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1800.

BIOGRAPHICAL ANECDOTES

AND

CHARACTERS.

A

BIOGRAPHICAL

ANECDOTES AND CHARACTERS.

PORTRAIT of CATHARINE II. EMPRESS of RUSSIA, with her CHARACTER, LITERARY WORKS, and MONUMENTS of her REIGN.

[From SECRET MEMOIRS of the COURT of PETERSBURG, &c. tranflated from the French.]

"TH

HOUGH feventy years of age, Catharine ftill retained fome remains of beauty. Her hair was always dreffed in an antique fimplicity, and in a peculiar tafte, and never did a crown fit better on any head than hers. She was of the middle ftature, and corpulent; few women, however, with her corpulence, would have attained the graceful and dignified carriage for which he was confpicuous. In her private life, the good humour and confidence with which the infpired all about her feemed to keep her in perpetual youth, playfulness, and gaiety. Her engaging converfation and familiar manners placed all thofe who had conftant access to her, or affifted at her toilette, perfectly at their cafe; but the moment fhe had put on her gloves to make her appearance in the neighbouring apartments, fhe affumed a fedate demeanour and a very different

countenance. From an agreeable and facetious woman, the appeared all at once the referved and majestic emprefs. Whoever had feen her then for the first time would have found her not below the idea he had previously formed, and would have faid, This is indeed the Semiramis of the north!' The maxim, Præfentia minuit famam, could no more be applied to her than to the great Frederic. I faw her once or twice a week for ten years, and every time with renewed admiration. My eagerness to examine her perfon caufed me fucceflively to negle&t proftrating myfelf before her with the crowd; but the homage I paid by gazing at her was furely more flattering. She walked flowly, and with fhort fteps; her majestic front lofty and ferene, her look tranquil, and frequently caft downwards. Her mode of faluting was by a flight inclination of the A 2 body

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body, not without grace, but with
a file at command, that came and
vanifhed with the bow. If, upon
the introduction of a stranger, fhe
prefented her hand to him to kifs,
The d'd it with great courtefy, and
commonly addreffed a few words
to him on the fubject of his journey
and his vifit: but then all the har-
mony of her countenance was in-
ftantly difcompofed, and for a mo-
ment the great Catharine was for-
gotten in the fight of the old wo-
man; as, on opening her mouth,
it was apparent that he had lost her
teeth, and her voice was broken,
and her inarticulation bad. The
lower part of her face was rather
rude and coarfe; her grey eyes,
though clear and penetrating, e-
vinced fomething of hypocrify, and
a certain wrinkle at the bafe of the
nofe gave her fomewhat of a fneer-
ing look. The celebrated Lampi
had lately painted a striking likeness
of her, though extremely flattering:
Catharine, however, remarking that
he had not entirely omitted that
unfortunate wrinkle which charac-
terifed her phyfiognomy, was great-
ly diffatisfied at it, and faid that
Lampi had made her too ferious
and too roguish. He was accord-
ingly obliged to retouch and fpoil
the picture, which appeared now
like the portrait of a young nymph;
though the throne, the fceptre, the
crown, and fome other attributes,
fufficiently indicate that it is the
picture of an emprefs. In other
refpects, the performance well de-
ferves the attention of the amateur,
as alfo does a portrait of the prefent
emprefs by the fame hand.

As to the character of Catharine, in my opinion, it can only be eftimated from her actions. Her reign, for herself and her court, had peen brilliant and happy; but the

last years of it were particularly dif、
aftrous for the people and the em-
pire. All the fprings of government
became debilitated and impaired.
Every general, governor, chief of
department, was become a petty
defpot. Rank, juftice, impunity,
were fold to the highest bidder.
An oligarchy of about a score of
knaves partitioned Ruffia, pillaged,
by themfelves or others, the fi
nances, and contended for the spoils
of the unfortunate. Their lowest
valets, and even their flaves, ob-
tained in a fhort time offices of
confiderable importance and emo-
lument. One had a falary of trom
three to four hundred rubles a year
(30 or 401.), which could not pof-
fibly be increafed by any honeft
dealing, yet was he fufficiently rich
to build round the palace houses
valued at fifty thousand crowns
(12,500.) Catharine, fo far from
inquiring into the impure fource of
fuch fudden wealth, rejoiced to fee
her capital thus embellished under
her eyes, and applauded the inor-
dinate luxury of thefe rafcals, which
fhe erroneoufly confidered as a
proof of the profperity of her reign.
In the worst days of France, pil-
lage was never fo general, and never
fo eafy. Whoever received a fum
of money from the crown for any
undertaking, had the impudence to
retain half, and afterwards com-
plained of its infufficiency, for the
purpofe of obtaining more; and
either an additional fum was grant-
ed, or the enterprise abandoned.
The great plunderers even divided
the booty of the little ones, and
thus became accomplices in their
thefts. A minifter knew almost to
a ruble what his fignature would
procure to his fecretary; and a co-
lonel felt no embarraffment in talk-
ing with a general of the profits of
the

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