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Territoires de diplomatie: Le monde anglo-américain et ses relations extérieures

Early Enlightenment English poets on Russia and its Sovereign: Matthew Prior and Thomas Tickell

Liudmila Ivonina


La transformation de la vie politique et internationale au tournant du XVIIIe siècle provoqua une tempête d’émotions dans l’opinion publique et incita les intellectuels européens à participer à la vie politique de leur pays et du continent tout entier. Une place particulière dans ce processus revient aux poètes britanniques. Pour deux d’entre eux, Matthew Prior et Thomas Tickell, l’image poétique du monde s’étendait à la puissance à l’Est - la Russie, qui se développait aussi dynamiquement que leur patrie. Dans le contexte de l’image changeante de la Russie en Grande-Bretagne, l’article analyse des extraits d’œuvres célèbres de ces écrivains ("Carmen seculare, pour l’année 1700" de M. Prior et "A Poem ... on the Prospect of Peace" de T. Tickell) concernant Pierre Ier et la Russie. En fait, Prior et Tickell ont été les premiers poètes anglais bien connus qui ont tracé l’image majestueuse de Pierre Ier et à désigner la Russie comme une puissance géopolitique majeure. Mais, quelles que soient leurs sympathies politiques, ces écrivains ont souligné la menace émanant de Peter et ont utilisé le thème russe pour adhérer à l’idée politique principale de leurs écrits - l’idée de la suprématie britannique et le rôle civilisateur de leur État.

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1The process of formation of the first international state system in Europe took place from the conclusion of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, as a result of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), to the treaties of Utrecht (1713), Rastattand Baden (1714) and Nystad (1721) which marked the end of the war of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713) and the Northern war (1700-1721). As a result, the European system of international relations took shape on clearly fixed legal principles, the most important of which was the principle of the balance of power. In the political and ordinary consciousness of the continent, the concept of “Europe” replaced the concept of “Christian community” (Duchhardt 11). Thereby, a qualitative transition was made to new international realities that directly led to the present. All parts of Europe became dependent on each other.

2With rare exceptions, diplomatic and military battles in early Modern Europe were the main events in the life of contemporaries. At that time, war was a daily reality on the continent. It was a “bearer of a political decision” (Schindling 24-25) and was dictated both by the need to strengthen the central government within the state, and to expand its political influence and economic well-being outside of it. By the beginning of the 18th century, in the countries that fought for domination in the Baltic (Russia, Sweden, Brandenburg-Prussia, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth), there were profound changes in the military field, government and social structure. Of these states, only Russia and Brandenburg-Prussia accelerated the pace of their development, overtaking Sweden and especially the Polish-Lithuanian State. This situation did not go unnoticed in the Western part of the European continent.

3In recent decades, research into 18th century international relations have often paid special attention to the geopolitical reshaping of North-East Europe. For example, Jeremy Black considers that the Northern War was more significant for the political and economic development of the continent than the War of the Spanish Succession (279), and Robert Frost has noted the need to take a closer look at Eastern Europe in order to gain a deeper understanding of the nature of military changes and their impact on the social and political structures of the Early Modern period (5). In his recent book devoted to the War of the Spanish Succession, James Falkner describes and analyzes the political maneuvers and a series of military campaigns that also involved the threat posed by Ottoman Turks in the East and Sweden and Russia in the North.

4The transformation of political and international life at the turn of the century and the two European wars (the Northern War and the War of the Spanish Succession) gave rise to a storm of emotions in public opinion and stimulated European intellectuals to take part in the political life of their country and the continent as a whole. A special place in this process belongs to British poets. The turn of the 17th-18th centuries in England saw the emergence of the “fourth estate.” The expiry of the Licensing Act in 1695 halted state censorship of the press. Over the next 20 years there were to be 10 general elections. These two factors combined to produce an enormous growth in the publication of political literature. By Queen Anne’s reign, the press had become a powerful recourse for transmitting the political opinion of London to the provinces and abroad by means of pamphlets, newspapers, essay-journals, laudatory poetic odes and satires (Phillipson 216).

5In these conditions, poetry often became akin to propaganda, and poets were significant participants in public debates and discussions. For two of them, Matthew Prior and Thomas Tickell, the poetic picture of the world extended to the power in the East, Russia, which was developing as dynamically as their homeland.

