A Short Biographical Notice of Alexander Pushkin

Alexander Sergevitch Pushkin was born in 1799 at Pskoff, and was a scion of an ancient Russian family. In one of his letters it is recorded that no less than six Pushkins signed the Charta declaratory of the election of the Romanoff family to the throne of Russia, and that two more affixed their marks from inability to write.

In 1811 he entered the Lyceum, an aristocratic educational establishment at Tsarskoe Selo, near St. Petersburg, where he was the friend and schoolmate of Prince Gortchakoff the Russian Chancellor. As a scholar he displayed no remarkable amount of capacity, but was fond of general reading and much given to versification. Whilst yet a schoolboy he wrote many lyrical compositions and commenced Ruslan and Liudmila , his first poem of any magnitude, and, it is asserted, the first readable one ever produced in the Russian language. During his boyhood he came much into contact with the poets Dmitrieff and Joukovski, who were intimate with his father, and his uncle, Vassili Pushkin, himself an author of no mean repute. The friendship of the historian Karamzine must have exercised a still more beneficial influence upon him.

In 1817 he quitted the Lyceum and obtained an appointment in the Foreign Office at St. Petersburg. Three years of reckless dissipation in the capital, where his lyrical talent made him universally popular, resulted in 1818 in a putrid fever which was near carrying him off. At this period of his life he scarcely slept at all; worked all day and dissipated at night. Society was open to him from the palace of the prince to the officers’ quarters of the Imperial Guard. The reflection of this mode of life may be noted in the first canto of Eugene Oneguine and the early dissipations of the “Philosopher just turned eighteen,”— the exact age of Pushkin when he commenced his career in the Russian capital.

In 1820 he was transferred to the bureau of Lieutenant–General Inzoff, at Kishineff in Bessarabia. This event was probably due to his composing and privately circulating an “Ode to Liberty,” though the attendant circumstances have never yet been thoroughly brought to light. An indiscreet admiration for Byron most likely involved the young poet in this scrape. The tenor of this production, especially its audacious allusion to the murder of the emperor Paul, father of the then reigning Tsar, assuredly deserved, according to aristocratic ideas, the deportation to Siberia which was said to have been prepared for the author. The intercession of Karamzine and Joukovski procured a commutation of his sentence. Strangely enough, Pushkin appeared anxious to deceive the public as to the real cause of his sudden disappearance from the capital; for in an Ode to Ovid composed about this time he styles himself a “voluntary exile.” (See Note 4 to this volume.)

During the four succeeding years he made numerous excursions amid the beautiful countries which from the basin of the Euxine — and amongst these the Crimea and the Caucasus. A nomad life passed amid the beauties of nature acted powerfully in developing his poetical genius. To this period he refers in the final canto of Eugene Oneguine (st. v.), when enumerating the various influences which had contributed to the formation of his Muse:

Then, the far capital forgot,
Its splendour and its blandishments,
In poor Moldavia cast her lot,
She visited the humble tents
Of migratory gipsy hordes.

During these pleasant years of youth he penned some of his most delightful poetical works: amongst these, The Prisoner of the Caucasus, The Fountain of Baktchiserai , and the Gipsies . Of the two former it may be said that they are in the true style of the Giaour and the Corsair . In fact, just at that point of time Byron’s fame — like the setting sun — shone out with dazzling lustre and irresistibly charmed the mind of Pushkin amongst many others. The Gipsies is more original; indeed the poet himself has been identified with Aleko, the hero of the tale, which may well be founded on his own personal adventures without involving the guilt of a double murder. His undisguised admiration for Byron doubtless exposed him to imputations similar to those commonly levelled against that poet. But Pushkin’s talent was too genuine for him to remain long subservient to that of another, and in a later period of his career he broke loose from all trammels and selected a line peculiarly his own. Before leaving this stage in our narrative we may point out the fact that during the whole of this period of comparative seclusion the poet was indefatigably occupied in study. Not only were the standard works of European literature perused, but two more languages — namely Italian and Spanish — were added to his original stock: French, English, Latin and German having been acquired at the Lyceum. To this happy union of literary research with the study of nature we must attribute the sudden bound by which he soon afterwards attained the pinnacle of poetic fame amongst his own countrymen. ...

Feodor Bruni:  Alexander Pushkin in the Coffin, 1837,

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