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S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.

Catherine II.

  • [Empress of Russia; born at Stettin, 1729; married Peter, afterwards emperor, 1745; deposed him during the first year of his reign, 1762, when she became sole mistress of the empire; of profligate life, but great abilities, she promoted education and commerce, patronized scientific men, and extended her dominions on the Black Sea; was a party to the partition of Poland, 1772; died 1796.]
  • Your wit makes others witty (Votre esprit en donne aux autres).

  • In a letter to Voltaire.
  • Falstaff said, “I am not only witty in myself, but the cause that wit is in other men.”—2 Henry IV., I. 2.
  • During his visit to Russia, Diderot noticed the uncleanliness of the peasants, then serfs. “Why,” replied the empress, “should they take care of a body which does not belong to them?” (Pourquoi auraient-ils soin d’un corps qui ne leur appartient pas?) Diderot apologized on a certain occasion for touching her knee in the heat of an argument. The empress put him at his ease at once: “Let there be no ceremony between men” (Entre hommes tout est permis). She once closed a conversation with Diderot and Grimm, to attend to affairs of state, by saying, “Now I must see how my bread is baking” (Maintenant il faut songer au gagne-pain).
  • One of her maxims was, “I praise loudly, I blame softly” (Je loue tout haut, je gronde tout bas).
  • Diderot described his royal hostess as having “the soul of Brutus with the charms of Cleopatra.” Speaking of the situation of St. Petersburg, he told her that “a capital at the end of one’s kingdom is like the heart at the end of one’s fingers” (avoir le capitale au bout de son royaume, c’est avoir le cœur au bout de ses doigts). He is reported to have spoken of the Russian empire as “rotten before it is ripe.” Joseph II. called it “a colossus of brass on a pedestal of clay.”