Young Folks' History of Russia - Nathan Dole

How a Russian Tsar Dreamed of the Sea

There was no keener critic of the Krim campaign than the young Tsar Peter.

In his earliest childhood his toys were bows and arrows, pikes and spears, wooden guns and cannon, drums and banners. As he grew older he formed his playmates into a soldier band called the "Sport Company," with which he went on long marches into the country, and bore his part in all military duties and discipline, standing on guard, obeying the commander, and rising by promotion from bombadier to colonel. At the age of thirteen he constructed little forts, and in the regular siege and defence of them blood was often shed; even the Tsar was not spared in the heat of battle.

Having grown up thus to care for things martial, Peter could not forgive Prince Basil's failure. It was with difficulty that Sophia extorted from him the permission to sign the announcement of the rewards. The unavoidable struggle soon broke out. Peter forbade his sister to appear at a state ceremony. She disobeyed, and Peter angrily left Moscow. Sophia tried to keep the goodwill of the Archers, but they had not forgotten her treatment of their leaders. She had become a scandal to many of them; her gifts won failing hearts; her eloquent words sounded in unready ears.

As Peter was sleeping at his villa of Transfiguration he was suddenly awakened at midnight by two Archers, who told him he was in danger. It was a false alarm, but Peter fled bare-footed and half-naked to the stables, saddled a horse, and rode off to the nearest woods, where he dressed. He then made haste to reach the Trinity Monastery, where he burst into tears, and told the abbot how his sister was seeking his life. He was there joined by his mother, his wife, his especial court, his Transfiguration regiment of playmates, and one regiment of Archers. It was soon seen where the power lay. The Patriarch, sent by Sophia to bring about a reconciliation, remained with her brother. Colonel Gordon and the foreign officers openly supported him. Mazeppa, with characteristic fickleness, seeing how the wind lay, deserted Prince Basil's cause and presented himself before Peter, who confirmed him in his hetmanship.

Sophia was charged with making herself equal to her brother, and desiring to be crowned as Empress and Autocrat. She was put into strict confinement in a nunnery. Her friends were tortured and punished with more or less severity. Several were beheaded, others were banished. Prince Basil and his son were deprived of rank and property and sent to Siberia.

Peter was now about eighteen, and though his size and strength were of a full-grown man he took no concern in the affairs of state, but left them entirely to his boyars, the relations of his wife and mother, and to Prince Boris Galitsin. Peter's delight was in mechanical amusements, forging and turning, shipbuilding and sailing. His attention was turned to boats by accident. He had heard that in foreign parts men used an instrument to measure distances without moving. He sent for one from abroad, and Franz Timmermann, a Dutch merchant, living in the German quarter of Moscow, showed him the use of it. Peter was sadly deficient in writing and mathematics. did not understand even subtraction or division. His interest was roused by his new possessions; he set to work under Timmermann's instruction, and studied arithmetic, geometry, and finally geography and the science of fortification. Timmermann became Peter's constant companion. One June day as he was looking over a store-house, he found, among other rubbish which had belonged to his grandfather's cousin, an English boat. Timmermann told the boy that if it had sails it would beat against the wind: Peter was anxious to make trial of it at once. He sent for an old Dutch carpenter named Brandt who calked and tarred it, "stepped" the mast, and set the sail. Peter was delighted with the experiment. He learned to manage the boat first on a little narrow river, then on a shallow pond. His ambition soon outran such limits. He learned that there was a large lake some eighty kilometers beyond the Trinity Monastery. Thither he betook himself, with Brandt and another Dutchman, and built a little fleet. His zeal in such amusements was so great that he could scarcely be induced to return to Moscow for even the great church festivals or the receptions of foreign envoys.

[Illustration] from History of Russia by Nathan Dole


He at last decided to see the open sea, and in spite of his mother's, tears and the Patriarch's prayers he set out for Archangel accompanied by over a hundred persons. Archangel was the great summer market for the western trade. Here Peter was able to converse with foreign sailors and merchants, to study commerce and shipbuilding, to practise the arts of turning and forging. It was a keen grief to him that no ship bore the Russian flag. He determined to correct that want, and with his own hands he laid the keel of a large ship to be called the "St. Paul." In spite of a promise made to his mother, Natalia, Peter dared angry waves of this Northern Sea in a five days' voyage. The following year his mother's death did not prevent Peter from making a long visit to his ships. With a caravan "which occupied more than twenty barges, he sailed down the Dvina and reached Archangel the last of May. While he was waiting for the outfit of the "St. Paul "he made an excursion to the very monastery which his father had beseiged for eight years. A tremendous storm arose and carried away the sail of his little yacht. Fully expecting to be swamped he took the last sacrament, but stood unmoved at the helm. It was by a narrow chance that Antip, the pilot, helped him steer past the reefs into harbor. Peter marked the landing-place with a wooden cross bearing a Dutch inscription, and rewarded the pilot, and gave large sums of money to the monasteries. Notwithstanding this experience he put back to Archangel and started on a fresh cruise in the "St. Paul," accompanying the English and Dutch fleets as far as the Holy Cape, which separates the White Sea from the Northern Ocean.

Peter soon returned to Moscow, and for the last time took part in what he called "the game of Mars." The sham battle was of no mean proportions, however; towns as distant as Suzdal and Vladimir furnished their quota; it is known that one division of the army numbered seven thousand five hundred men, under a mock "King of Poland;" a real fort was stormed and taken according to the rules of war; bursting bombs and fire-pots, heedless blows and thrusts, resulted as usual in burns and wounds. These trivial amusements, with their comedy of dwarfs and singers, their accompaniment of drinking and dissipation, lasted five weeks. With them Peter's boyhood ended and his real life began.