by Olga BAZANOVA, observer of the Science in Russia magazine
The earthly life of Mikhail Lermontov (1814-1841), one of the greatest national masters of the word, was too short; therefore every "grain" of information about his life is valuable. From the incomplete twenty-seven years he was destined to live he spent only a total of six years in Moscow but he regarded it as his homeland and loved it "strongly, ardently and tenderly as a son and a Russian!"
Not far from the Moscow historical center, in the Red Gates Square, there is an administrative and residential high-rise building (from among seven skyscrapers which beautified Moscow in late 1940s-early 1950s)*. The memorial plate with a portrait of our cele-
*See: A. Firsova, "The Empire Style in Soviet Architecture", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2010-Ed.
brated townsman on its wall has an inscription: "Here stood a house, where on October 3(15), 1814, the great Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov was born." We mean the mansion of major-general Fyodor Tol, which was situated in early 19th century just here opposite the Red Gates, the
first national triumphal arch built in honor of our victory in the Battle of Poltava in the course of the Great Northern War*.
The initial version of this pompous construction was wooden thereby it suffered from fires not once, and in 1753 baroque architect** Dmitry Ukhtomsky reproduced it in stone. The scarlet Red Gates decorated with rich snow-white fretwork, bronze gilded figures and colorful painting appeared before the eyes of the poet's parents who arrived in Moscow from his mother's family estate in Tarkhany Village, Chembarsky District, Penza Province just on the eve of his birth. Unfortunately, the majestic arch has not remained intact to the present day (as well as the neighboring Church of Three Prelates, where small Mikhail was christened a week after his birth). The Red Gates Square is now in this very place opposite the Lermontov Square with a monument to the poet erected in its center in 1965 (sculptor, Issac Brodsky).
As soon as frosty days were over, the young family returned to Tarkhany in the spring of 1815. But its life was neither happy nor long. In 1817 the poet's mother died of consumption, and her mother Yelizaveta Arsenyeva devoted herself to Mikhail's upbringing. She was a clever, strong-willed, energetic and well-to-do person, who was fond of her beloved grandson, "the light of her eyes". Her son-in-law whom she never loved and even considered him guilty in her daughter's death, received from his mother-in-law (according to a number of authors of memoirs) a bill of exchange for a big sum of money and left for his own estate near the city of Tula.
* See: V. Artamonov, "If Only Russia Lived in Glory and Welfare...", Science in Russia, No. 4, 2009.-Ed.
** See: I. Terekhova, "Russian Baroque". Science in Russia, No. 2, 2009.-Ed.
However, Yelizaveta Arsenyeva allowed her son-in-law to carry on correspondence with and visit his son, and, of course, she lavished attentions on her favorite child and provided with everything required by the family status. Nevertheless, orphanhood with a live farther and a feeling of his difference from others deeply wounded his young soul and gave rise to a feeling of loneliness among people and striving to fly away to the dreamland with fascinating virgin nature and fervent noble hearts ...
In the autumn of 1827 she went with young Mikhail from Tarkhany to Moscow (their first address was a mansion of Kostomarova, wife of a Guards' ensign in the Povarskaya Street) to send him to the University Noble Boarding School*. In contradistinction to high schools and universities the said school (like the Imperial Lyceum in Tsarskoye Selo near Petersburg-alma mater of our great poet Alexander Pushkin) admitted only children of the nobility to prepare them for "important sectors of the government service". The lessons were conducted under individual programs which included a wide range of subjects such as jurisprudence, theology, military art, mathematics, physics, geography, natural science, drawing, music, dancing, practical farming, etc., but the Russian language and literature were the main subjects.
In Tarkhany Lermontov under supervision of the hired teachers studied history, literature, music, Greek, Latin, German and French languages. It enabled him to read the books of foreign authors in original available in the excellent home library and at the same time national journals and books. In order to prepare him thoroughly for entering such privileged educational establishment his grandmother invited experienced pedagogues including Alexander
*See: Ye. Sysoyeva, "The Torch of Learning", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2007.-Ed.
Zinovyev who worked at the said school. The latter gave lessons to him in Latin and Russian languages, general history, geography and took him frequently for interesting cognitive walks in the center of Moscow.
Lermontov entered the fourth form of the boarding school right away (there was a total of six forms), was an ardent student and made great advances. There he received comprehensive education, which allowed him to become not only a real master of the word, but also a wonderful painter and a musician, which is due to his remarkable teachers (in higher forms there were mainly professors of the Moscow University). Apart from Zinovyev one should mention Semyon Raich (Amfiteatrov), at that time a known poet in the country who headed practical studies in Russian and established a society of lovers of Russian philology at the school, where the students (including the future great poet) read and discussed their fictional experiments.
