• Readers
  • Authors
  • Partners
  • Students
  • Libraries
  • Advertising
  • Contacts
  • Language: Русская версия
Section: History
Publication in Amsterdam of the Work on Russian Geographic Discoveries

Publication in Amsterdam of the Work on Russian Geographic Discoveries

Dutch publishers of the 17th and 18th centuries traditionally printed geographic descriptions and maps of the areas lying to the east of Moscovia. Their interest was attributed to the tasks set for the authorized cartographers of the East-India Company. The maps of Siberia were procured to the company both by the official and secret channels, mostly through the residents placed in Moscow, Arkhangelsk, and Vologda. Publication of these data was the grant to the Russian crown of the newly discovered territories as the maps cited full names of the Russian tsars and complete lists of all the territories in their domain. For the Dutch, these publications were invaluable since the then trade interests of the East India Company reached as far as India and Japan, and finding shortest and safest routes to these countries was a passport to survival for the commercial republic

The name of Marc-Michel Rey, an outstanding European man of books, is becoming increasingly familiar in the recent years not only to specialists but also among enthusiasts of the 18th century history and culture. It is well known that M.-M. Rey brought out virtually all the works by Jean-Jacque Rousseau and complete works by Denis Diderot; thanks to M.-M. Rey many works by Voltaire and Helvétius as well as the latest classical Encyclopédie by Diderot were published. Less known is Rey’s contribution to the diplomatic and political struggle of the time and his cooperation with Russia: the Petersburg Academy of Sciences, Board of Foreign Affairs, and some prominent noblemen who lived during the reign of Elizabeth of Russia and Catherine II.

Marc-Michel Rey was born in Genève. He completed a course of typographic studies given by М.-М. Bouquet, a Swiss publisher and book seller. Having moved to Amsterdam in 1744, he joined the guild of Amsterdam publishers and book sellers. In April 1747, he suitably married a daughter of the well-known Dutch man of books Jean-Frédéric Bernard. After the man died, Rey became heir to his father-in-law’s entire enterprise, thus bringing together the Dutch capital and equipment and the Swiss publishing experience. As early as in 1747, Rey’s issue of two books and purchase of publishing rights to a dozen of works were announced. According to the investigation published by the Oxford-based Voltaire Fund, from the outset of his career in Holland, M.-M. Rey had established close business relations with the famous publisher and journalist Prosper Marchand, who maintained contact with the Russian Embassy in The Hague .1 It is hence not surprising that, since approximately 1752 or 1753, Rey had begun merchant shipping his publications to Russia.

Started in 1758, M.-M. Rey’s correspondence with G. F. Müller, conference-secretary of the St Petersburg Academy of Sciences, gives us new evidence not only on the history of Russian book trade but also on the history of Russian geographical discoveries made in the 17th and 18th cc. and their popularization in Europe.


The archive documents testify that in May 1763 Müller suggested that M.-M. Rey translate and print in the French or in the Dutch language separate volumes of the Petersburg academic journal Sammlung russischer Geschichte, drawing the Dutchman’s attention to the following papers: “1. A memoir on the new discoveries in the Sea of Kamchatka,2 published in the third volume ‹…› and a map of these discoveries,3 which I can send you if it is not known well enough yet. If possible, one should avoid mangling proper names and adding irrelevant comments, as it was done in the English edition published by Mr. Jefferiys.4 2. Evidence on Siberian trade… printed in the same volume.5 3. The experience of Russian modern history in the fifth volume.6 4. The history of Siberia from the sixth volume,7 whose continuation you will receive in the eighth volume currently being published.8 5. Description of the Caspian Sea from the seventh volume. This is in addition to what the scholars will consider of interest to the public. You will not be disappointed.”9

With reference to publishing the materials on Siberian history, Rey wrote to Müller as early as January 10, 1764: “I have received, Herr, a letter from the friend to whom I had sent the German edition of Sammlung russischer Geschichte. He finds it highly interesting, and he has translated almost completely A memoir on the new discoveries in the Sea of Kamchatka. He asked me for the map that you kindly offered me [to publish] and that I cannot find. He has checked the content of des transactions, and I wrote to London today in order to obtain the volume containing Jefferiys’s publication. As soon as we receive these volumes, I am going to pass it on for publication. ‹…› Would you allow me, Herr, to mention you in the preface and confirm to the public that it is you to whom we owe the French republication.”10

