Catherine II of Russia

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I like to praise and reward loudly, to blame quietly.

Catherine II of Russia or Catherine the Great (Екатерина II Алексеевна [Yekaterína II Alekséyevna] (21 April 1729 {2 May O.S.} – 6 November 1796 {17 November O.S.}) reigned as Empress of Russia for more than three decades; born Sophie Augusta Fredericka of Anhalt-Zerbst

Quotes[edit]

I will live to make myself not feared.
Power without a nation's confidence is nothing.
The Laws ought to be so framed, as to secure the Safety of every Citizen as much as possible.
If any one Citizen could do what the Laws forbid, there would be no more Liberty; because others would have an equal Power of doing the same.
  • I like to praise and reward loudly, to blame quietly.
    • As quoted in The Historians' History of the World (1904) by Henry Smith Williams, p. 423
    • Variant: I praise loudly. I blame softly.
      • As quoted in The Affairs of Women: A Modern Miscellany (2006) by Colin Bingham, p. 367
  • I will live to make myself not feared.
    • As quoted in The Historians' History of the World (1904) by Henry Smith Williams, p. 423
  • The Governing Senate. . . has deemed it necessary to make known... that the landlords' serfs and peasants . . . owe their landlords proper submission and absolute obedience in all matters, according to the laws that have been enacted from time immemorial by the autocratic forefathers of Her Imperial Majesty and which have not been repealed, and which provide that all persons who dare to incite serfs and peasants to disobey their landlords shall be arrested and taken to the nearest government office, there to be punished forthwith as disturbers of the public tranquillity, according to the laws and without leniency. And should it so happen that even after the publication of the present decree of Her Imperial Majesty any serfs and peasants should cease to give the proper obedience to their landlords . . . and should make bold to submit unlawful petitions complaining of their landlords, and especially to petition Her Imperial Majesty personally, then both those who make the complaints and those who write up the petitions shall be punished by the knout and forthwith deported to Nerchinsk to penal servitude for life and shall be counted as part of the quota of recruits which their landlords must furnish to the army. And in order that people everywhere may know of the present decree, it shall be read in all the churches on Sundays and holy days for one month after it is received and therafter once every year during the great church festivals, lest anyone pretend ignorance.
    • Decree on Serfs (1767) as quoted in A Source Book for Russian History Vol. 2 (1972) by George Vernadsky
  • Assuredly men of merit are never lacking at any time, for those are the men who manage affairs, and it is affairs that produce the men. I have never searched, and I have always found under my hand the men who have served me, and for the most part I have been well served.
    • As quoted in Woman Through the Ages;; (1908) by Emil Reich, p. 155
  • Your wit makes others witty.
    • Letter to Voltaire, as quoted in Short Sayings of Great Men : With Historical and Explanatory Notes (1882) by Samuel Arthur Bent, and Hoyt's New Cyclopedia of Practical Quotations (1922) revised and enlarged by Kate Loise Roberts
  • A great wind is blowing, and that gives you either imagination or a headache.
  • Power without a nation's confidence is nothing.
    • As quoted in And I Quote : The Definitive Collection of Quotes, Sayings, and Jokes for the Contemporary Speechmaker (1992) by Ashton Applewhite, Tripp Evans, and Andrew Frothingham, p. 278
  • You philosophers are lucky men. You write on paper and paper is patient. Unfortunate Empress that I am, I write on the susceptible skins of living beings.
    • Letter to Denis Diderot, as quoted in The Affairs of Women : A Modern Miscellany (2006) by Colin Bingham

Proposals for a New Law Code (1768)[edit]

