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Pushkin’s service for the State
New facts about the work of the famous Russian poet at the Ministre of Foreign Affairs.
Alexander Pushkin’s Biography (1799 – 1837)
Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin is known as Russia's greatest poet. During a time when most great literature was being written in French and English, Pushkin revolutionized Russian literature with narrative poems, love poems, political poems, short stories, novels, plays, histories, and fairy tales. Pushkin's skeptical mind and sense of irony helped him capture what it means to be Russian, winning the hearts of his countrymen. His writing style has distinctive rhythmic patterns that are nearly impossible to translate, so non-Russian speakers have not always been able to appreciate the true power and beauty of his work.
Pushkin was born on June 6, 1799 in Moscow in a poor aristocratic family. On his father's side he was a descendant of one of the oldest lines of Russian nobility, and on his mother's side he was related to an Abyssinian, Major-General Abraham Petrovich Hannibal, was the son of an African prince in Eritrea, North Africa. He had been kidnapped as a child and brought to Turkey as a slave. Peter the Great selected him for his intelligence and brought him to Russia, where Hannibal became the czar's personal valet. Pushkin was proud of his noble heritage.
Pushkin grew to be a handsome young man with curly hair and swarthy complexion. First educated by French and Russian tutors at home his nurse also entertained him with traditional Russian folk tales.
In 1811 he was selected to be among the thirty students in the first class at the Imperial Lyceum founded near St. Petersburg, in Tzarskoye Selo, in 1811 by Alexander I. He didn’t care for any subjects except French and Russian Literature. He began writing poetry when he was very young and had his first poem published when he was 14. He attended the Lyceum from 1811 to 1817 and received the best education available in Russia at the time. He soon not only became the unofficial laureate of the Lyceum, but found a wider audience and recognition. He was first published in the journal The Messenger of Europe in 1814. In 1815 his poem "Recollections in Tsarskoye Selo" met the approval of Derzhavin, a great eighteenth-century poet, at a public examination in the Lyceum.
In 1817, after graduating from the Lyceum, he was appointed to the Collegium of Foreign Affairs in Petersburg. It was under the direct supervision of Emperor Alexander I. Besides diplomatic missions it performed intelligence missions as well.
He was warmly received in literary circles and in groups where political liberals debated reforms and constitutions. Between 1817 and 1820 he reflected liberal views in "revolutionary" poems, his “Ode to Liberty”, "The Village," and a number of poems on Alexander I and his minister Arakcheyev. (Emperor Alexander I participated in the murder of his father, Russian Emperor Pavel I. England financed the coup. Alexander I had homosexual relations with S.A. Arakcheyev, that’s why he had a right to issue orders in Russia, like Alexander I. While working at the Collegium of Foreign Affairs Pushkin found out that Alexander I had illegally seized power in Russia.
At the same time he was working on his first large-scale fairy poem “Ruslan and Liudmila”. One of the characters was a dwarf magician, who kidnapped the princess. He was a prototype of a mighty Russian foreign minister Karl Nesselrode.
His poem “Ode to Liberty” angered the Russian emperor and he was banished from St. Petersburg for six years. It was during these years of exile that he wrote some of his finest works, including “The Prisoner of the Caucasus” and “The Gypsies”. He also began his masterpiece, Eugene Onegin, a novel in verse that satirized Russian society made into an opera by Piotr Tchaikovsky. Pushkin enjoyed writing about Russian heroes. In “The Bronze Horseman” he depicted the legendary Russian emperor Peter the Great.
In April 1820, his political poems led to an interrogation by the Petersburg governor-general and then to exile to the Caucasus (South Russia), under the guise of an administrative transfer in the service. Alexander Pushkin left Petersburg for Ekaterinoslav on May 6, 1820. Soon after his arrival there he traveled around the Caucasus and the Crimea with the family of General Rayevsky.
