The Influence of Barry Cornwall and the Phenomenon of Polygenesis in Alexander Pushkin's "Little House in Kolomna"

Zaur Agayev


Most writers steal a good thing when they can,
And ‘tis safely got ’tis worth the winning.
The worst of ‘tis we now and then detect ’em,
Before they ever dream that we suspect ’em.[1]


Pushkin and Cornwall: The Nature of Scholarly Work on the Subject

In considering the question of the influence of the nineteenth-century English poet Barry Cornwall on the creative works of Alexander Pushkin, scholars to date have concentrated primarily on the comparative frame­work of Cornwall’s “Dramatic Scenes” and Pushkin’s “Little Tragedies.” While this topic is indeed important, it is nevertheless indisputable that the effects of Cornwall’s poetry on Pushkin are not limited to these works alone. However, few scholarly works consider other aspects of Cornwall’s influence.[2] This essay will analyze the phenomenon of polygenesis in Alexander Pushkin’s “Little House in Kolomna” in connection with Barry Cornwall’s poems “Gyges” and “Diego de Montilla: A Spanish Tale,” two works that are not part of the “Dramatic Scenes.”

The existence of certain similarities between these two works of Barry Cornwall and Pushkin’s “Little House in Kolomna” was originally ac­knowledged by N. V. Iakovlev in his 1917 article “Poslednii literaturnyi sobesednik Pushkina Bari Kornuol.” However, that article only broached the topic superficially without providing a detailed analysis of the sub­ject.[3] Using the comparative methodology employed in B. V. Tomashev­sky’s “Strofika Pushkina” will allow us to produce precisely such an anal­ysis. In “Strofika Pushkina,” Tomashevsky shows repeatedly how Pushkin selectively borrowed material and forms from other poets and used them in his own verse and for his own goals. As we will see, this explains pre­cisely Pushkin’s reception of Cornwall’s “Gyges” and “Diego de Montilla; A Spanish Tale.”

Pushkin’s Acquaintance with the English Language and Works of Barry Cornwall

In his 1822 letter[4] to the poet and translator N. I. Gnedich, Pushkin points out that the English language, both in the form of poetry and of prose, has finally begun to affect Russian literature. In the same letter, Pushkin also expresses his hope that these effects would prove to be a more favorable influence on Russian poetry than the “timid” and “mincing” (zhemannaia) French poetry. Thus, already in 1822 Pushkin was not only interested in English poetry, but also seemed to view it as a potentially positive and healthy source from which his own language and art could enrich itself. After several failed attempts, Pushkin finally embarked on serious study of the English language in 1828, and by 1829, during his trip to the Caucasus, he was startling his friends Zakhar Chernyshev and Mikhail Iuzefovich with his “terrible English pronunciation but excellent under­standing of Shakespeare [in the original].”[5]

It is not clear when Pushkin became first acquainted with the poetry of Barry Cornwall. N. K. Kozmin, for example, suggests that Pushkin read Cornwall’s name in the “Revue Encyclopédique” as far back as 1820, and that some of his poems were certainly known to Pushkin before 1829.[6] Most scholars believe, however, that the correct date, at least for the be­ginning of the period when Pushkin became truly interested in Cornwall, is the year 1829 or 1830. In 1829, in Paris, A. and W. Galignani published The Poetical Works of Milman, Bowles, Wilson, and Barry Cornwall. P. V. Annenkov and A. O. Ishimova, to whom Pushkin addressed his last letter, acknowledge this anthology as the original source of Pushkin’s interest in Cornwall.[7] It is also recognized that Pushkin took The Poetical Works of Milman, Bowles, Wilson, and Barry Cornwall to his estate Boldino in 1830, and that he studied it there during the most prolific period of his life.[8] Pushkin directly translated two of Cornwall’s poems from that an­thology: the song “Here’s a health to thee, Mary” and the serenade “Inesilla! I am here,” and probably borrowed the form of Cornwall’s “Dra­matic Scenes,”[9] as well as certain parts of their content, for his own “Little Tragedies.” This indicates the extent of Pushkin’s interest in Cornwall, and the latter’s influence on the Russian poet in 1830.[10]

Boldino. Octaves. Pushkin’s “Little House in Kolomna” and Cornwall’s “Gyges” and “Diego de Montilla”—General Introduction

In Boldino, Pushkin, for the first time in his poetic career, adapted an octave form for the purpose of writing a poema.[11] “Little House in Kolomna” and the fragment “Autumn” are examples of relatively long poems composed in this distinctive and demanding pattern of rhymes. Blagoi suggests that Pushkin’s use of this new form was inspired by the octaves of Byron and Barry Cornwall,[12] whose “Gyges,” “Diego de Mon­tilla,” and two more works from The Poetical Works of Milman, Bowles, Wilson, and Barry Cornwall are written in octaves.[13] The connection to Barry Cornwall appears to be more relevant than Byron, for it is known that Pushkin read Byron in French prose translations[14] whereas the oc­tave form that he uses in “Little House in Kolomna” is the traditional Italian ottava rima; the same pattern of rhymes that Cornwall employed in “Diego de Montilla” and “Gyges.”[15]

