General Alexander Gordon's Impressions of Peter I

[Readings in Modern European History, James Harvey Robinson and Charles Beard, eds. (Boston:Ginn and Company, 1908), pp. 60-61]


Peter had a great number of foreign officers about him, German, French, Dutch, English, Scotch, in whom he placed great reliance. Alexander Gordon, a Scot, had, after serving for a short time under Louis XIV, drifted to Russia about 1694. He was appointed major general by the Tsar, of whom he gives his impressions as follows:


This great emperor came in a few years to know to a farthing the amount of all his revenues, as also how they were laid out.
He was at little or no expense about his person, and by living rather like a private gentleman than a prince he saved wholly that great expense which other monarchs are at in supporting the grandeur of their courts. It was uneasy for him to appear in majesty, which he seldom or never did, but when absolutely necessary, on such occasions as giving audience to ambassadors or the like ; so that he had all the pleasure of a great emperor and at the same time that of a private gentleman.

He was a lover of company, and a man of much humor and pleasantry, exceedingly facetious and of vast natural parts. He bad no letters - he could only read and write, but had a great regard for learning and was at much pains to introduce it into the country. He rose early ; the morning he gave to business till ten or eleven o'clock at the farthest ; all the rest of the day, and a great part of the night, to diversion and pleasure. He took his bottle heartily, so must all the company; for when he was merry himself he loved to see everybody so; though at the same time he could not endure habitual drinkers, for such he thought unfit for business.

When he paid a visit to a friend he would pass almost the whole night, not caring to part with good company till past two o'clock in the morning. He never kept guards about his person. . . . He never could abide ceremony, but loved to be spoke to frankly and without reserve.