So enormous were the gains of Catherine II from the partition of Poland, that all her other acquisitions fade into insignificance by comparison. Yet, as we have seen, a partition of Poland did not originally enter into her calculations ; it was forced upon her from without, and was as much due to fortuitous circumstances as anything in politics can well be. As a matter of fact, it was Constantinople, not Warsaw, upon which the longing gaze of Catherine II was steadily fixed. It was as the restorer of the Greek Empire, not as the subjugator of so feeble a foe as Poland, that she desired to go down to posterity. How was it that a sovereign, commonly supposed to be one of the shrewdest statesmen of her age, could be so irresistibly attracted by this splendid mirage as frequently to subordinate to it her own advantage and the prosperity of her subjects? The answer to this question may perhaps be found in a brief preliminary scrutiny of the personal character of the Empress herself.
On February 14, 1744, the Princess Sophia Augusta Frederica of Anhalt-Zèrbst, then in her 14th year, arrived at Petersburg as the fiancée of the young Grand-Duke Peter, the heir to the Russian throne, to whom she was duly wedded on August 21, 1745. She had previously (July 8, 1744) been received into the Greek Orthodox church under the name of Catherine Aleksyeevna. The alert, piquant, but by no means artless little creature tells us in her memoirs that she had already made it ” a rule of conduct ” to win every person worth winning ; and to this eminently prudent rule she adhered religiously throughout life. She possessed a peculiar gift of attraction which very few could resist ; and her numerous admirers, who were generally clever as well as handsome men, continued to be her political partisans long after they had ceased to be her lovers. ‘Her first adventure in politics, in her 29th year, was, however, singularly unfortunate. Calculating wrongly as to the powers of recuperation of the sick Elizabeth in 17583 she had joined the mysterious Bestuzhev-Williams conspiracy1, which was apparently intended, on the death of the Empress, to place Catherine on the throne instead of her consort. But Elizabeth recovered; and, for a moment, the aspiring little Grand-Duchess was in extreme peril. Only her remarkable cleverness and the indulgence of the kind-hearted Empress saved her from banishment to the obscure German home the very memory of which was detestable to her. During the brief reign of her husband (January to July 1762) she was a nonentity. Peter III had every reason to detest a wife who ridiculed as well as deceived him ; and, though generous to her in money matters, he kept her at a safe distance. There can be no doubt that she was accessory to his murder after the Revolution of July 17, 1762 had placed her on the throne ; nor, we must believe, would the custodians of her last remaining rival, the semi-imbecile Ivan VI, have dared to strangle him in his prison at Schlüsselburg (August 5, 1764) unless the Empress had been privy to it.
From the moment when, in the prime of life, she mounted the Russian throne, Catherine II resolved to make herself a great name in every department of public life. Richly endowed by nature, audacious to a crime, and with a native sagacity which would have been an unerring guide but for frequent deflecting gusts of passion and the obsession of a boundless vanity, nothing seemed impossible to her whom Joseph II called “the Catherinised Princess of Zerbst.”
In diplomacy Catherine’s inexperience compelled her, during the first half of her reign, to be the pupil of Nikita Panin who, at first, exercised somewhat of a restraining influence. But in every other department of affairs the Encyclopaedists were her teachers ; and to win their homage by realising their precepts was the motive power of all her actions. It is evident from her correspondence with Grimm, Voltaire, Diderot and D’Alembert that their approval, or rather adulation, was what Catherine valued most of all ; and the philosophes were well content to be the advertisers, and even the sycophants, of a monarch so enlightened and also so exceedingly bountiful. Catherine consulted her oracles almost day by day. All her enterprises and adventures, nay, her very thoughts, feelings, ideas, sentiments, friendships and amours, were minutely chronicled for their benefit and admiration, with an abundance of personal detail, which gives them, now, considerable historical value ; and they are written in a style, less correct perhaps, but infinitely more piquant and original, than the correspondence of her French friends.
All Catherine’s grand schemes and magnificent projects, when directed towards the amelioration of the Russian people, came to naught partly because the Empress grew tired of them before they were half finished, and partly because, in the latter part of her reign, foreign affairs claimed her exclusive attention. But, in point of fact, Catherine lacked the moral earnestness of the true reformer, without which the most alert intelligence is powerless. We cannot imagine her sacrificing her life for the benefit of her people after the heroic example of Peter the Great. Unlike him, too, she had very little sense of duty apart from the desire for her own gratification. She did a great deal, no doubt, but she did it only to be talked about. She must also incur the just condemnation which falls on one who begins to build before he has counted the cost. All her most ambitious undertakings proved miserable failures. Catherine II was a very bold and a very clever woman, but the epithet “great” is woefully misplaced when applied to her. A glance at her domestic administration will, perhaps, justify a judgment which certainly runs counter to the common opinion.
Catherine began with an attempt to recodify the laws of Russia by means of a ” Grand Commission” of 564 members, to be elected from every class all over the country, who were to bring with them to Moscow lists of their grievances for consideration and redress. She herself had previously drawn up an elaborate nakaz, or “guide,” for the instruction and direction of this ,Commission, every sentence of which is directly inspired either by Beccaria’s Dei delitti e delle pene, or by Montesquieu’s L’Esprit des Lois. The latter book, which she called the ” Prayerbook of Princes,” was an especial favourite of the Empress. The more practical of Catherine’s advisers, specialists like Alexander Bibikov for instance, made no secret of their dislike of the whole project, which they regarded as premature and unworkable. Their criticisms, especially as regards the proposed emancipation of the serfs, contained in the manuscript draft of the nakaz, were so unsparing that the Empress abandoned that part of the scheme, and it was omitted from the printed nakaz altogether. On the other hand she insisted upon the abolition of judicial torture, on humanitarian grounds.
