, and which, from the policy he bequeathed, has been increasing in resources from his time to ours. To-day Russia stands out as a first-class power, with the largest army in the world; a menace to Germany, a rival of Great Britain in the extension of conquests to the East, threatening to seize Turkey and control the Black Sea, and even to take possession of Oriental empires which extend to the Pacific Ocean.
Nobody doubts or questions that the rise of Russia to its present proud and threatening position is chiefly owing to the genius and policy of Peter the Great. Peter was a descendant of a patriarch of the Greek Church in Russia, whose name was Romanoff, and who was his great-grandfather. His grandfather married a near relative of the Czar, and succeeded him by election. His father, Alexis, was an able man, and made war on the Turks.