A freak of nature

January 26 2014

By a freakish stroke of Fortune, there was born into the purple of the Russian Orthodox Christian universal state at Moscow, on the 30th May, 1672, a genius endowed with a completely Western êthos – and this not even the êthos of his own Western contemporaries, but the êthos of their descendants in the sixth or seventh generation, whose time was not to come till some two centuries had gone by! Peter the Great was an incomprehensible and therefore disagreeable lusus Naturae in the eyes of an English Bishop Burnet or a Dutch King William III, as well as in the eyes of a Russian Arch-Priest Avvakum [leader of the Old Believers]. When Burnet met Peter in A.D. 1698, he pronounced him sordid-minded, and saw nothing more in him than a young Barbarian potentate who happened to be a good ship’s carpenter. When William met him, he complained that he had no aesthetic sense, and no knowledge of the Dutch language apart from a jargon of nautical technicalities. These worthy representatives of the modern culture of the West did not, and could not, guess that, in their encounter with this repulsive mechanically-minded barbarian, they were being given a glimpse into their own society’s future and were being shown a prototype of the typical Homo Occidentalis who was to adorn an age two centuries beyond their own! For us, their descendants, who have the fortune to live in these latter days, the figure of Peter has ceased to be enigmatic. We have no hesitation in placing Peter the Great in the same portrait-gallery as Edison and Ford and Rhodes and Northcliffe and Mark Twain’s Yankee at the Court of King Arthur and Mr. Shaw’s Straker in Man and Superman.

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934

One Response to “A freak of nature”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Freak of nature is the usual translation of lusus Naturae, but a better translation here might be uncouth monster. A barbarian is excessively natural, rather than a freak.

    Lusus means a tease or trick.


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