Share this article with friends
by Liudmila MOROZOVA, State Museum of Literature
The exhibition halls of the State Museum of Literature in Moscow (which were opened to the public in 1983) recently featured an exposition on the 190th birth anniversary of the great Russian poet Mikhail Yurievich Lermontov (1814 - 1841). The museum is housed in the mansion that once belonged to llya Ostroukhov, an artist and art collector. In the seventy years of its existence the museum has gathered a unique collection of Lermontov's autographs, paintings and drawings. This collection also includes portraits of the poet produced still in his lifetime as well as personal memorabilia...
"Moscow is and shall always be my homeland," Mikhail Lermontov wrote in 1832. Here he was born, and here he studied at the Moscow University Boarding School for Young Noblemen (1827 - 1830), and then attended Moscow University as student (1830 - 1832). Moscow was the home town of his near and dear ones. His tutors instilled great love of belles lettres and fostered literary talent in the youth, the "hope of Russian literature". One of his teachers was Professor Alexei Merzlyakov, the author of the lyrics of the Russian folk threnody Amidst the Level Plains. Among other things, the Lermontov exposition displays Merzlyakov's portrait (K. Afanasiev's engraving, 1825) as well as por-
traits of the poet's friends and acquaintances, such as the eminent man of letters Sergei Aksakov (elected to the Academy of Sciences in 1856 as corresponding member); of Konstantin Aksakov, his son who made a name for himself as a publicist, linguist and poet; of Mikhail Pogodin, the historian (elected to the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences in 1841); of Yuri Samarin, a philosopher and public figure, along with other portraits.
As disclosed by Lermontov himself, he started writing poetry in 1828, i.e. at age 14. The literary journal Athenaeum was the first to publish his poem Spring signed just "L". In that heyday of romantic literature colorful events of the past held special charm. Our budding talent was no exception, particularly where such episodes related to his ancestral roots. It is natural therefore that his two early poems, Ossian's Tomb and The Wish (1831), were devoted to the native land of one of his forefathers George Lermont, a Scotsman. According to family legend, he was taken prisoner by Russian troops in 1613; accepted into the Russian czar's service, George was granted a family estate...
The narrative poem Haji Abrek on Caucasian motifs came out in 1835. Now the author signed his name in full: "Lermontov". This is what Akim Shan-Girei, Lermontov's second cousin, recalled about its publication. "Staying with us at the time was Michel's distant relative and school pal Nikolai Dmitrievich Yuriev who, after so many futile attempts he made to talk Michel into publishing his verses, took his poem Haji Abrek and sent it on the sly to the publishers. And, much to our surprise, one fine morning it appeared in print in the Biblioteka dlya chteniya*
In 1832 Lermontov got enrolled in the School of Ensigns of the Guard and Cavalry Cadets in St. Petersburg which he finished in 1834 and was commissioned as a cornet of the Hussar Regiment of the Life-Guards. His regiment was billeted at Tsarskoye Selo near St. Petersburg. Since service duties did not take much of their time, young officers would spend their leisure socializing, and on days off went to the northern capital to attend opera and ballet performances, balls and masquerades. Our exhibition features engravings picturing suchlike amusements.
* Biblioteka dlya chteniya (Library for Reading) - а monthly literary journal published in St. Petersburg from 1834 to 1865; up until 1856 it was headed by Osip Senkovsky, Corresponding Member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences since 1828. It was one of Russia's first periodicals for mass readership. - Ed.
It was then that Mikhail Lermontov wrote his drama in verse Masquerade with a plot based on real happenings. The government Censorship Committee, however, did not approve this work and gave it back to the author for recension. Although he amended the drama piece time and again, it was never staged at the theater nor published during his lifetime. Because of the "too violent passions and characters..., with virtue not rewarded well enough", the author explained.
On January 27, 1837 (old Julean calendar) St. Petersburg was stunned by horrible news: Alexander Pushkin* was mortally wounded while fighting a duel. The great Russian poet died two days after. This tragedy overwhelmed the nation. Influenced by rumor and hearsay as to its causes, Lermontov wrote his famous poem Death of the Poet quite consonant with popular grief and indignation.
It could never be published, of course. The angry, passionate verses were copied here and there, and circulated all over Russia and abroad. Manuscript copies reached Pushkin's friends and good acquaintances: poets Vassily Zhukovsky and Pyotr Vyazemsky; Pyotr Pletnev, editor of the literary journal Sovremennik (Contemporary) in 1838 to 1846 founded by Pushkin himself in 1836 (the three men were elected to the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences in 1841); Vladimir Odoyevsky, a writer and music critic; Alexander Turgenev, a public figure, historian and honorary member of the Academy of Sciences from 1818 on; poet Yevgeny Baratynsky... Lermontov became famous overnight and soon after, his poem Borodino (signed M. Lermontov) on the epic Borodino battle of 1812 during the Patriotic War against Napoleon saw print in Sovremennik.
