Who Was the Author of the First Book (or Rather Booklet) on Pushkin?

Mikhail Gronas



     The publication of Pushkin’s Boris Godunov gave rise to a heated polemic in the criticism of the time. In May 1831 one of the first negative re­sponses to the tragedy—and an especially severe one—appeared in the form of an anonymous pamphlet, On Alexander Pushkin’s Boris Godunov, subtitled A Conversation between a Landowner Passing from Moscow through a Provincial Town and a Private Teacher of Russian Literature, Practicing in the Same.[1] Contrary to literary custom at the time, A Con­versation did not appear in the pages of a journal, but came out in a sepa­rate edition from the printing house of Moscow University and was cleared for publication by the Moscow Censorship Committee. The characters in the pamphlet—a landowner, Petr Ivanovich, and a teacher of Russian lit­erature, Ermil Sergeevich—engage in a discussion of the merits and de­merits of Pushkin’s latest literary production. The provincial teacher gives a critical reading of Boris Godunov to the Moscow landowner, who agrees, for the most part, with the teacher’s vitriolic remarks. The general stylis­tic mode of A Conversation is one of parody or pastiche. The teacher, who does most of the talking, is a bit of a caricature; his turns of phrase are often grotesquely pedantic and he is not averse to parading his Latin on occasion. The laconic and straightforward landowner is running late and is therefore obliged to rush along his grandiloquent interlocutor.

     Although the characters are presented in a somewhat ironic vein, their criticisms are apparently meant to be taken at face value. The criti­cal part of the pamphlet consists of what afterwards became the stock rep­ertoire of judgments on the imperfections of Pushkin’s tragedy. The play is disparaged for its lack of believable characters, for its vagueness of genre and lack of a coherent structure, for historical inaccuracies, and for vari­ous stylistic flaws. But along with these literary observations, A Conversa­tion also contains some elements of political denunciation, namely, hints at Pushkin’s political disloyalty and allegations of his lack of respect for monarchic ideals.

     Curiously, A Conversation appears to have been the first book (i.e., a separate edition rather than an article) ever published on Pushkin. It was also the subject of the first article (a short review) ever published by the young Vissarion Belinsky. But these two circumstances, as I will try to show, do not yet exhaust its significance for Russian literary history.

     The fact that the pamphlet was among the earliest critical responses to Boris Godunov, its unusual format, and, most importantly, the blunt­ness of its accusations, made A Conversation something of a reference point for subsequent criticism of the play. Reviewing the critical reception of Pushkin’s tragedy, B. P. Gorodetskii notes:

«Разговор» сыграл в те дни своеобразную роль. Он резче опре­делил границы литературно-политических группировок, вы­звав определенные положительные или отрицательные отзывы о себе.[2]

     Indeed, the anti-Pushkin party greeted the pamphlet with approval and praised its author for his wittiness. “G. Z–ia,” in the journal Garland (Girlanda), mentions the pamphlet favorably, with only a slight caveat:

В числе критик, вышедших на известное произведение Пуш­кина, эта брошюрка, по нашему мнению, должна занять, если не самое первое, то, по крайней мере, почетное место. Впрочем, нам кажется, что Критик смотрит на произведение Пушкина с более строгой точки зрения, нежели надлежало.[3]

And Bestuzhev-Riumin in The Northern Mercury (Severnyi Merkurii)notes: “V ikh [Uchitelia i Pomeshchika] suzhdeniiakh my sperva ozhidali naiti mnogo provintsializma, no vmesto togo nashli mnogo stolichnogo ostroumiia.”[4]

     At the other end of the literary spectrum, among Pushkin’s partisans, A Conversation aroused righteous indignation. The young Belinsky, in his reviewing debut in The Leaflet (Listok), equates the anonymous author with the notorious graphomaniac Aleksandr Orlov and calls the pamphlet “idle schoolboy talk”:

Это одно из тех знаменитых творений, которыми наводняют нашу литературу г–н Орлов и ему подобные … само название этой школярной болтовни предуведомляет в каком духе на­писан Разговор о Борисе Годунове; напечатан же особою бро­шюркою он, вероятно, потому, что по каким-нибудь причинам не мог явиться ни в одном журнале.[5]

     Thus, many people noted and reacted to A Conversation, but almost no one, either in the polemics at the time or in subsequent literary scholar­ship, has suggested who its author might have been.[6]There seems to be a clue, however, in the passage from Belinsky. Although Belinsky attributes the pamphlet to “Mr. Orlov and his like,” he could not have meant Orlov himself. For those “in the know,” it was quite obvious that Orlov, the naïve author of popular adventure novels and a Bulgarin imitator, had neither the competence nor the motive to write this relatively sophisticated anti-Pushkin diatribe and then to publish it anonymously. Therefore, the em­phasis in Belinsky’s phrase “Mr. Orlov and his like” falls on “and his like” (i emu podobnye). Anyone following the literary squabbles of 1831 would not fail to recognize here an obvious reference to Faddei Bulgarin. Equat­ing Bulgarin with Orlov (whose 1831 novel Marfa Ivanovna Vyzhimkina was part imitation and part unsuccessful parody of Bulgarin’s Vyzhigin) was fast becoming a running joke among Bulgarin’s numerous literary en­emies.[7] Just a few weeks before the appearance of Belinsky’s review, Niko­lai Nadezhdin had used this tongue-in-cheek comparison in a review, pub­lished in Teleskop, of Bulgarin’s and Orlov’s novels.[8] And, of course, in two more months this same comparison will be immortalized by Pushkin in his two anti-Bulgarin parodies, The Triumph of Friendship, or Alexander An­fimovich Orlov Vindicated (Torzhestvo druzhby, ili opravdannyi Aleksandr Anfimovich Orlov) and A Few Words about the Little Finger of Mr. Bul­garin and the Rest (Neskol´ko slov o mizintse g. Bulgarina i o prochem).[9]

     Thus, Belinsky seems to suspect that the anonymous author of A Con­versation was in fact Faddei Bulgarin. Moreover, in the last sentence of the passage quoted above, he even hints at some unspecified political cir­cumstance that might have forced Bulgarin to publish it in an unusual format: “[A Conversation] was published as a separate booklet in all likeli­hood because, for some reason or other, it could not appear in any journal.”

     In the present article, I will build upon Belinsky’s veiled conjecture—unnoticed until now by Pushkin scholars—and will try to show that A Conversation may have indeed been authored by none other than Faddei Bulgarin, whose animosity toward Pushkin reached its peak in 1831 and who had every reason to conceal his identity at that particular moment.

