Peter the Great
In 1699, Peter experienced a severe loss in the death of his friend and counselor, General Le Fort, on whom he bestowed funeral honors similar to those awarded to former sovereigns. He assisted, himself, in the procession, marching after the captains as a lieutenant, which rank he held in Le Fort's regiment. It was also about this time that he lost his able general, Gordon, whose soldierly qualities had been so essential to him in the reformation of his army. Menzikoff, who had risen from obscurity by his talents and activity, now became the favorite and counselor of Peter. The Strelitzes those instruments of insurrection and turbulence were now supplanted by twenty-seven new regiments of infantry and two of cavalry, who, within three months, were disciplined and brought into marching order. Nothing but merit and length of services was regarded in the appointment of officers. Besides the reconstitution of the military, Peter now devoted himself with incessant activity to the internal regulation of . his empire, which assumed, by degrees, the appearance of a new creation.
It was now that the czar turned his attention to change the inconvenient customs of his people. To do this, he began by levying a tax upon long beards and petticoats patterns of closebodied coats being hung up in public places. But so attached were they to old customs, that his revenue was increased, instead of their dress being altered. His next proceeding savors somewhat of the ludicrous. He stationed tailors and barbers at each of the gates of Moscow, whose duty it was to cut the beard and whiskers of every man who entered, and 'to cut his petticoats all round about.' In the process of the latter mutilation, the victim was made to kneel down, when his garments were clipped on a level with the ground. An anecdote is told which has something almost affecting, in the proof it affords of the earnestness with which these poor people clung to their unclean and inconvenient habits. The czar on one occasion met an old man coming from the barber, and addressed him, saying that he looked like a young man, now he had lost his beard upon which the man put his hand into his bosom, and drew forth the beard which had been cut off, telling the czar he should preserve it, in order to have it put into his coffin, that he might be able to produce it to St. Nicholas in the other world!
About this time the czar altered the commencement of the year from the 1st of September to the 1st of January - a proceeding which gave almost equal offense to his people, who thought he was undertaking to change the course of the sun. He next instituted assemblies for the encouragement of social intercourse between the sexes, that people might have a reasonable opportunity of forming suitable marriages. Hitherto wives had been sought in the Asiatic manner - the bride being given away or sold by her parents, without being previously seen by the intended bridegroom. And while all these social and moral reformations were going on, Peter was building a fleet on the Don, connecting that river with the Volga, and planning to wrest a sea-coast territory from a warlike nation, on which to build a new metropolis - St. Petersburg.
Hitherto the capital of Russia had been Moscow, which, being inland, was ill adapted for commerce. With a view to remedy this defect, Peter fixed on a site for his new capital at the mouth of the river Neva, and ad joining the Gulf of Finland. But the land in this quarter was not his own it belonged to Sweden. His object was therefore to seize upon one or two provinces, add them to Russia, and then commence building his town. It is distressing to have to relate such a circumstance of a man whom, on other grounds, we are inclined to respect. According to the way in which history is usually written, the commission of such acts is not only not reprobated, but in some cases is commended. We, however, cannot unite in glossing over acts of injustice, even though they be done by kings. Peter was guilty of rapacity, and the only excuse that can be found for him is, that he did nothing more than what all sovereigns of his time considered it no crime to commit. To attain his desired end in this and other respects, Peter, in 1700, entered into a political alliance with Augustus, king of Po-. land and elector of Saxony, and the king of Denmark. These three potentates combining against the youthful Charles of Sweden - who, by a sort of miracle, proved himself, at eighteen years of age, the greatest general in Europe - the car determined to take from him the provinces of Ingria and Carelia; Augustus desired to regain Esthonia and Livonia, ceded by Poland to Charles XI; and Denmark wished to regain Holsten and Sleswick. Peter invaded Ingria at the head of 60,000 men; and, desirous to find some pretext for his aggressions, could choose no better one than that his ambassadors had been charged exorbitant prices for provisions while passing through that province on their way to Holland; though he also reminded them that he himself had been insulted by being refused a sight of the citadel of Riga!