It soon became clear that the nation at large was rather puzzled than pleased by the notion of a ” Grand Commission ” which was to collect their grievances and present them before the throne as a basis for remedial legislation. Not a tenth part of the proposed electorate took part in the elections. Most of the electors did not understand the meaning of the thing; the gentry and the Cossacks suspected an insidious trick for curtailing their privileges. Finally however, though not without considerable difficulty, the whole 564 were got together. One hundred and fifty of the deputies were landowners ; 50, retired soldiers ; 2003 citizens of the towns. Most of the others belonged to the official class. Oddly enough, there was but a single priest among them all, namely Dimitry, Metropolitan of Novgorod, President of the Synod.
The elections took place from February to April 1767 ; and the ” Grand Commission ” assembled at Moscow on July 30.. Catherine opened it in person and appointed the Presidents and Vice-Presidents. The reading of the imperial nakaz occupied the first seven sessions, whereupon the official wire-pullers moved that the Empress should be acclaimed ” Great and most wise Mother of her country.” The motion was carried unanimously; and there the achievements of the Grand Commission ended. After holding seventy-seven sessions at Moscow, it was transferred (Feb. 18, 1768) to St Petersburg, and dismissed on December 18, the same year, to enable its military members to take part in the first Turkish War. That was the last of it.
But, indeed, the ” Grand Commission ” was bound to fail. Bibikov, its marshal, justly observes that it was too stupid and ignorant even to understand what was required of it. So desultory and irrelevant were the very occasional debates, that it was often very doubtful what was the point actually under discussion. Most of the time was taken up in listening to the reading of the minutes of the last session, or to extracts from Catherine’s nakaz. Of any official guidance there is scarce a trace. There was no rule of procedure ; there were no general directions. No propositions had been prepared beforehand for the consideration of the Commission. In fact the government seems to have had no general plan at all. The Presidents and Vice-Presidents knew not how to direct the Assembly and had no control over it. The deputies, so far as they were able to formulate an opinion at all, were strongly in favour of the existing penal code, on the ground that any mitigation thereof would only encourage evil doers and make life and property everywhere insecure. All of them, except a few of the nobles, were in favour of terrorism and severity. Yet they were as obsequious as they were barbarous, for, the moment that Bibikov drew their attention to the fact that the Empress was of a contrary opinion, they immediately veered round and fully acquiesced in her Majesty’s humanitarian principles. Their grievances were the ancient ones: official tyranny and corruption, judicial chicanery and procrastination, and, above all, the grievous burden of excessive taxation. Taxation the Empress could not afford to remit ; the other abuses she was well aware of already. In fact the ” Grand Commission ” was a solemn farce and benefited nobody but Catherine herself, whose western admirers now professed to regard her as a second Justinian.
It was the same with all other matters of purely domestic interest. To take a single instance, Shcherbatov has severely, but not unjustly, commented upon the uselessness to Russia of Catherine’s paedagogic theories. Here again Voltaire and Diderot were her directors. The latter even drew up an elaborate plan for her to work upon. She meditated crowning her educational system by the erection of universities at St Petersburg and Dorpat. The sole result of all these ambitious projects were a few seminaries for young ladies of the upper classes, which aimed rather at outward show than at serious and regular training.
But the most striking and curious contrast between promise and performance is to be seen in the history of the building of Ekaterinoslav. This new city, as its name1 implies, was to be a perpetual memorial of Catherine’s glory. Its construction was confided to Potemkin, the most extravagant of her satraps, in 1786. It was to be the capital of the southern Ukraine and to eclipse St Petersburg itself in magnificence. Its cathedral was to be built on the model of St Peter’s at Rome, but on a grander scale. Its courts of justice were to be imitations of ancient Basilicas. It was to have an Academy or Conservatoire more splendid than any in Europe. The famous musician Sarti was to be its first director with a salary of 3500 rubles. There was also to be a fully equipped University at a cost of 300,000 rubles, while 250,000 more were to be spent on the residences of the professors and their families. The city was to have an area of 25 square miles, its streets were to be 30 fathoms wide. It was, moreover, to be a great trade emporium as well as a south-slavonic metropolis; and 340,000 rubles were actually spent in the erection of its stocking factories alone. The foundations of the city cost the Russian Treasury 71,000 rubles’. The Emperor Joseph II, who was present at the ceremony of inauguration in 1787, observed to a friend that the Empress had laid the first stone of the new city and he himself the second and last. The sarcasm was prophetic. Shortly afterwards the work was stopped. Even in 1795 the only inhabitants of Ekaterinoslav were a few officials, a few soldiers, and a few peasants. All that remained of the original dream were the imposing palace and the expensive orangeries of Potemkin, on which millions had been wasted.
These gigantic operations naturally swallowed up enormous sums of money. In 1763 the imperial budget was something under 1770001000 rubles ; in 1796 it considerably exceeded 8o,000,000. The assistance of foreign capitalists soon became indispensable ; and though, in 17711 the Empress was able to repay the Dutch bankers the loan by means of which she had carried on the first Turkish War, her financial position, even then, was anything but satisfactory. How could it well be otherwise at a Court which was the most extravagant in Europe? But for the territorial acquisitions from Poland, which placed fresh millions at Catherine’s disposal, she would never have, been able to meet her liabilities. Even so she was forced (so early as 1769) to issue assignats so recklessly that, at last, the paper ruble was worth only a 142nd part of its face value.