     The proposed attribution is mainly based on textual evidence. The anonymous A Conversation displays a number of Bulgarin’s stylistic idio­syncracies and favorite rhetorical devices, as well as recognizable traces of his political and aesthetic views. Especially important are the many corre­spondences between A Conversation and a group of texts written by Bul­garin in the late 1820s and early 1830s in the course of his anti-Pushkin polemics. These include Bulgarin’s “Review of Pushkin’s Poltava” (“Razbor poemy Poltava,” 1829),[10] a short review of the first published scenes from Godunov included in his Survey of Russian Almanacs in 1828 (Rassmotre­nie Russkikh al´manakhov na 1828 god),[11] his review of the German translation of Boris Godunov (1831),[12] his novel Dimitry the Pretender (Dimitrii Samozvanets, 1831)[13]—conceived as a polemic against Pushkin’s Boris Godunov, and the anonymous Censor’s Report on The Comedy of Tsar Boris and Grishka Otrepiev (Zamechaniia na Komediiu o Tsare Borise i o Grishke Otrep´eve, 1826),[14] previously attributed to Bulgarin by Vinokur and Gozenpud.[15]A Conversation’s connection to the latter text is especially significant. Various correspondences and similarities between A Conversation and Bulgarin’s published texts may be explained as either the result of Bulgarin’s literary influence on the anonymous author or even direct borrowings from Bulgarin. Both possibilities seem plausible, considering Bulgarin’s status as one of the most authoritative critics and widely read writers of the period. Of course, the Censor’s Report—as an internal document on an early version of Pushkin’s play, commissioned by Benckendorff and prepared by Bulgarin for the sole use of Nicholas I—never appeared in print. As its author, Bulgarin was the only professional writer acquainted with its content; and hence the close thematic connec­tions and even literal coincidences between the Censor’s Report and A Conversation can perhaps most easily be explained by the fact that both were written by the same person.

     In what follows I will first present textual evidence for the significant overlap between the aesthetic positions, ideas, and rhetorical devices com­mon to both A Conversation and the texts signed by Bulgarin or (in the case of the Censor’s report) attributed to him. I will then turn to the liter­ary and political context and the historical evidence supporting the pro­posed attribution.


Genre: The Outdated and the Fashionable

     The teacher Ermil Sergeevich, the main character of A Conversation, be­gins his critique by remarking on the generic ambiguity of Pushkin’s work: Boris Godunov fits into no recognized dramatic genre and is therefore to be regarded as an example of a “genreless, romantic composition,” a ro­mantic poem. He then proceeds to juxtapose the old (classical) and the new (romantic) modes of poetry and concludes that although some obliga­tory classical devices (such as invocations) are indeed outdated, the newly introduced liberties of the romantic poem have already become boring and too easily imitated. Not only is this argument very similar to the one in Bulgarin’s review of Poltava, but the choice of words in both cases is some­times identical.

     Согласен: можно уничтожить старинное пою, ибо нынче никто поэм не поет; можно забыть призывание какого-нибудь языче­ского божества, или олицетворенного идеального существа для подмоги в деле, ибо видно, что сии божества и существа не многим помогали – да и сущность повествования от того ничего не терпит. (107)

“Review of Poltava
     В сих поэмах все почти страсти представлены олицетворен­ными, и каждый герой действовал как машина, по внушению какого-нибудь божества, волшебницы или чародея.… сумас­бродная любовь, олицетворенные страсти … все эти пружины слишком ослабли от излишнего употребления.… Не менее утомительны сделались все эти приступы к песням, эпизоды, подробныя описания местоположений, родословные героев и эти вечные восклицания: пою! и призывания Музы.…
     Что же из этого выходит? Так как прежде было скучно един­овременное разделение поэм на песни и эпохи, как утоми­тельны были олицетворения, приступы с восклицанием пою, описания битв и родословные, так ныне скучны и единообразны все эти кучи отрывков. (150–51)

The same aesthetic position (namely, a prudent distance from both liter­ary innovation and an antiquated classicism) is revealed in both texts. More importantly for the purposes of our proposed attribution, the out­dated features of classical and classicizing poems and the imperfections of the new romantic poems are described in almost identical terms.



     The author of A Conversation imputes incoherence and a lack of unity be­tween the parts to romantic poems in general and to Boris Godunov in particular. The same charge is directed against Pushkin’s Poltava in Bul­garin’s “Review” and against the early version of Boris Godunov in the Censor’s report. In all three cases we once again find very similar wording and rhetoric.

     Уч. Поэма должна иметь необходимо связь в продолжении всего повествования и сохранять, хотя невполне, освященные веками правила.… бросаться и туда и сюда, без всякой связи, право, непростительно.…
     Уч. Не прикажете ли представить ее на театре? У кулисных-то мастеров заболели бы руки. Это, сударь, настоящие Китай­ские тени. Действие перескакивает из Москвы в Польшу, из Польши в Москву, из кельи в корчму.Есть нечто подобное в драматических произведениях Шекспира, да все таки посо­вестнее. (108)

     В сей пиесе нет ничего целого: это отдельные сцены или, лучше сказать, отрывки из Х и XI тома Истории Государства Россий­ского, сочинения Карамзина, переделанные в разговоры и сцены.…
     Литературное достоинство гораздо ниже нежели мы ожидали. Это не есть подражание Шекспиру, Гете или Шиллеру; ибо у сих поэтов в сочинениях, составленных из разных эпох, всегда находится связь и целое в пиесах. (91)

“Review of Poltava
     Песни состоят из отрывков, или отдельныx проишествий, представляющихся, как в волшебном фонаре. (72–73)

In both A Conversation and the Censor’s Report, the incoherence of Boris Godunov is contrasted unfavorably to the integrity one can still find in Shakespeare’s works.



     After their critical discussion of the genre and compositon of Boris Go­dunov, the interlocutors of A Conversation turn to Pushkin’s treatment of his characters. The teacher Ermil Sergeevich disapproves specifically of the character of Boris Godunov, who, according to him, is neither the hero of the tragedy (that is, he is not the main character) nor a historical hero (that is, his deeds are not important enough and his significance has gen­erally been overstated by writers and historians). This double criticism finds a direct parallel in Bulgarin’s introduction to his own Dimitry the Pretender, where Bulgarin, apparently alluding to Pushkin, criticizes the general tendency to exaggerate Boris’ historical importance.