Rhetoric, Russian and Latin languages were taught by Dmitry Dubensky, a lecturer at the Moscow University, a writer, "an enthusiast of folk poetry" and an expert in "The Lay of Igor's Warfare". A course of lectures in literature was given by Professor Alexei Merzlyakov, a poet and the author of the poem "Amidst the Flat Valley" (1810) set to a folk music, which later became a popular romance. He was also Lermontov' private tutor. It should be stressed that the teachers possessed high erudition and progressive views. They were respectful towards their students and did not practice corporal punishment. Instead, for assiduity and advances in studies, they always awarded them with either a book or selection of a student's good work for an exhibition, or even a medal. Friendship and mutual assistance prevailed also among the students.
All these seeds of good deeds got into a beneficial soil, and a responsive poetic soul absorbed all obtained from the tutors. As Zinovyev put it about his student, "he read brilliantly pieces of Zhukovsky's poetry devoted to the sea and deserved a loud applause. He was good at drawing, was fond of fencing, riding, dancing, and he was not clumsy at all: he was a thickset youth promising to become a strong and healthy man in maturity". In a word, the moral atmosphere at the school was extremely benevolent, which contributed to successful comprehension of sciences, training in arts, cognition of the environment and in addition penetration of freethinking ideas. It is no mere chance that quite a number of graduates of this school happened to be among the participants of the Decembrist Revolt of 1825. That same year Emperor Nicholas I deprived this "hot-bed of freethinking" of many privileges and reorganized it into a public high school in 1830, as a result, a lot of students including Lermontov filed a resignation.
In the course of two years at the school, the young poet wrote about 60 poems (four handwritten notebooks kept today at the Institute of Russian Literature-Pushkin House*, St. Petersburg), in particular The Prayer, Bed-of-Honor, To Caucasia, Autumn, Complains of the Turk, Monologue, Corsair, the play Spaniards, etc. Besides, he was among Moscow theater-goers, was passionately drawing, moulded using wax, made new friends including such close friends as Alexandra Vereshchagina, Alexei, Mariya and Varvara Lopukhins. Lermontov was in love with Varvara; moreover, despite other objects of passion, "his feeling towards her... was inexplicable but true and deep,
*See: Ye. Bogatyryov, "Literary Pantheon", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2005.-Ed.
and he remained faithful to her almost to his last days", as his relative and close friend Akim Shan-Girey recalled later. Lermontov dedicated a number of poems to her: She With Her Not Proud Beauty, Forget Vain Troubles, Fate Brought Us Together by Chance (1832), Really, I Am Writing to You by Accident, Indeed (1840), In a Midday Heat in a Valley of Dagestan (1841).
In the autumn of 1830 Lermontov became a student of the Moscow University. Initially he attended lectures at the moral and political department, later on he left it for the department of philology but stayed there altogether for less than two years. Well-informed in excess of the education program he often did not know the lecture material, which caused tensions with professors, and finally the ambitious youth left the university. Instead, social life, such as different receptions, balls, masked balls, etc. became a real school of life and a rich material for studies of human nature for the future author of the first Russian psychological novel The Hero of Our Time.
It is not accidental that literary critics call the university period the most fruitful in Lermontov's creative work. In those years he created several lyrical cycles, cast by ardent love affairs and search for an ideal (To N.F.I..., Romance, To K..., Tired out by Depression and Ailment, Sonnet, etc.) and poems The Circassians, The Caucasian Captive which reflected his own childhood experiences of the stay in Caucasia*. The discord between the most loved persons, i.e. his grandmother and his "dear daddy", responded with acute pain in the poet's soul. Later on he took his father's untimely death hard in 1831. He dedicated some verses to this sad event in his life: Awful Fate of the Father and His Son, Epitaph (Forgive me! Shall I be Seeing You Again?), I Saw a Shadow of Blessing; but
*See: O. Bazanova, "...Caucasia, His Poetic Cradle...", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2014.-Ed.
Quite..., Let me be in Love with Somebody..., drama A Queer Customer, etc.
From August of 1829 to late May of 1832 Lermontov and his grandmother lived in a small one-storeyed wooden mansion with a penthouse in the Malaya Molchanovka Street. Built by the merchant Pyotr Chernov in 1814-1817, the mansion is the only building in Moscow whose walls remember the great poet, and since 1979 it houses a department of the State Museum of Literature*. The original interior and everyday life items of the 19th century have unfortunately not preserved. To reconstruct the atmosphere of that period the exposition organizers referred to pictorial graphics, documentary and epistolary sources.
Meanwhile, the main wealth of the memorial mansion includes autographs, manuscripts, 15 paintings and drawings of our great compatriot created in 1837-1841 (views of Caucasia, self-portrait, etc.) and portraits of his relatives depicted by unknown serf painters. For example, on the writing desk in his grandmother's room we can see an almanac Cepheus of 1829 of the Moscow University Noble Boarding School with the first publication of the young author, a textbook Course in Mathematics by Bezout with the author's dedication, and Lermontov's application to enrol him in the Moscow University.