Sievers, her chief financial adviser, used frequently and bitterly to complain that the Empress could never be made to realise the injury she did to the national economy by her financial operations.
It was naturally the peasants, paying, as they did in the long run, for everything, who suffered most from this state of things.
Catherine had no particular liking for the peasants. They were, in her eyes, rather subjects for experiment than fellow human beings. The Empress Elizabeth, on the occasion of her pilgrimage to Kiev in 1744, had exclaimed, with perfect sincerity, at the sight of the mob which crowded round her : “Do but love me O God ! as I love this gentle and guileless people.” Catherine, during her triumphal progresses, had the people kept at a safe distance. When she alluded to them at all it was generally to ridicule them. For all her public professions of humanity, she winked at the cruel practice of selling the members of peasant families separately an abuse which Peter the Great, who never claimed to be a philanthropist, had sternly forbidden. Yet Catherine seems to have meant well to her subjects in a general, impersonal sort of way; and it is due to her to add, that the favourites and adventurers by whom she was always surrounded took good care to hide from her the real condition of the Russian people. During her frequent journeys through her domains, everything was presented to her en fête, in an artistic, or rather an artificial environment. This was especially the case throughout her famous excursion to the southern Ukraine in 1787, when whole cities sprang up in her path in a single night; and, in the whole course of her progress, she saw nothing but smiling rustics and happy aborigines in their most picturesque costumes, for the simple reason that her courtiers had taken the precaution to threaten with the knout and a dungeon all who dared to approach the Sovereign with complaints and petitions. Only once, indeed, during the reign of Catherine, did the misery of the nation find a natural outlet, namely in the Pugachev rebellion.
Emilian Pugachev, the son of a Don Cossack, born about 1726, enlisted in the Cossack forces in his 18th year. He served through the Seven Years’ War with some distinction, but subsequently resumed the usual vagabond life of a Cossack. Then, tiring of this also, in 1773 he suddenly proclaimed himself to be Peter III. The assumption of this title was a mere symbol or watchword. The story of Pugachev’s strong resemblance to the murdered Emperor is a later legend. Pugachev called himself Peter III the better to attract to his standard all those and they were many who attributed their misery to Catherine’s government. Peter III was generally remembered as the determined opponent of Catherine ; any one therefore who professed to be Peter was bound to be in opposition to the government of Peter’s arch-enemy. As a matter of fact, however, Pugachev and his followers were opposed to any form of settled government. The one thought of the destitute thousands who joined the new Peter was to sweep utterly away, in a general anarchy, the intolerably oppressive upper classes. In a word, the rebellion of Emilian Pugachev was a repetition of the rebellion of Stenka Razin 1, in very similar conditions.
Pugachev’s story was that he and his principal adherents, having escaped from the clutches of Catherine, were resolved to redress the grievances of the people, give absolute liberty to the Cossacks, and put Catherine herself away in a monastery. He held a sort of mimic court at which one Cossack personated Panin, another Zachary Chernuishev, and so on. He also frequently alluded to his son Paul, whom he hoped to see again shortly at Moscow. The Government at first made light of the rising. At the beginning of October 1773, it was simply regarded as a nuisance; and 50o rubles were considered a sufficient reward for the head of the troublesome Cossack. At the end of November, 28,000 rubles were promised to any one who should bring Pugachev in alive or dead ; and the Court could talk about nothing else. Even then, however, in her correspondence with Voltaire, Catherine affected to treat ” L’affaire du Marquis de Pugachev ” as a mere joke ; but, by the beginning of 1774, the joke had developed into a very serious danger. All the forts on the Volga and Ural, including Samara, were now in the hands of the rebels ; the Bashkirs had joined them ; and the Governor of Moscow reported great restlessness among the population of Central Russia and a general sympathy with the rebels. Shortly afterwards, Pugachev captured Kazan, reduced most of the churches and monasteries there to ashes, and massacred all who refused to join him. It had become evident that the rebellion must he put down at any cost. General Peter Panin, the conqueror of Bender, was forthwith sent against the rebels with a large army ; but difficulties of transport, want of discipline, and the gross insubordination of his ill paid soldiers, paralysed all Panin’s efforts for months, while the innumerable and ubiquitous bands of Pugachev were victorious in nearly every encounter. Not till August 1774 did General Mikhelson succeed in inflicting a crushing defeat on the rebels near Tsaritsuin, when 2000 of them fell on the field and 8000 were taken prisoners. Panin’s savage reprisals, after the capture of Penza, completed their discomfiture. Pugaehev himself was seized and delivered up by his own Cossacks, on attempting to fly to the Urals (September 14), and was executed at Moscow on January 10, 1775.
Catherine’s domestic policy was unsuccessful because it was unreal. To see her at lier best, we must follow her foreign policy. Here, undoubtedly, she shone. The ceaseless permutations and combinations of diplomacy strongly appealed to her penchant for speculation and adventure ; the element of risk was an additional spur to her audacity ; and even her fathomless vanity was satisfied by triumphs which, achieved as they were on a world-wide field, were consequently world-renowned.
