Semën Andreevich Poroshin from his Diary on the Education of Paul I

[excerpted from Anthology of Russian Literature From the Earliest Period to the Present Time, Leo Wiener, ed. and Tr. Pt. 1 (New York, 1902), pp. 321-326]


October 29, 1764..-- Having dressed himself, his Highness sat down to study. Then he went incognito to his drawingroom to get a look at the Turkish ambassador, who was having an audience with his Excellency Nikita Ivanovich. He was received in the same manner as the first time. But when I arrived, his Highness did not receive me so kindly as to make me satisfied with him. I do not wish now to enter into any especial discussion of the cause of it, but will only remark that his Highness is frequently greatly influenced by the remarks made in regard to absent persons which he happens to overhear. I have repeatedly noticed that if anything favourable or laudatory is said in his hearing of someone, his Highness later shows himself kindly disposed to him; if, on the contrary, something unfavourable and deprecatory is said of anyone, especially when the remark is not made directly to his Highness, but as if by accident, he, seeing him, appears to be cold to him.

We seated ourselves at the table. His Excellency Nikita Ivanovich did not dine with us. Of outsiders there was only Count Alexander Sergyeich Stroganov. I have suffered terrible anguish to-day at table. How could one help suffering, considering what had taken place ? We were talking about Peter the Great. Someone, passing in silence all the great qualities of that monarch, deemed it proper to dwell only on the fact that the Tsar used often to get drunk-, and that he beat his ministers with his cane. Another person, incautiously emulating this conversation, which ought in no way be tolerated in the presence of his Highness, added that when the Tsar was at one time beating with his cane one of his generals who was a German, the latter later repeated from the Bible: " The hand of the Lord was upon me, etc." The first person continued, saying that history knew only of two royal wallopers, Peter I. and the late King of Prussia, the father of the present King. Later he began to praise Charles XII., the King of Sweden; I told him that Voltaire had written that Charles XII. deserved to be the first soldier in Peter the Great's army. Upon this his Highness asked whether it was really so. The speaker answered his Highness that it was very likely written that way, but that it was nothing but mere flattery.

When I later spoke of the Emperor's letters, which he had written from abroad to his ministers, and remarked that for the correct understanding of his time it was necessary to have these letters, and that I possessed many of them, and so forth, the first speaker did not deign to make any other remarks thereupon except that these letters were very funny because the Emperor often addressed them to " Min Her Admiral, " and signed them " Piter." I found it difficult to dissemble my dissatisfaction, and to subdue my excitement.

I leave it to the whole intelligent and unbiassed world whether it is proper to let his Imperial Highness, the heir apparent of the Russian throne, and a great-grandchild of Emperor Peter the Great, to be a witness to such malicious remarks. Xenophon has represented in his Cyrus a perfect king, and his rule a beneficent rule, and an example for the emulation of the monarchs of future generations. Senseless historians in many points contradict Xenophon's history, and try to point out the weaknesses of his hero. But clever and far- sighted men care very little whether Cyrus was really such as Xenophon has painted him, or otherwise, and extol the historian for having given us a perfect model for kings, and they adduce his wise rule as an example for them to follow. Thus, too, many other monarchs, whose great deeds history has preserved to our own days, are adduced as an example. Is it not necessary to present to his Highness the praiseworthy deeds of famous heroes, in order to rouse in him the desire and noble impulse of emulatirg them ? That seems to be evident and incontrovertible. Now, whose deeds will awaken in him a greater attention, will produce a stronger effect upon him, and are more important for his knowledge, than the deeds of Emperor Peter the Great of blessed memory ? They are esteemed great and glorious in the whole subsolar world, and are proclaimed with ecstasy by the lips of the sons of Russia. The Grand Duke, his Highness's own grandchild, was born in the same nation, and by the decree of God will in time be the ruler of the same nation.

If there had never beep on the Russian throne such an incomparable man as was his Highness's great ancestor, it would be useful to invent him, for his Highness's emulation. But we have such a famous hero, -and what happens? I do not mean to say that the Emperor 'Peter the Great was free from imperfections. Who of mortals is? As many great men as history knows have all been subject to certain weaknesses. But when they are used as examples, we must not sermonise about their vices, but about their virtues. Vices may either entirely be passed over in silence, or they may be mentioned, but only incidentally, with the remark that the ruler who is taken as a model tried his best to free himself from them and that he overcame them. And the very opposite has happened. . . .

