L. MANKOVA, (c)
by Lyubov MANKOVA, Cand. Sc. (Philol.)
The famous St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences experienced changes in its administration by the 1760s. As fate would have it, it was the Chancellery which won the day and did this even despite its poor reputation. Its system of arbitrary rule obstructed the progress of scientific thought, and led to staggering debts and plundering of rich scholarly collections. Faced with this crisis, Catherine II had no choice except to take resolute steps. And she introduced a new office of Director of the Academy and appointed a person whom she trusted - the 24-year- old Count Vladimir Orlov who shouldered the burden of administration of the Academy and the responsibility inevitable reforms. In a letter to Voltaire, the Russian Empress even called her choice not the Director, but President of the Academy.
Count Vladimir Orlov was born on July 8, 1743 in Moscow. Orphaned at an early age, he was supported by his elder brothers. After the palace coup of 1762 the brothers decided that Vladimir was not eligible for military service because of his "fragile constitution". But he was an eager student, and in 1763 his brothers decided that the best place for him to complete his education was the well- known Leipzig University in Germany. There the talented youth immediately attracted the attention of Ms professors. On August 6 of that same year astronomer Gottfried Geinsius, an Honorary Foreign Member of the Russian Academy, wrote this in a letter to Academician Gerard Miller, a historiographer: "... On my return from water-cure I was greatly surprised to see here my Russian acquaintance, Count Orlov, a most worthy cavalier who is doing great honor to our University with his good manners and great zeal for learning..." The gifted youth gravitated towards natural sciences with astronomy becoming his science of choice.
The general atmosphere of a provincial Germany town matched perfectly the natural inclinations and the tastes of the young Russian aristocrats. The absence of pomp and aristocratic temptations combined with a modest and simple way of life
of professors and students fully dedicated to the quest for knowledge and scholarly pursuits had a positive effect on his upbringing. He liked order, modest sufficiency and hated wasting his time. He was acquainted with many celebrities of the day, such as Prof. Jean D'Alembert, and Honorary Foreign Member of the St. Petersburg Academy who specialized in mathematics and mechanics, and the philosopher Denis Diderot.
The favorite pastime of the young count were improvised musical evenings. These were held on weekends at his apartment and were attended by fans and lovers of works of European composers.
Upon completion of his university studies, Count Orlov, who was 24, returned to St. Petersburg in 1766. On October 6 of that year he was appointed Director of the Russian Academy Numerous documents preserved from that time attest to his very respectful attitude to the leading scientists of that period whom he treated with affectionate respect. Right after assuming his post, for example, Count Orlov wrote a letter to Academician Miller who remained in his post of the Secretary of the Academy until April 25, 1765. "I would like to convey my profound respect to You, most honorable Professor. I am greatly pleased with Your particular disposition towards myself and your expression of joy upon my appointment to the administration of the Academy which gave me all the more pleasure as it had come from a person fully dedicated to science who is famous for his many services to my country over many years... I wish to express to you my humble gratitude and I can assure you that I shall never cease to express my profound respect for science and especially for those who are zealously working for the benefit of its firm establishment in Russia."
The new administrative head of the Academy faced problems of truly
titanic proportions, including a complete revision, planning and material support for research projects, training of young specialists including training of budding Russian talents abroad, publishing activities, correspondence with Russian and European scientists and scholars, and so on and so forth.
Having acquainted himself with the affairs of the Academy, Count Orlov reported his findings and conclusions to the Empress who issued a special ukase (decree) on the establishment of a special Commission of members of the Academy. Among them were: art expert Yakov Shtelin, chemist and geologist Johann Leman, mathematician Semyon Kotelnikov, astronomer Stepan Rumovsky and mathematicians and physicists (father and son) Leonard and Johann Euler. "Their duty is to review the work of all the Departments with the view of improving their performance." The Commission was subordinated to Count Orlov who was given the powers of the President of the Academy. The imperial decree gave members of the Commission full authority in examining and administering all areas of academic activities without exception, including its finances.