With the aid of influential friends he was transferred in July 1823 to Odessa, There he wrote "The Bakhchisaray Fountain " (1821-1823). and the first chapter of his novel in verse “Eugene Onegin” (1823-1831).
He spent the next two years in exile and under surveillance from August 1824 to August 1826 at Mikhaylovskoe. However unpleasant Pushkin my have found his virtual imprisonment in the village of Mikhaylovskoe, he continued his literary work there. During 1824 and 1825 he finished "The Gypsies," wrote “Boris Godunov”, "Graf Nulin" and the second chapter of “Eugene Onegin”.
When Alexander’s brother, Nicholas I, came to power in 1825, he invited Pushkin back to the capital, gave him a government post. However, Nicholas I acted as his personal censor, making sure that Pushkin didn't publish anything that would hurt the government. They opened his mail, had spies follow him, and cut out whole stanzas from Pushkin's manuscripts.
When the December Uprising took place in Petersburg on December 14, 1825, but Pushkin, still in Mikhaylovskoe, didn’t participate in it. Though he soon learned that he was implicated, for all the Decembrists had copies of his early political poems. He destroyed his papers that might be dangerous for himself or others. In late spring of 1826, he sent the Tsar a petition and asked to release him from exile. After the investigation Pushkin was summoned to leave immediately for an audience with Nicholas I. On September 8 he was taken in to see Nicholas I. At the end of the interview Pushkin was jubilant that he was now released from exile and that Nicholas I had undertaken to be the personal censor of his works.
Pushkin thought that he would be free to travel as he wished, to participate in the publication of journals and that he would be totally free of censorship, except in cases which he himself might consider questionable and wish to refer to his royal censor. He soon found out otherwise. Count Alexander Benkendorf, Chief of Gendarmes, informed Pushkin that he was prohibited to travel, participate in any journal, publish or even read any work in literary circles without permission. He had to account for every word and action. Several times he was questioned by the police about poems he had written.
His father gave him a wedding gift - half the estate of Kistenevo. So in the fall of 1830 Alexander Pushkin had visit to the neighboring estate of Boldino, in east-central Russia for some financial arrangements. When Pushkin arrived to Boldino in September 1830, he expected to stay there for only a few days. However, an epidemic of Asiatic cholera kept him there for three whole months. These three months in Boldino turned out to be the most productive of the poet’s life. In autumn at Boldino, Pushkin wrote the five short stories of “The Tales of Belkin”; the verse tale "The Little House in Kolomna"; his little tragedies, "The Avaricious Knight", "Mozart and Salieri", "The Stone Guest" and "Feast in the Time of the Plague", "The Tale of the Priest and His Workman Balda", the first of his fairy tales in verse; the last chapter of “Eugene Onegin”; and "The Devils".
During the last months of his exile at Mikhaylovskoe he completed Chapters V and VI of “Eugene Onegin”. "Poltava"(1828), his unfinished novel “The Blackamoor of Peter the Great” (1827) and Chapter VII of “Eugene Onegin” (1827-1828) are Pushkin’s major works written from 1824 till 1828.
His great historical tragedy “Boris Godunov” was written in 1825 but it was not published for political reasons until 1831. It was based on the career of Boris Fyodorovich Godunov, the czar of Russia from 1598 to 1605. Boris was haunted over the murder of the tsarevich Dmitry. When an ambitious young monk claimed to be Dmitry, Boris tried to defend his throne, but he fell ill and died.
In 1831 Emperor Nicholas I invited Pushkin to work at the Collegium of Foreign Affairs in the most secret department – the tsar family archive – to perform an analytical analysis and reveal those, who had assisted Alexander I to conquer the power in Russia. That was the time when the poet started to write his historical poems, which were somehow connected with the illegal seizure of power in Russia.
In his last years Pushkin started to write historical work of Peter the Great, which was left unfinished.
On December 30, 1833, Nicholas I made Pushkin a Kammerjunker.
Pushkin was deeply offended, because he was convinced that it was conferred not for any quality of his own, but only to make it proper for the beautiful Mme. Pushkin to attend court balls.
