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by Lyubov MANKOVA, Cand. Sc. (Philology)
A diplomatic war that broke out between Russia and Great Britain in 1716 ended in the "Hanover quarrel" four years later and in the breakup of diplomatic relations (restored but ten years after). Upon King George I's death the British government made the first conciliatory move by appointing C. Rondo a special envoy at the Russian court. Prince Antiokh (Antioch) Kantemir (1708 - 1744) represented our country's interests vis-a-vis Europe's greatest power.
The British envoy filed a report to his government on November 4, 1731: that the Russian Empress Anna Ivanovna had chosen Prince Antiokh Kantemir, son of Moldavia's former gospodar' (ruler), as resident envoy to London. Soon after, Rondo made a personal acquaintance of the Russian ambassador designate whom he, together with other very important persons of the Russian court, invited to formal dinner. -The prince looks quite young, the Englishman wrote. -He is a man of sound reason, fluent in French and in several other languages. Concerning his young age, Count Osterman said he (Kantemir) was twenty-eight, and a worthy individual at that; his young years could in no way interfere with the conductance of affairs between the courts of the two countries...
Kantemir was actually but twenty-two. This embarrassed the Russian empress-could a young man like that be competent in international politics with so many knotty issues? Pushing against France, Britain had emerged as the world's Number One power. Meanwhile, our country's prestige had fallen dramatically; European countries capitalized on this fact by stepping up their anti-Russian activity. Considering this balance of forces, it was particularly difficult to forge friendly relations with "misty Albion"; an experienced diplomat was needed for that, not a young man wedded to the sciences. It was Count Ernst Biron (Bieren), a court favorite, who talked Empress Anna Ivanovna into appointing Prince Kantemir Russia's resident envoy to London. Biron said he was sure of Kantemir and his abilities. The empress endorsed his appointment and, on the first of January 1732, Antiokh Kantemir left the Russian capital, St. Petersburg. He never came back. As Rondo said in his epistle to Lord Harrington, he hoped His
Excellency would like the man despite his youth and lack of practical experience.
Beginning a diplomatic career at the court of a great power like England was a job of work. On his way to London, Prince Kantemir stopped over in Berlin and in The Hague, where he had a talk with two veteran Russian diplomats and ambassadors P. Yaguzhinsky and A. Golovkin. Their advice proved of good use. As savant, the prince was known amongst London's scientific community. But he had to show his paces as diplomat.
Antiokh Kantemir was born in Constantinople on September 10, 1708. Among his father's ancestors was the legendary warlord and emir of Central Asia Tamerlane (14th century). His mother, Cassandra Kantakusen, was a descendant of Byzantine emperors. Both parents were among the best-educated people of that time,
and were distinguished for high moral virtues. The works of his father, Dmitry Kantemir, were well known in Europe. Prince Dmitry Kantemir, an erudite savant, was a member of the Berlin Academy of Sciences.
Even when a boy, Antiokh could speak several languages, with Greek spoken as mother tongue in the family. Father and mother took charge of his education. Particular attention was given to mathematics, astronomy, physics and other sciences essential to military career. His tutors were foremost savants of the day: Anastasy Kondoidi, a Greek priest (and subsequently, Bishop of Vologda), taught Old Greek, Latin and Italian-Kondoidi came to Russia together with the Kantemirs; the other tutor was Ivan Ilyinsky, a brilliant expert in Old Russian letters and the Russian language at large (after-wards he became a translator at the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences). He instilled a good sense of philology in Antioch Kantemir, destined to become Russia's first secular poet. Antiokh gained but little from his course at Moscow's Slavonic-Greek-Latin Academy. Rhetoric was taught in a simplistic, primitive way reduced to a schoolbook repetition of formal corollaries and hollow phrases, and that kind of claptrap: say, was the woman a human being for lack of a beard? All that was muddled in mythological terminology. Now, the subjects discussed in physics: were roses in paradise without thorns? Was paradise still in existence, and if it was, what had it been like under Adam and Eve? But Kantemir recalled with much gratitude the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences opened in 1725 and a university set up under its wing. * Premier lecturers were there. Antiokh said he gained a lot from the lectures of the first Russian academicians-Johann Bernoulli (mathematics), Georg Buelfinger (physics), Gotlieb Beier (history), Christian Gross (philosophy), among others. A course in ethical philosophy by Ch. Gross had a particular impact on the young prince. These lecturers were amazed at the young man's great talents, and they thought he might make a good president of the Academy of Sciences in time.
Antiokh inherited from his parents, alongside diligence, and love of the arts and sciences, a mild temper as well. According to G. Beier, the young man was remarkable for "affable ways and manners that made even strangers
* See: Zh. Alferov, E. Tropp, "St. Petersburg's Window on Science", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2003. -Ed
glow on him". And yet he was resolute in discarding whatever could look useless to him or could disagree with his credo. Straightforward and upright, Kantemir was intolerant of cunning and duplicity, which was a drawback for an ambassador of the time.
