Екатерина II (Catherine the Great)

It could well be, however, that, looking at it from his far-off Ferney, Voltaire may have believed Catherine’s tales a la Miinchhausen, to wit, that there was no villager in Russia who would not eat chicken meat, which he would prefer to that of turkey. Catherine deemed it superfluous to invite Voltaire to see for himself the veracity of her intimations to him, all the more so as she had already had the experience of communicating with another observant French philosophe. This was Denis Diderot. The latter, on arriving at St. Petersburg in 1775, showed himself to be a rhapsodic, garrulous, and credulous man. The empress sensed her superiority over this simpleton, and easily cleared up all his “tricky” queries regarding serfdom and autocracy in Russia, leading him completely astray. Yet this philosophe, whom she thought to have twisted around her little finger, picked at her famous Nakaz (Instruction to the Legislative Commission), which naturally incurred her displeasure.
As to the impressions made on her by Diderot’s philosophical concepts, they were most unfavorable. “I conversed with him often and at length, but with more curiosity than gain. If I had believed him, all would have been upset in my empire; legislation, administration, politics, finances, I would have overturned everything for the sake of impractical theories.” This is what she said to Diderot himself: “In all of your plans for reform you forget the difference between our two positions: you work only on paper, which tolerates everything, is uniform and supple, posing no obstacles either to your imagination or to your quill; while I, a poor Empress, work on human skin, which is much more irritable and ticklish.

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3 Responses to Екатерина II (Catherine the Great)

  1. shinichi says:

    Five Empresses: Court Life in Eighteenth-century Russia

    by Evgeniĭ Viktorovich Anisimov

  2. shinichi says:

    A great wind is blowing, and that gives you either imagination or a headache.

    I am one of the people who love the why of things.

    I beg you take courage; the brave soul can mend even disaster.

    In my position you have to read when you want to write and to talk when you would like to read.

    The more a man knows, the more he forgives.

  3. shinichi says:

    Different translations:

    You work only on paper, which tolerates everything, is uniform and supple, posing no obstacles either to your imagination or to your quill; while I, a poor Empress, work on human skin, which is much more irritable and ticklish.

    You work only on paper which accepts anything, is smooth and flexible and offers no obstacles either to your imagination or your pen, while I, poor empress, work on human skin, which is far more sensitive and touchy.

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