     Уч. Вопрос 2-ой: Кто герой в этом сочинении?
     … разберите сами—вас получше нас учили—разберите, за какие подвиги можно назвать Бориса героем повести?… Нач­нем с начала!… Борис является в первый раз на странице 10-й, где избирают его Царем; тут нет никаких отличных подвигов; потом показывается один и говорит сам с собою вслух ужасный монолог.… Немножко
     Пом. …Да говори, любезный, о деле – о подвигах героя Бориса.
     Уч. …Итак, повторим, кто более обращает на себя вниманиe читателя, Борис или Гришка? Кто заслуживает более назва­ние героя Поэмы? (109)

Introduction to DimitrythePretender
     О некоторых исторических характерах в большей части читаю­щей публики укоренилось несправедливое понятие. Таким образом привыкли изображать Бориса Годунова героем. Он был умен, хитер, пронырлив, но не имел твердости душевной и мужества воинского и гражданского. Рассмотрите дела его! Величался в счастье, не смел даже явно казнить тех, которых почитал своими врагами, и в первую бурю упал! Где же геройство? (5)

Again, in both cases we find similar rhetoric: both the teacher in A Con­versation and Bulgarin in the introduction to his novel playfully propose to analyze Boris’s deeds in order to find out whether he deserves to be called a hero, and in both cases the deeds are then ironically enumerated, show­ing them up as obviously unimportant and unheroic. Both texts play on the ambiguity of the word “hero.” Compare also the syntactic similarity: “razberite, za kakie podvigi mozhno nazvat´ Borisa geroem povesti?” (A Conversation) and “Rassmotrite dela.… Gde zhe geroistvo?” (“Introduction to Dimitry the Pretender”). The teacher then gives a short overview of Grigory Otrepiev’s actions in Boris Godunov, focusing on Pushkin’s sup­posedly positive treatment of the character. He concludes ironically: “dolzhno priznat´sia, Samozvanets pokazyvaet sebia nastoiaschim geroem.”

     The apparent disapproval of Pushkin’s too subtle and “too positive” treatment of Boris and Grigory sounds like a defense of Bulgarin’s own take on these characters in his novel Dimitry the Pretender, written in part as a response to the early version of Pushkin’s play, which Bulgarin had read while preparing his Censor’s report. A. A. Gozenpud, who has studied the borrowings from and hidden polemic with Boris Godunov in Bulgarin’s novel, notes that

основная тенденция Булгарина – обратить против Пушкина образы его трагедии, противопоставить своего Самозванца – шпиона, убийцу, развратника – умному и талантливому, не лишенному обаяния герою Пушкина, мелкого, жалкого, трусли­вого Бориса – пушкинскому умному и сильному Годунову, из­ящного светского кавалера Маржерета – Маржерету-скверно­слову, в то же время сохранив в их устах обрывки пушкинского текста. А главное – противопоставить «благонамеренную» кон­цепцию истории – пушкинской мятежной.[16]

This tendency is clearly supported by the reactions of the teacher and the landowner in A Conversation, who thereby implicitly judge Bulgarin’s novel superior without ever mentioning it.


Other Parallels with Bulgarin’s Dimitry the Pretender

     As Gozenpud notes, Bulgarin singles out for criticism in his Censor’s Report exactly those details in Boris Godunov that reappear in his own Dimitry the Pretender but in “corrected” form—textual correspondences which Gozenpud regards as evidence in favor of Bulgarin’s authorship of the report. However, A Conversation also contains a number of references to exactly those places in Boris Godunov that were criticized in the Cen­sor’s Report, and then “improved upon” in Bulgarin’s Dimitry the Pre­tender. Thus, in the Censor’s Report Bulgarin accuses Pushkin of the blasphemous distortion of a pious proverb; he notes that the proverb “vol´nomu volia, spasennomu rai” becomes in Pushkin “vol´nomu volia, p´ianomu rai.” As if to correct Pushkin, Bulgarin returns the proverb to its original version in Dimitry the Pretender, where it is uttered by an old nanny: “vol´nomu volia, spasennomu rai, moe ditiatko.”[17] Turning to A Conversation, one finds the teacher using that same proverb while dis­cussing Pushkin’s versification: “Pushkin izbral iambicheskii pentameter biz rifm, s presecheniem posle pervykh dvukh stop. Pochemu i ne tak? Vol´nomu volia” (112). It is worth noting that the teacher only utters the first half of the proverb, thus leaving aside the second part, supposedly distorted by Pushkin.

     In yet another passage the characters of the anonymous A Conver­sation againsingle out for critical discussion exactly those fragments from Pushkin’s tragedy that Bulgarin had borrowed from Pushkin and re­fashioned in his own novel. In Scene 22, “Moscow. The Tsar’s Palace,” of Pushkin’s play, Basmanov expresses to Boris his scepticism about the people’s loyalty: “Vsedga narod k smiaten´iu taino sklonen.”[18] As noted by Gozenpud, in Dimitry the Pretender Bulgarin again “corrects” Pushkin and makes his Basmanov say exactly the opposite: “Narod vsegda raspolozhen liubit´ tsaria.”[19] In A Conversation the landowner quotes the same lines and expresses his sharp disagreement with Pushkin’s Basmanov and implicit support for Bulgarin’s Basmanov:

Всегда народ к смятенью тайно склонен.
     Вот вздор какой! Всегда склонен. Пустое! С этим я совершенно несогласен. И русскому ли Боярину так отзываться о православном русском народе. (114–15)


Dangerous Thoughts

     A Conversation contains obvious elements of political denunciation. To be sure, the image of Bulgarin as political informer has been greatly exag­gerated by Russian progressivist critics and then by Soviet scholarship. But the fact remains that Bulgarin did indeed collaborate with the secret service, and political denunciations constitute a considerable part of his oeuvre. It is also clear that the ethics of the time had a more lenient atti­tude toward political denunciations and Bulgarin might very well have considered this activity to be noble as well as politically useful. Still, his reputation was, at least in part, well deserved and he was more prone to mixing political and literary accusations than most journalists of the time. Hence, the obvious traces of political denunciation in A Conversation might add some weight to our proposed attribution.

     All the political remarks in A Conversation—both attacks aimed at Pushkin’s subversive deviations and commendations for instances of patri­otism and monarchism—are traceable to Bulgarin’s political ideology. In full agreement with Bulgarin’s known ideological positions, the characters of A Conversation never fail to demonstrate their own loyalty and political reliability; they specifically approve of those places in Boris Godunov which they find to be politically appropriate (e.g., the boy’s prayer for the tsar in the scene “Moscow. Shuisky’s House”) and severely criticize the “risky” ones. At the end of the pamphlet, Ermil Sergeevich lists the “rezkie mysli” in Boris Godunov. Among them are various instances of irreverence for the royals, the excessively favorable treatment of the pretender at the expense of the tsar and the nobility, and disrespect for religion.

     In terms of our proposed attribution, one particular “dangerous” frag­ment stands out—namely, Boris’s short speech on the art of governing in Scene 22, “Moscow. The Tsar’s Palace”—because of a very specific coinci­dence with Bulgarin’s Censor’s Report. In A Conversation, the teacher first quotes a passage from Boris’s speech, and then expresses indignation at Pushkin’s irreverent treatment of the royal personage, i.e., at the pre­sumably inappropriate portrayal of Boris’ political cynicism. The land­owner is even afraid that the dangerous quotation may be overheard. The teacher replies that he is citing the printed (and therefore censored) text and the landowner reacts with perplexity that such a text has actually passed the censor:

     Уч.                Лишь строгостью мы можем неусыпной
Сдержать народ.…
Нет, милости не чувствует народ:
Твори добро – не скажет он спасибо;
Грабь и казни – тебе не будет хуже.
     Пом. Полно, братец, полно! Чтоб не подслушали.
     Уч. Да ведь это говорит Борис в печатном.
     Пом. Так можно примолвить: и милостиво и премудро! Нет, не верю, чтобы Борис, каков ни был он, стал говорить таким Маки­авельским языком. (115)

In his Censor’s Report Bulgarin quotes this same speech and appends a critical note.