In April of the same year Rey reminded Müller: “I am expecting the map that you kindly promised me, concerning the Russians’ journeys and discoveries along the shore of the Frozen Sea and on the Eastern Ocean, both towards Japan and America; the translation has been completed and publication will start as soon as I receive the map. I have been advised to illustrate the book by engravings of the sea horse, fur seal, sea bear, sea dog, sea lion, sea cow, manatee, deer, etc. What would you advise, Herr?”11

Müller replied that he had sent to Rey in Amsterdam the latest issues of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences’ journal including, among other things, “the map of new discoveries made in the Sea of Kamchatka.” Further, the Petersburg professor wrote: “You must know from newspapers, no doubt, that very recently a lot of new islands have been discovered opposite Kamchatka, which will move the American continent a little farther away [from Kamchatka] in contrast to the location suggested on my map. The distance, however, will not be too big because inhabitants of these islands know about the continent. There will be an archipelago between Kamchatka and America, of which I have numerous descriptions and even maps that will serve as foundation to a new Memoir, in which I will dwell on the recent discoveries that have just been made in the Frozen Sea. These I will send you after I have obtained permission to publish; but I foresee that [here] they would probably like to postpone the publication until more accurate descriptions and maps have been procured, to which effect orders have been sent. Undoubtedly, you have selected some other excerpts from Sammlung russischer Geschichte to be translated and published. Will you let me know what these excerpts are? Then I could probably make some additions so that the translation will be more complete than the original. We can translate some fragments here under my supervision, because there is a Frenchman in the Academy who has a good command of his mother tongue and at the same time knows German quite well. We should only agree on the price. This is why I would like to know how much you pay your translators.”12

Correspondence between Müller and Rey reflects their intense work on completing the project in 1764—1765. As early as in 1766, the book ordered by Müller left M.-M. Rey’s printing press. Its title was Voyages et découvertes faites par les Russes le long des côtes de la mer Glaciale et sur l’Océan Oriental tant vers le Japon que vers l’Amérique (Amsterdam: M.-M.Rey, 1766) (Voyages and Discoveries made by the Russians along the Shore of the Frozen Sea and the Eastern Ocean towards both Japan and America).

By established tradition, G. F. Müller is recognized as the only author of this remarkable work that attested to Russian priority on Arctic studies and discoveries and revealed to the world geographical science the names of Russian path-breakers: Semen Dezhnev, Guerasim Ankudinov, Mikhailo Stadukhin, Vladimir Atlasov, Ivan Rebrov and dozens of others. It should be noted though that some data on the sea voyages made towards Kamchatka and the Kuril Islands appeared in the Russian language in the book by S. P. Krasheninnikov published in 1755, which was re-printed in the English language in 1764, in the German language in 1766, and in the Dutch language in 1770.

Catherine’s Archipelago

G. F. Müller contributed greatly to the promotion of works on Russian history and geography, and Catherine II herself encouraged his efforts. It is known, for instance, that on October 20, 1764 she had an hour’s talk with the historiographer on the publication and re-publication of Sammlung russischer Geschichte. In the same year, the Petersburg professor was proposed by A. Busching and I. I. Betzky for the position of Chief Supervisor of the Moscow foundling home. In early 1765 Müller was awarded the order of St Vladimir, and in 1766 he was put in charge of the archives of the Ministry of External Affairs. Attesting to the importance of the tasks performed by Müller is the fact that in March 1767 alone he had seven audiences with Catherine II.

When G. F. Müller moved to Moscow in 1765, his contacts with the Amsterdam publisher M.-M. Rey did not come to an end but rose to a new, “highest” level. There is no doubt that the result of these relations was a whole series of Russian official publications that were brought out in Amsterdam in the 1770s. These were, firstly, Instruction by Catherine II and Antidote issued in the French language in Amsterdam by M.-M. Rey in 177113 and, secondly, the French edition of curricula of different educational institutions for the young written by I. I. Betzky. The latter were published, in two volumes, in Amsterdam y M.-M. Rey in 1775.14

Pblication in Holland of a book in the French language devoted to Russian geographical discoveries made along the coasts of the Frozen and Pacific Oceans was of paramount political and cultural importance: for the Russian Empire, it was an important document that assigned to it new vast territories with sparse population; for the Netherlands, of prime interest was investigation of new routes to remote Japan and India.