To begin with, Count Orlov ordered a revision of what was called the Foreign Book Store which, after the death of Mikhail Lomonosov, became a personal responsibility of Academician Johann Taubert. His next order excluded from the academic structure all sections and units dealing with arts and crafts. The administration of the Learned Society became the responsibility of its members.
The new head of the Academy devoted much time and attention to improving the standards of Russian language and to the dissemination of Russian translations of the classics. We know from the records of Kozitsky, the personal secretary of the Empress Catherine II, that a special meeting of experts was convened in 1767 to discuss "the Statute of the Russian Dictionary", its lexicology and orthography. Taking part in the project were the writer Mikhail Kheraskov, educator Nikolai Novikov and several members of the Court including the Orlov brothers.
The year 1769 was especially exciting and momentous for the Director of the Academy because of the expected passage of Venus by the Sun.
And Count Orlov was able to share his interest and expectations with the public in general and Her Majesty in particular. As a result, large amounts of money were allocated for purchases of some of the advanced English astronomical instruments and for the building of observatories.
The forthcoming astronomical event was of tremendous interest to scholars as an opportunity for precision measurements of the mean distance between Venus and the Earth. The previous passage of the planet across the solar disk at 8-year intervals which occurred in 1761 was crowned by the discovery of the atmosphere over Venus by the great Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov. Inspired by that achievement the French, British, Swedish and Danish academies sent special expeditions to California, Batavia, the Hudson Bay, Peking and Tahiti, setting up a total of 149 observation stations.
Russian astronomers tried to keep pace with their Western colleagues; Count Orlov picked up the best academic brains who were dispatched to the Kola Peninsula, and to Guriev, Orenburg, Orsk and Yakutsk. European astronomers arriving in Russia
for observations were offered sites in the Arkhangelsk Province within the Arctic Circle: in Ponoy and Umba. Welcomed in St. Petersburg was a leading expert in the field. Prof. Christian Meier from Kurfalz, the author of a daring theory alleging a physical bond between twin stars.
The scientists engaged on the project arrived at their stations long before the actual cosmic event, supervising the construction of observatories and mounting the telescopes and other instruments. All were satisfied with the provided facilities. In 1769 Prof. Meier published his work on "The Passage of Venus by the Sun on May 23, 1769". He wrote at the end of his book: "... thanks to the wise care and exceptional foresight of the Director of the Academy, His Highness Count Vladimir Orlov, an accomplishment took place on May 23, 1769, without which Astronomy would have no accurate order in the system of the universe, Physics would have been lacking knowledge about concealed terrestrial phenomena, Geography would have no due descriptions of continents and seas, Chronology and History would have no accurate bearings of time and the science of marine navigation would be lacking comprehensive data on islands, shores and gulfs of the seas and oceans...."
Published later, in 1870, in the "Transactions of the Imperial Academy of Sciences" was an article by Dr. V. Dellen dealing with the problem of financing of scholarly projects. It said: "We are especially pleased to recall that within this contest of enlightened nations, Russia was distinguished by special zeal. In this regard we could have said much more on the basis of comments of foreign scholars... The Imperial Academy of Sciences... possessed at that time such a significant number of knowledgeable astronomers and experienced observers which would have been enough in itself for dealing with a project of a smaller size...."
This number of observatories set up at that time justified itself because in many points observation were rendered impossible by thick clouds.
Count Orlov personally took part in the studies, assessment and publication of observation data obtained from different countries. Interesting information was sent to St. Petersburg from Oxford by a Russian college student Nikitin together with a letter from his professor F. Homsby addressed to Count Orlov. It said: "Dear Sir, I am sending you observations on the passage of Venus made in Oxford by our student G. Nikitin and I have no words to praise his tireless zeal and profound devotion to Philosophy and Astronomy. His intention is to devote the whole of himself to practical Astronomy. And in order not to claim your attention in vain, I have taken the boldness to attach some of my own observations data from Oxford being motivated by the desire to maintain correspondence with you and in the hope of not being unworthy of your attention..."