Additionally, the playful and natural language of “Little House in Kolomna” recalls the language of “Diego de Montilla” and, especially, “Gyges.” A juxtaposition of the language and themes in these works with those in “Little House in Kolomna,” indicates that certain elements of both English poems were reflected in Pushkin’s poem. In The Complete Poetical Works of Milman, Bowles, Wilson, and Barry Cornwall, “Diego de Mon­tilla” is directly followed by “Gyges” and this placement makes the simi­larities in their introductions and language particularly noticeable. These two elements combined probably left an imprint on Pushkin as a single poetic text, all the more so because of the octave form in which they were both composed. This is most likely how the phenomenon of polygenesis in the original “Little House in Kolomna” came to be.[16]

The Tale of Cornwall’s “Gyges” and Pushkin’s “Little House in Kolomna.” The Parallelism of Characters and Structural Similarities

The story of Gyges, like the story of Parasha, is a frivolous tale lacking any element of sadness. The Lydian king Candaules boasts to the court’s favorite, Gyges, about the beauty and uniqueness of the breast of his wife, Queen Lais. The queen has a special mark on that part of her body, which happens to resemble Gyges’s favorite flower. Burning with desire, Gyges pretends that he does not believe Candaules’s story and the latter, fooled by this trick, eagerly volunteers to allow the young man to gain access to the queen’s bedroom. Gyges agrees, proceeds with the plan, and sees the queen naked. He is then caught by Lais and forced to tell her everything. Angry at her silly husband, the queen decides that Candaules deserves to die for his ignorance. With Gyges’s help, Lais poisons the king and chooses Gyges as her new husband, thus making him the new Lydian king.

A juxtaposition of the tales of the English and the Russian poems allows us to discern interesting examples of character parallelism in “Gyges” and “Little House in Kolomna.” In “Gyges,” the main character uses an unusual way—the queen’s husband—to gain secret access to the queen’s bedroom, and is then able to enjoy—if only briefly—his unrecog­nized and unseen position, until he is accidentally discovered by the queen. In “Little House in Kolomna,” an anonymous young man, perhaps a hussar, also gains access, in an unusual way—by cross-dressing—to a young woman’s bedroom, and then enjoys his unrecognized status until the old widow’s accidental discovery of his ruse. Both characters are young and attractive males, who are sooner or later chosen as lovers by the hero­ines and who ultimately remain unpunished for their inappropriate actions.[17]

The similarities between “Gyges” and “Little House in Kolomna,” how­ever, are not limited to the parallelism of characters and, in fact, occur on many different levels. The structure of “Little House” itself is akin to “Gyges” in a triadic way: both poems consist of a metapoetic introduction, a frivolous tale, and a very peculiar moral, or rather pseudo-moral, at the end. Like Cornwall, Pushkin uses the demanding form of ottava rima and fills it with the “low” content of an anecdote. Additionally, Pushkin em­ploys playful language to tell his story and allows noticeable shifts to occur in the narrator’s voice, elements that can also be found in Cornwall’s “Gyges.” Most significantly, numerous specific textual similarities and borrowings from “Gyges,” which will be discussed below, make the influ­ence and presence of this Cornwall poem in Pushkin’s “Little House in Kolomna” even more perceptible.

Cornwall’s “Diego de Montilla” and Pushkin’s “Little House in Kolomna.” A Thematic Comparison. The Function of the Grafinia in Pushkin’s Poem

In his own description of “Diego de Montilla: A Spanish Tale,” Barry Cornwall says: “My tale is sad in part, in part sublime, / With here and there a smack of pleasantry” (III, 81). In actuality, it is a rather odd story in eighty-six stanzas, richly ornamented with dramatic and romantic touches. The protagonist is a Spanish knight, Diego de Montilla, who falls in love with a well-known beauty—Aurelia. However, she declines Diego’s marriage proposal, and the heartbroken knight decides, in Romantic fash­ion, to travel. Before his departure, Diego meets Aurelia’s younger sister, Aurora, who immediately falls in love with this “suffering” man. Diego goes away and eventually realizes that he loves Aurora. Unfortunately, it is too late for them to be together, for Aurora is incurably ill and dies before Diego reaches her. For the rest of his life, Diego shows no love for any other woman and ultimately he is found dead by his aged mother. She dies shortly thereafter and is buried next to him. Unlike “Gyges,” Corn­wall’s “Diego de Montilla” offers no explicit moral, although the author claims there is a moral, but it is simply “undercover” and has to be dis­covered by the reader.

As far as the story goes, there is very little thematic common ground between the tale of Diego de Montilla and the tale of Parasha. Outside of the plot, however, there are structural similarities, such as the common octave form and Pushkin’s metapoetic introduction, with its thematic parallelisms and multiple textual borrowings from the Cornwall work. Within the story line of “Diego de Montilla,” there are only two motifs that are also present in “Little House in Kolomna”: there is the character of a widow who is the protagonist’s mother, and there is the so-called “opposi­tion of a proud and simple beauty,”[18] expressed in the characters of Aurelia and Aurora, which we find in Pushkin as well.