Лишь строгостью мы можем неусыпной
Сдержать народ.Так думал Иоанн,
Смиритель бурь, разумный самодержец
Так думал и – его свирепый внук.
Нет, милости не чувствует народ:
Твори добро – не скажет он спасибо;
Грабь и казни – тебе не будет хуже.
Сия тирада произведет неприятное впечатление. У нас еще не привыкли, чтобы каждый герой романа говорил своим языком без возражения вслед за его умствованием. Предоставлять каждому читателю возражать самому – еще у нас не принято, да и публика наша для сего не созрела. (92) 

     Two details in the above passages are especially important for the pro­posed attribution. First, in both A Conversation and the Censor’s Remarks Boris’ tirade is quoted from the third, not the first, line of the monologue. Both texts skip the first two lines of Pushkin’s original: “Kon´ inogda sbi­vaet sedoka / Syn u ottsa ne vechno v polnoi vole”[20]—probably because they do not add much to the point (i.e., that Pushkin is making the tsar sound cynical). It is unlikely that this omission in both texts is coinci­dental: in both cases, the citation is used for the same argument and the argument itself is formulated in similar terms.

     Second, the criticisms of this passage in A Conversation and the Cen­sor’s Report are very similar. Once again, the characters of A Conversation “act out” the reactions anticipated by Bulgarin’s other text. In the Censor’s Report, Bulgarin suggests that there should have been some comment or objection to Boris’s speech in order to safeguard the unprepared reader from dangerous confusion. In A Conversation, both Ermil Sergeevich and his interlocutor are indeed perplexed and shocked by the tirade. To them, it is inconceivable that a Russian boyar and tsar could voice such cruel and cynical remarks about the people.

     Not only do both the anonymous Conversation and Bulgarin’s Censor’s Report attack the same passage (starting from the same third line) with the same kind of criticism, but the criticism is worded in the same way. Compare the Censor’s Report: “U nas eshche ne privykli, chtoby kazhdyi geroi roman govoril svoim iazykom.” And in A Conversation: “ne veriu, choby Boris, kakov ni byl on, stal govorit´ takim Makiavel´skim iazykom.” In the Censor’s report Bulgarin states that Russian readers are not yet accustomed to characters “speaking their own language” (in this case, cynically, in their own voice, as opposed to the author); in A Conversation, a fictional reader indeed cannot believe that Boris could “speak such Machiavellian language.” Two very specific literal coincidences (quoting the monologue from the third line and using the phrase govorit´ iazykom in critiquing the passage), coupled with a close similarity between the critical ideas expressed, make this parallel good evidence for accepting Bulgarin’s authorship. As already noted, parallels with the Censor’s Re­port provide especially strong support for the proposed attribution, since Bulgarin, as the author of the report, was the only writer to be acquainted with its content.


“Excellent Scenes”

     Although the general tone of A Conversation is almost uniformly critical of Boris Godunov, the teacher and the landowner do approve of four pas­sages or scenes that they find to be politically appropriate and aestheti­cally pleasing. One such passage is the boy’s fervent prayer for the tsar in the scene “Moscow. Shuisky’s House.” The teacher describes the prayer as “beautiful” (112) and quotes it in full. The landowner agrees and adds that he “has reread it thrice, having in mind our present times” (i.e., applying the prayer to the present tsar, Nicholas I—M.G.). Praise for the prayer definitely fits in with Bulgarin’s “profile,” but this fact in itself is not spe­cific enough to serve as evidence for the attribution. However, the remain­ing three passages deemed worthy of praise in A Conversation do have direct parallels to Bulgarin’s known opinions on Pushkin’s tragedy.

     The characters of A Conversation are especially fond of Kurbsky’s pa­triotic speech in the scene “The Lithuanian Border.” The teacher calls it “beautiful” and quotes the first seven lines of the monologue. The land­owner regretfully exclaims: “O, if only the whole tale were written in this vein!”—to which the teacher replies: “Then it would indeed be praised” (113).

     Bulgarin himself singles out and praises Kurbsky’s speech whenever he writes at any length about Boris Godunov. In 1828, two years before the open conflict with Pushkin, Bulgarin wrote a review of the issue of Northern Flowers (Severnye tsvety) in which this scene was first published and lavished unconditional praise on it. He quotes the scene in full, begin­ning with Kurbsky’s speech, and comments:

Выписываю эту сцену, которая мне кажется совершенством по слогу, по составу и по чувствам. Какое познание характеров, сердца человеческого, местных обстоятельств. Тени Шекспира, Шиллера, возрадуйтесь![21]

     In his review of the German translation of Boris Godunov, written in the middle of the quarrel with Pushkin, Bulgarin approves of the transla­tion but is no longer enthusiastic about the tragedy as a whole. He uses the German version as a pretext to criticize and even mock Pushkin’s orig­inal. Still, he singles out a few scenes for praise, and again begins his list with Kurbsky’s speech:

[И]ностранцы не почувствуют так сильно превосходной речи Курбского на рубеже России, сцены патриарха с игуменом, после бегства из Москвы расстриги, сцены юродивого, которые истинно народны и в полном смысле превосходны.[22]

     And in the Censor’s Report Bulgarin provides a list of Pushkin’s suc­cesses in the play, once again listing this same scene first:

Некоторые сцены, как например первая на рубеже России, сцена, когда монах Пимен пишет историю, а молодой инок Гришка Отрепьев спит в келье, сцена Гришки Отрепьева в корчме на литовской границе и еще некоторые места истинно занимательны и народны.[23]

The constant factor in these last two quotations—starting off a list of the “good” scenes in Pushkin’s play with Kurbsky’s speech (a predilection for which Bulgarin had already expressed in his 1828 review of Northern Flowers)—is cited by G. O. Vinokur as evidence for his hypothesis that Bulgarin was the author of the anonymous Censor’s Report.[24] The same logic can obviously be extended to the attribution I am proposing here: the author of A Conversation shares with Bulgarin a specific taste for a specific passage in Pushkin’s tragedy—Kurbsky’s speech in “The Lithu­anian Border”—a passage rarely mentioned by other critics of the time.[25]

     Another scene of Boris Godunov deemed praiseworthy by the charac­ters of A Conversation is “Night. A cell in the Chudov Monastery,” in which Pimen is writing his chronicle in the presence of the sleeping Gri­gory, who later awakens. In A Conversation, the teacher says before quot­ing from the scene: “Mnogo mest prevoskhodneishikh! Naprimer, razgovor Pimena s Grigoriem” (112). This same scene is mentioned yet again (right after Kurbsky’s speech) in the list of scenes (quoted above) which Bulgarin singled out in the Censor’s report.