6In England, as in all of Europe, the patronage system was quite common in the Baroque and Enlightenment ages. Typically, poets publicly identified themselves with Whigs or Tories, with an individual patron or a group of patrons. Senior politicians, especially Robert Harley, saw the potential importance of the pamphleteer in wooing the support of a wavering electorate. Richer talents also played their part. Harley, for instance, instigated Daniel Defoe’s industrious work on the Review (1704-1713), which consisted, in essence, of a regular political essay defending–if often indirectly–current governmental policy. He also secured Jonathan Swift’s polemical skills for contributions to The Examiner (1710-1711). Alexander Pope contributed to The Spectator and moved for a time in Addisonian circles; but from about 1711 onward, his more-influential friendships were with Tory intellectuals (Britannica. English literature. The 18th century. Publication of political literature). Poets’ opinions of political events were generally well known. Their rhetorical abilities were not overlooked, and they often reinforced political arguments with the help of beautiful words

7It is noteworthy that the patronage system and monetary support contributed to the fact that poets often did not write so much for society, as for a specific, individual reader taking into account his interests in politics and the need to respond to events of great importance. Not all the poetry of the time was ideological, and not all ideological poetry was politically directed. Nevertheless, the association of the majority of events with the practice of patronage and the patron’s loyalty created a feeling that poetry was a practical and rhetorical art (Richetti 183-85).

8The debates about the political content of Early Enlightenment poems and their authors’ sympathies has been the subject of a large number of studies (Williams 22, 204; Rogers 317; Jacobsen 188-90, 206-7. The approach of historians and philologists can be multi-angled. Here, I am primarily interested in the reflection of specific political events in European history. The most relevant studies to my research are those of Matthew S. Anderson and Anthony Cross, which detail British perceptions of Petrine Russia, while also paying attention to the development of Peter’s image during this period. Here I will focus on Matthew Prior and Thomas Tickell’s perception of Russia and Peter the Great. The connection between Prior’s poem, which predates the outbreak of hostilities between Russia and Sweden, and Tickell’s which announces the forthcoming Peace of Utrecht, seems significant. By this time, the Swedes had been defeated by the Russian army in Pomerania and had lost all their possessions in continental Europe. It is not surprising that Swift, in his famous pro-peace tract The Conduct of the Allies, invoked the uncertainties surrounding the balance of power in the Baltic as one of his many reasons for seeking a speedy reconciliation with France (Swift 94).

9Before that, Russia had been rarely mentioned in British poetry. People were actively interested in the Moscow state, but in prose, as evidenced by the notes of British travelers to Muscovy, or in plays. Muscovy and Muscovites were more than once mentioned by English playwrights at the end of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth centuries: by Marlowe, Shakespeare (in Love’s Labour’s Lost), Webster, Fletcher (The Loyal Subject), and others (Levin xxv). John Milton, one of the ideologues of English Puritanism, wrote in prose a small unfinished treatise A Brief History of Muscovy, which describes the Moscow state, naturally with an emphasis on its northeastern borders. In any case, A Brief History was a curious item in the Milton canon, and for a whole variety reasons, connected with his governmental and political activity (Bedford 71). One minor exception was sonnet 2 of Philip Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella, where the poet complaining about his bondage writes:

Now even that footstep of lost liberty,
Is gone, and now like slave-born Muscovite,
I call it praise to suffer tyranny […]. (9-11)


10Matthew Prior (1664–1721) was one of the few Englishmen of his time who successfully combined a diplomatic career with a poetic one. The son of a Nonconformist, he is one of those who emerged from obscure origins to great eminence. He was educated at Westminster School and then at St. John’s College Cambridge, after which he took his BA degree and wrote poetry. One of his schoolfellows and friends was Charles Montagu, 1st Earl of Halifax. Thanks to Montagu, Prior became secretary to the embassy in The Hague and took part in the conclusion of the Peace of Ryswick in 1697 and in the signing of the Partition Treaties in 1698-1700. When Halifax was impeached, Prior voted on the Tory side and therefore did not participate further in diplomatic activities until 1710. After the return of the Tories to power in that year, Prior held a prominent position in all bilateral negotiations with the French court and in the conclusion of peace between England and France. It is no accident that the first secret draft of the Utrecht Treaty of 1713 was ironically called by the Whigs, the opponents of peace, “Matt’s Peace.” At the same time, this nickname became popular in British political circles and represented the recognition of his diplomatic merits.