This second motif within the tale of Don Diego corresponds well to the opposition of the countess and Parasha in “Little House” and might ex­plain the presence and function of the mysterious grafinia in Pushkin’s poem. The comparison of “Diego de Montilla” with “Little House in Kolomna” seems to suggest that the “true” identity of the “grafinia” char­acter[19] may not be important at all to Pushkin’s poem, whereas her pres­ence in this work serves a clear purpose similar to Aurelia’s presence in Cornwall’s poem. One of Aurelia’s primary functions in “Diego de Mon­tilla” is to provide a comparison to her younger sister and to represent a different kind of beauty. The grafinia in “Little House in Kolomna” serves the same function with respect to Parasha. In fact, that appears to be the only logical purpose of the grafinia’s presence in Pushkin’s poem, whereas Aurelia has more than one function in Cornwall’s work. Moreover, the comparison of textual evidence from “Diego de Montilla” and “Little House in Kolomna” clearly illustrates how functionally, thematically, and struc­turally similar the pairs “Aurelia–Aurora” and “grafinia–Parasha” actu­ally are in respect to one another. Here is an excerpt in which Cornwall compares and describes Aurelia and Aurora:

Aurelia was the elder, and her name,
Grace, wit, and so forth, through the country flew (XV)

Her proud and regal look, her quick black eye,
Through whose black fringes such a beam shot down
On men (XXI)

[…] young Aurora’s fame—
She had no fame (XV)

Her younger sister—she was meek and pale,
And scarcely noticed when Aurelia was near (XXII)

Cornwall then goes on to describe Aurora’s nature, and indicates that be­tween the two sisters, the younger one is the true heroine of the poem. One finds the same kind of comparison and description in Pushkin’s “Little House in Kolomna,” only this time the comparison is between the character of the grafinia, who goes to the same church as Parasha on Sun­days, and Parasha herself:

[…] Графиня...(звали как, не помню, право)
Она была богата, молода;
Входила в церковь с шумом, величаво;
Молилась гордо (где была горда!). XXV (XXI)

Она казалась хладный идеал
Тщеславия […] XXXVII (XXIII)

[…] Параша перед ней
Казалась, бедная, еще бедней. XXV (XXI)

Just like Cornwall before him, Pushkin then defends his heroine, and em­phasizes that even though Parasha is simple and poor she is still attractive:

[…] но пред ее окном
Все ж ездили гвардейцы черноусы,
И девушка прельщать умела их
Без помощи нарядов дорогих. XXXIX (XXV)

Once again, Pushkin disposes of Cornwall’s elaborate terms of affectation and describes the very same idea with simplicity and humor. It is possible to say that Cornwall’s model “Aurelia–Aurora” was simply remembered by Pushkin during his work on the “Little House in Kolomna,” and he decided to adapt it for the same purpose. Hence the unforeseen and fleeting ap­pearance of the grafinia, who fulfills the aforementioned function of Au­relia.[20] This notion is also supported by the prominence of the sounds “r” and “a” in the pairs “Aurelia–Aurora” and “Grafinia–Parasha.” After all, Pushkin was particularly attracted to the play of sound in Cornwall’s poetry.[21]

Cornwall’s “Gyges” and “Diego de Montilla,” and Pushkin’s “Little House in Kolomna.” Textual Juxtaposition: Part I

In this part of the discussion, we will compare directly specific passages from Cornwall and Pushkin in order to demonstrate how Cornwall’s “Gyges” and “Diego de Montilla” influenced “Little House in Kolomna” as a single poetic body. Both of Cornwall’s poems open with a metapoetic intro­duction which, combined with formal and thematic similarities, points strongly toward the connection between them and the opening of Push­kin’s poem. In “Gyges,” Cornwall begins with a reflection on the octave:

I’ve often thought that if I had more leisure
I’d try my hand upon that pleasant rhyme,
The old “ottava rima” (quite a treasure
To poets who can make their triplets chime
Smoothly) […] (I)

Pushkin almost literally reproduces this passage in his opening of “Little House in Kolomna”:

[…] Я хотел
Давным-давно приняться за октаву.
А в самом деле: я бы совладел
С тройным созвучием. Пущусь на славу!  I (I)

Pushkin not only recapitulates Cornwall’s theme, but also clearly re­sponds to the last three lines of that excerpt by claiming that he is one of those good poets mentioned by Cornwall, “who can make their triplets chime smoothly.” “А v samom dele: ia by sovladel s troinym sozvuchiem” is directly connected to Cornwall’s remark.

The established connection between Pushkin and Cornwall continues to operate within the metapoetic schema. In the same first stanza, Corn­wall’s poetic language almost humanizes the rhyming lines of the octave in his depiction of a poet’s good relationship with the octave rhyme when it comes to the subject of women:

[…] when pretty woman’s in the case,
The lines go tripping with a better grace.

