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JOHN LOTHROP MOTLEY
Bom at Dorchester, Massachusetts, in 1814, John Lothrop Motley graduated from Harvard College in 1831, and, like Bancroft, travelled abroad to complete his education. After several years of study in the principal German universities, where he won the warm friendship of Bismarck, at that time a student at Gottingen, Motley returned to Boston and began the study of law. After practising a short time, he retired from the profession and turned his attention to literature. Two novels from his pen proved to be failures, and the young writer concluded that history rather than fiction was the true field for his enterprising genius. He had long been deeply interested in the eventful history of the Netherlands during their long struggle with Spain, and now selected this period as the subject of his investigation. In 1851 he went abroad a second time to study at first hand the wealth of materia! lying dormant in the libraries of Europe, and especially in the archives of Holland, Belgium, and Spain. Fortunately he was possessed of sufficient means to enable him to carry on this work thoroughly and deliberately. In 1856 the first of the three great divisions, into which the work had gradually shaped itself in his mind, was completed and published under the title " The Rise of the Dutch Republic." The work was at once recognized as one of the most notable historical productions of the day, and translations of it immediately appeared in Germany, France, and Holland.
In 1857 Motley returned to the United States, and assisted in establishing the " Atlantic Monthly." He soon found it necessary, however, to return to Europe, where alone could be found the books and manuscripts necessary for the continuation of his work. His researches carried him through the state papers at Brussels, the Spanish archives at Simancas, and he had occasion to visit the great libraries at London, Paris, Venice, and other European capitals. In i860 appeared the first part of "The United Netherlands," and in 1868 the second part. In the mean time, in 1861, Motley had been appointed Minister to Austria. He was recalled in 1867, and in 1869 was appointed Minister to Great Britain. A year later he was abruptly called home on account, as is now known, of his friendship for Charles Sumner, at that moment in great disfavor with the administration. Although his recall under these circumstances was no disgrace, Motley looked upon it as such, and felt it keenly. In 1874 he published "The Life and Death of John of Barneveld." It was the historian's intention to make a history of the Thirty Years' War the third division of his historical labors, but death, in 1877, prevented the execution of this plan.
Motley is, perhaps,_ the most able and successful of American historians. In his skill in delineating character, and in presenting to the reader a comprehensive view of intricate events, he has not many equals, and few superiors. His style is masterly. He is one of the classical historians of the century. Throughout, his pages abound in brilliant description, in vivid, swift-moving narrative; they sparkle with a keen, and sometimes sarcastic humor, and often thrills us with passages of dramatic power.
PETER THE GREAT
ONE day, in the year 1697, the great Duke of Marlborough happened to be in the village of Saardam. He visited the dockyard of one Mynheer Calf, a rich shipbuilder, and was struck with the appearance of a journeyman at work there. He was a large, powerful man, dressed in a red woollen shirt and duck trousers, with a sailor's hat, and seated, with an adze in his hand, upon a rough log of timber which lay on the ground. The man's features were bold and regular, his dark brown hair fell in natural curls about his neck, his complexion was strong and ruddy, with veins somewhat distended, indicating an ardent temperament and more luxurious habits than comported with his station; and his dark, keen eye glanced from one object to another with remarkable restlessness. He was engaged in earnest conversation with some strangers, whose remarks he occasionally interrupted, while he rapidly addressed them in a guttural but not unmusical voice. As he became occasionally excited in conversation, his features twitched convulsively, the blood rushed to his forehead, his arms were tossed about with extreme violence of gesticulation, and he seemed constantly upon the point of giving way to some explosion of passion, or else of falling into a fit of catalepsy. His companions, however, did not appear alarmed by his vehemence, although they seemed to treat him with remarkable deference; and, after a short time, his distorted features would resume their symmetry and agreeable expression, his momentary frenzy would subside, and a bright smile would light up his whole countenance.
The duke inquired the name of this workman, and was told it was one Pieter Baas, a foreign journeyman of remarkable mechanical abilities and great industry. Approaching, he entered into some slight conversation with him upon matters pertaining to his craft. While they were conversing a stranger of foreign mien and costume appeared, holding a voluminous letter in his hand; the workman started up, snatched it from his hand, tore off the seals and greedily devoured its contents, while the stately Marlborough walked away unnoticed. The duke was well aware that, in this thin disguise, he saw the Czar of Muscovy. Pieter Baas, or Boss Peter, or Master Peter, was Peter the despot of all the Russians, a man who, having just found himself the undisputed proprietor of a quarter of the globe with all its inhabitants, had opened his eyes to the responsibilities of his position, and had voluntarily descended from his throne for the noble purpose of qualifying himself to reascend it.