11Much earlier, when contributing to the conclusion of a favorable peace for Britain in Ryswick (1697), Prior treated favorably, and without much arrogance, the Great Embassy of Peter I, then progressing around Europe. The Great Embassy was a Russian Diplomatic mission sent to Western Europe in 1697-1698 to search for allies in the fight against the Ottoman Empire and to strengthen economic cooperation between Europe and Russia. Peter the Great was the first Russian monarch to travel abroad. The embassy comprised about 250 people, with the “grand ambassadors” Franz Lefort, Fyodor Golovin, and Prokopy Voznitsyn at its head. Travelling incognito under the name of Sgt. Pyotr Mikhaylov, Czar Peter familiarized himself with conditions in the advanced countries of the West. The initial goal of the diplomatic mission on the move was to visit European countries and establish stronger ties with neighbors. Peter was hoping to gain support in his war against the Ottoman Empire for the northern coastline of the Black sea. His goal was to build a massive fleet for the war against Turkey. For that, he needed to hire western ship builders and create strong and well-trained naval forces.

12Prior and other British diplomatic representatives in Ryswick were instructed to “welcome the Czar or his Ambassadors upon their arrival in The Hague [...] assuring the Czar of the King’s William extremely friendly disposition towards him” (Barany 31). When the Great Embassy appeared in the Netherlands, Prior was the first to turn to the Russian ambassadors on behalf of his King William III of Orange with a proposal to meet the two monarchs. On August 23, Prior wrote to London: “If the Czar wishes to honor us with his visit, then His Majesty will also arrive here in a day or two” (Loevenson 314). The first meeting of the two monarchs took place in Utrecht between September 1 and 11, 1697, but had a strictly “private” character. In keeping with the Czar’s incognito and in accordance with the fiction that Peter was a minor official of the Great Embassy, the king was addressed by Peter’s ambassadors only. However, as soon as the formal courtesies had been exchanged, the king went to an adjacent chamber where the two sovereigns conferred privately. A day after the meeting of William and Peter, Prior reported: “His Majesty is very pleased with Him (Peter I) and invited Him to dinner" (Loevenson 314).

13The Russian ministers and Czar Peter made such a big impression on the poet-diplomat that he devoted section xxii of his poem “Carmen Sæculare, for the year 1700” to the Russian Czar.Carmen Sæculare” is his most elegantly contrived Pindaric poem, a celebration almost six hundred lines long of the glorious future of England as it entered a new century under the rule of its patriot king William. Prior represents William as a hero, in compliance with the fashion, but also following his own inclination (Johnson 8). As not only a poet, but also a capable diplomat, who directly communicated with the Czar in The Hague during the Great Embassy, Prior emphasized the following aspects: the greatness of William III, the absolute power of Peter I, the threat emanating from the Russian Czar and the justice of the English monarch.

14At the beginning of the section, he emphasizes the greatness of his own King, who has become the arbiter of all states:

Till WILLIAM’s Word like that of Fate declares,
If they shall study Peace, or lengthen Wars;
How sacred His Renown for equal Laws,
To Him the World defers its Common Cause!
How fair His Friendships, and his Leagues how just!
Him all Religions, Him all Nations trust (264-69).

15Turning to the description of the young Czar, the poet highlights the absolute power of Peter I, despite his youthfulness, and the scale of his great state:

From the Maeotis, to the Northern Sea,
The Goddess wings her desperate Way,
Sees the young Muscovite, the mighty Head,
Whose Sov’reign Terror forty Nations dread,
Inamour’d with a greater Monarch’s Praise,
And passing half the Earth to His Embrace. (

16At the same time, Prior notices the threat emanating from the Czar:

She in His Rule beholds His Volga’s Force,
O’er Precipices, with impetuous Sway
Breaking, and as it rowls its violent Course,
Drowning, or Bearing down what-ever meets its way. (

17At the end of the chapter, the poet again brings his just king to the stage. In contrast to Peter as the stormy Volga, he compares William with the serene Thames:

But her own King she likens to his Thames,
With gentle Course devolving fruitful Streams:
Serene yet Strong, Majestick yet Sedate,
Swift without Violence, without Terror Great.