On April 7, 1732, Lord Harrington wrote a long letter to C. Rondo which said this in part: Prince Antiokh Kantemir arrived last week as Her Majesty's resident and, in a day or two, was kindly received by the king in an audience granted to him. - You can tell ministers of the Russian court, Lord Harrington continued, that His Majesty was pleased at Her Majesty's avowed desire to keep amicable relations with the king, as testified by the arrival of the prince; on his part, His Majesty would miss no opportunity in furthering good accord and friendship between Russia and Great Britain. As to the person of the prince who had arrived as resident envoy, he was making a very favorable impression on everybody. Lord Harrington assured that the English would to their utmost to make his stay in England pleasant.
The Russian ambassador had to deal with a strong opponent. Two brothers, Robert and Horace Walpol, determined Britain's policy at home and overseas as omnipotent ministers of H.M. cabinet. The older of the twain, Robert, was an excellent champion of parliamentary debates. Shrewd and incorruptible, he had a perfect knowledge of his country and people. But the younger brother was known as the most eccentric and capricious amongst the English. He masked his real countenance. Horace Walpol was a mastermind in pulling the strings of politics and in embarrassing the policy-makers. The two brothers were backed by Duke T. Newcastle, the Secretary of State, a sly and cunning man who wielded immense power.
But Kantemir came to like Lord Harrington for the same inherent merits proper to his own self, such as wit, honesty, uprightness and industry. So it was natural that the Englishman appreciated the moral virtues of the Russian diplomat too.
In spite of his youth, Kantemir could find favor with the English court (with the queen in particular) and gain respect of the Walpol brothers. He was regarded as a representative of the young nobility of new Russia and thus become recognized and accepted.
Upon his arrival in London Antiokh Kantemir got busy right away. To begin with, he had to help out dozens of native Russians stranded in London and left by the government, which once had sent them thither, at the mercy of fate. Debt-ridden, some of them faced the prospect of ending their days in jaH. The ambassador appealed time and again to the Russian empress to pay off their debts, but all in vain. Ultimately he paid up his own money to save the unfortunates.
The young diplomat took great pains to rebut the slanderous rumors about Russia spread by the press and sundry gentlemen of fortune. London had to recall its ambassador to Constantinople, Lord Keenul, who was viciously intriguing against Russia. Kantemir got the British government to recognize Anna Ivanovna as Russian titular empress and elevate the status of the British resident envoy in Russia to that of an ambassador (minister) plenipotentiary.
The year 1733 was the acid test for Kantemir in many ways. The death of Polish King August II precipitated a bitter struggle among European countries for influence in Poland. France spent over a million livres (French pounds) to back up its stooge Stanislaw Leszczynski. St. Petersburg, too, came up with its candidate to the Polish throne, a Kurfurst of Saxony and son of the deceased king. There was a smell of gunpowder in Europe's air. Subsidized by France, Sweden was all set to invade Russia should the latter interfere. The same threat came from the Ottoman Empire which concentrated a vast army at Russia's southern borders. It was highly important to persuade the English court to support the Russian candidature. The British cabinet acquiesced on condition that a free election of the king be held. Yet the Polish Sejm (diet) elected the French puppet, S. Leszczynski, by a majority of votes. Russia retaliated by sending in troops and had August III installed as king of the Rzeczpospolita (Poland was an elected monarchy).
At Kantemir's urgent request England recognized E. Biron as legitimate duke of Kurland in 1737 (that is an amicable settlement was found for a territory annexed by Russia in the west).
In 1734 Russia and Great Britain signed a treaty of friendship, mutual trade and sea navigation for a term of fifteen years. That was an hour of triumph for Antiokh Kantemir as diplomat.
But he never abandoned his scientific and literary pursuits either. As Academician G. Beier recalled, Kantemir spent his hours of leisure for broadening his mind in a land that had become a mother country for the arts and sciences. His home turned into an assembly of scholars attracted by his glory and kindly manners.
The hard strenuous work told soon on Kantemir's health, his eyesight in particular. He had to go to France and consult C. Jeandron, a court doctor of the Duke of Orleans, and Europe's best eye doctor. Besides, he was one of the greatest erudites of the time. It might be then that Kantemir met Voltaire, the French philosopher and writer.
On May 31, 1737, Kantemir received an order: begin corresponding with the French ambassador to London Chavigny concerning the resumption of friendship with the Versailles court. The negotiations came off brilliantly. Kantemir showed himself a master diplomat who posed a threat to our country's enemies; they made a provocative attempt at compromising him in the eyes of the Russian government so as to get it to recall the dangerous ambassador. A libellous accusation caused a scandal in St. Petersburg. Kantemir got a sharpreprimand, and he had to write quite a few letters to vindicate his just cause. Here's what the slanderous charge was all about. The prince had allegedly told the French ambassador that the Austrian emperor did not advise the Russian empress, Anna Ivanovna, agree to
Louis XVs mediation in peace-making with Turkey. And yet Anna Ivanovna, this piece of advice notwithstanding, was inclined to accept the services of that "most Christian of kings" (i.e. Louis XV, King of France) and make peace with Turkey. This rumor was a lie out of the whole cloth. Kantemir was prepared to make an oath that nothing of the kind had ever happened. Finally, he secured a letter from the French ambassador to London exculpating him for just cause. The Russian government saw that its ambassador was innocent. To make good the wrong done to him, it appointed the prince an ambassador (minister) plenipotentiary to France. All kinds of favors came thick and fast. Kantemir was granted a chamberlain's rank, and his emoluments were raised.