Pushkin follows Cornwall’s model in his “Little House” and even expands on it by treating his rhymes as animate feminine entities:

Ведь рифмы запросто со мной живут;
Две придут сами, третью приведут.  I (I)

The next pair of similarities continues to develop the theme of poetry:

[…] the octave measure—it should slip
Like running water o’er its pebbled bed.
[…] the poet must not nip
The line, nor the sentence, nor be led
By old, approved, poetic canons; no […] (“Diego de Montilla,” II)

The same idea, only with respect to poetry in general, is found in Pushkin:

А чтоб им путь открыть широкий, вольный,
Глаголы тотчас им я разрешу...
Вы знаете, что рифмой наглагольной
Гнушаемся мы. Почему? Спрошу.
Так писывал Шихматов богомольный;
По большей части так и я пишу.
К чему? Скажите; yж и так мы голы.
Отныне в рифмы буду брать глаголы. II (II)

In this passage, Pushkin uses the figure of Shikhmatov as a representa­tion of the “archaic” school of Russian poetry; a school that emphasized the importance of the “old and approved canons” of versification, both in terms of form and content.[22] By threatening to employ rhyming verbs, as well as using the demanding form of the octave, which was primarily known to the Russian reader in association with epic works of Tasso and Ariosto,[23] to convey a frivolous tale of Parasha, Pushkin intentionally breaks away from the old canons and constructs a “shirokaia i vol’naia doroga” for his verse.

The topic of the “octave measure” occupies the first stanza in “Gyges” and the first two stanzas in “Diego de Montilla.” In Pushkin’s poem, how­ever, it repeatedly reemerges throughout his metapoetic introduction and once again toward the end of the work. After the first stanza of “Gyges,” Cornwall has a semi-metapoetic section about love and poetry,[24] whereas Pushkin dedicates the corresponding part in his poem to language and poetry.[25] Although Cornwall and Pushkin devote these respective parts to rather different subjects, the overall structure and playfulness of the authors’ language in these metapoetic sections remains close. On the other hand, it appears that Pushkin’s introduction, in this respect, is even more similar to the metapoetic introduction of “Diego de Montilla.” There, Corn­wall uses eleven stanzas of his introduction to talk primarily about poetry before he introduces the protagonist.

Textual Juxtaposition, Part II. More Evidence. Conclusion

The next excerpts concentrate primarily on the subject of poetry, its evolu­tion and present state, as described in Cornwall’s “Gyges” and “Diego de Montilla,” and Pushkin’s “Little House in Kolomna.” Not surprisingly, Cornwall’s ideas expressed on this subject in both of his works are similar:

Hearken! Ye gentle sisters (eight or nine),
Who haunted in old time Parnassus’ hill (“Diego de Montilla,” VI)

Alas! The spirit languishes, and lies
At mercy of life’s dull realities. (“Diego de Montilla,” X)

No more by well or bubbling fountain clear
The Naiad dries her tresses in the sun,
Nor longer may we in the branches hear
The Dryad talk, nor see the Oread run
Along the mountains, nor the Nereid steer
Her way amongst the ways when day is gone.
Shadow nor shape remains—But I’m prating
While th’ reader and Diego, both, are waiting. (“Diego de Montilla,” XI)

[…] O, my muse!
If muse I have, hie thee across the sea,
And where in plenteous drops of the famous “dews
Of Castalie” fall, beg for a few for me;
A laurel branch too: sure they’ll not refuse,
(The sisters)—if they do, then strip the tree,
And we will cultivate the laurel here,
And advertise for claimants far and near. (“Gyges,” XI)

These seventeen lines taken from “Diego de Montilla” and “Gyges,” reflect on various topics, all of which are also found in Pushkin’s poem. In lines 5–11, Cornwall elaborately describes the decline and disappearance of the old, classical world of poetry; in lines 1–4 he talks about the “dull realities of life” taking over what is left of that classical age. Then in lines 12–17, the narrator actually joins the ranks of “real life,” threatens the Muses, and makes a plan to replace them with the modern production and popu­lar advertisement of “laurel branches.”

In his “Little House,” Pushkin treats the same topics, only in more concise, satirical, and almost mocking language:

[……] Но Пегас
Стар, зуб уж нет. Им вырытый колодец
Иссох. Порос крапивою Парнас;
В отставке Феб живет, а хороводец
Старушек муз уж не прельщает нас.
И табор свой с классических вершинок
Перенесли мы на толкучий рынок. XIV (VIII)
И там себе мы возимся в грязи
Торгуемся, бранимся так, что любо […] XV (---)

Pushkin’s excerpt follows Cornwall’s model closely both thematically and textually, although the Russian poet, once again, eliminates the excessive verbiage of the English original. The decline and end of the classical era of poetry emerges in this passage in lines 1–5, and the idea of “dull realities” and commercialization of his age can be found in the depiction of poets as petty tradesmen in lines 6–9.

