By Marc Raeff
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Additional resources for Catherine the Great: A Profile
Catherine's indestructible confidence in the invariable success of her enterprises gave her the resolution to act in the most diverse fields without being the least embarrassed by a lack of proper training. Her Instruction to the commission of deputies was a political treatise, setting forth the general principles of her political philosophy with the help of quotations from Montesquieu's Esprit des lois, which she doctored to suit her purposes. She drew up extensive statutes and regulations, liberally seasoned with showy platitudes, but sadly lacking in juridical method and precise basic definitions.
Her trip to Russia was the needed influence. In less than a month the Zerbst princess was taken from Zerbst to Moscow. This was more than a trip from one city to another; it was a move to a completely different world, where people felt, thought, dressed, and ate differently. Jules Verne's fantastic voyage could not produce on us as strong an impression as Russian society of the middle of the 18th century must have made on the fourteen-year-old princess, even though "toute faite," as Frederick II put it in a letter to Empress Elizabeth.
Reading Catherine's letters to and about Voltaire it is not difficult to convince oneself that she put him on a par with Montesquieu and above all the other philosophes of the period. She called Voltaire her teacher and took him as a model; in answer to the news of Voltaire's death she ordered one hundred copies of his works: "Give me a hundred copies of my teacher's works so that I may put them everywhere. " What a tirade! Actually, it would be a great mistake to see in these lines anything except a tirade.