Letters from Grimm to Empress Catherine the Great


Lettres de Grimm a L’Impératrice Catherine II (Letters from Grimm to Empress Catherine II) is a compilation of letters written over a 26-year period by Friedrich Melchior, Baron von Grimm (1723‒1807) to Catherine the Great, who ruled from 1762 until her death in 1796. The first letter is dated January 26, 1764, the last December 20 (December 31 by the Gregorian calendar), 1790. Grimm was a German scholar, writer, and diplomat who settled in France. He was well known at the courts of Europe, and through him Catherine was able to learn what was happening in European intellectual circles. She purchased books and art that he recommended and gave commissions to architects discovered by him. Both Grimm and the empress were of German descent, but they wrote to each other in elegant French with just occasional expressions in German. In this edition, edited and published by Yakov Grot in 1880, the French originals of the letters are provided along with translations into Russian. Some of the letters are from Grimm to other people. The book opens with an introduction in Russian by Grot, who informs his readers that the compilation is not complete, as some letters from Grimm to Catherine the Great were lost. Grimm’s letters are full of reverence for the empress, but at the same time informal in tone, implying a close relationship. The letters clearly are intended to flatter Catherine, and in each Grimm focuses on her exclusively, referring to her as “great” and “immortal.” They also can be playful, humorous, and witty. In one letter, Grimm writes about Johann Friedrich Reiffenstein, a painter, guide, and agent for art collectors in Rome, and suggests that Catherine invite him to her court or grant him a pension as a reward for his advice on purchases of art. In another, Grimm mentions a painting of Andromeda and Perseus (by Anton Raphael Mengs, now in the Hermitage, Saint Petersburg) being sent to her from Paris via Germany. Grimm also discusses the prices of purchases and other business matters, such as bills for books and art objects, as well as hotel bills for Russian visitors that Catherine was sponsoring. A supplement contains letters by Grimm mainly about educational matters and such topics as teaching in schools, drama lessons in schools, schools in Germany, schools for peasant children, education in Austria, and so forth.

Last updated: December 7, 2016