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CONTENTS OF VOLUME XI.
ETER, Czar, or Emperor, of Russia, usually styled THE GREAT, was one of the most remark
able persons in the history of modern times. A sketch of his life may therefore prove interesting, as furnishing an example of what may be accomplished for the benefit of mankind by one enterprising mind.
But first as regards the country over which it was his fortune to rule.
Russia is a territory of vast extent in the northern part of Europe and Asia. Presenting every variety of climate, this extensive region,
which is really an aggregation of various countries, was inhabited in the seventeenth century by a barbarous people, having little intercourse with the more civilised nations of the earth. The degree of advancement in knowledge or social usages was very much that of Turkey in recent times. The Russian people knew little or nothing of the useful arts, were rude in manners, dressed in cumbrous garments, and the men wore long beards, according to the ancient Asiatic custom. There was scarcely any kind of school-learning or education ; even the priests were grossly ignorant and superstitious.
At the period to which we refer—the middle of the seventeenth century, or about the time of the Commonwealth in England-the Russian people might have been divided into four classes : the Bojars or noblemen, who estimated their wealth by the number of serfs or slaves upon their estates; those wretched serfs, of course. by far the most numerous body of all; the military, a turbulent set especially the privileged corps called the Strelitzes ; * the fourth class, and one which often took part in the factions of the time, were the priesthood, the established religion being a form of the Greek Church. The monarchy was absolute, the will of the sovereign being law ; but it was not, as Poland was, an elective monarchy. The male issue, however, of the ancient sovereigns failing, and several pretenders to the throne having miserably perished, the chief Bojars; assembled a council, at which they elected a youth, named Michael Romanoff, to be czar. He was the son of a powerful nobleman, and related, by the mother's side, to the ancient czars. This took place in 1613, at the period when his father was detained a prisoner by the Poles, with whom the Russians were at war. An exchange of prisoners, however, was soon after effected ; and it is thought that, during the life of the old man, he governed, though in his son's name. It is not our purpose to enter into the wars or troubles of this reign. Michael Romanoff made no alteration in the state, either to the improvement or corruption of the administration. Hé died in 1645, and was succeeded by his son, Alexis Michaelowitz. (or son of Michael), who ascended the throne by hereditary right.
Alexis, who was the father of Peter the Great, appears to have been more enlightened than any of his predecessors. He introduced manufactures of silk and linen; and, though unable to keep them up, he had the merit of their first establishment. He endeavoured to form something like a code of laws, imperfect though they were : and he peopled the deserts about the Volga and the Kama with Polish and Tartar families, whom he had taken prisoners in his wars, employing them in agriculture. Before his reign, prisoners of war were the slaves of those to whose lot they fell. But he had little time to perfect his plans, being snatched away by a sudden death in 1676, at the age of forty-six. Alexis had been twice married. By his first wife, the daughter of the Bojar Meloslauski, he left two sons, and either four or six daughters. By his second wife, who was the daughter of the Bojar Nariskin, and who survived him, he left Peter and the Princess Nathalia, the former having been born at Moscow on the gth of June 1672. Alexis had caused his eldest son, Theodore (or, as the Russians spell it, Feodor), to be acknowledged his successor a year before his death, and he ascended the throne at the age of fifteen : this prince inherited his father's abilities and disposition, but was of a sickly, feeble constitution. The second son was Ivan, or John, who was miserably infirm, being almost blind and deaf, and subject to convulsions. Of the six daughters, we need only mention Sophia, who was less remarkable for her great talents than for the mischievous use she made of them
* The Strelitzes (in Russian, Strjelzi, that is, Arquebusiers) were embodied by Ivan, 'the Terrible,' in the second half of the sixteenth century. They formed the first standing in Russia, and continued to be a privileged body-a kind of Prætorian Guard. They numbered at one time as many as from 40,000 to 50,000 men, had a special quarte Moscow to themselves, and took an active part in all the insurrections and revolutions that distracted Russia, until they were crushed and broken up by Peter the Great.
Peter was but four years old at the time of his father's death, and was for a while little regarded. But the czars married without regard to birth, and had likewise the power of choosing a successor; and, conscious that his brother Ivan was incapacitated by his infirmities for governing, Theodore, on his deathbed, nominated his younger brother Peter heir to the crown. This occurred when Peter was in his tenth year, but not before his promising abilities had aroused the jealousy of his sister Sophia. Probably from the difficulty of finding suitable husbands for them, it had been the custom for the daughters of the czars to retire into a monastery; but this designing princess had no such inclination; and on the death of Theodore, she found herself almost the natural guardian of two brothers, one of whom was, from his infirmities, incapable of governing; and the other, on account of his youth, she believed it possible to depose. In a word, she aimed at sovereignty, although pretending to advocate the claim of Ivan, and representing that she desired only to hold the reins for him.
A succession of revolts was the consequence of her stratagems and intrigues; and the most savage cruelties were perpetrated by all parties. Sophia evidently sought some pretence for deposing Peter, and accordingly she employed emissaries to stir up the soldiery against the Nariskin family, especially the two uncles of Peter, spreading a report that one of them had put on the imperial robes, and had attempted to strangle Prince Ivan; adding, moreover, that the late czar, Theodore, had been poisoned at their instigation by a Dutch physician. Finally, she made out a list of forty noblemen, whom she denounced as enemies to the state, and deserving of death. The mutineers began by attacking two nobles, named Dolgoruki and Matheof, whom they threw out of the palace windows. These unfortunates were received by the Strelitzes on