When Catherine first entered the arena of diplomacy, her most puissant antagonist was France. From the first, French diplomacy had instinctively recognised the rising Russian Empire as an intruder who might one day become a rival. After the Seven Years’ War, the Court of Versailles could no longer shut its eyes to the disagreeable fact that the new northern State was the strongest power in Europe. But the ancient French monarchy could not endure the thought of surrendering its time-honoured political hegemony to this upstart young Empire, and henceforth, always and everywhere, steadily opposed it. These principles were personified in François Etienne de Stainville, Duc de Choiseul, the last great statesman of old France, who was responsible for the conduct of her foreign affairs from 1758 to 1770. Hampered as he was, at every step, by the lack of material resources for the worn-out Bourbon autocracy was already sinking into its grave he still had at his disposal a delicate but deadly weapon in the brilliant corps of diplomatists, a legacy from Richelieu which, under his masterly direction, did something to veil the decrepitude and revive the prestige of France. His means were limited, but he made the most of them. If he was unable to prevent, he could at least retard the triumphs of his northern rival. He could not meet the irritating and provocative challenge of “The Northern Accord’,” but he crippled it by preparing the way for the Swedish revolution of 1772, which Panin always regarded as the greatest reverse of the reign of Catherine II. He could not detach Prussia from Russia ; he could not obviate the election of Stanislaus Poniatowski as king of Poland; but he could and did assist the Confederates of Bar, he could and did prevail upon the Sublime Porte to embarrass the Russian Empress by declaring war against her.
The diplomatic struggle between France and Russia, in Turkey, began in the very year after Catherine’s succession, namely in 1763. The Marquis de Vergennes, one of the great names of French diplomacy, then represented Louis XV at the Porte, while Catherine was represented by Obryezkov, who could boast of fifteen years’ experience and a unique acquaintance with the methods and mysteries of the Divan and the Seraglio. The high-handed interference of Catherine in Poland, after the death of Augustus III, had profoundly disturbed .the Porte, which had learnt, since the days of Peter the Great, to regard, rightly enough, the Polish question as an essential part of the Eastern question. The Turkish ministers fancied, at the outset, that Catherine had made Stanislaus a king as a first step towards making him her husband; but Obryezkov solemnly protested that the mere rumour was “a blasphemy against her sacred person.” Vergennes, however, had already opened the eyes of the Porte to the dangers of “a free election” in Poland so long as Russia was the mistress there, and insinuated how glorious it would be for the. Sultan to place his own candidate on the Polish throne. In 1765 the well-informed Crimean Khan, Krum-Giraj, strongly advised the Porte to declare war upon Russia forthwith ; whereupon both Austria and Prussia, more and more jealous of Russia, offered to assist Turkey in such an eventuality. The Prussian envoy Rexin, under secret instructions, even tried to alarm the Porte still further by mendaciously representing that Russia was about to reform and strengthen Poland by abolishing the liberum veto.
Catherine was quite justified after this in calling Frederick “a disloyal scoundrel “; and Solms, the Prussian minister at St Petersburg was dumb when Panin informed him of “this low trick.” Nevertheless, despite disquieting rumours from Poland, and a fresh offer of alliance, this time from France and Austria, the summer of 1765 passed away tranquilly enough; but in October the Hospodar of Wallachia reported the massing of Russian troops on the Turkish border, and Soltyk, Potocki and other Polish patriots demanded the protection of Turkey against Moscovite tyranny. At the same time the Khan reported that 40,000 Russian troops were living in. Poland and treating the country as if it belonged to them. But Obryezkov’s arguments and ducats prevailed over the warnings of the Khan and the French ambassador. The Porte ultimately decided not to interfere in Poland unless Russia attempted to aggrandise herself territorially at the Republic’s expense. This apathy continued until, in 1768, the Confederates of Bar began to be troublesome all along the northern border of Turkey; but even then Obryezkov, by means of a bribe of 3000 ducats, persuaded the Reis Effendi to refuse them the least assistance. When, however, in the autumn of the same year, the Cossacks pursued the Confederates across the border and pillaged and burnt the Turkish town of Galta, a wave of fanaticism passed over the Ottoman Empire. The Grand Vizier and the Reis Effendi were dismissed, and French diplomacy was once more triumphant. After a stormy interview with the new Grand Vizier, Hamza Pasha, Obryezkov, who refused to guarantee the withdrawal of the Russian troops from Poland, and the abolition of the laws in favour of the Polish Dissidents, was thrown into the Seven Towers ; and 20,000 men were despatched to the Danube.
The Turkish declaration of war came upon Catherine as a painful surprise ; but she accepted the challenge with spirit and confidence. At the first session (November 4, 1768) of a council of ministers and magnates, which, from and after 1769, became a permanent institution, it was unanimously resolved to anticipate the enemy by offensive operations ; and Prince Alexander Golitsuin, who had served his military apprentice-ship during the Seven Years’ War, was appointed Commander-in-chief. It was hoped at St Petersburg that the Turks would not open the campaign till the spring of 1769 ; but in January, the Khan of the Crimea began hostilities by endeavouring to bring 70,000 Tatars to the help of the Confederates of Bar. But this, the last Tatar raid, was easily repulsed ; and early in the year Azov and Taganrog were captured. The sluggishness of the Grand Vizier, Mohammed Emine, who remained idle for weeks in his camp, near Jassy, though he had 150,000 men at his disposal, materially assisted the Russians to concentrate their forces on the Dniester. In the autumn, however, Mohammed was strangled in his camp by the command of the Sultan ; and the new Grand Vizier, Ali Bogdancsi, an ex-brigand of great courage and ferocity, boldly crossed the Pruth and advanced irresistibly to the Dniester. But he was encountered and defeated by the new Commander-in-chief, Count Peter Rumyantsev (who had superseded the over-cautious Golitsuin on August 13), and compelled to fall back on the lower Danube. Immediately afterwards Chocim, which Golitsuin had failed to take, surrendered voluntarily; and the Russians occupied Jassy, Bucharest, the whole of Moldavia and the left bank of the Danube as far as Braila, but failed to take Bender, on the capture of which Catherine had set her heart. ” Give me Bender this autumn,” she wrote to the naturally despondent Rumyantsev, “and the business will already have been half done.”