Meanwhile the British ambassador to St. Petersburg, C. Rondo, dispatched an urgent message to London on June 27, 1738. The matter was urgent indeed. He said he was summoned to Vice-Chancellor Count Osterman for a private audience in the evening. On Her Majesty's orders, the count read out a paper for the ambassador's eye only. Osterman likewise confided that Her Majesty took a sudden decision to appoint Prince Kantemir ambassador to France so as to show the Swedish diet (riksdag) that should it decide on hostile actions toward Russia, Sweden could not reckon on assistance from the French court, for Russia had good relations with it-so good as to send a minister plenipotentiary.
The gist of the note (which Count Osterman allowed the British ambassador to copy) boiled down to the following. Considering the actual situation and in view of the pending peace negotiations with the Ottoman Porte (Turkey), Russia had to resume a direct intercourse with France and dispatch an ambassador to the Versailles court, namely Prince Kantemir, a man known amongst the French court. Accordingly, Her Majesty had credentials sent to him. The Russian empress stressed her deep respect for the British king and desired sincerely to maintain in every possible way the friendship between Russia and Great Britain forever to the mutual advantage of both countries. Her Majesty would act promptly and send a new ambassador to London of the same rank and powers as the prince.
On August 27, 1738, Antiokh Kantemir bowed a farewell to King George II, and arrived in Paris on the seventh of September.
The six years in England was a good diplomatic school for Kantemir. Taking leave of that country, the Russian diplomat gave H.M. a detailed account of London's statesmen and lineup offerees. The new ambassador, Count Semyon Vorontsov, could thus benefit from this information and take his bearings.
It was a sad farewell for the prince. He came to like England, with her free morals, civilized ways and the honor accorded to scholars and men of letters.
He had to start with a clean slate in France and get the two countries, Russia and France, forge relations in spite of their different interests. The Versailles court took Kantemir for an anglophile; accordingly, Cardinal de Fleury (actual ruler of France) and his right hand, Secretaire-d'Etat Amelot, eyed him with much suspicion. Kantemir had to avert fresh diplomatic scandals, as the one caused by the political assassination of Major Sinclaire of Sweden (murdered in Silesia at St. Petersburg's orders). To ward off the deadly menace to Russia, Kantemir renounced the familial right of rule in the Principality of Moldavia.
In the teeth of all travails, Kantemir came through with flying colors as a subtle diplomat well conversant with international politics and French life styles. All that boosted Russia's prestige. Contemporaries put down the successful performance of the Russian ambassador both in London and in Paris to his lofty morals that imparted a good deal of honesty and candor to diplomacy, much more than it was customary.
Besides, Kantemir was actively involved in things other than diplomacy. Time and again he met scholars and savants, carried out commissions of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences and court dignitaries. He translated world literature masterpieces into Russian, and wrote extensive commentaries to works of popular science; he interpreted terminology and bits of evidence related to history, philosophy, mythology and geography. As linguist and philologist, he enriched our native tongue with many words that are still in use today.
At his request two Paris artists, Soubairan and Ville, created an engraved portrait of Peter I with the aim of "multiplying" the image of the first Russian emperor "in alien parts to the wonder of peoples". Kantemir did much in bringing Russian themes to Western literature. He personally participated in the publication and stage presentation of the tragedy "Menshikov" by the French playwright Pierre Moran, a piece that was followed by others picturing Peter the Great as an enlightened monarch. Kanternir promoted Russia's cultural rapprochement with European countries in many ways-through scholarly and literary contacts, book exchanges between the St. Petersburg and Paris Academy of Sciences. His personal connections played a part too.
Pierre Louis Maupertuis (who was like Kantemir, Johann Bernoulli's pupil) was elected honorary member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences in 1738 at Kantemir's recommendation. Maupertuis called on his friend every day as he, Kantemir, came down with a grave illness. He was sinking fast. The best Paris medics tried to save the life of the Russian ambassador, but all in vain.
On March 31,1744, Antiokh Kantemir-Russia's first secular poet, diplomat and scholar-passed away. Kantemir's satires published in his lifetime in England, Germany, France and Italy, saw print in his native country, Russia, only with the accession to the throne of Catherine II. In the words of Vissarion Belinsky, our illustrious literary critic of the 19th century, "Kantemir raised an immortal, though small and modest, monument to himself."
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