The Laws ought to be so framed, that no one Citizen should stand in Fear of another; but that all of them should stand in Fear of the same Laws.
The Usage of Torture is contrary to all the Dictates of Nature and Reason; even Mankind itself cries out against it, and demands loudly the total Abolition of it.
When the Fate of a Citizen is in Question, all Prejudices arising from the Difference of Rank or Fortune should be stifled; because they ought to have no Influence between the Judges and the Parties accused.
Documents of Catherine the Great: The Correspondence with Voltaire and the Instruction of 1767 in the English Text of 1768 (1931) translations by W. F. Reddaway
  • The Sovereign is absolute; for there is no other Authority but that which centers in his single Person, that can act with a Vigour proportionate to the Extent of such a vast Dominion.
    The Extent of the Dominion requires an absolute Power to be vested in that Person who rules over it. It is expedient so to be, that the quick Dispatch of Affairs, sent from distant Parts, might make ample Amends for the Delay occasioned by the great Distance of the Places.
    Every other Form of Government whatsoever would not only have been prejudicial to Russia, but would even have proved its entire Ruin.
  • It is better to be subject to the Laws under one Master, than to be subservient to many.
  • What is the true End of Monarchy? Not to deprive People of their natural Liberty; but to correct their Actions, in order to attain the supreme Good.
    The Form of Government, therefore, which best attains this End, and at the same Time sets less Bounds than others to natural Liberty, is that which coincides with the Views and Purposes of rational Creatures, and answers the End, upon which we ought to fix a steadfast Eye in the Regulations of civil Polity.
  • The Intention and the End of Monarchy, is the Glory of the Citizens, of the State, and of the Sovereign.
    But, from this Glory, a Sense of Liberty arises in a People governed by a Monarch; which may produce in these States as much Energy in transacting the most important Affairs, and may contribute as much to the Happiness of the Subjects, as even Liberty itself....
  • The Laws ought to be so framed, as to secure the Safety of every Citizen as much as possible.
  • The Equality of the Citizens consists in this; that they should all be subject to the same Laws.
    This Equality requires Institutions so well adapted, as to prevent the Rich from oppressing those who are not so wealthy as themselves, and converting all the Charges and Employments intrusted to them as Magistrates only, to their own private Emolument....
  • In a State or Assemblage of People that live together in a Community, where there are Laws, Liberty can only consist in doing that which every One ought to do, and not to be constrained to do that which One ought not to do.
  • A Man ought to form in his own Mind an exact and clear Idea of what Liberty is. Liberty is the Right of doing whatsoever the Laws allow: And if any one Citizen could do what the Laws forbid, there would be no more Liberty; because others would have an equal Power of doing the same.
  • The political Liberty of a Citizen is the Peace of Mind arising from the Consciousness, that every Individual enjoys his peculiar Safety; and in order that the People might attain this Liberty, the Laws ought to be so framed, that no one Citizen should stand in Fear of another; but that all of them should stand in Fear of the same Laws....
  • The Usage of Torture is contrary to all the Dictates of Nature and Reason; even Mankind itself cries out against it, and demands loudly the total Abolition of it.
  • That Law, therefore, is highly beneficial to the Community where it is established, which ordains that every Man shall be judged by his Peers and Equals. For when the Fate of a Citizen is in Question, all Prejudices arising from the Difference of Rank or Fortune should be stifled; because they ought to have no Influence between the Judges and the Parties accused.
  • No Man ought to be looked upon as guilty, before he has received his judicial Sentence; nor can the Laws deprive him of their Protection, before it is proved that he has forfeited all Right to it. What Right therefore can Power give to any to inflict Punishment upon a Citizen at a Time, when it is yet dubious, whether he is Innocent or guilty?
  • A Society of Citizens, as well as every Thing else, requires a certain fixed Order: There ought to be some to govern, and others to obey. And this is the Origin of every Kind of Subjection; which feels itself more or less alleviated, in Proportion to the Situation of the Subjects.And, consequently, as the Law of Nature commands Us to take as much Care, as lies in Our Power, of the Prosperity of all the People; we are obliged to alleviate the Situation of the Subjects, as much as sound Reason will permit. And therefore, to shun all Occasions of reducing People to a State of Slavery, except the utmost Necessity should inevitably oblige us to do it; in that Case, it ought not to be done for our own Benefit; but for the Interest of the State: Yet even that Case is extremely uncommon. Of whatever Kind Subjection may be, the civil Laws ought to guard, on the one Hand, against the Abuse of Slavery, and, on the other, against the Dangers which may arise from it.
  • It seems too, that the Method of exacting their Revenues, newly invented by the Lords, diminishes both the Inhabitants, and the Spirit of Agriculture in Russia. Almost all the Villages are heavily taxed. The Lords, who seldom or never reside in their Villages, lay an Impost on every Head of one, two, and even five Rubles, without the least Regard to the Means by which their Peasants may be able to raise this Money.
    It is highly necessary that the Law should prescribe a Rule to the Lords, for a more judicious Method of raising their Revenues; and oblige them to levy such a Tax, as tends least to separate the Peasant from his House and Family; this would be the Means by which Agriculture would become more extensive, and Population be more increased in the Empire.

Memoirs[edit]

To tempt, and to be tempted, are things very nearly allied.
There is nothing, it seems to me, so difficult as to escape from that which is essentially agreeable.
Quotes from Memoirs of the Empress Catherine II (1859) published by D. Appleton & Co., and The Memoirs of Catherine the Great as translated by Markus Cruse and Hilde Hoogenboom (2005) (hardcover, ISBN 0679642994); 2006 (paperback, ISBN 0812969871)

1728—43 Peter III’s childhood and education...