The next segment from Cornwall refers to and describes the customs, morals, and manners of his contemporary poetic stratum, and the picture he paints is hardly idyllic:

Most writers steal a good thing when they can,
And ’t is safely got’t is worth the winning.
The worst of ’t is we now and then detect’em,
Before they ever dream that we suspect’em. (“Diego de Montilla,” IV)

This quatrain illustrates, once again, the corrupt state of affairs in mod­ern poetry, and the degradation that occurred after the fall of Classicism, probably under the influence of the economic laws of reality. Pushkin de­scribes the contemporary state of Russian poetry in a more exaggerated fashion:

Ведь нынче время споров, брани бурной;
Друг на друга словесники идут,
Друг друга режут и друг друга губят,
И хором про свои победы трубят! XVI (---)

While Pushkin himself had no problem with borrowing from other writers, it is probable that in these lines he refers to plagiarism as one of the rea­sons for which, in Russian literature, “drug na druga slovesniki idut.” In any case, the general atmosphere in Cornwall’s and Pushkin’s excerpts is obviously similar.

Another parallel between “Diego de Montilla” and “Little House in Kolomna” can be found in the way in which both authors compare and poetically equate flesh and blood women with the Muses. Cornwall laconi­cally states:

[…] So, as each man may call what maid he chuses
By way of Muse, I’ll e’en call all the Muses. (V)

Pushkin, in his corresponding excerpt, allows more context for such a com­parison, but ultimately comes to the same comparison:

Поет уныло русская девица,
Как музы наши, грустная певица. XXVIII (XIV)

[…] Печалию согрета
Гармония и наших муз и дев […] [26] XXIX (XV)

The theme of writing and publishing “incognito” is yet another motif that appears in both Cornwall and Pushkin. Cornwall lightheartedly narrates:

[…] In short there is a way to make a dash:
Now if you write incog.—that has an air
(Yet men may, as I have, for this good reason: )
Then, Love’s a thing that’s never out of season. (“Gyges,” XIII)

In the following segment, Pushkin states his own reasons to desire anonymity, which are also the reasons for which his passage seems to be more precise than Cornwall’s, even though Pushkin’s language is also jocular:

[…] Потому-то
Здесь имя подписать я не хочу.
Порой я стих повертываю круто,
Все ж видно-не впервой я им верчу! XVIII (---)

Ах, если бы меня под легкой маской,
Никто в толпе забавной не узнал! XX (---)

The next two excerpts come from the tale proper of Cornwall’s “Gyges” and “Diego de Montilla,” and Pushkin’s “Little House.” In “Gyges,” Corn­wall describes Queen Lais by the window:

Then sank she on her couch and drew aside
The silk curtains and let in the moon,
Which trembling ran around the chamber wide […]
[….] Lais soon,
Touch’d by the scene, look’d as she had forgot
The world [….] (“Gyges,” XXX)

Pushkin, on the other hand, has a scene with Parasha by the window that quite openly mocks the excessive romanticism of Cornwall’s language:

[….] Бледная Диана
Глядела долго девушке в окно.
(Без этого ни одного романа
Не обойдется: так заведено!)
Бывало, мать давным-давно храпела,
А дочка – на луну еще глядела. XXXII (XVIII)

When compared to Cornwall, Pushkin’s language in this scene is simpli­fied and more humorous, yet both passages are close thematically.

The next “tale” excerpts are the descriptions of the protagonist in “Diego de Montilla,” and the heroine in the “Little House in Kolomna.” Cornwall presents this portrait of Don Diego:

Diego was a knight, but more enlighten’d
Than knights were then [….]

Well-bred, and gentle, as a knight should be:
He play’d on the guitar, could read and write […] (XII)

Pushkin’s introduction of Parasha clearly draws on this:

В ней вкус был образованный. Она
Читала сочиненья Эмина.[27] XXVII (XIII)

Играть умела также на гитаре. XXVIII (XIV)

Diego is “enlightened,” while Parasha has “obrazovannyi vkus”; Diego can read and write, and Parasha can read and presumably write. They both play the guitar. And to these striking coincidences we could even add one more: they are both the only child of widows. It would be tempting to draw further parallels between these two characters, but even a very careful analysis does not allow any grounds to do so. The aforementioned “intro­ductory” passages appear to be the only connection between Diego and Parasha. This obviously undermines their larger significance, but also indicates that Pushkin was following Cornwall, albeit selectively.