At the second meeting of the Russian council it had been decided to support the land operations by a great naval expedition to the Mediterranean. The chief promoter of this adventurous scheme was Gregory Orlov, the reigning favourite ; and Catherine, who was as proud of the Russian fleet as ever Peter had been, supported it with enthusiasm.
The whole story of this risky circumnavigation, except the denouement, which was very different, has a curious and striking resemblance to the Rozhdestvensky adventure of 1905. The Russian fleet, consisting of seven liners, one frigate and some smaller vessels, left Cronstadt on July 26, 1769, under the flag of Admiral Spiridov. At the beginning of August, when off the Isle of Gottland, the newest ship, the Svyatislav, could go no further and put back to Reval. The rest of the fleet was a long time reaching Copenhagen and a still longer time in leaving it. The Russian envoy, Filosofov, reported that all the officers wanted to go back instead of forward ; that the Admiral had lost all control over them; and that the men were ignorant, inefficient and full of terror at the unknown peril before them. When the fleet anchored in the Humber, some 20 miles from Hull, Chernuishev, the Russian ambassador in England, boarded it to try and put some heart into its officers, whom he found ” very melancholy and unhappy.” Out of the complement of 5000 sailors 1500 were too ill to work. Most of them he describes as raw recruits, taken straight from the plough, with no idea of seamanship. Only a few skippers and fishers from Archangel were equal to their duties. The next stoppage was Portsmouth, where some curiosity and much amusement were caused by the unwonted spectacle. Many distinguished persons, including the Duke of Cumberland, went on board. Chernuishev’s reports became still more pessimistic. “Since 1700 we have spent x o, 000, 000 rubles on the fleet, and what have we got for it?” he wrote. ” With grief, shame, and confusion I must confess that her Majesty’s instructions have not been carried out.” Catherine, in great annoyance, severely scolded Spiridov. ” If you eat up all your provisions on the way, and half the crews die before they see the enemy, the whole expedition will be covered with shame and dishonour. For God’s sake pull yourself together and don’t put me to shame before the whole world ! ”
Catherine’s irritation was more than excusable. Success in this dangerous war, with which her enemies had saddled her, meant very much more to her than it could possibly have meant to an hereditary and long-established sovereign. After all, what was she but a parvenue, who had won the reputation of an extraordinary woman by ascending the throne in a sensational way ? Let but one serious reverse ruin her reputation for greatness, and the consequences to her, both at home and abroad, might be very serious. Fortunately, the fleet, in the long run, justified her confidence in it. In February 1770 it arrived safely at Leghorn. It was to have proceeded to the Morea, in the first instance, to support a general rising of the Greeks, preparations for which had been made by the Orlovs ever since 1763. But the Greeks proved to be a broken reed to lean upon ; and both they and their Russian confederates were easily worsted on the mainland by the Turks. The fleet arrived just in time to find that it was useless there; and Admiral Spiridov’s relations with the British officers, who had volunteered to help him, now threatened to ruin the fleet altogether. Discipline and confidence were only restored when Alexis Orlov, the Empress’s plenipotentiary, took over the supreme command himself by Catherine’s express orders, and, eager to avenge the Morean disaster, deliberately went in search of the Turkish fleet. He discovered it at dawn, on June 24, at anchor along the Anatolian shore of the Straits of Chios, beneath the guns of the little fortress of Chesme. It consisted of sixteen liners, six of them with 8o and the rest with 70 guns, six frigates and a number of smaller vessels. Orlov frankly confessed to the Empress that his first feeling at the sight of such odds was fear ; but he instantly gave the order to attack, and, after a furious encounter, lasting four hours, in which the Russian flagship Evstafy was blown up, the Turkish fleet was scattered. Two days later it was pursued and, with the aid of fireships, utterly destroyed. The impression at St Petersburg was all the greater because the fleet had only been intended to support the Morean rising. Orlov, as a reward for the success of his brilliant impromptu, received permission to quarter the imperial arms in his shield. Here, however, the triumph of the fleet ended. An attack upon the isle of Lemnos was beaten off; and nothing very important was attempted during the remainder of the war, though a dozen of the AEgean Islands were captured.
Equally signal were the Russian successes on land during the campaign of 1770. Plague delayed the advance of the army till the early summer ; but, on July 7, Rumyantsev defeated a large Turkish force at the junction of the Pruth and Larga; and on the 21st he earned his marshal’s baton by routing 150,000 Turks with only 17,000 Russians near Trajanopolis, when 140 cannon were taken on the field and 127 more in the pursuit. This victory led to the fall of a whole series of fortresses, Ismaila being taken by Potemkin, Kilia by Repnin, and Akkerman by Igelström, while Braila was evacuated by the Turks themselves on the approach of the Russians. Bender, however, occupied the whole attention of the second army, under Golitsuin, from July to the middle of September. Golitsuin finally took it by assault (Sept. 16), but he was severely blamed for losing one-fifth of his army in the operation.
