Peter the Great: Emperor of All Russia

By Ian Grey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXXVIII
Reform in State and Church 1714-1725

THE years after Poltava formed the period of Peter's most thoroughgoing reforms. To his people they were the years of the greatest hardships, when their Tsar was like an elemental force upturning their lives. In many fields they thwarted his plans by their conservatism and laziness, evasion, and passivity. But he was unrelenting in pursuing his objective which was a well-ordered and wealthy country, standing secure and equal with the West, and one in which all his subjects would serve and share.

In this period war neither dictated nor conditioned his reforms, and they were no longer hasty improvisations. He worked under pressure, but it was now the pressure of the massive task to be performed, and not the urgent threat of invasion. He still tackled the task piecemeal; he had no grandiose over-all scheme. He was no theorist, but a practical man, working by trial and error, and burdened by countless other responsibilities.

In the past he had adopted military and other techniques from abroad. He now borrowed political institutions, mainly from Sweden. The fact that Sweden had been such a formidable enemy and that her government had continued to function so effectively while the King was absent had given him a deep respect for the Swedish system. But he did not copy blindly. He had no thought that the West was infallible; on the contrary he regarded it as a storehouse from which he took what was of use and adaptable to Russian needs. When in April 1718 he gave instructions for the drafting of certain

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