On the writing desk in the small drawing room there is a title page of the tale Angel of Death, which the poet dedicated to his good friend Alexandra Vereshchagina. His water-color drawings are placed on the wall, such as an illustration to his drama Spaniards-a portrait of Varvara Lopukhina as a nun, Landscape with Horsemen, The Spaniard with a Dagger and a portrait of his father made after his sudden death. On an oval table there is a
*See: L. Morozova, "A Guest Invited or Guest Sudden, He's Visited this Wondrous World...", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2005.-Ed.
copy of Book of Fates made by Lermontov as an attribute of an astrologer's costume for a New Year's masked ball at the Noble Assembly. It contained holiday addresses to the guests.
The fascinating impression is produced by a portrait in the large drawing room, which is made by a serf painter, as if foreseeing the fate of a genius: little Mikhail is depicted with a sheet of paper in one hand and a brush in another. Nearby are portraits of his mother and grandmother perhaps made by the same painter. There are exquisite basre-liefs by the remarkable sculptor Fyodor Tolstoi dedicated to the Patriotic War of 1812 on the opposite wall. The adjacent room displays picturesque and graphic works by Lermontov. They include first of all his self-portrait of 1837 well known to admirers of his creative work and presented by the author to Varvara Lopukhina (the portrait remained in Germany for many years and only in 1962 was returned to Russia); a portrait of his friend Svyatoslav Rayevsky in a costume of a Kurd; drawings of galloping horses and landscapes.
Lermontov's study in the penthouse is the holy of holies of the mansion. There are books of the most respected historians, philosophers and writers, goose quill, homemade copybooks, abstracts of lectures, engraving with a view of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower (which he visited often with his tutor Zinovyev) in the Moscow Kremlin, which aroused his pride and reference. Such was the poet's "cell", who wrote about himself: "From the very first days of my life I was fond of gloomy solitude, where I sought shelter in myself, fearing that unable to hide my sadness, I will arouse human regret..."
With a view to continue his education at the Petersburg University, Lermontov and his grandmother moved to the northern capital in the autumn of 1832. But he spent summer as before (previous three years) in Serednikovo*, an estate of his grandmother's brother. A spacious park and estate ensemble of the late 18th century (the author is supposedly one of the founders of Russian classicism** Ivan Starov) on a high bank of the Goretovka rivulet with a system of ponds is even today an unusually picturesque and romantic place near Moscow.
The elegance and harmony of architectural solutions are in full conformity with delicate lyricism of the surrounding Russian nature. The manorial two-storeyed mansion is connected by a roofed colonnade with four side wings, and all five constructions are topped with identical small turrets. One of the side façades of the main building overlooks the broad stairs, which go down to a
* See: O. Bazanova, "At the Crossroads of Fates and Roads", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2010.-Ed.
**See: Z. Zolotnitskaya, "Lofty Simplicity and Dignity", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2009.-Ed.
picturesque pond and is laid with massive stone plates once used by the great poet. The dilapidated bridges here and there in the park also remember Lermontov. These traits of Moscow landscape are recognizable in his works, and some poems of the early 1830s are even marked with notes "Serednikovo. At night at the window" or "Serednikovo. Evening on the belvedere. July 29".
In 1992 the National Lermontov Center was set up at the estate, which initiated its restoration in line with the old drawings. This process is now under way as a vast territory (almost 120 hectares) is to be put in order. Fortunately such valuable object of cultural heritage of the federal importance is one of the best well-preserved park and estate complexes of the Moscow Region. Suffice it to say that all 16 constructions existing here the century before last (including household outbuildings such as cattle-yards and stables, manège, several greenhouses, coach-house, etc.) are preserved to this day. Now many interiors are restored, and the manorial mansion houses an exposition related to the life and creative work of our great compatriot.
The remarkable fact is that a part of décor of the early 20th century (fragments of curtains of window openings, a
mirror with marble tabletop, doors and earthenware tile floor) is almost intact in the entrance hall of the main building. But owing to the skill of the restorers everything looks here now just like in those years. We go up the stairs decorated with wood carving and lighted by four stained-glass windows of the late 19th century and get to the second floor. The main marble (or oval) hall served often as a music saloon to the owners. In 1890 on order of the estate
owner Vera Firsanova its shade was decorated by the painter Victor Shtember with the fresco Demon and Angel carrying away Tamara's soul based on Lermontov's poem Demon, which we see today.
There is a library in an adjacent room with ancient books, and the Serednikovo "chronicle" is reproduced in photos in the next room. One hall on the second floor is dedicated to Vera Firsanova who did much for memorizing the poet's stay in Serednikovo and also for public education. Here are restored items belonging to her, which are at least 100 years old, such as a wardrobe with a mirror, a kiot (small box for icons), etc. and also modern tapestries with portraits of Lermontov and his grandmother.