During the winter of 1770-71 Catherine was somewhat disquieted by the aggressive attitude of the King of Prussia, who affected to regard the Russian terms of peace as exorbitant, and declared openly that he could not guarantee the neutrality of Austria much longer. Desirous as she now was for peace, Catherine felt that the best answer to the veiled menaces of her neighbour was another successful campaign. But her resources were limited; her generals, especially her best general, Rumyantsev, were growing despondent ; and the army was in a deplorable condition, owing to the breakdown of the commissariat. The soldiers, in the depth of winter, were without boots and underclothes, and had to be put on half rations of bread made of damaged millet and maize. There were no horses for the guns and wagons. Rumyantsev declared it was impossible to repeat the triumphs of 1770. Catherine, however, besides encouraging them by letters full of fire and courage, worked night and day to remove all obstacles from the paths of her commanders. New recruits were promised; fresh stores were obtained from Poland ; every penny that could be obtained was spent upon the army ; and, after superhuman efforts, Rumyantsev was able to take the field again in 1771 with an imposing force.
The Russian army was in three divisions. The right wing occupied the district between the Sereth and the Aluta. The left wing, under Wiessman, guarded the course of the Danube from the Pruth to the Black Sea. The centre, under Rumyantsev, with its head-quarters at Maksiminaki on Sereth, was to lend help to whichever of the wings might need it most. But the Turks were too weak to attack in force ; and the whole campaign was consequently of a guerilla character in which the Russians were invariably victorious. The fortresses of Giurgevo and Tulcea were also taken after repeated attempts, but not without terrible loss of life. In October the army went into winter quarters round Jassy. On June 14, the second army, under Prince Vasily Mikhailovich Dolgoruki, stormed the lines of Perekop, which were defended by 7000 Turks and 50,000 Tatars, and compelled the Khan Selim Giraj to sue for a truce.
In the autumn of 1771, Austrian diplomacy was very busy in the east, and Kaunitz’ notes to the Court of St Petersburg grew more and more dictatorial. “The time has come to end this Turkish War,” he said. An Austro-Turkish Alliance was even concluded by Thugut, the Austrian Minister at Constantinople, Turkey engaging, in return for active assistance, to cede Little Wallachia to Austria and give the Court of Vienna 34,000,000 gulden in subsidies, 10,000,000 of which were actually paid. It was this ” sly trick ” of Thugut’s, as Panin called it, which forced the hand of Catherine and, in conjunction with strong and persistent pressure from Frederick, inclined the Empress to abate her claims upon Turkey and compensate herself at the expense of Poland. On December 5, 1771, Catherine virtually gave way when she declared by the mouth of Panin, in full council, that the Turks were disposed towards peace. Austria, thereupon, cynically threw over Turkey, to the just indignation of the Sultan, who promised, nevertheless, not to demand back the eleven million gulden he had already paid for the Austrian alliance, if Moldavia and Wallachia were retroceded. In February 1772, Panin reported to the council the pleasing intelligence that Austria would co-operate with Russia and Prussia in the peace negotiations, and that the Turkish plenipotentiaries were on their way to a peace congress, which ultimately met at Fokcsani in Moldavia. The congress lasted from July to August and then dissolved because Russia claimed more than the Turks could concede. On October 19 a second congress met at Bucharest. Catherine was now very anxious for peace. She feared that a war with Sweden was inevitable in. consequence of the Revolution of 1772, whereby Gustavus III had emancipated himself from the thraldom of a party supported and subsidised by Russia. Catherine had actually detached nine infantry regiments from Rumyantsev’s army on the Danube and sent them to Pskov in view of an expected Swedish invasion. But the Turks, secretly encouraged by Austria and Prussia, refused to surrender the Crimean towns; so the second congress also proved abortive. Peace was, how-ever, finally concluded (July 21, 17 74) at a third congress held at the little Bulgarian town of Kuchuk-Kainardje, twenty miles from Silistria. By the peace of Kuchuk-Kainardje, Turkey recovered most of her conquered territory, but was obliged to recognise the independence of the Tatars of the Crimea and the Kuban, and the protectorate of Russia over the Christians of Moldavia and Wallachia, and to cede the Crimean towns of Kertch and Yenikale to Russia.
