Peter the Great. What draws me to him is largely what draws me to Frederick – the mass of contradictions oozing about under his skin. The starry eyed innocence of his pleasure in mechanical devices and building things with his own hands at one moment, and the cynical mass destruction of human life in the next. In his biography of Charles XII, Voltaire summed up what was for him the essence of Peter the Great:
“He (Peter) compelled the young nobles of his realm to travel in order to educate themselves and bring back to Russia the polish they had acquired abroad. I have met young Russians who are extremely witty and knowledgeable (!). This is how a single man has changed the greatest empire in the world. It is appalling that this reformer of men should have lacked the principal virtue, humanity. Many virtues as he had, he was bestial in his pleasures, ferocious in his behavior, and barbarous in his vengeance. He civilized his subjects, but was a savage himself.”
– Count Dolby von Luckner