The very last two passages refer to the tale’s “moral,”[28] which is located explicitly at the very end of “Gyges” and “Little House in Kolomna,” and is present implicitly in “Diego de Montilla.” Pushkin incor­porates structurally and thematically morals from both of Cornwall’s works in his own poem. In “Diego de Montilla,” Cornwall addresses the audience about the moral of his story and states:

As to the moral,—why—‘t is under cover,
I leave it for the reader to discover. (III)

In “Little House in Kolomna,” the moral of the story is also embedded in the narrative. Only when pushed by the insistent reader is Pushkin forced to provide a moral in its traditional form at the end of the story. However, what Pushkin offers to the reader is simply a mock-moral, whereas the actual moral remains unclear and is left to the reader’s interpretation. It seems almost certain that Pushkin borrowed the idea of such a pseudo-moral from Cornwall’s “Gyges.” There, Cornwall addresses his reader in the very last passage of the poem, and asserts:

Reader, this trifle’s ended: I have told
The tale and shown the moral “in a way:”
Yet doth my page another truth unfold,
Namely, that women of the present day
Are not so bad, nor half, as those of old.
Then, cast not thou the lesson quite away,
That—as they’re better than they were before,
Why, men should love’em (wisely) more and more. (XXXIX)

It is apparent that Cornwall’s true moral is in the text itself, and that the last six lines of this work merely present a mock-moral; a derisive test of the reader’s intelligence. This is exactly what Pushkin does in his “Little House in Kolomna”:

Вот вам мораль: по мненью моему,
Кухарку даром нанимать опасно;
Кто ж родился мужчиною, тому
Рядиться в юбку странно и напрасно:
Когда-нибудь придется же ему
Брить бороду себе, что несогласно
С природой дамской… Больше ничего
Не выжмешь из рассказа моего. LIV (XL)

The similarity of Pushkin’s mock-moral with Cornwall’s is unquestionable. This is yet another piece of evidence indicating the undeniable thematic and textual influence of Barry Cornwall’s “Gyges” and “Diego de Montilla” on Pushkin’s “Little House in Kolomna.”

Nevertheless, Pushkin’s poem is clearly an original and brilliant work, in which the author, in his usual manner, includes various elements from independent works by another poet—in this case Cornwall—to produce a remarkable creation. In a wider spectrum, this analysis elucidates the degree of Pushkin’s selectivity in approaching extraneous sources, his abil­ity to discern fascinating and helpful elements in terms of both form and content in otherwise mediocre works, and his capacity to transform those bits and pieces into a masterpiece. The incorporation of elements from two of Cornwall’s works, a tragedy and a comedy, into one unusual poem that is simultaneously serious, polemic[29] and exceedingly humorous, as well as the extent to which Pushkin edited and shortened the original version of “Little House in Kolomna,” suggest that the Russian poet was always con­scious about his work and goals.[30] Different aspects of the original works that were essential to Cornwall were left out because they were not essen­tial to Pushkin. Moreover, Pushkin appears to have read these two works published adjacently as a single text, ripe for creative exploitation. Devoid of Cornwall’s verbosity and numerous romantic touches,[31] written in sim­ple and laconic language, with an elegant and sharp metapoetic introduc­tion and the humorous tale of Parasha, “Little House in Kolomna” is the unique product of Barry Cornwall’s themes and language filtered through Pushkin’s fantasy and skill.[32]



Agayev, Zaur. "The influence of Barry Cornwall and the Phenomenon of Polygenesis in Alexander Pushkin's 'Little House in Kolomna.'" Pushkin Review 8-9 (2005-06): 27-43.

[1] Barry Cornwall, “Diego de Montilla: A Spanish Tale,” stanza IV, in The Poetical Works of Milman, Bowles, Wilson, and Barry Cornwall (Paris: A. and W. Galignani and Co., 1829), 81.

[2] The most recent publication on the topic is Grigorii Kruzhkov’s Nostal´giia obe­liskov (Moscow: Nauka, 2001), which devotes several chapters to Cornwall, and V. A. Geronimus’ article, “Motiv zaochnogo svidaniia u Pushkina i Barry Cornwall (stikhotvoreniia ‘Iz Barry Cornwall’ i ‘Song’),” Filologicheskie nauki, no.3 (1997): 106–11.

[3] “Poslednii literaturnyi sobesednik Pushkina Barri Kornuol” remains the best source to date on the general topic of Pushkin’s interest in Cornwall, and the lat­ter’s influence on Pushkin’s works. However, this article focuses on three of Pushkin’s poems: “Zaklinanie,” “Ekho,” and “Obval,” and even then it does not provide a comparative analysis. The rest of the article is a useful overview of the topic. N. V. Iakovlev, “Poslednii literaturnyi sobesednik Pushkina Barri Kornuol,” Pushkin i ego sovremenniki 28 (1917): 5–28.

[4] A. S. Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 19 vols. (Moscow: Voskresen´e, 1937), 13: 39–40.

[5] Nevertheless, it is still difficult to determine the actual degree of Pushkin’s understanding and knowledge of the English language. Aleksandr Dolinin devotes several pages to this topic, emphasizing that the orthodox dogma of Pushkin’s fluency in English after the year of 1828 cannot possibly be correct. It is doubtful that Pushkin’s knowledge of English, at any point in his life, exceeded the level of a talented amateur and, as such, it was very far from fluency. A. Dolinin, “Pushkin i Angliia,” Vsemirnoe slovo 14 (2001): 46–86.

