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RUSSIAN LITERATURE

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Originally appearing in Volume V23, Page 916 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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RUSSIAN LITERATURE. To get a clear idea of Russian literature, it will be most convenient for us to divide it into oral and written. The first of these sections includes the interesting byliny, or " tales of old time," as the word may be translated, which have come down to us in great numbers, as they have been sung by wandering minstrels all over the country. The scholars who have given their attention to these compositions have made the following division of them into cycles: (I) that of the older heroes; (2) that of Vladimir, prince of Kiev; (3) that of Novgorod; (4) that of Moscow; (5) that of the Cossacks; (6) that of Peter the Great; (7) the modern period. These poems, if they may be so sonsan~t styled, are not in rhyme; the ear is satisfied with ~ a certain cadence which is observed throughout. For a long time they were neglected, and the collection of them began only towards the conclusion of the 17th century. The style of Russian literature which prevailed from the time of Lomonosov was wholly based upon the French or pseudo-classical school. It was, therefore, hardly likely that these peasant songs would attract attention. But when the gospel of romanticism was preached and the History of Karamzin appeared, a new impulse was given to the collection of all the remains of popular literature. In 1804 appeared a volume based upon those which had been gathered together by Cyril or Kirsha. Danilov, a Cossack, at the beginning of the 18th century. They were received with much enthusiasm, and a second edition was published in 1818. In the following year there appeared at Leipzig a translation of many of these pieces into German, in consequence of which they became known much more widely. This little book of 16o pages is important because the originals of some of the byliny translated in it are now lost. Since that time large collections of these poems have been published, edited by Rybnikov,Hilferding,Sreznevskiy, Avenarius and others. These curious productions have all the characteristics of popular poetry in the endless repetitions of certain conventional phrases—the " green wine," " the bright sun " (applied to a hero), " the damp earth " and others. The heroes of the first cycle are monstrous beings, and seem to be merely impersonifications of the powers of nature; such are Volga Vseslavich, Mikula Selianinovich and Sviatogor. They are called the bogatyri starshie. Sometimes we have the giants of the mountain, as Sviatogor, and the serpent Gorinich, the root of part of both names being gora (mountain). The serpent Gorinich lives in caves, and has the care of the precious metals. Sometimes animal natures are mixed up with them, as zmei-bogatyr, who unites the qualities of the serpent and the giant, and bears the name of Tugarin Zmievich. There is the Pagan Idol (Idolistche Poganskoe), a great glutton, and Nightingale the Robber (Solovey Razboinik), who terrifies travellers and lives in a nest built upon six oaks. In the second cycle the legends group themselves round the celebrated Prince Vladimir of Kiev. The chief hero is Ilya Muromets, who performs prodigies of valour, and is of gigantic stature and superhuman strength. The cycle of Novgorod deals with the stories of Vasilii Buslaevich and Sadko, the rich merchant. The fourth cycle deals with the autocracy; already Moscow has become the capital of the future empire. We are told of the taking of Kazan, of the. conquest of Siberia by Yermak, of Ivan the Terrible and his confidant Maliuta Skurlatovich. It is observable that in the popular tradition Ivan is not spoken of with any hatred. As early as 1619 some of these byliny were committed to writing by Richard James, an Oxford graduate who was in Russia as chaplain of the embassy. The most pathetic is that relating to the unfortunate Xenia, the daughter of Boris Godunov. Yermak, the conqueror of Siberia, forms the subject of a very spirited lay, and there is another on the death of Ivan the Terrible. Considering the relation in which she stood to the Russians, we cannot wonder that Marina, the wife of the false Demetrius, appears as a magician. Many spirited poems are consecrated to the achievements of Stenka Razin, the bold robber of the Volga, who was for a long time a popular hero. The cycle of Peter the Great is a very interesting one. We have songs in abundance on the achievements of the tsar, as the taking of Azov in 1696. There is also a poem on the execution of the streltsy, and another on the death of Peter. In the more modern period there are many songs on Napoleon. The Cossack songs, written in the Little Russian language, dwell upon the glories of the sech, the sufferings of the people from the invasions of the Turks and Mongols, the exploits of the Haidamaks and, lastly, the fall of the Cossack republic. Besides these, the Russians can boast of large collections of religious poems, many of them containing very curious legends. In them we have a complete store of the beliefs of the Middle Ages. A rich field may be found here for the study of comparative mythology and folk-lore. Many of them are of considerable antiquity, and some seem to have been derived from the Midrash. Some of the more important of these have been collected by Beszonov. Besides the byliny or legendary poems, the Russians have large collections of skazki or folk-tales, which have been gathered together by Sakharov, Afanasiev and others. They also are full of valuable materials for the study of comparative mythology. Leaving the