The empire of Russia, at this moment more than twice as large as Europe, having a considerable extent of seacoasts, with flourishing commercial havens both upon the Baltic and the Black Seas, and a chain of internal communication, by canal and river, connecting them both with the Caspian and the Volga, was at the accession of Peter I of quite sufficient dimensions for any reasonable monarch's ambition, but of most unfortunate geographical position. Shut off from civilized western Europe by vast and thinly peopled forests and plains, having for neighbors only " the sledded Polack," the Turk, the Persian, and the Chinese, and touching nowhere upon the ocean, that great highway of civilization—the ancient empire of the Czars seemed always in a state of suffocation. Remote from the sea, it was a mammoth without lungs, incapable of performing the functions belonging to its vast organization, and presenting to the world the appearance of a huge, incomplete, and inert mass, waiting the advent of some new Prometheus to inspire it with life and light.
Its capital, the bizarre and fantastic Moscow, with its vast, turreted, and venerable Kremlin—its countless churches, with their flashing spires and clustering and turbaned minarets glittering in green, purple, and gold; its mosques, with the cross supplanting the crescent; its streets swarming with bearded merchants and ferocious janizaries, while its female population were immured and invisible—was a true type of the empire, rather Asiatic than European, and yet compounded of both.
The government, too, was far more Oriental than European in its character. The Normans had, to be sure, in the eleventh century taken possession of the Russian government with the same gentlemanlike effrontery with which, at about the same time, they had seated themselves upon every throne in Europe; and the crown of Ruric had been transmitted like the other European crowns for many generations, till it descended through a female branch upon the head of the Romanoffs, the ancestors of Peter and the present imperial family. But though there might be said to be an established dynasty, the succession to the throne was controlled by the Strelitzes, the licentious and ungovernable soldiery of the capital, as much as the Turkish or Roman Empire by the janizaries or pretorians; and the history of the government was but a series of palace-revolutions, in which the sovereign, the tool alternately of the priesthood and the body-guard, was elevated, deposed, or strangled, according to the prevalence of different factions in the capital. The government was in fact, as it has been epigrammatically characterized, " a despotism tempered by assassination."
The father of Peter I, Alexis Michaelovitch, had indeed projected reforms in various departments of the government. He seems to have been, to a certain extent, aware of the capacity of his empire, and to have had some faint glimmerings of the responsibility which weighed upon him, as the inheritor of this vast hereditary estate. He undertook certain revisions of the laws, if the mass of contradictory and capricious edicts which formed the code deserve that name; and his attention had particularly directed itself to the condition of the army and the church. Upon his death, in 1677, he left two sons, Theodore and John, and four daughters, by his first wife; besides one son, Peter, born in 1672, and one daughter, Natalia, by the second wife, of the house of Narischkin. The eldest son, Theodore, succeeded, whose administration was directed by his sister, the ambitious and intriguing Princess Sophia, assisted by her paramour Galitzin. Theodore died in 1682, having named his half-brother Peter as his successor, to the exclusion of his own brother John, who was almost an idiot. Sophia, who, in the fitful and perilous history of Peter's boyhood, seems like the wicked fairy in so many Eastern fables, whose mission is constantly to perplex, and if possible destroy, the virtuous young prince, who, however, struggles manfully against her enchantments and her hosts of allies, and comes out triumphant at last —Sophia, assisted by Couvanski, general of the Strelitzes, excited a tumult in the capital. Artfully inflaming the passions of the soldiery, she directed their violence against all those who stood between her and the power she aimed at; many of the Narischkin family (the maternal relatives of Peter), with their adherents, were butchered with wholesale ferocity; many crown-officers were put to death; and the princess at length succeeded in proclaiming the idiot John and the infant Peter as joint Czars, and herself as regent.
From this time forth Sophia, having the reins of government securely in her hand, took particular care to surround the youthful Peter with the worst influences. She exposed him systematically to temptation, she placed about him the most depraved and licentious associates, and seems to have encouraged the germination of every vicious propensity with the most fostering care. In 1689, during the absence of Prince Galitzin upon his second unsuccessful invasion of the Crimea, Peter was married, at the age of seventeen, through the influence of a faction hostile to Sophia, to a young lady of the Lapouchin family. After the return of Galitzin a desperate revolt of the Strelitzes was concerted between their general and Sophia and Galitzin, whose object was to seize and murder Peter. He saved himself for the second time in the convent of the Trinity —the usual place of refuge when the court was beleaguered, as was not unusual, by the janizaries—assembled around him those of the boiars and the soldiers who were attached to him, and with the personal bravery and promptness which have descended like an heirloom in his family, defeated the conspirators at a blow, banished Galitzin to Siberia, and locked up Sophia in a convent, where she remained till her death fifteen years afterward. His brother John remained nominally as joint Czar till his death in 1696.
In less than a year from this time Peter made the acquaintance of a very remarkable man, to whom, more than to any other, Russia seems to have been indebted for the first impulse toward civilization. Happening one day to be dining at the house of the Danish minister, he was pleased with the manners and conversation of his excellency's private secretary. This was a certain youthful Genevese adventurer named Lefort. He had been educated for the mercantile profession and placed