  • They raised the Prince for the throne of Sweden in a court that was too large for the country in which it was located and that was divided into several factions, which hated each other and vied to control the Prince’s mind, which each faction wanted to shape. As a result, these factions inspired in him the reciprocal hatred they felt against the individuals they opposed.
  • From the age of ten, Peter III was partial to drink.
  • The education of Peter III was undermined by a clash of unfortunate circumstances. I will relate what I have seen and heard, and that in itself will clarify many things. I saw Peter III for the first time when he was eleven years old, in Eutin at the home of his guardian, the Prince Bishop of Lübeck. Some months after the death of Duke Karl Friedrich, Peter III’s father, the Prince Bishop had in 1739 assembled all of his family at his home in Eutin to have his ward brought there. My grandmother, mother of the Prince Bishop, and my mother, sister of this same Prince, had come there from Hamburg with me. I was ten years old at the time.... It was then that I heard it said among this assembled family that the young duke was inclined to drink, that his attendants found it difficult to prevent him from getting drunk at meals, that he was restive and hotheaded, did not like his attendants and especially Brümmer, and that otherwise he showed vivacity, but had a delicate and sickly appearance. In truth, his face was pale in color and he seemed to be thin and of a delicate constitution. His attendants wanted to give this child the appearance of a mature man, and to this end they hampered and restrained him, which could only inculcate falseness in his conduct as well as his character.

1744 Catherine’s arrival in Russia...

  • The Grand Duke appeared to rejoice at the arrival of my mother and myself. I was in my fifteenth year. During the first ten days he paid me much attention. Even then and in that short time, I saw and understood that he did not care much for the nation that he was destined to rule, and that he clung to Lutheranism, did not like his entourage, and was very childish. I remained silent and listened, and this gained me his trust. I remember him telling me that among other things, what pleased him most about me was that I was his second cousin, and that because I was related to him, he could speak to me with an open heart. Then he told me that he was in love with one of the Empress’s maids of honor, who had been dismissed from court because of the misfortune of her mother, one Madame Lopukhina, who had been exiled to Siberia, that he would have liked to marry her, but that he was resigned to marry me because his aunt desired it. I listened with a blush to these family confidences, thanking him for his ready trust, but deep in my heart I was astonished by his imprudence and lack of judgment in many matters.

1752

  • To tempt, and to be tempted, are things very nearly allied, and, in spite of the finest maxims of morality impressed upon the mind, whenever feeling has anything to do in the matter, no sooner is it excited than we have already gone vastly farther than we are aware of, and I have yet to learn how it is possible to prevent its being excited.
    Flight alone is, perhaps, the only remedy; but there are cases and circumstances in which flight becomes impossible, for how is it possible to fly, shun, or turn one's back in the midst of a court? The very attempt would give rise to remarks. Now, if you do not fly, there is nothing, it seems to me, so difficult as to escape from that which is essentially agreeable. All that can be said in opposition to it will appear but a prudery quite out of harmony with the natural instincts of the human heart; besides, no one holds his heart in his hand, tightening or relaxing his grasp of it at pleasure.


Misattributed[edit]

  • The more a man knows, the more he forgives.
    • Widely attributed to Catherine II online, this has been atributted to Confucius in published books, but no print sources attribute this to Catherine.

Quotes about Catherine II[edit]

As a ruler, Catherine professed a great contempt for system … She declared that in politics a capable ruler must be guided by "circumstances, conjectures and conjunctions."
  • This princess seems to combine every kind of ambition in her person. Everything that may add luster to her reign will have some attraction for her. Science and the arts will be encouraged to flourish in the empire, projects useful for the domestic economy will be undertaken. She will endeavor to reform the administration of justice and to invigorate the laws; but her policies will be based on Machiavellianism; and I should not be surprised if in this field she rivals the king of Prussia. She will adopt the prejudices of her entourage regarding the superiority of her power and will endeavor to win respect not by the sincerity and probity of her actions but also by an ostentatious display of her strength. Haughty as she is, she will stubbornly pursue her undertakings and will rarely retrace a false step. Cunning and falsity appear to be vices in her character; woe to him who puts too much trust in her. Love affairs may become a stumbling block to her ambition and prove fatal for her peace of mind. This passionate princess, still held in check by the fear and consciousness of internal troubles, will know no restraint once she believes herself firmly established.
    • Baron de Breteuil as quoted in A Source Book for Russian History Vol. 2 (1972) by George Vernadsky
  • Powerful women are either sexually voracious rulers like Catherine the Great or Elizabeth I, or treacherous bitches like Cleopatra or Helen of Troy.
    • Celia Brayfield, English writer and journalist, co-founder of the UK's National Academy of Writing, as quoted in Women's Wicked Wit : From Jane Austen to Roseanne Barr (2001) by Michelle Lovric
  • As a ruler, Catherine professed a great contempt for system, which she said she had been taught to despise by her master Voltaire. She declared that in politics a capable ruler must be guided by "circumstances, conjectures and conjunctions."
    • "Catherine II" article in The Encyclopædia Britannica 11th edition (1910), Vol. V, p. 527; What here appears as a paraphrased statement was later quoted as if it were a direct quote in Thesaurus of Epigrams (1948) by Edmund Fuller, and One Thousand Sayings of History Presented as Pictures in Prose (1971) by Walter Fogg: "In politics a capable ruler must be guided by circumstances, conjectures and conjunctions."

External links[edit]

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