- By the Banks of the Neva: Chapters from the Lives and Careers of the British in Eighteenth-Century Russia, and: Working the Rough Stone: Freemasonry and Society in Eighteenth-Century Russia, and: Russian Subjects: Empire, Nation, and the Culture of the Golden Age
The new work of Anthony G. Cross is an important addition to the extensive historiography of Anglo-Russian relations. This remarkable study both complements his earlier By the Banks of the Thames: Russians in Eighteenth-Century Britain (1980), and offers a unique insight into the very heart of the mechanism of intellectual exchange as “an interflow of people teaching or acquiring skills, working, learning, and observing” (3). Based on numerous published and unpublished sources from libraries and archives in Russia, the United Kingdom, and Ireland, the book contains a wealth of information about the British community and its members—merchants, chaplains, physicians, naval officers, shipbuilders, engineers, crafstmen, and artists—and provides the most comprehensive analysis of the writings of British travelers and tourists, including women travelers. The eight chapters offer a fascinating series of case studies of the lives and careers of the members of the thriving British community in eighteenth-century St. Petersburg.
The study spans the most remarkable era in the history of Anglo-Russian relations, documenting the time when the two nations treated each other as “the most favoured nations” and “faithful allies,” and Russians happily embraced European Anglomania. Professor Cross demonstrates the importance of British contributions to Russian commerce, technology, military power, and art. St. Petersburg Britons were admired as carriers of solid British virtues in contrast with flimsy French morals, and everything English, or purported to be, was eagerly sought after. While Anglomania made British contributions all the more effective, what the British brought was not [End Page 301] always dignified. Indeed, the list of British clubs included the scandalous British Monastery and the Order of the Beggar’s Benison, the former being the one that might have inspired Peter in instituting the scandalous Most Drunken Synod.
St. Petersburg Britons, especially clerics and doctors, were instrumental in the flow of all kinds of historical, astronomical, geographical, geological, botanical, and zoological data from Russia to Great Britain. By the end of the 1770s Russia had become part of the northern version of the Grand Tour and it was the northern capital of St. Petersburg that created Russian tourism. St. Petersburg’s quasi-European setting provided a comfortably familiar environment for British tourists. True to the founder’s intention, St. Petersburg remained the door “by which the West not only entered but also attempted to understand.” However, despite this exchange of information, people, and ideas, stereotyping remained strong. For instance, contempt toward Russians blinded the British government to Russia’s emergence as a great naval power, which was largely the result of the effort of British officers in the Russian service.
The “Little London” in the heart of the Russian Empire was also an integral part of the home country. Merchants of the Russia Company, rather than the ambassador, who was “a guest invited to their balls and other social functions,” constituted the core of the community. St. Petersburg British faithfully imitated the institutions, entertainments, and clubs of the mother country. The very fact that Britons of all walks of life wanted to come to Russia, eagerly sought employment once there, established dynasties, and remained in Russia even during periods of cooling diplomatic relations, suggests that in the eighteenth-century, Russia, or at least St. Petersburg, was regarded as a part of the European world where a Briton felt quite at home.
A study of eighteenth-century Freemasonry requires rather heavy cleaning of...