18Matthew S. Anderson noticed the complete failure of nearly all English commentators of the 17th century to realize the potential greatness of Russia’s military resources and political power. She was despised not only because she was barbarous, but also because she was, or appeared to be, weak. Moreover, in Anderson’s opinion, the few months which Peter spent in England (January to May 1698) did little to change this state of affairs. Indeed, shortly after Peter’s visit, an anonymous author published “A New and Exact Description of Moscovy”. This description contained nothing new that would overturn the British opinion of Russia (1-28). It seemed that Peter’s visit to England did not lead to any dramatic change in British perceptions of Russia. His behavior in the house of John Evelyn (Evelyn was concerned that his tenant wasn’t “polite” (Evelyn 364), because by the time Peter’s group left, the house was, by all accounts, wrecked) may be seen by some as typical of the uncultivated behavior of Russians, as Evelyn’s servant was to characterize Peter’s group and perhaps Peter himself as “right nasty” (Evelyn 364). Evelyn would subsequently refer to Peter as “the barbarous Prince” when recording his Diary entry about the Battle of Narva on 30 November 1700 (Evelyn 438-39).

19Nonetheless, from Peter’s visit onwards, there was an increasing tendency to see Russia from a different perspective. Peter’s journey to Western Europe and to William III in particular provoked much comment at the time, including the anonymous A congratulatory poem, to the high and mighty Czar of Muscovy, on his arrival in England on Tuesday the 11th of this instant January, 1697/8. Earlier than Prior, this author emphasized the strength and power of the Northern Czar:

Thy Name makes ROME reflect on Heroes Slain,
And dread the Northern Nations once again […]. (Dixon 10-11)

20Jodocus Crull’s The Antient and Present State of Muscovy (1698) can be argued as significant in sowing the seeds of change in the British mind-set towards Russia by being the first work to mention some of Peter’s early efforts to reform his country (Crull 143). On the knowledge that the Czar “hath erected Schools in Moscow and sent the young Nobility to Travel,” Herman Moll, the author of A System of Geography (1701) made the prediction that “in all probability this nation will in a short time be much improved” (Moll 380).

21At the time, Peter had two images–as a westernizer and as a despot. In December 1697, Gilbert Burnet, Bishop of Salisbury, gave a sermon to King William III with clear references to Peter and his civilizing intentions. In his sermon, Burnet referred to Peter as being ‘a mighty Northern Emperor […] resolving to raise his Nation, and enlarge his Empire, comes to learn the best Methods of doing it, and goes away full of Wonder, possessed with truer Notions of Government” (Gilbert 13; Cross 11). The most famous (once thought to be the only) image of the young Czar was painted by the most sought-after artist of the time, Sir Godfrey Kneller in London in 1698. Now it is hanging in Kensington Palace in London. For Kneller, Peter was just another European monarch. All traces of Russian “exoticism” were expunged. Nevertheless, as Moll wrote, “Russia is absolutely Monarchical; for the Grand Duke, who is called Czar […] is absolute master over all his subjects” (Moll 381).

22In general, on the eve of the 18th century, Muscovy was presented in England as a vast developing Еastern power under the absolute rule of the young Czar, and Prior’s perception of Russia reflected the position of the state he represented. However, one point needs to be emphasized. Perhaps Prior, as an already experienced politician, was one of the first to recognize the possibility of the threat of Peter’s power to Western Europe. He foresaw the course of events.

23Prior’s diplomatic activities harmoniously combined and interacted with his erudition in the field of artistic culture and poetry. Diplomacy defined his most successful and mature works, and poetry perfected his art of diplomacy. It is noteworthy that Prior wished above all no wisdom as a statesman, but elegance as a poet. He apologized for his poetry by claiming that his hours were absorbed by public business, the business of diplomacy.

24Prior’s reputation as one of the leading public figures, as well as poets, of his day, was sustained by a steady flow of publications in the decades and even centuries following his death. New and supplemented editions of his poetry appeared sporadically throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, published in London, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Berwick and Manchester. In 1740 Prior literary executor and former amanuensis Adrian Drift oversaw the publication of an authorized memoir, complied from Prior’s original manuscripts. The quotation featured on the title page reveals Prior’s attitude to the relative importance of his two careers: “I had rather be thought a good Englishman than the best poet or greatest scholar that ever wrote” (Matthew Prior 2021). Prior’s apology is of course itself, highly diplomatic. Diplomacy, far from annoyingly “interrupting” his career as a poet, defined his most successful and mature works (Brunstrom).

