Western Culture Comes to Russia

W. Bruce Lincoln describes how Enlightenment figures and themes drifted gradually westward, to the Russia of Peter the Great.

A rude and barbarous kingdom, Western travellers used to say in their descriptions of the Muscovite state of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The sixteenth-century English merchant and ambassador, Anthony Jenkinson, described the society that he encountered in Moscow as one composed of ‘talkers, liars, flatterers, and dissemblers’, while Sir Thomas Randolph, another envoy whom Queen Elizabeth I sent to Moscow, condemned its inhabitants for being ‘given much to drunkenness and all other kinds of abominable vices’.

Indeed, western Europeans were almost unanimous in their condemnation of the Muscovite state and society during the centuries when western Europe was experiencing the scientific revolution and embarking upon the age of discovery.

But during the course of the eighteenth century, what western observers had viewed for so long as a mysterious, backward, and barbaric kingdom was transformed into an Empire with which all of Europe had to reckon. The year 1760 saw Russia’s armies at the gates of Berlin, and 1815 found them on the boulevards of Paris.

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