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Portrait of Karamzin by Vasily Tropinin, painted in 1818
|Born||12 December [O.S. 1 December] 1766
Mikhailovka, Orenburg, Russia
|Died||3 June [O.S. 22 May] 1826
Saint Petersburg, Russia
|Occupation||Writer, historian, poet|
Nikolay Mikhailovich Karamzin (Russian: Никола́й Миха́йлович Карамзи́н; IPA: [nʲɪkɐˈlaj mʲɪˈxajləvʲɪtɕ kərɐmˈzʲin]; 12 December [O.S. 1 December] 1766 – 3 June [O.S. 22 May] 1826) was a Russian writer, poet, historian, and critic. He is best remembered for his History of the Russian State, a 12-volume national history.
Karamzin was born in the village of Mikhailovka, in the government of Orenburg on 1 December (old style) 1766. His father was an officer in the Russian army. He was sent to Moscow to study under Swiss-German teacher Johann Matthias Schaden; he later moved to St Petersburg, where he made the acquaintance of Ivan Dmitriev, a Russian poet of some merit, and occupied himself with translating essays by foreign writers into his native language. After residing for some time in St Petersburg he went to Simbirsk, where he lived in retirement until induced to revisit Moscow. There, finding himself in the midst of the society of learned men, he again took to literary work.
In 1789 he resolved to travel, and visited Germany, France, Switzerland and England. On his return he published his Letters of a Russian Traveller, which met with great success. These letters, modelled after Irish-born Poet, Laurence Sterne´s Sentimental Journey, were first printed in the Moscow Journal, which he edited, but were later collected and issued in six volumes (1797–1801).
In the same periodical Karamzin also published translations from French and some original stories, including Poor Liza and Natalia the Boyar's Daughter (both 1792). These stories introduced Russian readers to sentimentalism, and Karamzin was hailed as "a Russian Sterne".
Karamzin as a writer
In 1794 Karamzin abandoned his literary journal and published a miscellany in two volumes entitled Aglaia, in which appeared, among other stories, The Island of Bornholm and Ilya Muromets, the latter a story based on the adventures of the well-known hero of many a Russian legend. From 1797 to 1799 he issued another miscellany or poetical almanac, The Aonides, in conjunction with Derzhavin and Dmitriev. In 1798 he compiled The Pantheon, a collection of pieces from the works of the most celebrated authors ancient and modern, translated into Russian. Many of his lighter productions were subsequently printed by him in a volume entitled My Trifles. Admired by Alexander Pushkin and Vladimir Nabokov, the style of his writings is elegant and flowing, modelled on the easy sentences of the French prose writers rather than the long periodical paragraphs of the old Slavonic school.
In 1802 and 1803 Karamzin edited the journal the Envoy to Europe (Vestnik Evropy). It was not until after the publication of this work that he realized where his strength lay, and commenced his 12 volume History of the Russian State. In order to accomplish the task, he secluded himself for two years at Simbirsk.
When emperor Alexander learned the cause of his retirement, Karamzin was invited to Tver, where he read to the emperor the first eight volumes of his history. He was a strong supporter of the anti-Polish policies of the Russian Empire, and expressed hope that there would be no Poland under any shape or name In 1816 he removed to St Petersburg, where he spent the happiest days of his life, enjoying the favour of Alexander I and submitting to him the sheets of his great work, which the emperor read over with him in the gardens of the palace of Tsarskoye Selo.
He did not, however, live to carry his work further than the eleventh volume, terminating it at the accession of Michael Romanov in 1613. He died on the 22nd of May (old style) 1826, in the Tauride Palace. A monument was erected to his memory at Simbirsk in 1845.
Karamzin as a historian
Karamzin is well regarded as a historian. Until the appearance of his work little had been done in this direction in Russia. The preceding attempt of Tatishchev was merely a rough sketch, inelegant in style, and without the true spirit of criticism. Karamzin was most industrious in accumulating materials, and the notes to his volumes are mines of interesting information. Perhaps Karamzin may justly be criticized for the false gloss and romantic air thrown over the early Russian annals; in this respect his work is reminiscent of that of Sir Walter Scott, whose writings were at that time creating a great sensation throughout Europe and probably influenced upon him.
Karamzin wrote openly as the panegyrist of the autocracy; indeed, his work has been styled the Epic of Despotism, and considered Ivan III as the architect of Russian greatness, a glory that he had earlier (perhaps while more under the influence of Western ideas) assigned to Peter the Great. (The deeds of Ivan the Terrible are described with disgust, though.)
In the battle pieces he demonstrates considerable powers of description, and the characters of many of the chief personages in the Russian annals are drawn in firm and bold lines. As a critic Karamzin was of great service to his country; in fact he may be regarded as the founder of the review and essay (in the Western style) among the Russians.