popular and oral literature, we come to what has been committed to writing. The earliest specimen of Earliest Russian, properly so called, must be considered the written Ostromir Codex, written by the diak Gregory at the literature. order of Ostromir, the posadnik or governor of Novgorod. This is a Russian recension of the Slavonic Gospels, of the date 106-57. Of the year 1073 we have the Izbornik or " Miscellany " of Sviatoslay. It was written by John the diak or deacon for that prince, and is a kind of Russian encyclopaedia, drawn from Greek sources. The date is 1076. The style is praised by Buslaev as clear and simple. The next monument of the language is the Discourse concerning the Old and New Testament, by Hilarion, metropolitan of Kiev. In this work there is a panegyric on Prince Vladimir of Kiev, the hero of so much of the Russian popular poetry. Other writers are Theodosius, a monk of the Pestcherskiy cloister, who wrote on the Latin faith and some Pouchenia or " Instructions, " and Luke Zhidiata, bishop of Novgorod, who has left us a curious Discourse to the Brethren. From the writings of Theodosius we see that many pagan habits were still in vogue among the people. He finds fault with them for allowing these to continue, and also for their drunkenness; nor do the monks escape his censures. Zhidiata writes in a more vernacular style than many of his contemporaries; he eschews the declamatory tone of • the Byzantine authors. With the so-called Chronicle of Nestor (q.v.) begins the long series of the Russian annalists. There is a regular catena of these chronicles, extending with only two breaks Annalists to the time of Alexis Mikhailovich, the father of Peter and the Great. Besides the work attributed to Nestor, travellers. we have chronicles of Novgorod, Kiev, Volhynia and many others. Every town of any importance could boast of its annalists, Pskov and Suzdal among others. In some respects these compilations, the productions of monks in their cloisters, remind us of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, dry details alternating with here and there a picturesque incident; and many of these annals abound with the quaintest stories. There are also works of early travellers, as the igumen Daniel, who visited the Holy Land at the end of the rlth and beginning of the 12th century. A later traveller was Athanasius Nikitin, a merchant of Tver, who visited India in 1470. He has left a record of his adventures, which has been translated into English and published for the Hakluyt Society. Later also is the account written by the two merchants, Korobeinikov and Grekov. They were sent with a sum of money to the Holy Sepulchre to entreat the monks to pray without ceasing for the soul of the son of Ivan the Terrible, whom his father had killed. A curious monument of old Slavonic times is the Pouchenie (" Instruction "), written by Vladimir Monomakh for the benefit of his sons. This composition is generally found inserted in the Chronicle of Nestor; it gives a quaint picture of the daily life of a Slavonic prince. In the 12th century we have the sermons of Cyril, the bishop of Turov, which are attempts to imitate in Russian the florid Byzantine style. In his sermon on Holy Week, Christianity is represented under the form of spring, Re/Iglous Itterature. Paganism and Judaism under that of winter, and evil thoughts are spoken of as boisterous winds. And here may be mentioned the many lives of the saints and the Fathers to be found in early Russian literature. Some of these have been edited by Count Bezborodko in his Pametniki Starinnoy Russkoy Literatury (" Memorials of Ancient Russian Literature "). We now come to the story of the expedition of Prince Igor, which is a kind of bylina in prose, and narrates the expedition of Igor, prince of Novgorod-Severskiy, against the Polovtzes. The manuscript was at one time preserved The Story of Igor in a monastery at Yaroslavl, but was burnt in the great fire at Moscow in the year 1812. Luckily the story had been edited (after a fashion) by Count Musin-Pushkin, and a transcript was also found among the papers of the empress Catherine. The original was seen by several men of letters in Russia, Karamzin among the number. There is a mixture of Christian and heathen allusions, but there are parallels to this style of writing in such a piece as the " Discourse of a Lover of Christ and Advocate of the True Faith, " from which an extract has been given by Buslaev in his Chrestomathy. There is a great deal of poetical spirit in the story of Igor, and the metaphors are frequently very vigorous. Mention is made in it of another bard named Boyan, but none of his inspirations have come down to us. A strange legend is that of the tsar Solomon and Kitovras, but the story occurs in the popular literatures other of many countries. Some similar productions among the Popular Russians are merely adaptations of old Bulgarian tales, tales. especially the so-called apocryphal writings. The Zadonstchina is a sort of prose poem much in the style of the "Story of Igor, " and the resemblance of the latter to this piece and to many other of the skazania included in or attached to the Russian chronicle, furnishes an additional proof of its genuineness. The account of the battle of the " Field of Woodcocks, " which was gained by Dmitri Donskoy over the Mongols in 1380, has come down in three important versions. The first bears the title " Story of the Fight of the Prince Dmitri Ivanovich with Mamai "; it is rather meagre in details but full of expressions showing the patriotism of the writer. The second version is more complete in its historical details, but still is not without
End of Article: RUSSIAN LITERATURE
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