Peter the Great
While in England, Peter also directed his attention to engineering; and, what is curious, received a doctorate from the university of Oxford. He took into his service upwards of five hundred persons - officers, engineers, cannoneers, surgeons, etc; in particular, a body of skillful engineers and artificers, whom he despatched to Russia, for the purpose of carrying out a great project which he had already arranged in his own far-seeing mind. This was to open a communication, by locks and canals, between the rivers Volga and Don and the Caspian Sea. And it may convey an idea of the ignorance and superstition with which . Peter had to contend, that this noble scheme raised an outcry among the priests and nobles, who declared it was a piece of impiety to turn the streams one way which Providence had directed another.' Ferguson, the celebrated engineer and geometrician, entered into his service, and was the first person who brought arithmetic into use in the exchequer of Russia. Previously, they had made use only of the Tartarian method of reckoning, by balls strung upon a wire.
In the latter end of 1698, Peter returned to Holland on his way home; and on taking leave of King William, he presented him with a ruby of the value of £10,000, drawing it from his waistcoat pocket, wrapped up in a bit of brown paper.' It was truly a royal present, though not given after a very royal fashion; but Peter had a great contempt for forms and ceremonies, and William III was far too sensible a man to stand very greatly upon them. Peter also, in return for the attentions bestowed on him by the Marquis of Caermarthen, conferred on that nobleman the right to license every hogshead of tobacco exported to Russia, and to charge five shillings for each license. This must have brought a large revenue, for an English company had thought it worth while to pay L15,000 for the monopoly of the exportation. While in London, his attention was forcibly attracted to the magnificent building of Greenwich Hospital, which, until he had visited it, and seen the old pensioners, he had some difficulty in believing to be anything but a royal palace. King William having asked him one day how he liked his hospital for decayed seamen, the czar answered, If I were the adviser of your majesty, I should counsel you to remove your court to Greenwich, and convert St. James' into a hospital.'
From Holland, Peter traveled to Vienna, most probably to have an interview with the emperor of Germany, who was no doubt very glad to obtain an ally against his old enemies, the Turks. He was received with great pomp; but, in the midst of the festivities which marked his arrival, news reached him that an insurrection had broken out in Moscow, though it had already been quelled, by the energy and decision of General Gordon, whom he had left in authority. This intelligence, however, induced him to give up a visit to Italy, which he had intended; and traveling with his usual speed, he hastened back to his capital. He soon discovered that the Strelitzes had been instigated to rebellion by the Princess Sophia, who, taking advantage of her brother's absence, had hoped to resume her authority. Several of the ringleaders were hanged within sight of Sophia's window, and others condemned to a more cruel death, and broken on the wheel. Certainly, when we consider how sanguinary the laws were at that period, even in the most civilized states of Europe, we cannot consider this retaliation undue severity on the part of Peter; indeed it appears to have been a necessary step to secure his own authority. As for the absurd stories which were current at the time, and which we are sorry to find repeated by many respectable writers, no credit should attach to them. We mean the stories of the wholesale massacres which took place Peter and his chief officers turning butchers themselves, and reveling in this preappointed slaughtering with as little compunction as sportsmen when they find themselves in a preserve of game. A closer examination of facts and authorities dispels the whole as an idle report, exaggerated as it traveled from mouth to mouth, and quite out of keeping with the real circumstances of the case. It is true that Peter had already done a great many things with his own hand' that sovereigns had seldom done before; but then they were things which no one but himself was clever enough to do. His indifference to war (except as the means to his greatends), commented on with evident astonishment by an English churchman, whom he conversed with when he visited Oxford, is a proof that he was not of a sanguinary disposition; and besides this, he wanted men so much both for soldiers and workmen, that he could not spare the two or three thousand subjects who are said to have been beheaded, or otherwise slaughtered, for after-dinner pastime. It is much more likely that he should have set them to work in the hardest and meanest capacity on the canals and bridges he was already forming.