Also, Karamzin is sometimes considered a founding father of Russian conservatism. Upon appointing him a state historian, Alexander I greatly valued Karamzin's advice on political matters. His conservative views were clearly expounded in The Memoir on Old and New Russia, written for Alexander I in 1812. This scathing attack on reforms proposed by Mikhail Speransky was to become a cornerstone of official ideology of imperial Russia for years to come.
- Evgenyi i Yuliya (Russian: Евгений и Юлия), English translation: Evgeniy and Julia (1789)
- Bednaya Liza (Russian: Бедная Лиза), English translation: Poor Liza (1792)
- Natalya, boyarskaya doch (Russian: Наталья, боярская дочь), English translation: Natalya the Boyar's Daughter (1792)
- Prekrasnaia tsarevna i schastlivyi karla (Russian: Прекрасная царевна и счастливый карла), English translation: The Beautiful Princess and the Happy Dwarf (1792)
- Ostrov Borngolm (Russian: Остров Борнгольм), English translation: Island of Bornholm (1793)
- Afinskaya zhizn (Russian: Афинская жизнь), English translation: Athenian Life (1794)
- Melodor k Filaletu (Russian: Мелодор к Филалету), English translation: Melodor to Filalet (1794; paired with a sequel, Filalet to Melodor)
- Yuliya (Russian: Юлия), English translation: Julia (1796)
- Marfa-posadnitsa (Russian: Марфа-посадница), English translation: Martha the Mayoress (1802)
- Moya ispoved (Russian: Моя исповедь), English translation: My Confession (1802)
- Chuvstvitelnyi i kholodnyi (Russian: Чувствительный и холодный), English translation: The Sensitive and the Cold (1803)
- Rytsar nashego vremeni (Russian: Рыцарь нашего времени), English translation: A Knight of Our Times (1803)
- Pisma russkogo puteshestvennika (Russian: Письма русского путешественника), English translation: Letters of a Russian Traveler (1791–92)
- Zapiska o drevney i novoy Rossii (Russian: Записка о древней и новой России), English translation: Memoir on Ancient and Modern Russia (1811)
- Istoriya gosudarstva Rossiyskogo (Russian: История государства Российского), English translation: History of the Russian State (1816–26)
- Darovaniya (Russian: Дарования), English translation: Gifts (1796)
- Solovey (Russian: Соловей), English translation: Nightingale (1796)
- Protey, ili Nesoglasiya stikhotvortsa (Russian: Протей, или Несогласия стихотворца), English translation: Proteus, or Inconsistencies of a Poet (1798)
- Ego imperatorskomu velichestvu Alexandru I, samoderzhtsu vserossiyskomu, na vosshestvie ego na prestol (Russian: Его императорскому величеству Александру I, самодержцу всероссийскому, на восшествие его на престол, English translation: To His Imperial Highness Alexander I, All-Russian Autocrat, on the Occasion of His Rise to the Throne (1801)
- Gimn gluptsam (Russian: Гимн глупцам), English translation: Hymn to the Fools (1802)
- K Emilii (Russian: К Эмилии), English translation: To Emilie (1802)
- K dobrodeteli (Russian: К добродетели), English translation: To Virtue (1802)
- Osvobozhdenie Evropy i slava Alexandra I (Russian: Освобождение Европы и слава Александра I), English translation: The Freeing of Europe and the Glory of Alexander I (1814)
- Russia and Ukraine: Literature and the Discourse of Empire from Napoleonic to Postcolonial times McGill-Queen's Press 2001 page 68
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Anderson, Roger B. N.M. Karamzin's Prose: The Teller and the Tale. Houston: Cordovan Press, 1974.
- Black, J.L. Nicholas Karamzin and Russian Society in the Nineteenth Century: A Study in Russian Political and Historical Thought. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1975 (hardcover, ISBN 0-8020-5335-1).
- Cross, A.G. N.M. Karamzin: A Study of His Literary Career, 1783–1803. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1971 (ISBN 0-8093-0452-X).
- Essays on Karamzin: Russian Man-of-Letters, Political Thinker, Historian, 1766–1826 (Slavistic Printings and Reprintings; 309). Edited by J.L. Black. The Hague; Paris: Mouton, 1975.
- Grudzinska Gross, Irena. "The Tangled Tradition: Custine, Herberstein, Karamzin, and the Critique of Russia", Slavic Review, Vol. 50, No. 4. (Winter, 1991), pp. 989–998.
- [Karamzin, N.M.] Selected Prose of N.M. Karamzin. Trans. and Intr. by Henry M. Nebel, Jr. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1969.
- Nebel, Henry M., Jr. N.M. Karamzin: A Russian Sentimentalist. The Hague: Mouton & Co., 1967.
- Pipes, Richard. Karamzin's Memoir on Ancient and Modern Russia: A Translation and Analysis (Russian Research Center Studies; 33). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959.
- Fraanje, Maarten. Nikolai Karamzin and Christian Heinrich Spiess: "Poor Liza" in the Context of the Eighteenth-Century German Suicide Story. Study Group on Eighteenth-Century Russia Newsletter Volume 27 (1999).
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