Некоторые сцены, как например первая на рубеже России, сцена, когда монах Пимен пишет историю, а молодой инок Гришка Отрепьев спит в келье … истинно занимательны и на­родны. (92) 

     The teacher’s exclamation “Mnogo mest prevoskhodneishikh!” almost coincides with another text—an 1835 article on the poet Kukol´nik—where Bulgarin, although in much milder form, expresses the same idea:

В авторе «Бориса Годунова» мы видим все стихии народной драмы. Есть сцены превосходные. Но эта пьеса написана для чтения, а не для сцены.[26]

     The echo of yet another passage from Pushkin’s tragedy singled out for praise by the characters of A Conversation can be found not in Bulgarin’s critical prose, but in his novel Dimitry the Pretender. In A Conversation the teacher counts among Pushkin’s successes Shuisky’s unflattering characterization of the chern´ in the scene “Moscow. The Tsar’s Palace,” where the boyar informs Tsar Boris that an imposter has turned up in Poland and expresses his misgivings about the reaction of the populace:

Удачно сделано и описание черни.
....бессмысленная чернь
Изменчива, мятежна, суеверна,
Легко пустой надежде предана,
Московскому внушению послушна,
Для истины глуха и равнодушна,
А баснями питается она. (112)

     The choice of this particular passage would seem quite arbitrary, if not for the fact—noted by Vinokur[27]—that Bulgarin re-uses this same episode of Boris Godunov in his Dimitry the Pretender. He even paraphrases the lines quoted in A Conversation, although in Bulgarin’s novel it is Semyon Godunov rather than Shuisky who first tells the tsar about the pretender. But the ensuing conversation between tsar and boyar verbally echoes the corresponding episode in Pushkin’s tragedy. In Bulgarin’s Dimitry the Pre­tender Semyon Godunov tells the disbelieving tsar that the people trust the pretender because “dlia naroda skazki priiatnee istiny; narod ne raz­myshliaet, a dumaiut za nego drugie.”[28] Shuisky’s speech in Boris Godu­nov, quoted by the teacher in A Conversation, is obviously the source for this aphorism: “[Chern´] … dlia istiny glukha i ravnodushna, / A basniami pitaetsia ona.” The characters of A Conversation again evoke precisely those lines in Boris Godunov appropriated by Bulgarin for his own Dimi­try the Pretender—just as they did in the earlier case with the proverb “vol´nomu volia.” If the proposed attribution is correct, this may mean that Bulgarin regarded himself as engaging in something like an indirect dia­logue with Pushkin and Pushkin’s tragedy, a polemic begun in Dimitry the Pretender and continued, in an even more veiled form, in A Conversation


Echoes of the “Aristocracy Debate”

     Although Bulgarin’s aesthetic views were often vague and eclectic, his position in the literary controversies of the time was quite distinct and well-defined. In the late 1820s and early 1830s Bulgarin engaged in a number of literary disputes, most notable among them the famous polemic against the so-called literary aristocrats, i.e., Pushkin, Del´vig, Viazem­sky, and the circle of writers associated with Literaturnaia gazeta. Both camps accused their opponents of relying on extra-literary forces to achieve literary prominence. Pushkin and his friends viewed Bulgarin—especially in the wake of the commercial success of his novel Ivan Vy­zhigin—as a cynical operator of the nascent literary market. In his turn—and following the lead of the critic Nikolai Polevoi, who coined the term “literary aristocracy,” Bulgarin attempted to portray the writers of Push­kin’s circle as a clique of powerful and snobbish aristocrats relying on their blue-blooded origins, social position, and connections to artificially inflate their reputations. Accusations of aristocratic haughtiness and cliquishness feature in Bulgarin’s earlier attacks against Del´vig and Viazemsky, and come to the fore in his anti-Pushkin articles of 1829–31. These same themes are also prominent in A Conversation, thus lending additional support to the hypothesis of Bulgarin’s authorship.

     A Conversation begins and ends by playing on the semantic ambiguity of the evaluative epithet “first-rank” (pervoklassnyi). The pamphlet begins with the landowner asking the teacher’s opinion of the new work by “our first-rank poet.” Upon hearing this epithet, the teacher gets frightened because he misinterprets it as referring to the official Table of Ranks, i.e., to the bureaucratic, not the poetic, hierarchy. The teacher, a minor official, is afraid of criticizing a person of the highest rank, an aristocrat.

     Пом. Здравствуй, Ермил Сергеич! Что? с Борисом и замечани­ями? Ну, послушаем, что сказал ты о первоклаcсном нашем поэте?
     Уч. (Отскакивает и кладет тетрадь в карман.) Как, батюшка, о первоклассном? Хорошую же вы сыграли со мною штуку!… Да если бы знал я, что автор Бориса Годунова в первом классе, ни за что бы не принялся делать на него замечаний: ну, Боже упаси, как это огласится! Мудрено ли первому классу задавить двенадцатый!(107)

The landowner then condescendingly reassures the teacher: Eto, drug moi, ne chin, ravnyi naprimer s Fel´dmarshal´skim.… Eto nazvanie daiut za otlichneishie proizvedeniia” (108). The bewildered teacher asks what official body bestows this rank. The landowner responds: “Zhurnalisty, izdateli gazet, priiateli, tovarishchi (smeetsia) … za chashei krugovoiu,” whereupon the teacher decides that it is safe to go ahead with his critique.

     This theme of a closed circle of literary cronies bestowing the highest rank on an undeserving Pushkin reappears when the characters discuss the romantic features of Pushkin’s play:

     Пом. […] теперь непризнающих Романтизм считают наравне с Богоотступниками.
     Уч. Не те ли же так думают, Петр Алексеевич, которые в первый-то класс друзей своих производят? (108)

And A Conversation ends with the landowner returning to the question of Pushkin’s rank:

     Пом. Ну, пора перестать. Чтож ты думаешь о первоклаcсности Сочинителя?
     Уч. Не мое дело. Мне, сударь, ни жаловать, ни разжаловать невозможно. (115)

     The wordplay on the epithet “first-rank” emphasizes the author’s ani­mosity towards the clique of Pushkin’s high-placed friends and the reputation-makers who assign literary ranks based on personal connec­tions rather than literary merit. This attitude is perfectly in tune with the complaints about “literary aristocrats” found in Bulgarin’s articles of the period. Thus, in an 1831 review of Venevitinov, Bulgarin characterizes the latter’s rapturous article on Boris Godunov as follows:

Статья на Французском языке, об отрывке из Бориса Годунова, есть плод приязни и угождения...[29]

