The French Revolution caused a revulsion in her political theories. She indulged in no more abstractions about human rights, and had an antipathy for the new principles which had led to the execution of the King and Queen and to such revolting horrors. She made a holocaust of the literature she had once thought entertaining. Russians suspected of liberal tendencies were watched, and upon the slightest pretext sent to Siberia, and she urged the King of Sweden to head a crusade against this pestilential democracy, which she would help him to sweep out of Europe. It was Catherine, in consultation with the Emperor of Austria, who first talked of dismembering Turkey and creating out of its own territory a group of neutral states lying between Europe and the Ottoman Empire. And Voltaire’s dream of a union of the Greek peoples into an Hellenic kingdom she improved upon by a larger plan of her own, by which she was to be the conqueror of the Ottoman Empire, while her grandson Constantine, sitting on a throne at Constantinople, should rule Greeks and Turks alike under a Russian protectorate.
Upon the private life of Catherine there is no need to dwell. This is not the biography of a woman, but the history of the empire she magnificently ruled for thirty-four years. It is enough to say she was not better than her predecessors, the Tsaritsas Elizabeth and Anna. The influence exerted by Menschikof in the reign of Catherine I., and Biron in that of Anna, was to be exerted by Alexis Orlof, Potemkin, and other favorites in this. Her son Paul, who was apparently an object of dislike, was kept in humiliating subordination to the Orlofs and her other princely favorites, to whose councils he was never invited. Righteousness and moral elevation did not exist in her character nor in her reign; but for political insight, breadth of statesmanship, and a powerful grasp upon the enormous problems in her heterogeneous empire, she is entitled to rank with the few sovereigns who are called “Great.” A German by birth, a French-woman by intellectual tastes and tendencies—she was above all else a Russian, and bent all the resources of her powerful personality to the enlightenment and advancement of the land of her adoption. Her people were not “knouted into civilization,” but invited and drawn into it. Her touch was terribly firm—but elastic. She was arbitrary, but tolerant; and if her reign was a despotism, it was a despotism of that broad type which deals with the sources of things, and does not bear heavily upon individuals. The Empress Catherine died suddenly in 1796, and Paul I. was crowned Emperor of Russia.
NAPOLEON IN EUROPE—ATTITUDE OF RUSSIA
Paul was forty-one years old when he ascended the throne he had for twenty years believed was rightfully his. The mystery surrounding the death of his father Peter III., the humiliations he had suffered at his mother’s court, and what he considered her usurpation of his rights—all these had been for years fermenting in his narrow brain.