25As for the Great Embassy, Peter the Great did not receive much support from the Western European leaders for his anti-Ottoman campaign. It was a difficult time for many European countries, as after the Nine Years’ War (1688–1697), often called the War of the Grand Alliance or the War of the League of Augsburg, they became involved in the struggle for the Spanish throne and felt little interest for the Russian conflict with Turkey. For example, in the intervening period in London trade considerations remained the most important element of relations with Russia. Russia was now growing in importance as a source in particular of naval stores, notably pitch, tar and hemp, all essential to the British fleet. Moreover, the grant by Peter in 1698 to the Marquess of Carmarthen of a monopoly of the import of tobacco into Russia stimulated hopes of large profits for the merchants who immediately took the grant. These hopes proved illusory, but the tobacco monopoly remained for some years an important element of Anglo-Russian relations (Dixon XV, 10, 24, 26). The initial goal of the mission failed.

26The Great Embassy proved nonetheless a major event in Russian history, which had far-reaching consequences in many respects. It was the first time that a Russian Czar had travelled to Europe. Peter was able to prepare the ground for future alliances with DenmarkBrandenburg-Prussia and Saxony, which would prove important during the Northern War against Sweden. Soon, however, Peter was forced to return to Russia due to the Streltsy uprising which had erupted in Moscow during his absence. After the uprising was suppressed, the Czar started to implement a series of reforms to modernize Russia, influenced by the ideas he picked up in the West. His political program for the Russian Czardom was basically formed during the course of his journey. He started the creation of a government that would be based on serving for the benefit of all. The Czar considered himself the first serviceman of his homeland, and he meant to educate people by his own example. In essence, the European trip, although politically a failure, exposed Peter to Western European artists, scientists, craftsmen, and noble families. This broadened his intellectual horizons and convinced him that Russia should follow Western Europe on the path towards scientific modernity and administrative efficiency.

27At the turn of the century, the existence of two simultaneous wars in Europe meant that Russia became more involved in British foreign policy calculations. Given the fact that Britain was principally concerned with her war with France, a simultaneous war in the North, essentially occurring at the backdoor of the Holy Roman Empire, made Britain and her allies’ situation precarious. It was feared initially not only that the conflict in the North would divert the much needed resources and potential manpower away from the war in the West, but also that Sweden, by far the most powerful potentate in the Northern war at the time, would ally herself with France. British reactions to this involved attempting to mediate as fast as possible a peace in the North or at least bring Sweden onto their side of the war. Yet it soon became apparent that peace and Swedish aid were not forthcoming. When the situation became more urgent because of Charles’ penetration into the Empire by 1706, the British remained determined to separate the two wars by keeping Charles’ attention on Russia, away from the war in the West (Rothstein 38-41, 66-68). British policy in the North during the first decade of the century was therefore to silently encourage Sweden to advance against Russia.

28At the same time, London’s diplomacy towards Saint Petersburg was geared towards preserving relations with Russia while giving her as little aid as possible against Sweden. It was always possible that Sweden’s attention would return to the West. Besides, in spite of being officially allied with Sweden, the British did not appreciate the fact that the Swedish navy was controlling the Baltic Sea, as this affected its own trade with Russia, Denmark and Norway, Finland and Poland-Lithuania. It is important to note that as much as three quarters of Britain’s woolen manufactures were exported to Russia and the Eastland Company, and that all this trade passed through the Baltic Sea. The Swedish fleet also kept under blockade the ports that the Russians had taken from them with their land armies (Coroban 43-44). Thus, when in 1707 Andrej Matvejev was sent to London by Peter to submit a proposal for Russia’s entry into the Great Alliance, the Duke of Marlborough warned Sidney Godolphin that “you will be careful of making any step with the Muscovite ambassador that may give offense to the Swedes” (Snyder 900). As such, throughout this period, Russia was considered but a mere tool to steer Charles away from the West.

29At the same time, the British continued to try and extract commercial benefits from Russia. Until matters in the North were dramatically overturned, as they would be after the battle of Poltava in 1709, the British strategy was to give Peter outwardly positive but non-committal answers to his proposals for entry into the Alliance. As Marlborough summed it up to the then Secretary of State of the Northern Department in 1708, “the chief design is to amuse the Czar till we can see plainer what course the war between him and the King of Sweden will take” (Murray 8).

