Page images

When sweet airs come seaward

From heaths starr'd with broom,
And high rocks throw mildly
On the blanch'd sands a gloom :
Up the still, glistening beaches,
Up the creeks we will hie,
Over banks of bright seaweed
The ebb-tide leaves dry.
We will gaze, from the sand-hills,
At the white, sleeping town,
At the church on the hill-side-
And then come back down.
Singing : “ There dwells a loved one,
But cruel is she !
She left lonely for ever
The kings of the sea.”

Matthew Arnold.




Much as has been said and written of Peter the Great, yet there is a singularity in his position which always provokes afresh the curiosity of mankind. The second founder of the youngest born of European Empires, he gathers round himself all the romantic interest of a legendary hero, an Alfred or a Charlemagne; yet he is known to us with all the exactness and fulness of recent knowledge. No prince of modern Europe is so familiar to almost every country in it, as Peter of Russia. He was, as no other prince has been, a guest of each. Holland, Sweden, Poland, Turkey, Prussia, Austria, Italy, knew him well by sight or hearing as he passed to and fro on his marvellous journeys. He is ours, too, in a special sense. All London was alive with expectation and excitement when his arrival in England was known.2 Every one was full of stories of the artifices by which the strange barbarian sought to evade the eagerness of our national curiosity to see the prodigy. He comes directly across the path of English ecclesiastical history in his long conversations with Bishop Burnet. He comes for a moment even across the path of our own academical history. “Last week," says Narcissus Luttrell, “the Czar of Muscovy went privately to Oxford; but being soon discovered, he immediately came back to London without viewing those curiosities he intended." An honorary degree was conferred upon him.

* From Lectures on the Eastern Church.

Strongly, however, as we are rivetted by this strange apparition in foreign lands, it is only in his own country thai he stands before us in his full proportions. Look at him as he presents himself in the gallery of the portraits of the Czars. From Ivan3 the Terrible each follows each in grotesque barbaric costume, half Venetian, half Tartar, till suddenly, without the slightest preparation, Peter breaks in amongst them, in the full uniform of the European soldier. The ancient Czars vanish to appear no more, and Peter remains with us,


occupying henceforward the whole horizon. Countenance, and stature, and manner, and pursuits are absolutely kept alive in our sight. We see the upturned look, the long black hair falling back from his fine forehead, the fierce eyes glancing from beneath the overhanging brows, the mouth clothed with indomitable power. We gaze at his gigantic height, his wild rapid movements, the convulsive twitches of his face and hands, the tremendous walking staff, almost a crowbar of iron, which he swings to and fro as he walks, the huge Danish wolf-dog and its two little companions which run behind him. We are with him in his Dutch house, amidst the rough pieces of wood which he has collected as curiosities, the tools, the lathe, the articles of wood and ivory that he has turned. No dead man so lives again in outward form before us as Peter in St. Petersburg.

But not in outward form only. That city represents to us his whole Herculean course, more actually Hercules-like than any of modern times, and proudly set forth in the famous statue erected by Catherine II. In front of the Isaak Church, built to commemorate his birthday, in the midst of the great capital which he called forth out of nothing, rises the huge granite block of Finland, up which he urges his horse, trampling the serpent of conspiracy under his feet, rearing over the edge of the precipice of the stupendous difficulty which he had surmounted, his hand stretched out towards the wide stream of the Neva, to which he looked for the regeneration of his country. Truly it is

no exaggeration of what he attempted and achieved. Think of what Russia was as already described. Doubtless the two Ivans had done something ; doubtless, too, his father Alexis and the patriarch Nicon had turned their thoughts southward and westward. But, taken as a whole, it was, with many noble elements, a wild Oriental people, ruled by a court wrapped round and round in Oriental ceremonial. What must the man have been, who, born and bred in this atmosphere, conceived, and by one tremendous wrench, almost by his own manual labour and his own sole gigantic strength, executed the prodigious idea of dragging the nation, against its will, into the light of Europe, and erecting a new capital and a new empire amongst the cities and the kingdoms of the world! St. Petersburg is indeed his most enduring monument. A spot up to that time without a single association, selected instead of the holy city to which * even now every Russian turns as to his mother; a site which, but a few years before, had belonged to his most inveterate enemies; won from morass and forest, with difficulty defended, and perhaps even yet doomed to fall before the inundations of its own river; and now, though still Asiatic beyond any capital of the West, yet in grandeur and magnificence, in the total subjugation of nature to art, entirely. European. And the change from Moscow to St. Petersburg is but a symbol of the revolution effected in the whole empire by the power of Peter. For better, for worse, he created army, navy, law, dress, amusements, alphabet, some in part, some altogether, anew. Much that was superficial, much that was false, much that broke out under his successors into frightful corruption and depravity, at least of the higher classes, came in with the Western changes. But whatever hopes for the world or the church are bound up with the civilisation of the West, did penetrate into Russia through Peter and through no one else.

So unlike the rest of his dynasty - Philaret, the founder of the house, a reverend ecclesiastic ; Michael, Alexis, Theodore, yielding and gentle .princes — suddenly appears this man, bursting with brutal passions, as if all the extravagances of the family had been pent up to break forth in him. And yet in this savage, drunken and licentious, the victim of ungovernable fury, arose this burning desire for civilisation. violence was turned to promote his end. Literally, not metaphorically, by blows, by kicks, by cuffs, he goaded his unwilling people forward. Russia, as the Russian poet sings, was the hard anvil, and Peter was its terrible hammer. But the strangest, the most affecting, part of his career is this, that what he required from others he laboured to acquire for himself.

In the solitude of barbarism in which he was placed, he knew that by his own mind, by his own hands, if at all, his country was to be changed. As filthy in his habits as any Russian serf of the present day, to whom every European comfort is distasteful, he yet was able to endure the splendour of Paris and London, and what is more astonishing,

His very

« PreviousContinue »