A special section of the exposition deals with the history of the Lermontov family which begins from the Scottish singer and prophet of the 13th century Thomas Lear-month (the family name is known since the 11th century). One of his descendants served in the Polish army, was taken prisoner by Russians near Smolensk* in 1613. He became member of the Orthodox Church and signed up to tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich-this is how a branch of this genealogical tree appeared in our country. Among elegant carved oak furniture the museum visitors will see the colors with the family emblem and photos of his contemporary representatives, ancient Scottish castles, etc.
In the year of centenary of the poet's birth, a stele was installed near the main mansion with the following inscription on one side: "Mikhail Lermontov. 1914. This obelisk is erected in memory of his stay in Serednikovo in 1830-1831" and on the other side: "To the singer of sadness and love...". Besides, the then mistress of the estate Vera Firsanova ordered in Paris his bronze bust after a plaster model made by the sculptor Anna Golubkina in 1900.
The poet abandoned forever this wonderful place of repose and a "refuge of thoughtful dryads" in the autumn of 1832 and started for Petersburg hoping to enroll in the third year of studies at the Petersburg University after two years at the Moscow University. There he was offered to begin studies from scratch but under influence of his relatives and to the joy of his grandmother Lermontov enlisted in the School of Guards' Sub-Lieutenants and Cavalry Junkers. But, the newly made cadet's soul was far from the Neva banks. He wrote to Mariya Lopukhina in those days: "Moscow is my homeland, and it will be such forever. It is where I was born, suffered so much and was too happy as well."
Probably it is not accidental that only in separation from his favorite ancient capital the poet created an impassioned hymn dedicated to Moscow. In 1834 on the instructions of the teacher from the junker school Vasily Plaksin (who highly estimated the literary talent of his student) Lermontov wrote a composition "Moscow Pan-
* The siege of Smolensk in 1613-1617, an episode of the Russo-Polish War of 1609-1618-Ed.
orama". He endowed the city, dear to his heart and often observed by him in his childhood from the Ivan the Great Bell Tower, with "soul, thought and language", here "every... stone keeps inscription made by time and fate, inscription unintelligible for a crowd but rich and abundant in thoughts, feeling and inspiration for the scientist, patriot and poet!.."
The poet dedicated particularly eloquent lines to "heart of Moscow": "What can be compared with this Kremlin, which surrounded by toothed walls and shining with golden cupolas of cathedrals, rests on a high hill like a sovereign wreath on the brow of a terrible master?.. It is an altar of Russia where many sacrifices worthy of the homeland should be made and are already made..."
After 1832 Lermontov happened to be in his home city only in passing. But eight years later on his way from Petersburg to the Caucasian exile (punished for duel with a son of the French envoy Ernest de Barante) he lived almost a month in Moscow. Here he gained numerous pleasant impressions, in particular, he heard a lot of enthusiastic comments after he read the new poem The Novice on the Saint Nicholas Day (May 9) in the mansion of the historian, collector, publicist and publisher Acad. Mikhail Pogodin on the name-day celebration party of the writer Nikolai Gogol, where he met a lot of well-known Moscow men of letters of the day. In those days he became friends with the first-string Slavophils*, namely, publicists and philosophers Yuri Samarin and Alexei Khomyakov (Cor-
* Slavophilism-a literary and philosophical movement in Russia in the middle of the 19th century, oriented to substantiation of its identity and a special type of culture differing from the Western European way, which originated on the base of orthodoxy.-Ed.
responding Member of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences) related to him by love of Motherland, conviction in national cultural identity, resorting to history and popular arts, belief in a special mission of Russia.
Of interest may be Samarin's words about the poet: "I often met Lermontov during his stay in Moscow. He has an extremely artistic nature, elusive and giving no way to any external influence owing to his power of observation and a significant dose of indifferentism. Even before you start speaking to him, he already sees through you; he takes note of everything; he has a heavy look, and it is tiresome to feel this look...This man never listens to what you are saying, he just listens and watches..."
During his last visit to Moscow in the spring of 1941 on his way from Petersburg to Caucasia Lermontov stayed there only for five days but he thought of them later with great warmth. He stayed at the Petrovsky Roadside Palace in the apartment of Dmitri Rozen, his fellow soldier in the Life Guards' Hussar Regiment. He took part in folk festivities, met his friends, in particular Samarin, who already after the poet's death as if experienced parting with him over and over again: "I shall never forget our... meeting... half an hour before his departure. When parting he gave me his last verses. All this comes back to me with striking clearness...
He told me about his future and his literary projects, and among all other things he let fall a few words about his impending death which I took as a joke on his part. I was the last person who shook hands with him in Moscow."
Опубликовано 23 ноября 2021 года
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