Peter the Great: Emperor of All Russia

By Ian Grey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER X
The Navy 1697-1698

PETER returned from the capture of Azov with two great projects in mind. The first was the creation of a navy; the second, stemming from the first, was to send young Russians abroad to study seamanship, navigation, and shipbuilding, and to visit Europe himself for the same purpose. Both projects were revolutionary, and involved immense problems. But during the next five months of winter he gave to them such impetus that, by the beginning of March 1697, work on the navy was going ahead, and many Russians were already abroad, while his embassy was on the point of departure.

Peter was now twenty-four years of age. He towered over his subjects, but it was his vitality that set him apart from other men. A demon of energy possessed him. He did not walk, but rushed; his courtiers were usually forced to break into a run to keep up with him. Even at banquets he could not remain seated for long, but would suddenly get up from his chair and hurry off to another room. He travelled constantly, covering vast distances, and going to parts of his country where no tsar had ever been. His hands were horny and permanently calloused, but they worked swiftly and skilfully to master every new craft that caught his attention. His energy was not merely physical, it was also mental. He was always learning, planning, and building. And this energy, allied with an unshakable, single-minded determination, enabled him to drive the whole nation along a road that it was reluctant to follow.

In Peter's own words, "All his thoughts had been turned to the

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