     The same formula we find in the opening lines of A Conversation (“Nu, poslushaem chto skazal ty o pervoklassnom nashem poete”) as well as the theme of Pushkin’s too partial friend can also be found in Bulgarin’s first response to Poltava. Bulgarin declares the poem inferior to Pushkin’s other works and warns that

Многие литераторы, друзья нашего первокласcного поэта, и он сам, будут с нами в этом не согласны…[30]

     And in his review of Pogorel´sky’s Monastyrka (1830), Bulgarin is even more explicit in delineating the opposition between writers who earn their reputation by hard work (such as himself) and those who depend on the support of a clique:

Беспристрастный читатель, не знающий каким порядком идет производство дел на Парнассе, удивляется и недоумевает, видя, что книги нравящиеся публике, беспощадно и без доказа­тельств разруганы в некоторых Журналах.… Писатели, стяжавшие знаменитость по ланкастеровой модели взаимного восхваления, вооружаются с величайшим ожесточением про­тиву авторов, заслуживших благоволения публики своими трудами.[31]

     “Books admired by the public” naturally include Bulgarin’s own nov­els, most importantly Ivan Vyzhigin, which did in fact enjoy an unprece­dented commercial success while being ridiculed by the “literary aristo­crats,” that is, writers whose reputations had been built upon “mutual praise.” The similar accusation in A Conversation—namely, that the circle of Pushkin and his friends confers undeserved literary “ranks” upon its members—is understandable and even to be expected if, as I have argued, it comes from Bulgarin, who insisted on just such a view of the contempo­rary literary scene and was deeply invested in this particular aspect of the “aristocracy” debate.

     In addition, a minor—but telling—detail in the description of Push­kin’s “clique” in A Conversation also hints at its author’s personal resent­ment. The landowner tells the bewildered teacher that literary ranks are assigned by “journalists, newspaper editors, friends, cronies … passing round the loving cup” (zhurnalisty, izdateli gazet, priiateli, tovarishchi … za chashei krugovoiu). The expression “za chashei krugovoiu,” italicized in the original, is an allusion to a commonplace motif of Anacreontic verse, frequently present in the early Pushkin and in the poetry of his friends.[32] What the author of A Conversation means here is that for Pushkin and company drinking is more than a literary theme. This accusation falls out­side the realm of normal literary polemics: one would not expect it to come from someone who did not have a grudge against Pushkin. However, Bul­garin resorts to exactly this accusation in his two most embittered anti-Pushkin diatribes.

     In Anecdote (1830), a thinly veiled caricature of Pushkin, written in re­sponse to Del’vig’s scathing review of Dimitry the Pretender—a review that Bulgarin mistakenly attributed to Pushkin and perceived as an unpro­voked attack, Pushkin is depicted as a pitiful French writer “sluzhashchii userdnee Bakhusu i Plutusu, nezheli Muzam.”[33] And in the satirical tale Forefather and Progeny (Predok i potomki), published in October 1830 soon after Anecdote, Bulgarin further explores the theme of Pushkin the drunkard and his boon companions. In this tale, Pushkin’s alter-ego, Nikandr Semenovich Svistushkin, spends his time “na zasedanii liubi­mykh synov Apollona, poklonnikov Vakha, Leni i Svobody,” who are de­picted as follows:

Винные пары и угар от самолюбия перевернули мозг в их го­лове, и тщеславие заглушило все другие чувствования. Они сами не знают, чего хотят и что делают! Вопят противу всего в чаду винного упоения.[34]

     That this particular accusation stood out as unacceptable and spe­cifically “bulgarinesque” in literary polemics is evidenced by the fact that Pushkin, in The Triumph of Friendship, included it in the list of things that Orlov did not do (but his comical foil, Bulgarin, did): “on ne nazyval svoikh protivnikov durakami, podletsami, p´ianitsami, ustritsami.”[35]


Historical and Biographical Context

     As we have seen, textological data and traces of the literary and political views found in A Conversation provide fairly convincing evidence for Bulgarin’s authorship. However, the historical and biographical contexts present certain difficulties for the proposed attribution.

     First of all, A Conversation was published in Moscow, not in Peters­burg. Bulgarin lived, worked, and published almost all of his work in Petersburg, where he had a well-established network of literary and per­sonal relations. His Moscow connections were much weaker and he never published in Moscow journals and rarely traveled there. If Bulgarin did indeed publish the text in Moscow, there must have been some extraordi­nary circumstances that forced him to do so.

     Another objection to the proposed attribution has to do with the ano­nymity itself. According to the norms of contemporary literary polemic it did not make much sense to conceal one’s authorship of a literary attack. To be sure, pseudonyms were abundant, but the real author was usually easy to guess. Therefore, if the author was in fact Bulgarin, he made a considerable effort to conceal his authorship and to choose an unusual place of publication, for which he must have had his reasons. In what fol­lows I will try to show that in the spring of 1831 Bulgarin’s political, literary, and personal situation may indeed have predisposed him to just such unusual maneuvers.

     Bulgarin’s relations with the writers of the “Pushkin circle” took a turn for the worse at the end of 1829, when D. V. Dashkov “outed” Bul­garin as a collaborator with the secret service and the author of a secret report aimed against the liberalism of Viazemsky, Zhukovsky, Pushkin, and others. On February 14, 1830, Bulgarin’s Dimitry the Pretender ap­peared in print, immediately raising—not completely unfounded—suspi­cions of plagiarism from Pushkin’s as yet unpublished Boris Godunov. By that time Pushkin had not only given public readings and published a few scenes from his tragedy but, more importantly, in 1826 he had submitted the entire manuscript of an earlier version to the tsar (who had recently appointed himself as Pushkin’s “sole censor”). Nicholas, however, did not read the manuscript; instead, he asked Benckendorff to find “somebody faithful” (kogo-nibud´ vernogo), a reliable and discreet professional, who could prepare a report on Pushkin’s drama.[36] As we now know, the “faith­ful somebody” whom Benckendorff commissioned for the job turned out to be Bulgarin—who therefore had an early and privileged access to the whole text of Boris Godunov (at that time still entitled A Comedy about Tsar Boris and Grishka Otrep´ev) and was able to use it as a source of borrowings and an object of emulation and polemics in his own Dimitry the Pretender. Pushkin, of course, was ignorant of the specific role that Bulgarin played in the censorial history of Boris Godunov. However, after suspicions about Bulgarin’s involvement with the secret police were con­firmed, he might well have thought that Bulgarin had had access to Boris Godunov through his secret service connections.[37] In any case, the over­laps between Boris Godunov and Dmitry the Pretender were significant enough for Pushkin to begin accusing Bulgarin of plagiarism in public. On February 18, 1830, the alarmed Bulgarin, trying to hush up the brewing scandal, sent Pushkin a letter in which he vehemently denied the accusa­tions.[38] The letter did not succeed in allaying the suspicions of Pushkin and his friends, who continued to hint at Bulgarin’s plagiarism.[39] How­ever, in all likelihood, the matter could have simmered for some time and then dissipated if not for Bulgarin’s fateful mistake of attributing to Push­kin the scathing anonymous review of Dimitry the Pretender that ap­peared in The Literary Gazette on March 7, 1830—authored, in fact, by Anton Del´vig. Along with its unsparing criticism of the novel itself, Del´­vig’s review contained a caustic observation that Bulgarin’s Polish origin made him partial to the Polish cause:

