Catherine the Great letter to D'Alembert (from Robinson and Beard)

Red separator bar

Catherine the Great letter to D'Alembert

Source: Readings in Modern European History, edited by James Harvey Robinson and Charles Beard (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1908), vol. 1, p. 209-10, citing Annual Register, 1763, p. 41

Catherine tried unsuccessfully to get D'Alembert to leave France and come to Russia.

I have just received the answer you wrote to M. Odar, in which you refuse to transplant yourself in order to assist in the education of my son. I easily conceive that it costs a philosopher like you nothing to despise what the world calls grandeur and honor: these are, in your eyes, very little ; and I can readily agree that they are so. Considering things in this light, there world be nothing great in the behavior of Queen Christina (of Sweden), which has been so highly extolled, and often censured with more justice.

But to be born and called to contribute to the happiness, and even the instruction of a whole nation, and yet decline it, is, in my opinion, refusing to do that good which you wish to do. Your philosophy is founded in a love to mankind : permit me then to tell yon, that to refuse to serve mankind, whilst it is in your power, is to miss your aim. I know too well that you are a good man, to ascribe your refusal to vanity.

I know that the sole motive of it is the love of ease, and leisure to cultivate letters and the friendship of those you esteem. But what is there in this objection? Come with all your friends; I promise both them and you every convenience and advantage that depends upon me ; and perhaps you will find more liberty and ease here than in your native country.

You refused the invitation of the king of Prussia, notwithstanding your obligations to him; but that prince has no son. I own to you that I have the education of my son so much at heart, and I think you so necessary to it; that perhaps I press you with too much earnestness. Excuse my indiscretion, for the sake of the occasion of it; and be assured that it is my esteem for you that makes me so urgent.

3 November 1762