TERMINATION OF THE REIGN OF CATHARINE II.
From 1781 to 1786.
Statue of Peter the Great.—Alliance between
Russia.—Independence of the Crimea.—The Khan of the Crimea.—Vast
Preparations for War.—National Jealousies.—Tolerant Spirit of
Catharine.—Magnificent Excursion to the Crimea.—Commencement of
Hostilities.—Anecdote of Paul.—Peace.—New Partition of
Poland.—Treaty with Austria and France.—Hostility to Liberty in
France.—Death of Catharine.—Her Character.
Catharine found time, amidst all the cares of empire, to devote special attention to the education of her grandchildren Alexander and Constantine, who had been born during the five years which had now elapsed since the marriage of Paul and Maria. For their instruction as they advanced in years, she wrote several historical and moral essays of no small merit. The “Tales of Chlor, Son of the Tzar,” and “The Little Samoyede,” are beautiful compositions from her pen, alike attractive to the mature and the youthful mind. The histories and essays she wrote for these children have since been collected and printed in French, under the title of “Bibliotheque des grands-ducs Alexandre et Constantin.”
The empress, about this time, resolved to erect, in St. Petersburg, a statue of Peter the Great, which should be worthy of his renown. A French artist, M. Falconet, was engaged to execute this important work. He conceived the design of having, for a pedestal, a rugged rock, to indicate the rude and unpolished character of the people to whom the emperor had introduced so many of the arts of civilization. Immediate search was made to find a suitable rock. About eight miles from the city a huge boulder was discovered, forty-two feet long, thirty-four feet broad, and twenty-one feet high. It was found, by geometric calculation, that this enormous mass weighed three millions two hundred thousand pounds. It was necessary to transport it over heights and across morasses to the Neva, and there to float it down to the place of its destination. The boulder lay imbedded a few feet in the ground, absolutely detached from all other rock, and with no similar substance anywhere in the vicinity.
It would seem impossible that a mass so stupendous could be moved. But difficulties only roused the energies of Catharine. In the first place, a solid road was made for its passage. After four months’ labor, with very ingenious machinery, the rock was so far raised as to enable them to slip under it heavy plates of brass, which rested upon cannon balls five inches in diameter, and which balls ran in grooves of solid metal. Then, by windlasses, worked by four hundred men, it was slowly forced along its way. Having arrived at the Neva, it was floated down the river by what are called camels, that is immense floating fabrics constructed with air chambers so as to render them very buoyant.