Нам принято видеть в г. Булгарине поляка, ставящего выше всего свою нацию; но чувство патриотизма заразительно, и мы бы еще с большим удовольствием прочли повесть о тех вре­менах, сочиненную писателем русским.[40]

By questioning Bulgarin’s Russian patriotism, the author of the review (Del´vig, but in Bulgarin’s mind—Pushkin) deliberately touched on a sore spot. From the very beginning of his literary and journalistic career Bul­garin had gone out of his way to prove his unswerving loyalty to the throne and to dispel any lingering suspicions about his hidden “Polono­philia.”[41] In addition, in the sentence cited above Del´vig mentions a supe­rior treatment of the Time of Troubles, written by a real Russian patriot—an obvious allusion, and one that the fiercely competitive Bulgarin could hardly fail to recognize, to Pushkin’s soon-to-be-published Boris Godunov. Thus, Bulgarin must have perceived the review as an unprovoked and un­fair personal attack with a political undertone (which to some extent it was), threatening his reputation as a loyal Russian patriot as well as the reception of his latest literary production. He felt entitled to answer Push­kin—whom he erroneously believed to be behind the attack—in kind, and thus initiated (with the publication of Anecdote on March 11, 1830, in The Northern Bee) the most famous war of words—or as we would say today, flame war—in Russian literary history.


Why Bulgarin? Why Anonymous?

     The events of this war have been described and analyzed in minute detail many times.[42] In my opinion, however, one particular circumstance has not attracted sufficient scholarly attention: namely, the fact that Bulgarin never responded to the publication in December 1830 of Pushkin’s Boris Godunov with a separate article or any substantial criticism whatsoever. The publication of Boris Godunov must have tempted Bulgarin to unleash an attack. After all, according to Bulgarin’s view of events, the conflict began with Pushkin’s unprovoked assault on Bulgarin’s Dimitry the Pre­tender, so Bulgarin must have felt that he owed Pushkin’s tragedy a simi­lar treatment. Boris Godunov was also in direct competition with Bul­garin’s historical novel and he must have aspired to prove that his take on the topic was superior to Pushkin’s. In practical terms, from his own expe­rience as an influential critic, Bulgarin knew that a well-written and timely negative review could shape the critical and public reception of a new book and diminish its sales, and he was certainly interested in com­promising the success of Pushkin’s tragedy to the benefit of his own novel. Besides, Bulgarin had already written some criticism on Boris Godunov when he was preparing the Censor’s Report on the earlier version of Push­kin’s play. He had, therefore, some critical ideas and observations still unknown to the public that could be utilized in any attack he might con­template. Thus Bulgarin certainly had the motives for writing about Push­kin’s new play and the material for doing so.

     What is more, Bulgarin’s apparent silence puzzled his contemporaries: in an April 21, 1831 letter to V. Komovsky, Nikolay Yazykov wondered why “Bulgarin do sikh por nichego ne skazal o Borise Godunove.”[43] In reply, Komovsky communicated a rumor that the powerful bookseller Smirdin had asked Bulgarin to leave the tragedy alone so as not to harm the sales:

Молчать о Годунове Булгар[ина] заставляет, как говорят, обед, которым Смирд[ин] заткнул рты Гречу и Булгарину, на 2 лица, чтоб они бранью не помешали продаже.[44]

This exchange shows that by the second half of April 1831 keen contempo­rary observers were expecting Bulgarin to write something on Godunov. And, as is clear from the previous discussion, I suggest that in fact he did. A Conversation bears the authorial date of April 15, 1831, i.e., just six days before Yazykov wrote his puzzled letter about Bulgarin’s silence. The pamphlet perfectly fits what one might expect of a Bulgarin attack: an attempt to cast a negative pall over the work’s reception by critics and readers alike, political and personal accusations, hints at “mistakes” in Pushkin that have been corrected in Bulgarin’s own novel, and recycled “hits” from the Censor’s Report. As for the rumor communicated in Komov­sky’s letter, Smirdin’s pressure was most likely the least of the factors preventing Bulgarin from signing the piece with his own name.[45] In the winter-spring of 1831, Bulgarin had much more important reasons for concealing his identity as the author of the pamphlet. First of all, Nicholas I had explicitly prohibited any further escalation of the literary war—and Bulgarin had fresh memories of what could happen to violators of the tsar’s literary policies. At the beginning of 1830 Bulgarin had launched a severe critical assault against Zagoskin’s novel Yury Miloslavsky, another potential competitor to Bulgarin’s own as yet unpublished novel. The tsar—who happened to enjoy Zagoskin’s novel and found the harsh tone of critical diatribes quite distasteful—asked Bulgarin and the other journalists to call a halt to their polemics. When Bulgarin, in the heat of the literary battle, failed to comply with the tsar’s order, he (together with Grech and Voeikov) was arrested and spent a night in detention, an extra­ordinary public humiliation that Bulgarin never forgot and surely did not want to repeat. That—or even worse—was what he would have risked by attacking Pushkin’s Godunov openly. The tsar, at least initially, sided with Pushkin in the developing conflict between him and Bulgarin. Hav­ing read Bulgarin’s negative review of Evgenii Onegin, Nicholas wrote to Benckendorff:

В сегодняшнем номере “Пчелы” находится опять несправедли­вейшая и подлейшая статья, направленная против Пушкина; к этой статье наверное будет продолжение поэтому предлагаю вам призвать Булгарина и запретить ему отныне печатать ка­кие бы то ни было критики на литературные произведения и, если возможно, запретить его журнал.[46]

Though the tsar did not suppress the publication of Pchela, his general attitude towards Bulgarin remained rather negative. To make matters worse for Bulgarin, the tsar, again, as in the case with Zagoskin’s novel, either liked Godunov, or at least deemed it necessary to compliment Push­kin through Benckendorff,[47] and Bulgarin almost certainly knew about this. But this is not yet all. Besides literary politics, the very real events of international politics forced Bulgarin to keep an especially low profile. The winter and spring of 1830–31 marked the peak of the Polish uprising that had begun on November 17, 1831. As mentioned before, being a Pole, Bul­garin was under a lingering suspicion about his possible sympathy for the Polish insurgency. Indeed he patronized and helped young Poles in Peters­burg, promoted Polish culture, and even interceded for some of his compa­triots. It is obvious that during the uprising, Bulgarin was not in the least interested in attracting any kind of public attention, especially in relation to his literary wars with Russian writers at a time when a real Russian-Polish war was gathering momentum—and even more so in light of the subject matter of Boris Godunov and Dimitry Samozvanets, which had suddenly acquired a new historical significance. Recall that Del´vig (or Pushkin himself, on Bulgarin’s mistaken assumption) had started the con­flict by accusing Bulgarin of Polonophilia: now was the worst possible time to remind the public about the topic.

