March 11 in Russian history. Armed neutrality. Barsov's grammar


(28 February Old Style)

In 1775, when British colonies in America began their war for independence, France and Spain supported the separatists and Great Britain had to look for allies. In June 1775, King George III asked Russian empress Catherine the Great to send troops to America to suppress the rebellion. For Russia, free trade was way more important than the alliance with the old rival, who attempted to blockade Spanish and French ports. American privateers also interfered with Russian-English sea trade, but the losses they caused were tiny compared with the consequences of the British blockade. Catherine II refused to join the war against American separatists. Instead, in 1780, she launched an international campaign for free maritime trade. From Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy:

[Empress Catherine II of Russia] under pressure from Great Britain on the one hand to enter an alliance and from the northern powers on the other to help protect their neutrality, found her own shipping becoming more subject to interference from the belligerents. The result was the declaration of 1780, identifying the principles by which Catherine proposed to act and the means—commissioning a substantial portion of her fleet to go "wherever honour, interest, and necessity compelled"—by which she proposed to enforce those principles. Broadly, these principles were that neutral shipping might navigate freely from port to port and on the coasts of nations at war; that the property of subjects of belligerent states on neutral ships should be free except when it was classed as contraband within the meaning of the Anglo-Russian Treaty of 1766; and that a port was assumed to be blockaded only when the attacking power had rendered its ships stationary and made entry a clear danger.

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More about the League of Armed Neutrality from the POV of Russian history in The History of Russian Navy:

Although the Declaration was enforced for only three years, it was, nonetheless, an original doctrine of major significance. It contributed to the understanding among nations of the inviolability of peaceful merchant vessels, their right to be free from the threat of piracy and harassment, and that wanton disregard of such rights would not be tolerated by Russia and its allies. Enforcement of the Declaration by the Russian Navy confirmed that a powerful naval fleet commanded international respect and that Russia had become a maritime power that was able to support its policies and punish offenders. In effect, the Declaration of Armed Neutrality served to elevate the reputation of the Russian Navy. The Baltic Fleet gradually strengthened. As early as 1777 Admiral Greig had suggested a new table of ship's proportions and the refurbishing of ship armaments. The 54-gun vessels vanished from use, replaced by more powerful ones; 66- and 74-gun vessels with larger-calibre cannon became the base of the fleet. The strength of the Baltic Fleet was additionally reinforced by eight 100-gun, three-decked ships of the line, the first of which was the handsome Rostislav. In the year 1784 the Rostislav's dimensions were impressive-55 metres in length and a displacement of 3,500 tons. The next ships to be built were the Saratov, the Three Saints and the Saint Ioann Chrestitel, which proved their worth against the best-equipped vessels in the British and Swedish fleets.

In 1761 the weaponry of the Russian fleet was updated. More powerful shell-firing guns were installed on the lower decks, and in 1788 effective short-range cannon (carronades) were placed on the quarterdeck and forecastle of larger vessels. New copper sheathing protected ships' hulls and increased their speed. The fleet was regularly provided with officers from the Naval Cadet Corps (Naval Academy), which graduated a hundred such officers annually.

Inasmuch as war against Sweden loomed on the horizon, Russia was well-advised to refurbish its Baltic Fleet. The Swedes were hesitant to concede their dominant position in the Baltic to Russia. Friedrick Chapman, considered one of the foremost shipwrights of his day, was commissioned by Sweden to build 64-gun ships of the line and 40-gun frigates with heavy 24- and 36-pound artillery on the lower-deck batteries. In addition, the Swedish rowing fleet was reinforced by well-armed smaller vessels-hemmems, turums, udems and light, maneuverable gun-boats. The King of Sweden, Gustav III, awaited an excuse to begin hostilities against Russia.

Encyclopedia of Russian History adds an interesting conclusion to the article about the League of Armed Neutrality:

The league was remembered in the United States, somewhat erroneously, as a mark of Russian friendship and sympathy, and bolstered Anglophobia in the two countries. More generally, it affirmed a cardinal principle of maritime law that continues in effect in the early twenty-first century. Indirectly, it also led to a considerable expansion of Russian-American trade from the 1780s through the first half of the nineteenth century.


The Commission of Peoples Schools entrusted Anton Barsov, professor of the Moscow University, with the task of writing a course of Russian grammar.

Among earlier works of Barsov were a chronology of Russian history, "Collection of 4291 Ancient Russian proverb", translations of French, Greek and Latin works on politics and philology, including "Cellarii Orthographia Latina", a method of Russia stenography "De Brachygraphia" and other works. He participated in the writing of the dictionary of Russian language. He finished work on the first volume of the dictionary when the new job made him to send all materials he had collected for the dictionary to the Academy and concentrate on the grammar course.

He was writing the course since 1783 till 1788, but the Commission of Peoples Schools decided not to publish it. It was lost and we can only use incomplete copies. Members of the Commission concluded that the course was overloaded with details and unsuitable for schools. Another possible cause was, probably, Barsov's ideas about the reform of the orthography. Some of those proposals were implemented in the 20th century, during the 1918 reform. So, he proposed to eliminate the hard sign "ъ" at the ultimate position after consonants, to exclude redundant letters "θ" and "И", in favor of their duplicates "Ф" and "I", correspondingly, and to replace "ъ" with an apostroph or the soft sign "ь" in the middle of words. He also offered to introduce a new ligature, "io", to denote the sound for which Karamzin later invented a new letter "ё", which is stil used in Russian alphabet.

His grammar was not published at that time, but now it is still in print, both in Russian and in English. Moreover, you can download the full text in Russian (1981 edition) as a PDF file for free (23.2Mb).

From the preface to The Comprehensive Russian Grammar of A.A.Barsov by Lawrence W. Newman:

This volume contains the first publication of the Comprehensive Russian Grammar of Anton Barsov (1730-1791). Written between 1783 and 1788 for use in schools, it would have needed to be shortened and simplified to fulfill its original purpose. Its publication helps fill an important lacuna in the history of the Russian grammatical tradition, as well as providing new information about eighteenth-century Russian. Barsov was professor of rhetoric at Moscow University for thirty years, including the period when he was writing the grammar. The influence of his university work was apparently great, to judge, for example, from Karamzin's testimony (cited here from V.V. Vinogradov, Iz istorii izučenija russkogo sintaksisa, Moscow: Moscow University, 1958, page 49): if, says Karamzin, he "knows how sometimes to pause over a word, how to be cautious, then he owes this advantage to this one extremely learned man." It is likely that the grammar, or at least lectures from which it was derived, was not completely lost, but played a minor role in the education of a generation of Russian intellectuals.

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