Oddly enough, but Pyotr Alekseevich, the future Peter the Great, the 14th child of Alexei Mikhailovich “The Quietest” (but the first from his second wife, Natalya Kirillovna Naryshkina), received a very poor home education. At that time, Patriarch Joachim, fighting against “Latinization”, pushed the educated students of Simeon of Polotsk away from the royal court, and as a result, less literate people taught Peter. Therefore, by the way, Peter wrote with errors until the end of his life.
Peter in the 1670s
However, nature endowed the young tsar (and Peter was on the throne from the age of 10, although at first not alone!) with great curiosity and an active character. Therefore, still pushed away from the real rule by his sister Sophia, Peter, playing his amusing troops, began to independently – and with the help of the Dutch merchant Franz Timmerman – learn everything that is needed for military affairs and travel: arithmetic and geometry, astronomy and shipbuilding.
Petrovsky notes on arithmetic, 1680s
When Peter became an autocratic ruler, got used to the role of a king and fought the first wars, he went on his first big trip abroad – the very “Great Embassy”, which in 1698-1699 visited several European countries with two main missions. Firstly, to find allies to fight the Turks, and secondly, to attract specialists in the field of new technologies to Russia. De facto – to create a program of technological mega-grants (later, at the behest of Peter, the purely scientific program of creating the Academy of Sciences will be carried out in exactly this way). And not everyone knew that in addition to the leadership of the Great Embassy – Franz Lefort, Fyodor Golovin and Prokofy Voznitsyn – the constable of the Preobrazhensky Regiment Pyotr Mikhailov – Peter I himself was in the embassy.
Young Tsar Peter. Portrait by Kneller
Already in this embassy, Peter looked closely at European science. Especially to medicine: in 1698 in Amsterdam, he met the anatomist Frederick Ruysch. Remember Rembrandt’s “The Anatomy Lesson of Doctor Tulip”? This is not just a picture, but a kind of document that depicts the personnel of the Dutch Guild of Surgeons. Then Rembrandt will write “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Deiman” – with the new head of the Guild, and then two “lessons” by Adrian Bakker and Jan van Nek with Ruysch performing the autopsy will follow. By the way, these “anatomy lessons” themselves – public autopsies – were the main popular science events in Amsterdam, and Peter loved to attend them.
Anatomy Lesson by Dr. Ruysch
Frederic Ruysch was famous not only as a surgeon, but also as an outstanding anatomist who made several important discoveries and also collected an amazing collection of anatomical preparations. Peter was so imbued with everything that Ruysch does, and especially his skill as a pathologist, that he himself took several lessons from him. Later, Peter was regularly present at autopsies, he himself pulled the teeth of his subjects, and we can assume that if he were not a king, he would have become a good surgeon. Moreover, even upon his return to Russia, Peter kept in touch with the teacher, sent him various animals, and on the next great embassy, in 1717, he bought his entire anatomical collection from old Ruysch. It was she who formed the basis of the first Russian museum – the Kunstkamera, and it was for her that the building was built, which became the first home of the Academy of Sciences.
Even on his first trip abroad, Peter the Great met the outstanding thinker and mathematician Godfried Leibniz, a man who not only created his own philosophical system, but also did a lot in other areas of science. And differential calculus, and combinatorics, and the binary number system, and even the concept of the unconscious are his offspring.
In the 17th century, it was just an acquaintance – a chance meeting in the Koppenbrück castle, and already in 1711 Leibniz communicated with Peter more than once, even becoming his companion in 1712 on a trip to Teplitz and Dresden. Historians of science believe that it was precisely from the conversations between Peter and Leibniz that the idea of creating the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg appeared. Moreover, Leibniz received from Peter the title of Privy Councilor of Justice and created the first scientific research program in our country. “Protection of the sciences has always been my main goal, only there was a lack of a great monarch who would be sufficiently interested in this matter,” wrote Leibniz.
Alas, Peter’s adviser died in 1716, but the idea remained. During the second long business trip abroad, the embassy of 1716-1717, the tsar visited (in addition to many other scientific and technological meetings) the Paris Academy of Sciences. The demonstration of the achievements of French science and technology impressed Peter, but impressed the academicians and the tsar himself. Less than six months after this meeting, on December 22, 1717, the Paris Academy of Sciences elected Peter the Great as its foreign member.
And Peter himself was already gradually shaping the image of the Academy in Russia. It is very important to note that the Tsar did not directly copy either the Paris Academy of Sciences, or the Royal Society, or any European university. The “project”, drawn up by Blumentrost and personally directed by Peter, begins with an analysis of how the university differs from the academy, and what will be better for Russia. But this is our next article.
Unfortunately, Petr Alekseevich did not live to see the beginning of the real work of the Academy of Sciences, but his energy, his thirst for knowledge and curiosity gave science in Russia such a powerful impetus that the Academy still plays the first violin in the orchestra of Russian science.
The author is the scientific editor of the portals Indicator.Ru and Inscience.News, head of the press service of the FRC PCP and the Moscow Chemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences, special representative of the Decade of Science and Technology in Russia