In the meantime our freedom-thinking poet was arrested (his Death of the Poet outraged the government) and after investigation sent in the rank of ensign to the Nizhni Novgorod Dragoons Regiment on active duty in the Caucasus; this regiment was stationed at Tiflis, now Tbilisi. Mikhail had visited this southern land when a small child- his grandmother Elizaveta Arsenieva, a landlady who had an estate at Penza, had taken him twice to the spa, worried that she was over the health of the sickly child. And now Mikhail Lermontov was there again, this time in banishment. The final sixteen lines of the Death of the Poet... "But you, the arrogant descendants// Of fathers for their churlish villainly renowned,..." rubbed the wrong way the czar's courtiers whom he blamed for Pushkin's death. We have displayed portraits of the chief myrmidons-Alexander Benkendorf, head of the gendarme corps, his chief of staff Leonty Dubelt, Foreign Minister Karl Nesselrode, among others; also
* See: V. Goldman, "My Pushkin", Science in Russia, No. 2, 1998. - Ed.
there are portraits of Emperor Nicholas (Nikolai) I, Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna, and their daughter Olga.
Lermontov was barred from publishing his Lay of Czar Ivan Vassilyevich, His Young Oprichnik and the Stouthearted Merchant Kalashnikov that harked back to the reign of Ivan the Terrible. But his publisher, Andrei Krayevsky, proved insistent and turned to Vassily Zhukovsky, a veteran poet much in favor with the court, for assistance. Only after his intercession did Sergei Uvarov, Minister of Public Education (and President of the Academy of Sciences in 1818 to 1855)* sanctioned the imprimatur but without mentioning the author's name. The lay, which was printed in the newspaper Russky invalid (Russian Invalid) on April 30, 1838, made a deep impression on the reading public. The great Russian literary critic Vissarion Belinsky promised a brilliant future for the young poet: "We have no fear of landing among false prophets if we say that our literature is gaining a mighty and original talent."
Early in 1838 Lermontov brought to St. Petersburg a manuscript of his poem Tambov Treasurer's Wife which saw print soon after in the journal Sovremennik (likewise anonymously) and was a great success. It encouraged Lermontov in his intention to devote himself whole-heartedly to literature. Keeping up work on ever new writings, Lermontov read them out to his friends but did not publish anything at the time. "Last Saturday we had a great pleasure to hear Lermontov reciting his poem The Demon (he dined with us)," said Sofia Karamzina in a letter to her sister on November 4, 1838. -"You would say this is a hackneyed name, but the plot is quite new, it is full of freshness and sublime poesy - a truly new star is rising over our liter-
* See: O. Drobnich. "Abode of Sciences and Arts", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2004. -Ed.
ary horizon, so wan and dull now." The Demon was being circulated in manuscript copies, and Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna made mention of it in her diary on February 9, 1839. Despite the Censorship Committee's imprimatur, the author did not send his poem to the press.
In 1839 Andrei Krayevsky became editor at the literary almanac Otechestvennyie zapiski (Home Notes), and hardly any issue appeared without Lermontov's works in. Published in it were such poems as Meditation, In Odoyevsky's Memory, Homeland, among others, as well as the stories in prose Bela, Taman and The Fatalist. In the beginning of the next year (1840) Lermontov prepared for the press his novel The Hero of Our Time (which included the stories Maxim Maximych and Princess Mary not published previously). This novel came off the press in April 1840 in a print of 1,000, to be followed, a few months after, by a collection of 26 poems together with the poems The Lay of Merchant Kalashnikov and Mtsyri, also in a print of 1,000.
In 1841 a second edition of The Hero of Our Time saw print. In a foreword the author replied to his critics: "Some people took awful offence, and in sad earnest, that an immoral man like The Hero of Our Time was set as an example; others would note subtly that the writer had pictured his own portrait and portraits of his acquaintances... An old and sorry joke!.. The Hero of Our Time, Dear Sirs, is certainly a portrait, but not of one man alone: this is the portrait composed of the vices of all generation of ours in their full progress."