The thirteen years’ interval between the first and second Russo-Turkish Wars was marked by a growing alienation between Russia and Prussia and a corresponding approximation between Russia and Austria. Catherine never forgave , Frederick II for his treacherous, underhand proceedings during the first twelve years of her reign. His effusive compliments after the conclusion of the first partition of Poland and the first Turkish War must have seemed to her sarcastic compliments after what had gone before. Nevertheless, circumstances compelled her to renew her alliance with him in 1777 and assist him vigorously, if only diplomatically, in his quarrel with Austria concerning the Bavarian succession, a quarrel ultimately composed, under Russian mediation, by the peace congress of Teschen (May 3, 1779). This, however, was the last of the many services she rendered to an ally who had always been more of a hindrance than a help to her ; while for his shifty, sentimental successor, Frederick William II (17861797), who with all the will to damage her had not the courage, she always entertained a wholesome contempt. Panin, meanwhile, had completely forfeited her confidence by his mischievous subserviency to Prussia in his later years ; and she dismissed the old statesman (May 1881) with the firm resolve, henceforth, to be her own Minister of Foreign Affairs. The younger generation of politicians, who henceforth surrounded her, were little more than the executive instruments of her sovereign will, superior Foreign Office clerks in fact. The most remarkable of these ” pupils ” was Alexander Bezborodko, who entered her service in 1774, contrived to ingratiate himself with the reigning favourite Potemkin, and, though he never held any very high official position till after Catherine’s death’, was, towards the end of her reign, generally recognised as the soul of her cabinet and the subtlest diplomatist whom Russia had yet produced. He was as superior to Bestuzhev and Panin in resourcefulness and versatility as he was inferior to them in honesty, courage and personal dignity. He was especially admired by the Emperor Joseph II, into whose plans he pretended to enter enthusiastically; while the wonderful lucidity and literary excellence of his political memorials and despatches greatly attracted Catherine, and largely influenced her decisions.
Apart from mutual attraction, the great bond of union between Catherine and Joseph II was the grandiose ” Greek Project.” Joseph simply desired to partition the Turkish Empire between Catherine and himself by way of eclipsing the fame of Frederick II ; Catherine’s more romantic imagination dreamed of re-establishing the Greek Empire under her grandson Constantine. The scheme seems first to have been mooted at Catherine’s meeting with the Emperor at Mogilev in 1780.
In 1782 a formal understanding as to the disposal of the Ottoman Empire was arrived at between the two Courts without any formal treaty. The anarchical and dilapidated condition of Turkey, since the last war, was taken to justify the most impudent depredations. Russian warships passed up and down the Dardanelles with impunity. New forts were built all along the Turkish frontier. Russian agitators, in the guise of consuls, perambulated the Turkish provinces, stirring up the Christian population to revolt.
On April 8, 1783 the Crimea was deliberately incorporated with the Russian Empire by Potemkin ; and the last Khan became a subject of the Empress. Austria had long since annexed the Bukovina (May 7, 1775). The Porte, anxious above all things to avoid another war, meekly protested, and that was all. The correspondence of the two sovereigns reveals a prodigious appetite for fresh territory. Joseph had no objection to the restoration of the Greek Empire under Constantine Pavlovich, but he coveted for himself (Nov. 30, 1782) Chocim, Little Wallachia, Orsova, Belgrade, and every-thing contained within a straight line drawn from Belgrade to the Gulf of Drina, inclusive. He also proposed to take all the insular and continental possessions of Venice “as the only way of unifying the Austrian dominions.” Venice was to be compensated for this rather severe amputation by the Morea, Candia and the Aegean islands, in other words with parts of Catherine’s prospective Greek Empire. To this she very naturally objected ; and a certain coolness ensued in con-sequence.
The finishing touch was given to “the Greek Project ” at the magnificent and prolonged picnic of potentates and princes whom Catherine in 1 787 took with her to the shores of the Euxine to admire her new arsenal at Kherson and marvel at the brand-new fleet, which Potemkin, in an incredibly short time, had constructed and fully equipped for battle, in the harbour of Sebastopol. Unfortunately the immediate effect of this pleasant triumphal progress was to rouse the long-suffering Turk from his apathy and precipitate a war for which Catherine was totally unprepared, though she–had done everything to provoke it.
It was the seizure of the Crimea in 1783 which first awoke the Turks to a sense of their extreme peril. They at once proceeded to reorganise their forces; and, with the assistance of numerous English and French officers, the Ottoman army was soon a disciplined host instead of a disorderly mob. Moreover, the new and energetic Kapudan Pacha succeeded in practically rebuilding the fleet. It was now that Great Britain assumed the rôle of chief Turcophil which France had sustained for more than 300 years. From the outset, the British Government had been suspicious of Catherine I l. It had looked with indifference upon the Northern Accord” of Panin ; the refusal of the Russian Empress to assist in the subjugation of ” His Majesty’s misguided subjects in America” had increased the coolness between the two Powers ; and, when Catherine, with the aid of Bezborodko, began to apply the principles of the Armed Neutrality of the North to British commerce, public opinion in Great Britain was profoundly irritated against the Russian Empress. Great Britain, moreover, was rightly jealous of Russia’s increasing influence in the Mediterranean, which threatened to injure the English Levant trade; so that, when the second Turkish War broke out, it was obviously the correct policy of the cabinet of St James’s to assist the Porte as much as possible by multiplying Catherine’s embarrassments. Prussia, especially disturbed by the new Austro-Russian alliance, laboured assiduously, and not very scrupulously, with the same object in view.
