|The Story of Mankind|
|by Hendrik Willem Van Loon|
|Relates the story of western civilization from earliest times through the beginning of the twentieth century, with special emphasis on the people and events that changed the course of history. Portrays in vivid prose the achievements of mankind in the areas of art and discovery, as well as the political forces leading to the modern nation-states. Richly illustrated with drawings by the author. Winner of the first Newbery Award in 1922, The Story of Mankind has introduced generations of children to the pageant of world history. Ages 10-14 |
RUSSIA VS. SWEDEN
RUSSIA AND SWEDEN FIGHT MANY WARS TO DECIDE WHO SHALL BE THE LEADING POWER OF NORTH-EASTERN EUROPE
 IN the year 1698, Tsar Peter set forth upon his first
voyage to western Europe. He travelled by way of Berlin and
went to Holland and to England. As a child he had almost
been drowned sailing a homemade boat in the duck pond of
his father's country home. This passion for water remained
with him to the end of his life. In a practical way it showed
itself in his wish to give his land-locked domains access to
the open sea.
PETER THE GREAT IN THE DUTCH SHIPYARD
While the unpopular and harsh young ruler was away
from home, the friends of the old Russian ways in Moscow set
to work to undo all his reforms. A sudden rebellion among
his life-guards, the Streltsi regiment, forced Peter to hasten
home by the fast mail. He appointed himself
executioner-in-chief and the Streltsi were hanged and quartered and killed to
the last man. Sister Sophia, who had been the head of the
rebellion, was locked up in a cloister and the rule of Peter
be-  gan in earnest. This scene was repeated in the year 1716 when
Peter had gone on his second western trip. That time the
reactionaries followed the leadership of Peter's half-witted
son, Alexis. Again the Tsar returned in great haste. Alexis
was beaten to death in his prison cell and the friends of the
old fashioned Byzantine ways marched thousands of dreary
miles to their final destination in the Siberian lead mines.
After that, no further outbreaks of popular discontent took
place. Until the time of his death, Peter could reform in peace.
It is not easy to give you a list of his reforms in chronological
order. The Tsar worked with furious haste. He followed
no system. He issued his decrees with such rapidity that it is
difficult to keep count. Peter seemed to feel that everything
that had ever happened before was entirely wrong. The whole
of Russia therefore must be changed within the shortest possible
time. When he died he left behind a well-trained army of
200,000 men and a navy of fifty ships. The old system of government
had been abolished over night. The Duma, or convention
of Nobles, had been dismissed and in its stead, the Tsar
had surrounded himself with an advisory board of state officials,
called the Senate.
Russia was divided into eight large "governments" or provinces.
Roads were constructed. Towns were built. Industries
were created wherever it pleased the Tsar, without any regard
for the presence of raw material. Canals were dug and mines
were opened in the mountains of the east. In this land of illiterates,
schools were founded and establishments of higher learning,
together with Universities and hospitals and professional
schools. Dutch naval engineers and tradesmen and artisans
from all over the world were encouraged to move to Russia.
Printing shops were established, but all books must be first read
by the imperial censors. The duties of each class of society
were carefully written down in a new law and the entire system
of civil and criminal laws was gathered into a series of printed
volumes. The old Russian costumes were abolished by Imperial
decree, and policemen, armed with scissors, watching
all the country roads, changed the long-haired Russian
mou-  jiks suddenly into a pleasing imitation of smooth-shaven west-Europeans.
In religious matters, the Tsar tolerated no division of
power. There must be no chance of a rivalry between an
Emperor and a Pope as had happened in Europe. In the year
1721, Peter made himself head of the Russian Church. The
Patriarchate of Moscow was abolished and the Holy Synod
made its appearance as the highest source of authority in all
matters of the Established Church.
Since, however, these many reforms could not be successful
while the old Russian elements had a rallying point in the
town of Moscow, Peter decided to move his government to a
new capital. Amidst the unhealthy marshes of the Baltic Sea
the Tsar built this new city. He began to reclaim the land in
the year 1703. Forty thousand peasants worked for years
to lay the foundations for this Imperial city. The Swedes
attacked Peter and tried to destroy his town and illness and
misery killed tens of thousands of the peasants. But the work
was continued, winter and summer, and the ready-made town
soon began to grow. In the year 1712, it was officially
de-  clared to be the "Imperial Residence." A dozen years later
it had 75,000 inhabitants. Twice a year the whole city was
flooded by the Neva. But the terrific will-power of the Tsar
created dykes and canals and the floods ceased to do harm.
When Peter died in 1725 he was the owner of the largest city
in northern Europe.
PETER THE GREAT BUILDS HIS NEW CAPITAL
Of course, this sudden growth of so dangerous a rival had
been a source of great worry to all the neighbours. From his
side, Peter had watched with interest the many adventures of
his Baltic rival, the kingdom of Sweden. In the year 1654,
Christina, the only daughter of Gustavus Adolphus, the hero
of the Thirty Years War, had renounced the throne and had
gone to Rome to end her days as a devout Catholic. A Protestant
nephew of Gustavus Adolphus had succeeded the last
Queen of the House of Vasa. Under Charles X and Charles
XI, the new dynasty had brought Sweden to its highest point
of development. But in 1697, Charles XI died suddenly and
was succeeded by a boy of fifteen, Charles XII.
This was the moment for which many of the northern states
had waited. During the great religious wars of the seventeenth
century, Sweden had grown at the expense of her neighbours.
The time had come, so the owners thought, to balance the account.
At once war broke out between Russia, Poland, Denmark
and Saxony on the one side, and Sweden on the other.
The raw and untrained armies of Peter were disastrously beaten
by Charles in the famous battle of Narva in November of
the year 1700. Then Charles, one of the most interesting military
geniuses of that century, turned against his other enemies
and for nine years he hacked and burned his way through the
villages and cities of Poland, Saxony, Denmark and the Baltic
provinces, while Peter drilled and trained his soldiers in distant
As a result, in the year 1709, in the battle of Poltawa, the
Moscovites destroyed the exhausted armies of Sweden. Charles
continued to be a highly picturesque figure, a wonderful hero
of romance, but in his vain attempt to have his revenge, he
ruined his own country. In the year 1718, he was accidentally
 killed or assassinated (we do not know which) and when peace
was made in 1721, in the town of Nystadt, Sweden had lost all
of her former Baltic possessions except Finland. The new
Russian state, created by Peter, had become the leading power
of northern Europe. But already a new rival was on the
way. The Prussian state was taking shape.
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