Catherine: The Portrait of an Empress

Catherine: The Portrait of an Empress

Catherine: The Portrait of an Empress

Catherine: The Portrait of an Empress

Excerpt

Curiosity is persistently inherent in the human mind, which cannot contemplate or marvel at any phenomenon without demanding to know how it came about. What are lightning, thunder, ebb and flow? What is personality? What is genius?

This last question was more easily answered in the days when science halted in shuddering awe before the soul of man and paid homage to the divine spark in every human individual. But if man is no more than the child of his parents, then whatever he is, his parents will in some degree have been; and the biographer in his task of analysing personality need do no more than diligently explore the past and endeavour to assemble piece by piece the heritage which it has built up.

There are few characters in history who have defied this academic conception of heredity so successfully as Catherine the Great. Neither the good in her nor the evil, neither her extraordinary intellect nor her unbridled excesses, shows her to have been the child of her parents. None of her many characteristics--her despotism, her tolerance, her insane recklessness, her wisdom, her generosity, her ruthlessness, least of all her genius and her depravity--can be traced to any one of her ancestors.

Even during her lifetime people found it difficult to connect the "Semiramis of the North" with the little German Princess of Anhalt-Zerbst she was by birth. Russian Court gossip named as her father a certain Count J. J. Betzkoy, for no other apparent reason . . .

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