Peter the Great
Le Fort had received the advantages of a European education, and possessed great powers of observation. It was he who explained to the czar the wonderful superiority of the trained and disciplined troops of western Europe over the wild soldiery of Russia; and now it was that Peter conceived the daring plan of annihilating the Strelitzes, who had so often been instrumental in setting up and deposing monarchs. But his measures were at present cautious and secret. Soon after his friendship for it deserved the name - with his young adviser, the czar formed a regiment on the European system, to which he appointed Le Fort colonel; and, to give his people a lesson of subordination, he entered himself as drummer I Indeed, as we shall see, it was his custom to aim at the root of all knowledge, and thoroughly master the subjects he took in hand; and he knew that he could not more thoroughly acquire a knowledge of military affairs than by passing through all the gradations of the profession.
It was through the same individual that Peter became acquainted with another person, who, in the sequel, exercised scarcely less influence in the empire than Le Fort himself. This was Menzikoff, a youth of the very humblest origin, who sought his fortune in Moscow at the age of fourteen, and became apprentice to a pastry-cook. He used to hawk cakes and pies about the streets, recommending them in a kind of song of his own composing. It was while engaged in this occupation that he attracted the attention of Le Fort, who entered into conversation with him. and, pleased with his ready wit, brought him to the czar. On Peter he must have made an equally favorable impression, for we find him mentioned as a royal page soon afterwards.
About the same time that Peter organized the body-guard under Le Fort's direction, he commenced building some vessels, with which he purposed sailing down the Don, and attacking Azoph, which was then in the hands of the Turks. A reference to the map of Europe will show the importance of this place, which is in fact the key to the Black Sea; and nothing proves more completely the genius of Peter the Great; than the intuitive knowledge he possessed of the importance of maritime power, and the wants of his vast empire. Hemmed in by enemies - for in those days neighboring states were commonly such the Black Sea commanded by the Turks, and the Baltic by the Swedes, he felt that his country could never be great till seaports were wrested from them. Former czars had issued edicts forbidding their subjects to travel beyond the empire. Peter saw that the great difficulty was, not to keep people in, but for anybody to get out; and he knew there was no better method of enlightening the ignorant, and of removing prejudices, than to encourage the influx of civilized strangers, and to afford facilities for his own people to travel in other countries. We are the last who would find merit in the exploits of mere military heroes or conquering rulers, but it is impossible to withhold our admiration from the youthful czar at this period of his career. The Ottoman empire was then one of the most powerful states in the world. A very few years before, Vienna had been besieged by 200,000 Turks, and the Emperor Leopold compelled to flee from his capital; and Sweden. was a country greatly superior in the scale of civilization, possessing disciplined and experienced troops soon to have Charles XII, the most warlike monarch in Europe, at their head. But it was not from any love of the game of war' that Peter contemplated aggressions on his neighbors, but as the necessary means to a great end. He could not humanize his people without seaports; so seaports he was determined to have.
It is said that, in his childhood, Peter I had an absurd dread of water; indeed to such an extent, that crossing a river would throw him into convulsions. A story is told of his having narrowly escaped drowning when about five years old, the fright received on that occasion being the origin of this future antipathy; but, for our own part, we have very little faith in the tradition of the czar's hydrophobia.' He was subject all his Fe to epileptic fits; but as his brothers had been afflicted with something similar, they were most probably hereditary. Perhaps the story of his dread of water was invented, to heighten the wonder of his achievements on that element. At all events, if it ever existed, it must early have been conquered; for in his boyhood he appears to have amused himself by paddling about the river Yausa, which passes through Moscow, in a little Dutch skiff, which had attracted him, from its being so superior to the flat-bottomed boats with which alone he was acquainted. Even when he had never seen the ocean, and was five hundred miles distant from the sea, he comprehended the wants of his vast unwieldy empire, and resolved that it should become a maritime power.