The author of these bitter lines was exiled again for a duel with the son of the French Ambassador Ernest de Barante - in the rank of lieutenant he was sent to the Tenginsky Infantry Regiment in the Caucasus, where he acquitted himself well in war campaigns. Lermontov saw action with a
unit fighting in Chechnya and Dagestan. Although during his first banishment he said he had heard only two or three shots, this time he came to be embroiled in blood-letting battles. He summed up his combat experiences in the poems The Behest, The Dream, and Valerik as part of his tragic destiny. The Caucasus, the cradle of Lermontov's poetry, became his grave. On July 15(27), 1841, our poet was killed in a duel with Nikolai Martynov on the slope of Mount Mashuk at Pyatigorsk.
"Yet another loss for Russian literature", the journal Moskovityanin (Moscovite) lamented in its obituary. "One of its brilliant hopes, M. Yu. Lermontov, expired in the Caucasus on the 15th of July. So glad at his blossoming, we have to beweep his bereavement now! He represented the youngest generation of our letters... he strode boldly forward... his growth held out much promise... the Caucasus sent fresh inspirations to him. It's all over now. The heart bleeds when you come to think how many wonderful talents are carried off in their prime!"
The closing period of Lermontov's life in Pyatigorsk is shown in documents and pictorial materials-paintings, engravings and drawings with sights of the mountains, scenes of the army on the march, and portraits. One of the artists, Grigori Gagarin, has portrayed two sisters, Agrafena and Nadezhda Verzilin, who witnessed Lermontov's quarrel with Martynov just before the fatal duel. And Vassily Timm's lithographs from Arioldo Arnoldi's drawings show the balcony of a little house in Pyatigorsk in which the author of The Hero of Our Time lived in the summer of 1841, and his grave at the Pyatigorsk cemetery (in 1842 at the request of his grandmother the poet's ashes were interred in the Arseniev family vault on the Tarkhany estate near Penza).
Lermontov sketches, 1840.
"I wish the works of my inspiration could see the light of day sometime..." The poet's dream was coming true already in his lifetime, and he was in for immortality upon his tragic death. Habent sua fata libelli. In 1842 - 1844 the first collection of Lermontov's works was published in four parts. The preface to the first part said the next editions would include still unpublished poems if recovered. From the 1850s on his poems, among them those banned, started coming out in other countries, too. Thus, in 1856 The Demon was published in Karlsruhe, Germany, though in a tiny print of 28 copies, since they were meant for the author's relatives on the maternal side, the Stolypins (the maiden name of his grandmother Elizaveta Arsenieva was Stolypina).
Timed for the 50th anniversary of Lermontov's death (1891) was an edition of complete works edited by Prof. Pavel Viskovaty who also included the poet's biography in it. Drawing upon unique and extensive material, it has lost none of its relevance even today. In 1910 - 1913 a five-volume edition of Lermontov's oeuvres appeared in the Academic Library of Russian Writers, with Prof. Dmitry Abramovich as editor. The poet's birth centennial (1914) was marked by a six-volume illustrated edition of his writings (ed. V. Kallash, Pechatnik Publishers). In the Soviet years a good deal of work was done for in-depth studies of Lermontov in historical, literary and textual aspects. This work was materialized in The Lermontov Encyclopedia (M., 1981; ed. Professor Viktor Manuilov), the first undertaking of a large scope like that in Russian.
The poet's epistolary heritage is a thrilling chapter in its own right telling volumes to Lermontov votaries. As many as 54 letters, dated 1827 to 1841, have survived. Our guests can see a letter (Feb. 1, 1838) which Lermontov sent to Major-General Pavel Petrov, his relative and chief of staff of Russian contingents stationed in the Caucasus and on the Black Sea coast. Also there are two books autographed by Lermontov himself.
According to Akim Shan-Girei, Lermontov "had a happy gift for pictorial arts". He took pleasure in making sketches with crayon, pen and oils. As many as 13 oil paintings (ten on Caucasian motifs), more than 50 water colors and lithographs have come down to us, which is but a small part of what he painted or drew. As the poet wrote in 1837, "Since I left Russia,... I have been on the move all along... I've sketched off-hand the sights of all the remarkable places which I was visiting, and I'm bringing a goodly collection along..." As Irakly Andronikov, an eminent literary critic of our days, said, "Lermontov's drawings and pictures are not the idle entertainment of a vagrant army officer. They are actually the poet's scrapbook, part of his inspired and persevering labors. A truly picturesque diary of his life and peregrinations."
A few pages of this diary hold pride of place at our Lermontov exposition. His picture Pyatigorsk as well as the story Princess Mary expresses the author's admiration for the natural beauty of the northern Caucasus. And upon visiting Tiflis (Tbilisi), the picturesque capital of Georgia, a real babel of tongues, Lermontov produced his landscape Tiflis (1837) depicting the scenic panorama of the gardens, of the river Kura with a mountain in the center, and ruins of an ancient fortress on top.
