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PETER THE GREAT, CZAR OF RUSSIA.
In all countries, there is a chief ruler. In some, he is called “King,” in others, “Emperor," in others, “ President.” In Russia, the chief ruler is called “ Czar.” Peter the First, or Peter the Great as he was afterwards called, was the first Czar of the name of Peter. He was born in the year 1672, and lost his father when only ten years old; and at the early age of seventeen, he was acknowledged by the Russians as their chief ruler or Czar.
The Russians were at that time, a very ignorant and barbarous nation. It is true that all the other nations of Europe were also much more ignorant and barbarous than they are now; but the Russians were looked upon as barbarians even by them. Peter, although wanting instruction quite as much as the people of whom he was ruler, was fortunately aware of his igno
There are two kinds of ignorant people. One, who with their ignorance, are contented to remain ignorant all their lives; the other, who are sensible of their ignorance,
are, at the same time, sorry for it, and are resolved to spare no exertion to learn and improve. Peter was of the latter kind; and it has been often and justly remarked, that it is a great step towards knowledge to be sensible of one's own ignorance.
It was not Peter's fault that he had no kind instructer to teach him in his childhood - it was his misfortune. Happily for him, while still a young man, he became acquainted with a foreigner of the name of Le Fort, who was an instructed mau, and by whose advice and example, he was urged to take those pains with himself, which made him the useful man, that he afterwards proved to be.
Peter was soon led to form many plans for improving the condition of the Russians, both by increasing their knowledge, and by introducing tools, articles of dress and manufactures, which as yet were unknown in Russia. To assist himself in these plans, he applied industriously to the study of the German and Dutch languages, and as Le Fort was acquainted with these languages, he was able to help Peter in his laborious undertaking.
From Russians, and from Russian writings, he could not expect to learn anything. From Germans and Dutchmen, and from German and Dutch books, he knew that he might learn many things that would be useful to him. But as few foreigners could speak or write in Russia, it was necessary, if he wished to learn what foreigners alone could teach, that he should learn their languages. It was for this reason that he determined to make himself master of the Dutch and German languages.
Peter became warınly attached to Le Fort. He saw that he had met with a true friend; one willing to advise, assist, warn and teach him not a mere flatterer, ready to assent to whatever he might propose. Accordingly he made him the confidant of all his future plans, many of which in their execution, would be attended with difficulty and danger. In those days, and in that country, people thought very little of putting one another to death, on any slight occasion of displeasure. The sensible among the Russians were thankful to the Czar for his exertions for their good, but many attempts were made by the obstinate and brutal to destroy him, and thus put a stop to those improvements which they so foolishly disliked.
Among other things which the Russians were entirely without, but which were common in most other countries, were ships. This deficiency he determined to supply, because he wished the Russians to have the same means of communicating with other countries which was enjoyed elsewhere.
A story is told of an accidental discovery, which, it is said, first awakened in him a desire of building and possessing ships in his own country. While looking one day, and this was before he was Czar, over some old stores, he chanced to cast his eye upon the hulk of a small English sloop, with its sailing tackle lying among the rest of the lumber, and fast going to decay. This little vessel had been sent to Russia, many years before, by his father Alexis, but had long been forgotten by everybody.
No sooner however, was it observed by Peter, than it fixed his attention. He made inquiries of some foreigners who happened to be at Moscow, as to the use of the masts and sails, for he was ignorant of things so well known among us, as to be familiar even to children. The explanation which he received, made him look upon the old hulk even with affection.
With some difficulty, the Dutch shipwright, who had come to Russia with the vessel, was discovered, and by him it was soon refitted. The gratification of the young Peter was indeed great, when he beheld the masts replaced, the sails in order, and the vessel moving upon the river, that flowed by the town.
He afterwards, when Czar, employed this same shipwright to build larger ships; and ain the year 1694, he himself embarked in one at Archangel. He was the first Czar ever known to be on the White Sea.
But in all his early endeavors, he found himself constantly impeded by the ignorance, and want of skill of those whom he was compelled to employ. To remedy this evil in some measure, in the month of March, 1697, he selected a hundred young Russians, from among those who were anxious to learn, whom he sent to foreign countries ; some to learn the management of ships, some ship-building, and others to learn a variety of other useful things. Besides this, he determined upon quitting his own country for some years, that he might improve himself by his observations, and so learn how to improve others. He wished to instruct himself by his eyes and hands. He wished to see, and judge, and handle for himself; for he felt that there was no other way of learning equal to that.
Accordingly, in the month of April of the same year, he set off from Moscow, to visit the different countries of Europe. One of the persons who accompanied him on this occasion, was his confidant and friend Le Fort. He travelled as a private individual, under a feigned name, in order that he might not be interrupted in his attempts to learn and improve.
Such interruption he would certainly have met with had he travelled in his public character of Czar; because rulers and chief men, when they travel in foreign countries, have so much attention paid to them, that their time is completely taken up. Peter denied himself all this gratification, so highly esteemed by the thoughtless, for the sake of instruction; a gratification far greater in his eyes, as it is in the eyes of all wise men.
In spite of the good resolutions and praiseworthy intentions of the young Czar, a circumstance occurred, before he had made much progress on his journey, which it is painful to mention. At a dinner to which he was invited while in Prussia, he drank wine to excess;
he became what is called drunk. Every body who has seen a drunken man knows that such a man must be disliked and shunned by all good men. But there is something much worse in drunkenness than its appearance, disgusting as it is. It entirely deprives us of reason and self-control.
The young Czar, while under the influence of the wine which he had taken to excess, in a moment of passion, over which he no longer had any control, drew his sword upon his friend Le Fort. Happily he escaped without sustaining any severe injury. When the effect of the wine had passed away, and Peter became sensible of what he had done, he was horrorstruck. He begged pardon of his friend, and bewailing