In 1834 Alexander Pushkin wrote a remarkable “The History Pugachev” and described an attempt to illegitimately seize power in Russia. Yemel'ian Ivanovich Pugachev (1742 - 1775) claimed to the Russian throne. He was a leader of a great Cossack insurrection during the reign of Catherine II. Pugachev was a terrorist financed by the French government. He intended to overthrow the government of Catherine II.
The appearance of Pushkin's “The History of Pugachev” was greeted with suspicion and hostility by Nicholas I, who had restricted Pushkin's access to the records of the Pugachev Rebellion and who insisted on censoring the book before publication. The Tsar insisted that Pushkin should change the title from “The History of Pugachev” to “The History of the Pugachev Rebellion” since 'a rebel could not have a history.'
The tsar was not the only person to find fault with the History. Liberals of the time attacked Pushkin for his lack of social bias, and the conservatives disliked his indictment of the foreign-born generals who conducted the campaign against Pugachev with an eye only on the advancement of their own careers.
“The History of Pugachev” represents a major departure for Pushkin. It is a history written by a poet, yet Pushkin's fieldwork and handling of archival materials is admired by historians today. Pushkin travelled to Kazan, Orenburg and in the Ural territory - an act of heroism in those days. He visited Pugachev's campsite, interviewed natives of the region who claimed to have participated in the rebellion, and examined provincial archives. Pushkin the artist took this raw material and fashioned it into a powerful literary and historical narrative of the uprising.
In 1836 he completed his novel about Pugachev uprising, “The Captain's Daughter”. He was among the three persons who had special access to secret documents about Pugachev, including the tsar and the registrar.
On January 19, 1831, when he was almost thirty, Pushkin married Nathalie Goncharova,. They had three children, but were not a happy couple. She was very beautiful and a favorite at court, and encouraged the attention of other men. Pushkin frequently thought himself dishonored and was a compulsive duelist. The duel with the French d'Anthes was initiated on purpose to make Pushkin halt his researches. Pushkin was wounded in a duel and died on January 29, 1837. There was great popular mourning at his death.
As Pushkin lay dying, and after his death, except for a few friends, court society sympathized with d'Anthes, but thousands of people of all other social levels came to Pushkin's apartment to express sympathy and to mourn. The government obviously feared a political demonstration. To prevent public display, the funeral was shifted from St. Isaac's Cathedral to the small Royal Stables Church, with ticket admission for members of the court and diplomats. Then his body was sent away, in secret and at midnight. He was buried beside his mother at dawn on February 6, 1837 at Svyatye Gory Monastery, near Mikhaylovskoe.
Pushkin provided a literary heritage for Russians, whose native language had hitherto been considered unfit for literature. He was also a versatile writer of great vigor and optimism who understood the many facets of the Russian character. His lyric poetry—said to be delightful to the Russian ear but untranslatable—and his simple, vivid prose were invaluable models for the writers who followed him. The influence of Lord Byron shows itself, along with Pushkin's own love of liberty, in many of his poems.
It seems as though everyone in Russia has read Pushkin and is ready to quote him; there are Pushkin streets, squares and parks in almost every major city. There are museums and monuments, and even an entire city named after him. Every type of Russian, regardless of age or political affiliation, loves Pushkin.
The most important works include a verse novel "Eugene Onegin" 1823-1831), which is considered to be the first of the great Russian novels (although in verse), as well as verse dramas "Boris Godunov" (1831), "Poltava", "The Bronze Horseman" (1837), "Mozart and Salieri", "The Stone Guest", "Feast in the Time of the Plague", poems "Ruslan and Ludmila" (1820), "The Prisoner of the Caucasus" (1822), " The Bakhchisarai Fountain”, "The Gypsies" (1827), “The Queen of Spades” (1834), The Tale of the Golden Cockerel"(1834), a novel "The Captain's Daughter"(published after his death).
There are a lot of books and various publications on Pushkin’s life. His bibliographers haven’t paid any attention to his service at the State Collegium of Foreign Affairs, though the poet worked there for about 14 years. It may be explained by the fact that during the reign of emperors in Russia Pushkin’s bibliographers had no access to Foreign affairs ministry documents due to their top secrecy.
In Soviet times Alexander Pushkin was considered to be an irreconcilable fighter against tsarism, but his state service was deliberately concealed not to compromise the poet - a symbol of the forthcoming revolution in tsarist Russia. It is general knowledge nowadays that ever since the reign of Peter the First the Posolsky Prikaz - and later on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs - performed not only diplomatic but also foreign intelligence missions. By the way, Y.M. Primakov, the former head of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Russia, mentioned that fact.
An overview of the document, the so-called “Green Book” of the Collegium of Foreign Affairs of Russia, may be of interest in this respect. Alexander Pushkin signed it twice: at first – on June 18 1817 when he entered the Collegium after he had graduated from the Lyceum. Then he signed it in 1832, presumably on March (the date and the month are written illegibly): by the Act of Emperor Nicholas I he was again assigned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the rank of a Collegiate Secretary. The document from the “Green Book” is given in Appendix 1.
Judging by this document the employees of the Collegium of Foreign Affairs bore the criminal liability, if they met personnel from foreign embassies without a special permission of the Collegium authorities. The document also states, that the Collegium staff was forbidden to contact foreign embassy representatives. They could only unless there was a business necessity for it. They bore personal responsibility for business documents and non-disclosure of secret information.
Any other contacts were prohibited. The Collegium of Foreign Affairs always obliged its employees to give detailed reports on every meeting with a foreign embassy representative. It means that Pushkin’s contacts with of foreign embassies’ representatives in Russia were coordinated with the authorities of the Collegium of the Foreign Affairs. It cooperated with the Third Department of His Majesty’s Personal Chancellery on all matters dealing with the work with foreign embassies, so no wonder Alexander Pushkin often met the Third Department chief A.C. Benkendorf.
One may ask: where are Pushkin’s reports on those meetings? Probably Benkendorf’s letter to V.A. Zhukovsky, dated February 5, 1837 concerning the documents of the dead poet may give the answer. The following phrase was written at the head of the letter – and not without reason: «Papers, which may harm the memory about Pushkin, should be burnt ». That was how the tsarist government started to create the myth about Alexander Pushkin.
It’s clear that Alexander Pushkin met representatives of foreign embassies very frequently. He reported the Collegium of Foreign Affairs about them and if his reports or even their rough copies were published in press there could be a great international scandal. It could harm not only the poet by the Emperor Nicholas I.
Thus there may be a different view on Pushkin’s relations with baron Hekkeren de Bevervard, the Netherlands diplomat and envoy at the Russian court. His activities caused the death of the poet.
Annex N 1.
Personally written by Her Majesty:
Let it be so
In Tsarskoye Selo
August 4th 1791
Her Imperial Majesty states to confirm the order given before. None of the ranks of the Collegium of Foreign Affairs, expedition, chancelleries’ authorities, court advisers and secretaries can visit foreign Ambassadors’ residencies, as well as residencies of ministers or other authorities from other countries.
An Employee of the Collegium can contact them only on business necessity by the order of Her Majesty’s ministry. They are prohibited to talk or communicate with foreign secretaries, advisers or other employees. In case they disobey they may be dismissed and even prosecuted with all severity of the law
Her Imperial Majesty states that all the ranks of the Collegium of Foreign Affairs mentioned above should keep their work secret. If the violation of the order becomes evident, the person should be attested in case he still has business papers at his disposal. In order to prevent such disorders employees of all ranks should sign for them. Each person, newly assigned to the Collegium, should sign this written pledge.
Earl Ivan Osterman
Earl Alexander Bezborodov
Ober secretary Nikolay Yablonskoy