30British double-dealing continued largely until Russia’s victory over Sweden at Poltava in 1709. With the destruction of the Swedish army, Russia was able to secure her conquests in the Baltic. Indeed, soon after Poltava, Daniel Defoe predicted that Peter would soon “bid fair for the Mastership of those Seas [the Baltic Sea]” (Defoe 2). At the same time, given Britain’s preoccupation with its war with France, the sudden collapse of Sweden and the emergence of a victorious Russia alarmed many British leaders. Without Sweden’s dominance in the North the situation became fluid, and there were fears that this would distract resources away from the war with France. Britain therefore devoted all her diplomatic efforts in the North to stabilizing the situation (Rothstein 125-26). Aside from diplomacy, Britain could only keep a watchful eye on the affairs in the north until her hands were finally freed after the Treaty of Utrecht 1713. Therefore, by the second decade of the 18th century, the British found themselves in quite a different situation and there was definitely a sense of a Russian threat in their minds. In 1711, the British diplomat and soon-to-be First Lord of the Admiralty Thomas Wentworth attributed Russia’s drive towards the Baltic to a “great itch” of Peter’s (Dixon 108-109).


31By the end of the War of the Spanish Succession, peace became a reality in Europe. The metaphor of a balance of power was the new philosophy” of peace. In 1713, it was clearly included in the texts of two treaties (Article II of “Peace and Friendship Treaty of Utrecht between Spain and Great Britain” 2/13 July 1713 and Article VI of “Peace and Friendship Treaty of Utrecht between France and Great Britain” 31/11 March/April 1713, A Collection of all the Treaties 1772) and in the work of the Abbé de Saint-Pierre, and so subsequently became a legal postulate. The establishment of a balance of power broke the hegemony of France in Europe, and removed the danger of a new “universal monarchy”, which had disturbed the minds of Europeans for half a century (Duchhardt 11; Bely 223). Already in Utrecht, however, it became quite apparent that in many ways London initiated the production of legal norms for “middle states” with a restriction of their resources and the control by the third party of any power’s aggression in Europe. As for the concept of “middle states,” already in the 16th century Giovanni Botero had divided his world into three grades of states: grandissime (empires), mezano (middle powers) and piccioli (small powers). He was a firm believer in the moral authority possessed by “middle-sized states.” In the middle of the 18th century, L’Abbé de Mably proposed a tripartite hierarchy of world powers: puissances, that is powers of the first order (or great or dominant powers), powers of the second order (or middle powers) and powers of the third order or smaller powers. He believed that the more ambitious of the second-order powers would be eager to curry favor with first-order powers: “Their moderation makes them trustworthy, and their love of justice often makes them arbiters–or peacemakers–between the first-order powers” (Patience 2).

32England became the representative of the universal maritime sphere of a Eurocentric global order, the guardian of the other side of the ius publicum Europaeum. In the Modern history of international law, the term ius publicum Europaeum (“European public law”) denotes the legal order of the states of Europe from the Peace of Westphalia (1648) until well into the 19th century, especially the international law governing relations between them, the sovereign of the balance of land and sea (Schmitt 173). Undoubtedly, it only strengthened the theory of British exceptionalism, to the creation of which the poets made a significant contribution. In fact, the Treaty of Utrecht was an important event in the history of early modern international re-ordering, constituting the first international expression of Britain’s rise to European and, later, global pre-eminence. Still, the conclusion of this Treaty would not have been possible without the work of talented diplomats like Matthew Prior. His journeys and talks were a significant part of wider negotiations that ultimately led to peace ending the European War.

33The conclusion of the agreements in Utrecht caused a storm of emotion in Great Britain, expressed in poems dedicated to the peace treaty. The Peace of Utrecht was praised by Bevil Higgons, Joseph Trapp, Alexander Pope, Thomas Parnell, Thomas Tickell, William Waller, Samuel Wesley, Marshall Smith, Henry Crispe, Nicolas Tucker and, in addition, six anonymous poets (Richetti 184). Perhaps the most famous poetic essay, which came to be identified as an allegorical equivalent of the Peace of Utrecht and the political debates surrounding this event, was Alexander Pope’sWindsor Forest” (Pope). These works, most of which contain some form of propaganda, put an end to the political debates over whether to continue the war of the Spanish Succession and introduced new ideas.