The critical year was 1787. While Catherine perambulated the Ukraine, scattering rubles and epigrams in every direction, Great Britain and Prussia were helping to bring about a Swedo-Turkish alliance ; and millions of piastres found their way to Stockholm from Stambul, by way of Amsterdam and Hamburg, to enable Gustavus III, who had his own very real grievances against Russia, to put his fine fleet and by no means inconsiderable army in motion. It was hoped that Turkey and Sweden would declare war against Russia simultaneously ; but Gustavus was prevented by constitutional trammels from invading Finland till July 1788, whereas the Turks began hostilities by besieging, ineffectually, the fortress of Kinburn in October 1787. The real tug of war did not come, however, till 1788, when Joseph II, acting as his own generalissimo, poured his troops through the Transylvanian and Wallachian passes into Turkish territory. The upshot showed that the Emperor was no general, and that the Turks had lost nothing of their ancient valour. The imperial troops suffered bloody defeats in Bosnia and Wallachia, and were driven back headlong into Hungary, whose southernmost towns and villages were reduced to ashes. Had not Marshal Laudon taken over the supreme command at the last moment, the Austrian army would have been annihilated. As it was, Joseph, at the combat of Karansebes, owed his life solely to the fleetness of his charger. The Russians were more fortunate. Rumyantsev and the Prince of Coburg took Chocim by assault ; the Prince of Nassau-Siegen destroyed the Turkish fleet at the mouth of the Dnieper ; and Suvarov put 30,000 Turks to the sword at the storming of Ochakov. In the North, too, the course of events was favourable, a rebellion of the Swedish army placing Gustavus III hors de combat for nearly twelve months.
Still the Turks were not discouraged. At the beginning of 1789, the incapable Abdul Hamid I was succeeded by Selim III, an enlightened and patriotic sovereign, who had been well educated by French tutors. He was the only Sultan of the eighteenth century who could dispense with Dragomans. His first act was to place at the head of the army a new Grand Vizier, Hassan Pasha, whose dogged valour heroically sustained the terrible disasters of the campaign of 1789. In that year the combined allies were everywhere victorious. In April Derfelden defeated the Turks on the Pruth and captured Galatz. But the left bank of the Danube was the chief theatre of operations. On August 1, Suvarov and the Prince of Coburg defeated Hassan Pasha at Fokcsani, when 10,000 Turks bit the dust, and the whole Turkish camp fell into the enemies’ hands. Nevertheless even this overthrow did not dismay Hassan. In less than a month he had assembled around him another army of 100,000 men. In September he encountered the allies at Martineste on Rimnik, where was fought the bloodiest and best contested battle of the whole war. But again Hassan was routed, this time with the loss of 22,000 men and 6o guns. The result of these victories was the fall of the fortresses of Belgrade, Bender and Akkerman. Simultaneously Prince Repnin defeated the Turks at Isakhi and began the siege of Ismaila.
The Turks had now lost their last field army, the remains of which were distributed among the garrisons of the strong Danubian fortresses, the last defence of the Empire. A speedy peace on the best terms obtainable had become a vital necessity to the Porte. But Catherine was scarcely less anxious to end the war. The political horizon was darkening everywhere. Gustavus III had recommenced hostilities in Finland in June 1789 ; and things were going badly with the Russians. Poland had thrown off the Russian yoke and contracted an alliance with Prussia. It seemed possible that Catherine might have to sustain a third war with Frederick William II and the Republic combined. Her victorious armies had been decimated, and all the energy and ingenuity of Bezborodko were taxed to the uttermost to supply the gaps in the ranks. A serious blow too was the death of Joseph II on February 20, 1790. In these circumstances the Turkish War languished. Not till the late autumn could the campaign of 1790 begin. The only triumph won by Russia, though a very considerable one, was the storming of Ismaila by Suvarov, on which occasion the carnage was so awful that the Empress doubted whether she should reward or rebuke the victor. She contrived, however, by the end of the summer, to draw one paw out of the mire.” On August 14, 1790, the Peace of Varala, rid her of Gustavus III, who was actually threatening her capital.
In 1791 Austria withdrew from the struggle by the peace of Sistova, concluded on a status quo ante bellum basis (August 4). Despite the brilliant victory of Prince Repnin over the Grand-Vizier, at Machin, in July, Catherine continued the negotiations with the Turks which had already been opened at Jassy ; and here (January 9, 1792) the faultless diplomacy of Bezborodko ensured a very advantageous peace for Russia. The Porte formally surrendered the Crimea and along with it Ochakov and the district lying between the rivers Bug and Dniester. Thus, for the first time in history, the whole of the northern shore of the Euxine became an integral part of the Russian Empire.
The last years of Catherine II were absorbed, as we have seen, by the Polish question, whose final solution only took place a few months before her death. By that time she had quite outlived her pseudo-liberalism and had become the most reactionary autocrat in Europe. Yet, in truth, she had never been anything else, at heart; and this is no reproach to her, for in those days, as she very well knew, an autocracy was the only possible government for Russia. Her fear and hatred of the French Revolution are therefore perfectly intelligible, though she agreed with Bezborodko that Russia’s proper political attitude towards revolutionary France was strict neutrality. But she lavished millions on the legitimist emigrés and heartily approved of the anti-Jacobin Crusade of Gustavus III, with whom she came to be on very amicable terms. Indeed it was the wish of her heart, in her extreme old age, to marry her granddaughter Alexandra to the young King Gustavus IV. The frustration of this design, in somewhat humiliating circumstances, undoubtedly accelerated her death.
Catherine II expired, very suddenly, on November 17, 1796. Enough has already been said to give some idea of her character. If she does not rightly deserve the epithet ” Great” (she was too flighty to be an administrator, too fanciful to be a statesman of the highest rank), none can deny to her the title of ” extraordinary.” Everything she did, from first to last, was out of the common. Whether she did more harm than good to Russia, on the whole, is still a matter for debate among the Russians themselves. Of her many fascinating and commanding qualities, her wit, humour, serenity and savoir-faire, her courage, insight, resoluteness, high public spirit, and intimate knowledge of human nature, there never can be any doubt at all.