In 1838 Lermontov painted A Scene of Caucasian Life for his intimate friend Alexandra Vereshchagina (this piece is also known by other names - The Ambush, The Crossing, The Attack). "Perhaps someday I might be seated at your fireplace to tell you about my long trials, night skirmishes, exhausting shoot-outs, the picture of war life I have witnessed", said the poet in a letter he sent from the fortress
Groznaya to his Moscow friend Alexei Lopukhin. He portrayed one such episode in the canvas A Shoot-out in the Daghestani Mountains (1840 - 1841).
Among the crayons on display is Beshtau near Zheleznovodsk (1837) with a street in the community of Shotlandka (a few kilometers from the town), the haunt of visitors to the local spa; and next is a sketch, A Wagon with Hay, breathing peace and quiet. And here is a vivid image of Alexei Stolypin, a friend of Lermontov's attired as a Kurd (1841) - Lermontov made this sketch in Nadezhda Verzilina's album. Nearby is the poet's self-portrait in the uniform of an officer of the Nizhni Novgorod Dragoons Regiment against the background of the Caucasian Mountains (1837), one of his best and truest portrayals.
All in all, 15 lifetime portraits of the poet have reached us. Though produced by professional artists, none gives a full picture of his appearance and ego. Lermontov was not handsome; but anyone who peered into his dark-complexioned visage with prominent cheekbones and black penetrating eyes turned spellbound. As confided by Moisei Melikov, "I would never be able to portray Lermontov... Karl Bryullov* alone would have coped with the job, for he painted not portraits, but looks."
We are displaying the water colors by Alexander Klunder (end of 1839-early 1840); two lithographs-one after the portrait painted by Fyodor Budkin in 1834 (by other sources, it was Pyotr Zakharov, 1838 - 1839) and the other - after Konstantin Gorbunov who in 1841 depicted Lermontov in a lieutenant's uniform of the Teginsky Infantry Regiment. This very portrait was copied in so many engravings and lithographs. And Lermontov's earliest portrait as a child (unknown artist) is displayed on the premises of our branch, the Lermontov Museum in Moscow.
A separate section of our exposition deals with the artwork for Lermontov's oeuvres. Masters of the brush turned to his literary legacy way back in the 1850s. And in 1862 to 1865 four illustrated albums of Lermontov essays and critical articles came out in the Northern Lights series. The second album (1863) included engravings after Konstantin Flavitsky's drawings to the poems Izmail-Bey and Tambov Treasurer's Wife.
Collected Works in two volumes produced by Kushnarev Publishers in Moscow (1891) are illustrated by superb pictures, the works of the foremost maitres of the day, such as Nikolai Dubovsky, Vassily Polenov, Leonid Pasternak and Mikhail Vrubel (his spectacular water colors to The Demon). Vrubel would regard the Lermontov demon as a sad and languishing soul, an august one, rather than a malicious spirit. The artist created images quite on a par with those depicted in verse. We are happy to have five Vrubel pictures to the poems The Demon and Izmail-Bey.
In 1914 devotees of Lermontov talent were in for a wonderful gift - a Treasurer's Wife prepared for the press and illustrated by Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, an eminent graphic and stage artist of the day. Carrying
* Karl Bryullov (1799 - 1852), an artist who has brought romanticism to the Russian classicism. - Ed.
on the tradition of the World of Arts*, he devoted much attention to the decor of book production-paper, covers, text and all. The same year Yevgeni Lancere, a graphic artist and painter, came up with many drawings for illuminations and tail-pieces of the poem The Demon done in the style of ancient Georgian ornaments. We've got one of his sketches.
In the mid-1930s Soviet artists began creating large batches of illustrations to classics. Such graphic artists as Vladimir Bekhteyev, Nikolai Kuzmin, and Tatiana Mavrina illustrated Lermontov. Fyodor Konstantinov's engraving figure prominently in our collection. "Since childhood Lermontov has carried me away by the sublime beauty of his poetry, ardor, bold thought and profound feelings," he recalled. He created a Lermontov portrait for the poet's birth sesquicentennial in 1964, which graced the frontispiece of The Hero of Our Time. "I strove to express the heart of his poetry, my pain for his timeless tragic death..."
We are going ahead with our meticulous, painstaking work on the Lermontov heritage. As another great Russian poet, Alexander Blok (who had his heyday at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries), has put it, "the Lermontov treasure calls for stubborn work".
Illustrations supplied by the State Museum of Literature
* World of Arts, association of Russian artists (1898 - 1904) who adhered to the school of "pure art". Their works are remarkable for esthetic flourishes, elaborate style, and grotesque fanciful images. - Ed.
Permanent link to this publication:
LRussia LWorld Y G