The case of Petr Saltykov, which stretched on between 1758 and 1765, with a surprising coda in 1796, is noteworthy in many respects. The material collected in connection with Saltykov’s crime is useful for an investigation into magic belief as such, offering parallels and supplementary information to the dozens of “magic trials” of the 18th century. However, what makes the Saltykov case unique is how the chancellor’s “superstition” managed so compellingly to bring together two cultures – traditional folk culture and the “Europeanized” culture of the imperial court. The case of Saltykov’s “sorcery” brought the diametrically opposed cultures of the court elite and the masses into confrontation. But even opposites can come together. As it turned out, the magic beliefs of the masses and medical practices of archaic traditional culture continued to attract adherents at court, getting along just fine in a high-culture, “Europeanized” environment. The chasm that lay between the culture of the aristocratic court elite and popular culture in the 18th century was not unbridgeable, although possible intersections of these two cultures sometimes took on rather strange configurations.
In the Mélanges philosophiques for Catherine II, Diderot, resuming a project of the Empress, insisted on the need to draw up a small moral catechism based on the Petit code de la raison humaine written by his friend Jacques Barbeu Du Bourg. This work, banned by French censorship (1772), was published in London by Benjamin Franklin (1770, 1772/1773), then in The Hague, by Marc-Michel Rey, with a false imprint (1774). This article tries to reconstruct the network that promoted the dissemination of the Petit code and in which form it was presented to the Empress.