And Count Orlov's dedication to astronomy had no ill effect on his attitude to other sciences. He was the author, for example, of a grandiose
project for the studies of Russia's natural resources and organized a scientific expedition which lasted for a period of 6 years. Apart from Russian scholars, it also included some European luminaries personally invited by Count Orlov. The range of studies covered landscapes, soils and bodies of water, minerals; methods of cultivation of steppes, different diseases and methods of their treatment and prevention and also apiculture, sericulture and animal husbandry (especially sheep-breeding). Members of the expedition also collected ethnographic data on customs, traditions, languages, religions and historical monuments in different regions. And the scientists were also given the task of locating the most convenient spots for astronomical observations where new observatories could be set up. The findings of the expedition were published by Prof. Pallas in Russian, German and French.
Count Orlov chose gifted young people for studies abroad and sent them to the most prestigious European universities, often at his own expense. He kept track of their progress and conditions and saw to it that they were not abused in any way and the money allocated to them were not misappropriated. And he thought nothing of mediating in conflicts between students and their tutors.
The stress and strain of his daily chores took a tragic toll of the count's health and in 1771 doctors decided that his days were numbered. And Count Orlov went abroad for cure at medicinal springs. His travel diary and letters home prove that during his journey he was almost as busy as ever. Passing through different countries of Central Europe he found time to attend sessions of the local academies of sciences and also of parliaments, went to see factories and plants and had meetings with prominent scholars and public figures.
In Switzerland he vaccinated local peasant children against smallpox.
During his 3 weeks in Paris the count had frequent meetings with Diderot, Marquise Mirabot and also with Dr. D'Alembert and Rousseau. About the latter he wrote: "Rousseau liked me and invited to visit him more often."
And the count was especially impressed with what he saw in Britain - the well- being of the public, industrial and technological achievements and the democratic spirit in the Lower Chamber of Parliament. All of these things were described in greater or lesser detail in his diary - a wealth of first-hand information for historians.
The busy travel schedule, however, helped improve the count's health so that upon his return to Russia he was able to resume his regular duties. But in 1774 he wrote his letter of resignation for reasons of poor health - "... And my eyesight has become so poor that I can hardly read through one page...". His resignation was accepted on December 5 of that year.
His seven years at the post of the Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences received a high assessment from the historian Academician Mikhail Sukhomlinov. In his "History of the Russian Academy" he drew a comparison between its two directors - Orlov and Domashnev. "The activities of the Academic Commission (during its first period) and the mutual relations of its members revealed the principles of equality in as much as they were compatible, in the most favourable circumstances, with the public morality of that period. In relations with academicians, the Head of the Academic Board avoided tutorial tone, addressing Board members as his comrades... But then times changed... Domashnev was appointed Director of the Academy instead of Orlov - and this was followed by a whole chain of collisions and hostile acts between the Director and the members of the Board. Domashnev looked down upon the Board as a chancellery which was fully submitted to him and which had to obey his arbitrary orders there and then. And members of the Academy found themselves exposed to a torrent of orders, and reprimands."
Having retired from the court, Count Orlov turned his attention to domestic economic matters. He moved to his family estate of Otrada focusing his time and efforts on house repairs, new construction and farming improvements in the interests of his peasants. He even introduced new varieties of crops and, like in his early student years, he plunged into music and things associated with it. When he later moved to Moscow, Count Orlov brought with him a rich collection of musical instruments, and in his letters he discussed the works of different composers and extolled his favorite Dmitry Bortnyansky The count asked his friends in St. Petersburg to send to him all of the sheets of that composer, and the domestic orchestra of the count often played Bortnyansky's music by invitation.
The first Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences died of pneumonia on February 28, 1831. His funeral in Moscow was a truly public occasion.
Опубликовано на Порталусе 14 сентября 2018 года
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