It was not for nothing that the Dutch publisher in his Annex to the book in question pointed out both the Russian latest discoveries near the Aleutian Islands and the English discoveries in Canada in 1764, drawing the following conclusion: “As we can see, the English have not abandoned their attempts to find the much desired north-western way [from Hudson Bay to the Pacific Ocean – N.K.]… For all one knows, they may eventually meet the Russians, and goods from China and India might go to Europe across Canada and Siberia. The Frozen Sea is impassable not everywhere and not for any ships. ‹…› Commerce, which has dragged Amsterdam out of marshes and won Venice back from the sea, can work miracles in Asia and America too, and erect a new Tyre in Kamchatka and another Carthage on a shore not yet known to us.”

1 Berkvens Ch., Vercmysse J. Le Metier de journaliste au XVIII siecle: correspondance entre Prosper Marchand, Jean Rousset de Missy et Lambert Ignace Douxfils. Oxford: Voltaire Foundation. 1993. P.10, 14.
2 Nachrichten von Seereisen, und zur See gemachten Entdeckungen, die von Russland aus Langst den Kasten des Eissmeeres und auf dem Oestlichen Weltmeere gegen Japan und Amerika geschehen sind // Sammlung russischer Geschichte. 1758. Bd.3. S.1—304.
3 Nouvelle Carte des Découvertes faites par Vaisseaux Russiens aux cotes inconnues de l’Amerique Septentrionale avec les Pais Adiacents…SPb., à l’Académie Imperiale des Sciences, 1758. This is the second edition of the map of Russian discoveries in the Pacific Ocean. The first edition of 1754 contained some mistakes corrected by G. F. Müller in the 1758 edition.
4 The publication in question is Müller G.F. Voyages from Asia to America for completing the discoveries of the north-west coast of America/ To which is prefixed a summary of the voyages made by the Russians on the Frozen Sea in search of a north-east passage. Serving as explanation of a map of the Russian discoveries published by the Academy of Sciences at Petersburgh… By Thomas Jefferiys…London, 1761.
5 Nachrichten von der Handlung in Sibirien // Sammlung russischer Geschichte. 1758. Bd. 3. S. 413—612.
6 Versuch einer Neueren Geschichte von Russland // Sammlung russischer Geschichte. SPb.,1760—1761. St. 1—4. S.1—380.
7 Sibirische Geschichte // Sammlung russischer Geschichte. 1758. Bd. 6. S. 109—559.
8 Sibirische Geschichte // Sammlung russischer Geschichte. 1758. Bd. 8. S. 1—458.
9 Translated from French. St Petersburg Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences Archives (SPB RASA). Archive 21. Inventory 3. File 307. Sheets 8—9.
10 Translated from French. SPB RASA. Archive 21. Inventory 3. File 227. Sheets 1—5.
11 Ibid. Sheets 2—3 (reverse)
12 Translated from French. SPB RASA. Archive 21. Inventory 3. File 307/23. Sheets 11—12.
13 Instruction de Sa Majesté Impériale Catherine II. pour la commission chargée de dresser le projet d’un nouveau Code de Loix. Amsterdam: M.-M.Rey, 1771.; Antidote ou Examen du mauvais livre superbement imprimé intitulé: “Voyage en Siberie, ... Par M.l’Abbe Chappe d’Auteroche. Paris, chez Debure père Libraire. 1768. Amsterdam: M.-M.Rey, 1771.
14 Les plans et les Status, des differents étabissements ordonnés par Sa Majesté Impériale Catherine II. pour L’eéducation de la jeunesse et l’utilité generale de son Empire, Ecrits en Langue Russe par Mr. Betzky et traduits en Langue Francoise, d’après les originaux, par Mr. Clerc [Publ. par D.Diderot]. Amsterdam: M.-M.Rey, 1775. 2 vol.

Like the article? Share it with your friends

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter