Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin (1799-1837)

Alexandr Sergeevich Pushkin. He was destined to take the place of a founder of new Russian literature and to complete the process of formation of literary language. Pushkin’s special predestination was a major subject for ruminations of Gogol, Belinsky, A.Grigoriev, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Blok, Akhmatova.

The history of Pushkin’s personal archive is full of finds and losses. A major part of Pushkin’s autographs on the day of the poet’s death was in his study. This is certified with figures in red in the center of pages put by gendarme clerks in the process of posthumous police «examination» of the poet’s papers that was undertaken by the order of Nikolai I. Pushkin’s rough note-books, his diary, fifteen note-books sawn together during «the gendarme search» were kept at the heirs’ to the poet. Pages that were not sawn together by gendarmes were gradually broken up and taken by different new owners. Many of them bear marginalia of P.V.Annenkov and V.A.Zhukovsky, who were editors of the first Pushkin’s posthumous collected works; blue pencil marks were left by P.I.Bartenev, the editor of «The Russian Archive»; thin red lines in red pen were made by A.F.Onegin, the curator of the first Pushkin museum, that he had created in Paris and left by his testament to Pushkinsky Dom of the Academy of Sciences.

There are such lines in Pushkin’s elegy «Andre Chenier»:

I will soon all die. But, out of love to my shadow,

Preserve the manuscript, oh, friends, for yourself!

When the storm passes, in pious crowd

Come together sometimes to read my true scroll.

And, listening for long, say: this is him;

Here is his speech. While I, forgetting the slumber of the grave

Will come invisible and sit between you

And also will listen spellbound…


Hese verses from the monologue of the French poet sentenced to execution are most frequently quoted in discussions of Pushkin’s manuscripts. They ring a special note - as a prophecy come true - in a special depository that concentrates now Pushkin’s manuscripts. In the early XX century the idea of collecting «the whole Pushkin» in one place was treated by many with distrust. There had already existed Pushkin Museum at the Imperial Alexandrovsky (former Tsarskoselsky) Lyceum, and Lyceum pupils of different generations considered it their duty to replenish its collections. A vast collection of Pushkin-related materials formed a «manuscript depot» within Imperial Public Library in Petersburg and it was continually receiving new donations and acquisitions. In 1880 after Pushkin monument had been unveiled in Moscow the poet’s elder son transferred all Pushkin’s manuscripts that had been kept in his family to the custody of Rumyantsevsky Museum. At that time a considerable number of the poet’s autographs were kept in the family archives and private collections. There could hardly be any hope that those who owned such rarities were eager to donate them to the newly established academic institution.

However, the fate was favorably disposed towards the creators of Pushkinsky Dom. Even before it received the official status the state treasury allocated the necessary sum that allowed purchasing Pushkin’s library from his grandson A.A.Pushkin.

These books had surrounded Pushkin in his study on 12 Moika, to them he addressed his last words «Farewell, friends…» The oldest book in the library is an elegant Paris 1596 edition of Dante’s «Divina Commedia». Turning to the book-sellers’ accounts preserved in the Trusteeship materials one can find out what books were the last acquired by Pushkin. Among them are Tocqueville’s «On Democracy in America», «Index to the History of Russian State» by N.M.Karamzin compiled by P.M.Stroev and «The Month Book for 1837». Many books bear friendly addresses of V.A.Zhukovsky, A.A.Delvig, V.K.Kukhelbeker, I.I.Kozlov, N.I.Gnedich, A.Mitskevich, E.A.Baratynsky. Over 50 volumes carry on their pages Pashkin’s marginalia, «pencil lines»: underlines and «interrogatory hooks», owner’s names and «sharp nail marks», laconic remarks and detailed notes written on separate pages. That was how - together with the library - the first poet’s autographs appeared in Pushkinsky Dom. After that there followed decades of devoted labor of several generations of Pushkinsky Dom curators - B.L. and L.B.Modzalevsky, M.L.Gofman, N.V.Izmailov, B.V.Tomashevsky, V.V.Danilov, O.S.Solovieva, R.E.Terebenina. In 1909 the recently founded Pushkinsky Dom received into its possession A.F.Onegin’s Pushkin Museum that had existed since 1880s in the center of Paris. A major part in signing the agreement concerning acquisition of Onegin’s priceless collection was played by B.L.Modzalevsky. In 1922 when the pre-revolutionary agreement was not only confirmed by the Soviet power but also officially certified, Boris Lvovich, then the senior scholarly curator of Pushkinsky Dom, wrote to Onegin: «Pushkinsky Dom is not a dream but a fact: <…> little by little we have collected 300 Pushkin’s manuscripts and all of Lermontov’s, in the book <department> we have Pushkin’s library, in the museum - his portraits made by Kiprensky (pastel), Tropinin (copy from the Museum of Alexander III - received from Bear) and Jean Vivien (from Trigorskoe), the whole Lyceum Museum, the whole Lermontov Museum, and now we are, most likely, getting the Tolstoy’s! But the summit of all - the highest reward for the ideological struggle that you have bequeathed to me - is that you are passing to us Onegin’s Museum!»

In 1928, when this museum with its vast pictorial, book and manuscript Pushkin materials arrived from Paris, 67 Pushkin’s originals were united with the poet’s autographs from the archive of Trigorskoe village, collections of P.A.Efremov, P.A.Pletnev, Great Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich, L.N.Maikov, I.A.Shlyapkin, Y.K.Grot, that had by then already become the property of Pushkinsky Dom. In 1931 within P.E.Schegolev’s collection we received the Pushkins’ and the Gannibals’ family papers, copies of historical documents, accounts, orders for fresh post-horses. Among those papers it was discovered a scratch of paper written over in Voltaire’s hand. Looking at it one instantly recollects the beginning of Pushkin’s essay devoted to the patriarch of French letters: «Every line of the great writer becomes precious for posterity. We gaze with curiosity at autographs, even if they are nothing but an extract of a housekeeping book or a message to the tailor concerning deferment of payment. We are involuntary stricken by the idea that the hand that had inscribed these humble figures, these insignificant words, in the same hand-writing and probably, with the same pen had written great works, the subject of our study and ecstasy».

In 1948 by the decision of the Presidium of the USSR Academy of Sciences Pushkinsky Dom was given an exclusive right to concentrate in its collection Pushkin’s autographs. Then it received the poet’s manuscripts that had been previously kept in other libraries, museums and archives. That was how more than a hundred years after Pushkin’s death his artistic archive was re-united again. The very fate of Pushkin’s relics confirms the necessity of this act. Here is one example. On the day of his duel Pushkin wrote a letter to a writer and translator A.O.Ishimova, whom he invited for cooperation in his literary magazine «Contemporary»: «Dear Madam Alexandra Osipovna, I am deeply sorry that I will not be able to come today on your invitation. Meantime I have the honor to send you Barry Cornwall. You will find in the book plays marked with pencil, translate them as you can do it - I assure you that you will do this in the best possible way». Having packed the book and written the address he sent the messenger. Barry Cornwall’s dramatic scenes in Ishimova’s translation appeared in one of «Contemporary» volumes commemorating Pushkin. The book with Pushkin’s marginalia was returned by the translator to Pletnev. It remained in his library and was discovered in Pushkinsky Dom only in 1934. The letter and the envelope eventually came the publisher of «Messenger of Europe» M.M.Stasyulevich. He donated the letter to the Lyceum, and in March 1917 it came to Pushkinsky Dom within the Lyceum collection. As for the envelope, it reached academician A.N.Pypin and in 1916 his daughter donated this relic to Pushkinsky Dom. When today on a table in Pushkin depositary these evidence of the poet’s last days come together again, as they had done on January 27, 1837, one cannot but experience deep emotions and a feeling of gratitude to all those whose efforts contributed to the unification, study and description of Pushkin fund.

The most valuable part of the fund is the poet’s rough note-books. They had been the permanent companions of Pushkin’s whole creative life - starting with Lyceum early years. All in all eighteen note-books survived till our times. They differ in format (from a note-book to a large account-book) and volume (from seven to two hundred pages). Pushkin scholars gave each note-books its own name - a Lyceum one, three Kishinev’s and the same number of the Masonic, two of Azrum’s, three note-books, the diary of 1833 - 1835.  The last rough note-book is far not completed…

Pushkin liked to use note-books for his work. This form allowed to return to an idea put aside for a time, to write down a poem or a thought «for future use», to make extracts for planned work, to mark a memorable occasion, to sketch a rough copy of an important letter. The pages of the note-books are filled with clear copies of «Eugene Onegin» and «The Gypsies», «Poltava» and ”Bronze Horseman», «Blackamoor of Peter the Great» and masterpieces of lyrics.

They are alternated with pages, covered with a thick net of lines that can hardly be deciphered, sometimes cut short or densely crossed out, - the birth of Pushkin’s light verses were preceded by hard rough labor. Today Pushkin depositary is the only place in the world where practically all known manuscripts of the poet are concentrated: more than 12,000 pages written by his hand (they are united into 3 archive items), as well as over 500 letters addressed to Pushkin, the abundant collection of hand-written materials pertaining to Pushkin - 5,000 pieces of documentary evidence concerning the poet’s life. They include church registers of birth that fix major stages of Pushkin’s earthly life - birth and baptism, wedding, death. Hundreds of various documents comprise the Lyceum collection: from a certificate that «a minor Alexander Pushkin comes from an old noble family», that was issued by Heraldic Department of the Senate to let the future poet enter the Lyceum to hand-written Lyceum journals with Pushkin’s first poetic exercises and protocols of the Lyceum jubilees that were marked on October 19. The collection of Pushkin-related materials includes papers concerning the Pushkins’ and the Gannibals’ family estates; reminiscences and letters of Pushkin’s contemporaries; documents of the time of his service in the Department of Foreign Affairs (signed statements of non-membership in any other societies, petitions for granting leaves of absence and receipts for salary), and official instructions on establishing police surveillance after «the well-known poet, retired official of the 10th rank Alexander Pushkin»; files of the main censorship department concerning «supervision» after the poet’s works and registers of meetings of the Censorship Committee that discussed Pushkin’s work as a publisher of «Contemporary» in 1836. Here there is also the most valuable collection of documents about the poet’s duel and death, among them – anonymous diplomas» that Pushkin received by post on November 4, 1836 and terms of the duel with Dantes, plan of Pushkin’s last apartment and bulletins of the state of his health written by Zhukovsky, report of the police physician and originals of notes taken by V.I.Dal, I.T.Spassky, V.B.Shtolts about the poet’s wound and the last hours of his life.

In commemorating of 200th anniversary of Pushkin’s birth we published the facsimile edition of his rough note-books. Eight volumes include more than 2,000 reproductions of Pushkin’s pages. This edition has already been received by over 200 subscribers in the UK, America, Switzerland, Japan, Italy, and Norway. 100 complete sets were presented by Pushkinsky Dom to museums and universities, public and academic libraries of Russia and the former Soviet republics. So, without leaving the walls of the depository, Pushkin’s manuscripts entered the studies of Pushkin scholars all over the world. Thus began the new life of Pushkin’s manuscript fund - the pride and «the precious basis» of Pushkinsky Dom.

T. I. Krasnoborodko