Britain's Discovery of Russia, 1553-1815

By M. S. Anderson | Go to book overview

Chapter Four
WIDENING HORIZONS, 1725-1815

His contemporaries were thus agreed that by the end of his reign Peter I had brought about a revolutionary change in Russia's European position. It might have been expected that this would produce under his successors a corresponding alteration in the attitude of the educated Englishman, that his interest in Russian affairs would grow and his attitude to them would become more sympathetic. Such expectations would have been largely disappointed. Public interest in Russia was increasing in Britain in the decades which followed the great Tsar's death, but only slowly and hesitantly. The number of books relating to Russia published in England was growing, but it remained quite small for nearly two generations and began to reach a respectable level only in the 1770's.1 Nor did the half-contemptuous patronage which had so deeply marked seventeenth-century comment on Russia disappear rapidly under the impact of her military and diplomatic successes. To the end of this period and long after the conception of her as essentially strange, exotic, and un-European, remained alive with scarcely diminished vigour. As for the last three centuries, the Don remained the most generally accepted eastern boundary of Europe, an assumption which implicitly relegated much of central Russia to the status of the westernmost part of Asia. It is true that the country was no longer a vaguely-envisaged Never-Never Land to which any prodigy of Nature could be relegated by an imaginative cosmographer. The boronets was now almost if not quite dead.2 But throughout the eighteenth

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1
For the increasing interest in Russia felt by the British reading public in the later eighteenth century see Meyendorff, loc. cit., pp. 306-8.
2
John Cook, who made enquiries about it in the 1730's in the lower Volga area, its traditional habitat, found that the people of Astrakhan laughed at the idea of

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