At table Prince Baryatinski remarked that during his stay in Sweden he had heard that all the wearing apparel, sword, boots and everything else that had belonged to King Charles XII. was preserved in the arsenal. I retorted that in our Museum are preserved the wearing apparel and other belongings of Peter the Great, but that we naturally had more reason to keep these things than the Swedes, because the one defended his country and brought it to a flourishing condition, while the other had brought his to such ruin that even to the present day it has not been resuscitated, and that, of course, not one intelligent Swede could mentioning the name of Charles XII. without disgust. Prince Sergyeich assented to this. Then the conversation turned to Keissler's travels, and then to the academic translators Teplov, Golubtsov and Lebedev. I said that they knew and translated Russian well. The first speaker remarked to that: "And yet they all died the same death, namely, from drinking.Thereupon the Grand Duke turned to me and said: " Now, you hear that yourself. I suppose that is not a lie? " I answered that I did not know them intimately, that I was not acquainted with the manner of their demise, and that equally I did not know where that gentleman got his information.

February 28, 1765.-- His Highness arose at eight o'clock. After having dressed himself, he sat down to his customary studies. After his lesson he looked with me carefully at the road map to Moscow, and recollected where and bow we passed the time on our last journey thither. I read to his Highness Vertot's History of lite Order of Maltese Knights. Then he amused himself with his toys, and, attaching to his cavalry the flag of the admiralty, imagined himself a Maltese Knight. At ten o'clock we sat down to breakfast. We spoke of Moscow and dramatic performances. We were about to rise from table, when someone, I do not remember who, asked for butter and cheese. The Grand Duke became angry at the butler and said: " Why did you not put it on the table before? " and then turning to us: " They simply steal the things for themselves! " We all armed ourselves against the Grand Duke and told him in French how bad it was to insult in this way a man of whom he could not know whether he was guilty or not.

When we left the table, this sermon was continued. Mr. Osterwald and I told his Highness in strong terms how bad his action was, and how easily he could cause those people to hate him. Then our conversation turned to the labours that an Emperor must undertake. His Highness remarked among other things: " But an Emperor cannot work all the time! He needs also some rest, and his amusements." To this I retorted to the Grand Duke: " No one demands that an Emperor should never have any Test, for that is above human strength, and an Emperor is just such a man as anybody else; only he has been exalted to his position by God for his nation, and not for himself; that, consequently, he must use all his endeavour in the welfare and advancement of his nation; that his amusements and pleasures ought to consist in his knowledge and vivid representation of the great mass of his subjects who through his labours and cares enjoy well-being and numberless advantages, and of the flourishing condition of his country as the result of his work, and how his name will in just glory redound to the future generations." These are the exact words which I spoke to his Highness. He listened to them very attentively.

September 20, 1765. -- The birthday of his Imperial Highness; he is eleven years old. His Highness arose a little after seven. . . . I was not yet all dressed, when he appeared in my room, took me by my hand and began to all dressed, when he appeared in my room, took me by my hand and began to walk around with me. I congratulated the Tsarevich upon his birthday, and explained to him my wishes in regard to him, which were similar to those of all the faithful sons of the country. Having dressed himself, he went into the yellow room. His Reverence, Father Platon, addressed to the Tsarevich a short congratulation, in which he presented very strongly and wittily our wishes, and hopes in the progress of his Highness's studies. Then his Highness went into the interior apartments to the Empress, and from there with her Highness to church. At the end of the liturgy, Father Platon spoke a sermon on the theme: " Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer " (Luke xxi. 14). The whole sermon was beautiful. But especially the final address to her Highness and the Grand Duke visibly moved the hearts of all. Many eyes were seen in tears. . . . The Empress went from church to her inner apartments, and his Highness followed her. As we were there admitted to kiss her hand, she said among other things: " Father Platon does with us what he wants. If he wants us to weep, we weep; if he wants us to laugh, we laugh. "