34When the ministers of Queen Anne were negotiating with France, Thomas Tickell (1685-1740), the son of a clergyman and professor of poetry at Oxford, published “A Poem, to his Excellency the Lord Privy-Seal, on the Prospect of Peacе,” which aimed at returning the nation from the pride of conquest to the pleasures of tranquillity. This transition can be read as the poetic reformulation of the passage from the chivalrous ethos (aristocratic, warrior) to polite values (bourgeois, commercial). Tickell’s poem was first published on October 28, 1712, two months before the Utrecht peace negotiations commenced to end the 14-year War of the Spanish Succession. How far Tickell, whom Swift afterwards mentioned as ‘Whiggissimus,’ had then connected himself with any party, I know not; this poem certainly did not flatter the practices, or promote the opinions, of the men by whom he was afterwards befriended;so said Samuel Johnson about one of the poets who had turned their creativity to the conclusion of peace (Johnson 832). However, in The Spectator, Addison, who was known for his Whiggish sympathies praised Tickell’s poem. (Richetti 193).

35One of the most remarkable qualities of “The Prospect of Peace” is the fact that it praised not only the result of the Tory policy–peace–but also the military and diplomatic achievements leading to peace which occurred while the Whigs were in office. The protagonist of the poem is Britain. Arguing for the extension of the protection of his strong and fair Queen Anne all over the world to those who want her friendship, Tickell thinks on a large scale. Into this world–as one of the first among English poets–he included Russia, a mighty power.

36The glorification of Britain as queen and judge over the nations was a topos of long standing. Tickell also believes that the great business of his Queen, the winner in the war, is to civilize barbarian peoples:

Her Labours are to plead th’ Almighty’s Cause,
Her Pride to teach th’ untam’d Barbarian Laws:
Who conquers, wins by brutal Strength the Prize;
But ‘tis a Godlike Work to civilize […]. (162-65)

37Then the poet recalls Russia, where the Czar made great efforts to bring millions of his subjects to the West through the ice and seek the friendship of the great Queen:

Have we forgot how from great Russia’s Throne
The King, whose Pow’r half
Europe’s Regions own,
Whose Sceptre waving, with one Shout rush forth
In Swarms the harness’d Millions of the North,
Through Realms of Ice pursu’d his tedious Way
To court our Friendship, and our Fame survey! (166-71)

38The influence of Western civilization and the efforts of the Russian ruler were crowned with success:

Hence the rich Prize of useful Arts he bore,
And round his Empire spread the learned Store:
(T’ adorn old Realms is more than new to raise,
His Country’s Parent is a Monarch’s Praise.) (172-75)

39The Czar gathers strong and “unusual” armies and fleets, and he is patronized by the Muses:

His Bands now march in just Array to War,
Caspian Gulphs unusual Navies bear;
Runick Lays Smolensko’s Forests ring,
And wond’ring
Volga hears the Muses sing. (176-79)

40It is noteworthy that the word “civilization” was just coming into use in the 18th century, in French and shortly later in English, and conservative men of letters preferred to avoid it as a newfangled neologism (Wolff 14). Despite the emergence of the word “civilization” to mean an advanced society or nation that had been brought out of rudeness, Samuel Johnson, in the fourth edition of his Dictionary published in 1773 did not revise his entries on “civilization,” “civility” or “to civilize.” “Civilization” continued to be defined by Johnson as “a law, act of justice, or judgement, which renders a criminal process civil; which is performed by turning an information into an inquest, or the contrary” (63). Despite this, the word would quickly be adopted in discussions of the progress of societies from “rudeness” to “civilization.” Notions and theories of “civilization” and what it meant to be a “civilized nation” were influenced by the emergence of the idea of progress in the Enlightenment. This played a key role in governing past perspectives in the 18th century and beyond. It appears that Tickell was one of the first to use the term “to civilize”.

41Despite the “civilizing aspect” of the Russian passage of the poem, the British Ambassador to Russia Charles Whitworth, with whom the poet communicated for a short time, called the description of the huge Eastern power in the poem “exaggeratedly romantic” (Whitworth 1758, 158; Tickell 2010). Certainly, Whitworth had a lot of diplomatic experience to be able to judge so. He was the first British Ambassador to Russia, and Minister in The Hague, Berlin, Ratisbon and Cambrai. Whitworth was an acute, witty and indefatigable writer. His long and detailed dispatches and reports comment on Russian, Prussian, Austrian and Dutch domestic and foreign policy, on trading and commercial matters, on leading personalities and events, and on the diplomacy of the Great Northern War and the War of the Spanish Succession. He stayed in Russia from 1705 to 1712 and witnessed the growing military, naval and commercial power of the state and was acutely aware of the potential threat of Russia to British commercial and military interests in the North Sea.

