He graduated from the University of Strasbourg with a degree in law and afterwards quickly moved to Paris.
There he acquainted with Voltaire, Diderot, d"Alembert and other Enlightenment famous mentor His estate Monrepos was in the city of Vyborg, formerly a Finnish city, since 1945 a part of Russia. His private library, collections (cameos, letters and other documents) and pictures are now in the possession of the Finnish National Library in Helsinki.
His library is a very rare example of the Russian libraries of the age of Enlightenment including for example many rare examples of Russian books in French.
In 1782 on the same day as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Nicolai was granted the title of baron by Joseph World War II
Russian Academy of Sciences. Russian Academy of Sciences]
When Paul became emperor, he promoted Nicolai to a member of cabinet and President of the Saint St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences (15 April 1798 – 2 June 1803).