Russia: Tsarist and Communist

By Anatole G. Mazour | Go to book overview

14
The Reign of Paul (1796-1801)

THE UPBRINGING OF PAUL

THE SUCCESSOR of Catherine II was her son Paul, who had been waiting for thirty-four years to occupy the imperial throne. His life during these impatient years was not a happy one. The family atmosphere in which he grew up was strenuous, and antipathy between mother and son was so deeply felt that it eventually warped his character. Paul spent his early years apart from his parents at the court of Elizabeth. Severed from parental care, he was attended by numerous nurses and surrounded by an air of court intrigue and feigned solicitude which contributed little to cultivate humor or character. One is not surprised therefore to find the heir apparent a sickly youth. The prevailing court atmosphere did not favor the cultivation of a healthy mind either. Preoccupied with social entertainment, with the usual stilted ceremonies, and with political affairs, Elizabeth rarely had time to attend to the proper upbringing of the boy. He was entrusted to tutors who knew little of his needs and cared less. Paul possessed a native intelligence which was his chief saving grace. He grew up an impetuous, impulsive, unpredictable youth, at times kind, at times uncommonly callous.

At the tender age of eight Paul witnessed the overthrow of the rule of Peter III, and for a while the lad served as a kind of showpiece. Catherine II would make her appearance on her balcony with the boy above a crowd, who would applaud vigorously both the new empress and the heir apparent. But the stubborn fact remained that once Catherine grasped power she never let it out of her hands. The mysterious death of Peter III and the seizure of the throne by his mother left a profound impression with young Paul from which he was never able to free himself; through his lonely, embittered years he became vindictive, secretive, ill-tempered, and pathologically egotistic; he once observed in all seriousness that any person was important only when he spoke to Paul and even then only as long as he spoke to him.

The coup d'état of June 28, 1762, was carried out under the pretext of passing the reign to the legitimate heir, presumably Paul. But it was not long before it became indisputably clear that Catherine had not the slightest intention of letting power slip from her hands and consenting to the role of a mere regent. Paul was educated by a special tutor, a

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