The British Myth of Russia

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As it can be seen, the period from the second half of the 16th to the 17th century is marked in the history of the British-Russian relations by the formation of a new layer in the myth about Russia in the British culture. This layer is based on the image of a cold, savage, uncivilised world rich with natural resources.

From the Age of Peter the Great to the beginning of the 19th century: modulations of the Russian image

There are some internal changes in the way Russia is perceived and depicted by the English that take place in the period from the end of the 17th century to the first half of the 18th century. The key factors that determine these changes are the special attitude of the English towards the first Russian emperor, Peter I, and the transition to the views and aesthetics of the Enlightenment.

The image of Peter the Great was to a large extent formed under the influence of the first impression he made on the English during his stay in England. As it is known, Peter I travelled incognito around Europe with the Grand Embassy in 1697–1698. He visited Livonia, Prussia, the Netherlands and on 21st January, 1698 he arrived in England. During his three-year stay he not only met with King William III and the English nobility, but also visited the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, the Royal Mint, the University of Oxford as well as attended sessions in the Parliament. Peter I paid special attention to the navy: the workshops, armoury, shipyards and ships in London, Portsmouth and Deptford.

The impression of the Russian tsar’s “Englishness” (as being democratic and energetic) and his pro-English stance (as his readiness to learn from the English) was supported by the benefit that English merchants could gain from a treaty allowing to import tobacco in Russia, for English and Scottish soldiers and officers it was their perspective recruitment in the Russian army, for English engineers and doctors – an unexpected demand for people of their profession in the Russian Empire.

A renewed interest in Russia and continuously expanding contacts resulted in a whole series of English books on travelling across Russia and memoirs about life in Russia (the latter were particularly numerous). They include a historical book that became especially popular, The State of Russia, under the Present Czar (1716), written by John Perry, a naval officer and engineer who served in Russia for 14 years.

The book contains A New Map of the Empire of the Czar of Russia (made by John Perry and Herman Moll). Among other parts of the Russian Empire, the map shows the “Little Tartary”, the “Circassi Tartary” and the “Ufimsi Tartary” in the south; Siberia and the “Great Tartary” in the central and central-eastern part of the country; the “Eastern or Chinesian Tartary” in the East. In the South-East Russia borders with the “Independent Tartary” and China. As it can be seen, Perry’s map reflected the European stereotype of the 13th century, associating the Russian world with the Tatar-Tartary one.

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