The truth, as Dolinin justly points out, can probably be found between the existing “extreme” notions on the subject. Most likely, Pushkin knew English well enough after 1828 to understand and translate correctly, with the help of a diction­ary, an English text of average difficulty. Large portions of Wilson’s “City of the Plague,” according to Dolinin, and the poetry of Barry Cornwall, with its “poor” lexicon and simple syntax, were exactly such moderately difficult English texts. M. V. Iuzefovich, “Pamiati Pushkina,” in Pushkin v vospominaniiakh sovremennikov, ed. V. E. Vatsuro(St. Petersburg: Akademicheskii proekt, 1998), 114, quoted in Dolinin, “Pushkin i Angliia,” 57.

[6] N. K. Kozmin, “Vzgliad Pushkina na dramu,” Pamiati A. S. Pushkina. Iubileinyii sbornik Imp. S.-Pb. Universiteta (St. Petersburg, 1917), 233. Cited in Iakovlev, “Poslednii literaturnyi sobesednik,” 5.

[7] A. O. Ishimova “Dramaticheskie ocherki o Braiane Wallere Proktore,” Sovremen­nik 18 (1837). Cited in Iakovlev, “Poslednii literaturnyi sobesednik,” 5.

[8] This encouraged D. D. Blagoi to date Pushkin’s acquaintance with Cornwall’s works to 1830. D. D. Blagoi, Sotsiologiia tvorchestva Pushkina: Etiudy, 2nd ed. (Moscow: Kooperativnoe izdatel´stvo “Mir,” 1931; Ann Arbor, MI: 1966), 176–77.  

[9] S. Bondi in his article “Dramaturgiia Pushkina i russkaia dramaturgiia” and V. and Vl. Lukov in “‘Malen´kie tragedii’ A. S. Pushkina i ‘Dramatic Scenes’ Bari Kornuala” argue that the influence of Cornwall’s “Dramatic Scenes” on the form and content of Pushkin’s “Little Tragedies” was minimal. Bondi claims that Pushkin had the artistic concept of his “tragedies” before 1829, and the Lukovs use the scene “Sad. Noch´. Fontan” from Boris Godunov as an example of a “little tragedy” that was created in 1825. S. Bondi, “Dramaturgiia Pushkina i russkaia dramaturgiia,” O Pushkine: Stat´i i issledovaniia (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1983), 166–238, esp. 220; V. and Vl. Lukovy, “‘Malen´kie tragedii’ A. S. Pushkina i ‘Dramatic Scenes’ Bari Kornuala,” Zarubezhnaia literatura, Uchennye zapiski 324 (1969): 212–16.  

[10] Iakovlev points out that Pushkin retained this interest in Cornwall’s poetry throughout the following years. In 1835, Pushkin attempted to translate Corn­wall’s dramatic excerpt “The Falcon,” and more importantly, the poet’s last letter, written to A. O. Ishimova on the very morning of his duel with d’Anthès, was primarily devoted to his request for the addressee to translate several of Corn­wall’s works. This request was fulfilled after the poet’s death. Additionally, accord­ing to B. L. Modzalevskii, among the additions to Pushkin’s library in 1835–36, one can find several volumes of the Edinburgh Review in which the pages contain­ing the articles about Barry Cornwall are among the only ones cut. This suggests that his interest in Cornwall continued till the end of his life. Modzalevskii, ed., Biblioteka A. S. Pushkina (Bibliograficheskoe opisanie) (St. Petersburg: Imp. Akademiia nauk, 1910), 154 (entry 586).

[11] Tomashevskii points out that Pushkin originally used the octave form in 1821, in his poem “Kto videl krai, gde roskosh´iu prirody.” B. V. Tomashevskii, “Strofika Pushkina,” in Pushkin: Raboty raznykh let, ed. N. B. Tomashevskii (Moscow: Kniga, 1990), 340.

[12] Blagoi, Sotsiologiia tvorchestva Pushkina, 201.

[13] “The Genealogists” and the “Dedicatory Stanzas” (19 of them in total) to “The Flood of Thessaly.”

[14] Many literary critics assert that the octave form of Byron’s “Beppo” was the primary influence on the octaves of Pushkin’s “Little House in Kolomna.” This notion is understandable, given the fact that “Beppo” is so well known and seems to have certain things in common with Pushkin’s verse tale. However, in addition to the fact that “Beppo” was only available to Pushkin in a French prose transla­tion, a direct comparison of “Beppo” with “Little House in Kolomna” shows that there is no ground for such a preferential treatment of Byron. The multiple digres­sions from the story and the author’s reflections on various topics that can be found in both “Beppo” and “Little House in Kolomna” do not point to a direct connection between these two texts, for all these elements are also found in Cornwall’s “Gyges” and “Diego de Montilla.” It is more probable that Byron’s work directly influenced Barry Cornwall and through the latter’s poems the afore­mentioned elements of “Beppo” reached and influenced Pushkin. Cornwall’s “bor­rowings” from Byron’s verse became so frequent that he even had to defend the originality of his own verse in “Diego de Montilla.” Yet the presence of Byron’s poetry in Cornwall’s work is indisputable. Thus, one could claim that Cornwall was a mediator who connected the octaves of Byron and Pushkin. The evidence gathered in this essay strongly suggests that in the case of “Little House in Kolomna” it was indeed Cornwall who directly influenced Pushkin’s octaves. For an interesting Byronic reading and interpretation of the “Little House in Kolomna,” see Peter Cochran’s translation of the poem and its introduction pub­lished in the previous issue of Pushkin Review (vol. 6–7 [2003–04]: 101–17).

