From Robert Massie’s Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman:
- Dignity is quiet.
“Bereft of affection and approval, she nevertheless maintained a respectful attitude toward her mother… Later, concealment of pride in humility came to be recognized as a deliberate and useful tactic which [Catherine] used when confronting crisis and danger.” pg. 9
- Try hard. It will be noticed.
“The little foreign princess loved Russia so much that now she was lying at death’s door in order to learn the Russian language more quickly. [T]his story won Sophia the affection of many….” pg. 54
- Obsess abut reading. Catherine did for (at least) 18 years.
“Books were her refuge. Having set herself to learn the Russian language, she read every Russian book she could find. But French was the language she preferred, and she read [French books] indiscriminately… She always kept a book in her room and carried another in her pocket… Gradually, guided by her own curiosity, she was gaining a superior education.” pg. 145
- Don’t let yourself be dragged around by the world.
“Whatever happened, she wrote, ‘I felt myself possessed of sufficient courage either to rise or fall without being carried away by undue pride on the one hand, or being humbled and dispirited on the other.’” pg. 212
- We might not know what lies ahead, but there will be some things we’ll need no matter what. Focus on those.
“Which path would be open to her was unclear, but one thing was certain: whatever happened, she would need allies.” pg. 227
- Learn to shift easily between having fun and being serious.
“She softened imperial presence with a sense of humor and a quick tongue; indeed, with Catherine more than any monarch of her day; there was always a wide latitude for humor. There was also a line not to be crossed, even by close friends.” pg. 281
- Make the most of what you have. Guard against potential pitfalls.
“[Catherine] was magnanimous to former opponents, never retaliating against supporters of her former husband or other adversaries, personal or official. Knowing that she needed the assistance of every available person of administrative ability and experience, she drew around her a number of men who had sided with her husband… To [the field marshal who urged Peter to seize Catherine], the new empress remarked, ‘You only did your duty.’” pg. 283
- Devote yourself to a cause.
“On her fourth day as empress, she was present at a session of the Senate which began with reports that the treasury was empty and the price of grain had doubled. Catherine replied that her imperial allowance, amounting to one-thirteenth of the national income, should be used by the government. ‘Belonging herself to the nation, she said, she considered that everything she possessed belonged to the nation. In the future, she continued, there would be no distinction between the national and her personal interests.” pg. 292
- You must understand the details.
“[Catherine] began her reign with no experience in administering an empire or large bureaucracy, but she was eager to learn and prepared to teach herself. When it was proposed that… the burdensome task of reading all diplomatic dispatches and ministerial reports be spared the sovereign and only extracts provided, Catherine refused. She wished to know every detail of the problems Russia faced and every ingredient in the decisions she needed to make. ‘Full reports will be brought to me every morning,’ she declared.” pg. 292
- Don’t be afraid to question the basics.
“At these meetings, she quickly discovered that in the Senate there were heavy layers of ignorance. One morning, when the senators were discussing a distant part of the empire, it became apparent that none of them had any idea where this territory lay. Catherine suggested looking at a map. There was no map. Without hesitation, she summoned a messenger, took 5 rubles from her purse, and sent him to the academy of sciences, which had published an atlas of Russia.” pg. 293
- Write. And write to the people who will eventually be reading.
“The relationship between an ambitious, politically powerful woman and the most celebrated writer of the age became one of mutual benefit. Both were mindful that they were playing before an immense, influential audience. Catherine recognized that a letter to Voltaire, which could be passed along to his friends, was potentially a message to the intelligentsia of Europe.” pg. 337
- Always be working on a grand project. Even if you’re the Empress of Russia.
“She began working on the Nakaz in January 1765 and devoted two or three hours a day to it for two years. The document was published on July 30, 1767, and is, in the view of Isabel de Madariaga, the preeminent historian of Catherine’s Russia, ‘one of the most remarkable political treatises ever compiled and published by a reigning sovereign.’ In 526 articles, grouped into twenty chapters, she presented her view of the nature of the Russian state and how it should be governed.” pg. 345
- Don’t wait for someone else to set the precedent.
“It is worth noting that Catherine’s writing of the Nakaz and summons to the Legislative Commission took place nine years before Thomas Jefferson wrote, and the Continental Congress voted to approve, the American Declaration of Independence. It preceded by twenty-two years Louis XVI’s summons to the Estates-General. None of Catherine’s successors on the Russian throne dared to summon such an assembly again until 1905, when Nicholas II was forced by revolutionaries to sign a document transforming Russia from an absolute autocracy to a semi-constitutional monarchy…” pg. 362
- Even the best plans will go awry.
“Catherine had succeeded in making Poland a vassal state with a puppet king, but she had also succeeded in arousing the hatred of the Poles, the alarm of Turkey, the anxiety of Austria, and even the nervousness of Prussia.” pg. 374
- Love. Love hard.
“… I had resolved never to love without restraint a man who would not return this love in full; such was my disposition that my heart would have belonged entirely and without reserve to a husband who loved only me.” pg. 88
- You are not too busy.
“Catherine admitted, ‘I cannot live one day without love’” pg. 414