In October 1714 Alexander Menshikov, one of Peter the Great’s closest associates, received a letter from England signed by Sir Isaac Newton himself. Newton informed Menshikov that he had been elected to Britain’s Royal Society, “insofar as the Royal Society has learned that your Emperor, his royal majesty, applies great zeal in developing art and science in his dominion and that you, through your service, assist him not only in managing military and civil affairs, but, first and foremost, in propagating good books and science…”
Clearly, Menshikov’s election to the Royal Society was a political gesture. To this day, scholars argue over whether or not “Aleksashka” even knew how to read. Some say that he spoke several languages and kept a diary, while others claim that he only pretended to be able to read the official documents placed before him. Menshikov was undoubtedly a man of many talents, but it is highly doubtful that he deserved to be elevated to membership in the Royal Society, whose members included some of the world’s most accomplished scholars.
Apparently, some British merchants had told Newton that the all-powerful Menshikov for some reason wanted to be admitted to this distinguished body, and the Royal Society decided to grant him this wish.
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