42This period of Whitworth’s diplomatic career witnessed a dramatic shift in the balance of power in the North, and the nature and timing, of Whitworth’s postings made him uniquely qualified to chart and analyze this development. Whitworth recorded his impressions of Russia not only in his correspondence but also in a manuscript, “Summary Account of Russia as it was in the Spring in 1710.” He left Russia in March 1710. These therefore were his impressions of Russia at the time of his departure. By the time Whitworth wrote his account in 1710, Russia had achieved an emphatic victory over the Swedes at Poltava and had established a foothold on the Baltic as well as, at least temporarily, on the Black Sea through the acquisition of the port of Azov (Hartley 3, 16; Whitworth 1988, 8).

43On the Prospect of Peace” played a prominent role in the poet’s career. One of many celebratory poems written at the time, Tickell’s poem was one of the more popular contributions. It went through six editions within two years of publication and was widely anthologized in miscellanies throughout the eighteenth century. Nearly 200 references to over 100 geographical and personal names (in a 500-line poem) highlight the richness of the political, geographic, and historical tapestry laid out in the poem (Tickell, Introductory essay”). Russia, Caspian Gulphs, Smolensko’s Forests and the Volga are among them. Alexander Pope saw his own Windsor Forest partly as a response to and in dialogue with Tickell’s poem.On the Prospect of Peace enjoyed a popularity which Windsor Forest initially failed to achieve (Tickell, Introductory essay”)

44In 1717, Tickell was appointed Under-Secretary of State to Joseph Addison, and in 1724 became Secretary to the Lords Justices of Ireland. He held this position until his death in 1740. In addition, for his services, Tickell had the honor of having his portrait painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller.

45It is important to emphasize some differences in the perception of Russia and Peter I of Prior and Tickell, differences that were determined by the time of writing their poems. Less than fifteen years separate them, from 1696 to 1713. Long before the conclusion of the Treaty of Nystad, Russia appeared to Britons, as to all of Europe, as a great power, potentially perhaps the greatest of all. Peter was admired as a successful monarch. He seemed to personify what could be achieved by a ruler daring enough to envisage a great scheme of reform with the energy and determination needed to carry it out. So, Prior called Russia “Muscovy,” whose borders stretched from the Sea of Azov to the Northern Sea, whereas Tickell used the term “Russia” and recorded many geographical Russian names. Besides, Tickell saw Peter not only as an autocratic political leader, but also as a reformer who was forcing civilization upon a backward country. In general, the perception of Peter and Russia by both poets coincided with the opinion of their contemporaries. Unlike many contemporaries, this perception was presented in a figurative poetic form. In addition, Prior and Tickell emphasized the civilizing role of their own country, even though Prior did not use the term “to civilize.”


46In conclusion, I would like to notice that the political structures of the emerging Westphallian system were so interconnected that it was impossible to easily detach them from the intentions, desires and political and military activity of their nearest and even more distant neighbors. Generally, at the turn of the 17th-18th centuries, rising Russia was no longer viewed as a wild and savage territory. Above all, Western powers feared a preponderance of one of the sides in the conflicts between themselves and upset the balance of power in Europe, something that was also reflected in poetry. Matthew Prior and Thomas Tickell were the first well-known English poets to draw the majestic image of the Peter I and designate Russia as a major geopolitical power. Regardless of their political sympathies, these writers highlighted the threat emanating from Peter’s Russia and used the Russian theme to adhere to the main political idea in their writings–the idea of British supremacy and the civilizing role of their sovereigns, William and Anne and the state they ruled over.

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Liudmila Ivonina, « Early Enlightenment English poets on Russia and its Sovereign: Matthew Prior and Thomas Tickell »XVII-XVIII [En ligne], 79 | 2022, mis en ligne le 31 décembre 2022, consulté le 09 décembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Liudmila Ivonina

Liudmila Ivonina defended her PhD on the ​​“The role of the international factor in the political history of England in the 17th century” in 2002. Since 2002 she has held a professorship at Smolensk State University. She is the author of more than 200 publications, including 12 books.

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