[15] However, the English poet, unlike Pushkin, does not alternate the masculine and feminine endings in his octaves. For more on this point, see Glen Worthey, “Gender Poetics and the Structure of Pushkin’s ‘Little House in Kolomna,’” Elementa 3 (1997): 271–90.

[16] In order to illustrate the influence and presence of Cornwall’s “Gyges” and “Diego de Montilla” in Pushkin’s “Little House in Kolomna,” we will use the ear­liest complete version of Pushkin’s work, written in fifty-four stanzas. The stanza number from that original version of the poem, with reference to the standard edition in parentheses, will follow every direct quotation from “Little House in Kolomna.” Textually and chronologically the original version is the closest one to the Boldino autumn of 1830, the period of Pushkin’s most active interest in Corn­wall’s poetry, and as such, it becomes more pertinent to the topic of this paper than the subsequent editions. Several of the stanzas that were later omitted are of direct interest to this paper. The subsequent evolution of “Little House in Kolomna,” with the reduction of the poem’s length from fifty-four to forty stanzas, does not appear to be connected to Barry Cornwall in any way, representing Push­kin’s typically cavalier attitude toward his sources.

[17] In his Republic, book 2, Plato tells the story of Gyges to illustrate that men are not virtuous when they need not fear the consequences of their actions. Pushkin was probably familiar with that passage. M. C. Howatson, ed., The Oxford Com­panion to Classical Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 257.

[18] Iakovlev, “Poslednii literaturnyi sobesednik,” 11.

[19] For more on the character of the countess, see Michael C. Finke, Metapoesis: The Russian Tradition from Pushkin to Chekhov (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995), 66–68.

[20] Obviously, it is difficult to argue heavily for Cornwall’s characters as decisive in­fluences on Pushkin’s heroines, but it is necessary to acknowledge the above­mentioned connection.

[21] For more on this point, see Michael Wachtel, The Development of Russian Verse: Meter and Its Meaning (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 8–12.

[22] Prince Shikhmatov wrote poetry of primarily religious content and ultimately took monastic vows. In his poems, Shikhmatov tended to avoid using rhyming verbs.

[23] Elements of frivolity in Ariosto’s poetry do not negate the status of his “Orlando” as an epic. E. S. Khaev, in his “O stile poemy ‘Domik v Kolomne’” demonstrates that Pushkin’s contemporaries associated ottava rima with the high genre of epic (Boldinskie chteniia [1977]: 24–35; esp. 25–26).

[24] Twelve stanzas in total.

[25] Twenty-one stanzas in total in the original version; seven stanzas in the final version.

[26] While Pushkin’s comparison of young girls to Muses could simply be an inci­dence of a literary topos, the sheer volume of evidence for Cornwall’s influence on “Little House” suggests that here too Pushkin has Cornwall in mind.

[27] By introducing Emin, a popular but completely mediocre writer of the eight­eenth century, Pushkin adds irony to his description of Parasha’s education.

[28] Iakovlev also points to the similarity of morals between “Diego de Montilla” and “Gyges” and “Little House in Kolomna” (“Poslednii literaturnyi sobesednik,” 8–12).

[29] For more on this, see Finke, Metapoesis, 48–52.

[30] Glen Worthey’s excellent article “Gender Poetics and the Structure of Pushkin’s ‘Little House in Kolomna’” provides a convincing explanation of Pushkin’s reasons and goals in editing the original version of the poem. Additionally, the content of the several parts of the “Little House in Kolomna” that Pushkin ultimately re­moved was simply outdated by the early 1830s, a trait that Pushkin did not toler­ate in his poetry.

[31] For more on the presence and absence of “romanticism” in the language of “Little House in Kolomna,” see Khaev, “O stile poemy ‘Domik v Kolomne,’” 26–31.

[32] M. I. Shapir’s article “Pushkin i russkie ‘zavetnye’ skazki (o fol´klornykh istok­akh fabuly ‘Domika v Kolomne’)” (Pushkinskaia konferentsiia v Stenforde 1999 [Moscow, 2001], 200–06) recently pointed out another source that probably influ­enced the content of Pushkin’s “Little House in Kolomna,” an obscene Russian tale “Batrak-Marfutka.” Even though this tale was not found in Pushkin’s archives, its plot has too many similarities to the Parasha story to be a coincidence.