In 1761, the University of Glasgow received the first Russian students to study in Britain. Semyon Efimovich Desnitsky born in 1734 in Nizhyn, Ukraine, and Ivan Andreyevich Tretyakov, born 1735 in Tver (now Kalinin), were both sponsored by Empress Elizabeth to complete their studies gained at the University of Moscow abroad. They attend the classes of Adam Smith, the pre-eminent economist and philosopher of the Scottish Enlightenment, who held the chair of Moral Philosophy and lectured on rhetoric and belles-lettres, ethics and jurisprudence, and those of Smith’s former student and colleague, John Millar, Professor of Law at the University of Glasgow (1761 – 1801) and one of the fathers of modern sociology and a pioneer of political science.
Despite financial problems while at the University of Glasgow, as their allowances from the Russian authorities arrived irregularly, Desnitsky and Tretyakov received their Masters of Arts (MA) degrees in 1764 and 1765 respectively and continued in their studies for the degree of doctor of law (LLD) which they both received in 1767.
A letter from Semion Desnitsky and Ivan Tretyakov to the Dean and Faculty of Glasgow University, dated 31 Dec 1765, requests they be put forward as candidates for and submit themselves to trial for a degree in Law on the basis that they have attended Dr Smith’s classes in Ethics and Jurisprudence and Mr Miller’s classes in Civil Law, as they have been ordered to return home to Russia.
Upon their return to Russia in 1768, both became Professors of Law at Moscow University, the first Russians to hold chairs of law in Russia’s first University. They were both very important in transmitting the influential ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment into Russia, and as such they both faced difficulties with the secular and ecclesiastical authorities. Tretyakov resigned in 1773, dying in 1776, while Desnitsky remained a professor until 1787 and died the following year.