     Evidence of Bulgarin’s political predicament and the tsar’s displeasure may be found in a rumor communicated by Pushkin to Viazemsky on June 1, 1831. In March of 1831, Bulgarin left Petersburg for his estate, Kar­lovo.[48] He himself might have prudently decided that to stay in Petersburg at such a dangerous time would be unwise. There was a rumor, however, that he was forced to leave by the tsar’s displeasure at his conduct. The rumor conveyed by Pushkin, even if not true, is indicative of Bulgarin’s dire predicament:

От политики перехожу к литературе, т.е. к Булгарину. Знаешь ли, за что его выгнали из Петербурга? говорят, будто бы при появлении эпиграммы “Фиглярин, вот поляк примерный” он так огорчился, что прямо адресовался к государю со слезной жалобой на меня, сделайте-де, ваше величество такую слезную милость, уймите Пушкина, который все меня обижает. Госу­дарю было не до стишков; Булгарин же не в первый раз досаждал ему своими жалобами и доносами. Он и велел его выслать, как человека беспокойного.[49]

     It is impossible to evaluate the veracity of this rumor but, taking into account what we know about Bulgarin’s patterns of literary warfare—which definitely included appeals to the authorities, as well as Nicholas’s impatience with literary squabbles, the rumor does not sound all that im­plausible. “Gosudariu bylo ne do stishkov” in the last sentence refers to the two major calamities of 1831—the Polish uprising and the cholera epi­demic. If this rumor is even partially true, it sheds some light on why Bulgarin, under the circumstances, might not have resorted to an open attack.

     Finally, the accusations of plagiarism were still quite recent. Publish­ing under Bulgarin’s own name a hard-hitting critical piece about a work from which he was suspected of stealing would have required considerable chutzpah and raised the level of an already scandalous situation to a higher pitch—a prospect that, as we have seen, Bulgarin would hardly have relished.

     The accumulation of these factors—the internal logic of literary war; his own ambition, aggravated by personal attacks that he had yet to parry; and a particular attitude toward the subject and literary quality of Pushkin’s play, which he regarded as competing with his own work on the same subject—might have impelled Bulgarin to publish a critical review. On the other hand, the tsar’s distaste for writers’ quarrels in general and Bulgarin’s behavior in particular, the extremely inconvenient political situation, and, again, suspicions of plagiarism concerning the very play he was going to criticize, made it impossible for Bulgarin to publish such an article, at least in the form and in the tone he would have preferred.

     I propose that Bulgarin found a way out of this quandary by resorting to a real—rather than a playfully transparent—anonymity, by writing and publishing a text (i.e., A Conversation) in such a manner that it was very difficult even for experienced literary players to identify him as the author.[50] This explains a certain air of stylistic tongue-in-cheek and pas­tiche that permeates the pamphlet: if the author was indeed Bulgarin, he made a considerable effort at stylistic dissimulation.


Why a Booklet, Why in Moscow, and Why from Astrakhan´?

     This suggestion also helps to explain why the text appeared as a separate edition rather than an article, and in Moscow rather than St. Petersburg. As a matter of fact, in the spring of 1831 Bulgarin could not have pub­lished his text as an anonymous article in a journal because such a mode of publication had been explicitly prohibited by a special addendum to the Censorial Statute of December 29, 1830.[51] The government was mainly worried about the anonymous publication of potentially subversive articles in journals and magazines; books (or separate editions) were not covered by the addendum and these, by default, could still be published anony­mously. If my hypothesis is correct, the ingenious Bulgarin would have used this loophole and anonymously published what was essentially a longish article as a separate edition, thus becoming the author of the first book ever on Pushkin.

     The concern for real anonymity may also partly explain why Bulgarin may have chosen to publish A Conversation in Moscow. If the pamphlet had appeared in Petersburg, he would have immediately fallen under sus­picion, since he was Pushkin’s main enemy there. Besides, in Petersburg, where everybody in the world of publishing knew him, it would have been next to impossible to maintain any secrecy during the process of publica­tion and censorial review. In contrast, publication of the text in Moscow, where Bulgarin had never published before and did not have many liter­ary acquaintances, would go a long way to secure him from possible suspicion.

     There was one more, completely non-literary circumstance that may have forced Bulgarin to send the manuscript to Moscow: namely, Cholera morbus. As mentioned before, A Conversation is accompanied by two pieces of bibliographical data. At the end of the pamphlet, there is an in­dication of the place where it was supposedly composed: iz Astrakhani, i.e., “[sent] from Astrakhan´”; and of the date when the author supposedly finished writing: April 15, 1831. The reference to Astrakhan´ is, in all like­lihood, misleading. It is highly unlikely that faraway Astrakhan´ harbored anyone at that time who would have been so passionately involved in some abstruse metropolitan literary squabble. However, the date is very likely a valid one. In fact, inventing a fictional date would have made no sense, since it would have added nothing to the stylistic aura or meaning of the text. A Conversation passed the censorial committee in the middle of May, which also makes the April 15 date a very plausible one. Since the object of A Conversation, Pushkin’s Boris Godunov, appeared in the press at the very end of 1830, it may be safely assumed that the author was actually working on the text in the winter–spring of 1831, presumably in March–April 1831. As already mentioned, at that time Bulgarin was staying at his estate in Karlovo, near Derpt. If Bulgarin was the author, having finished the pamphlet on April 15, he would then have been concerned with where and how to send the manuscript in the second half of April. In general, of course, sending the text from Karlovo to Petersburg was as convenient as sending it to Moscow—in general, that is, but not in the spring of 1831. The years from 1829 to 1831 were the years when the Russian empire and most of Europe were ravished by cholera. Whereas in Moscow the epidemic had subsided towards the end of 1830, in the spring of 1831 it was gathering force in European Russia, Belorussia, Poland, and the Baltics and was slowly approaching St. Petersburg, where it finally arrived in June. To prevent the spread of the epidemic, the author­ities organized a chain of quarantines in the northwest and later around St Petersburg. Thus, by mid-spring Moscow was quarantine-free, but postal communication between Bulgarin’s Karlovo estate (in today’s Esto­nia) and St. Petersburg was blocked by a sanitary cordon.[52] Getting a manuscript to Petersburg would probably have been impossible, even if Bulgarin had wished to do so, whereas mailing it to Moscow (say, to a dis­creet friend who would take care of the censorial review and printing) posed no such problem. Cholera morbus may also provide the key to an­other riddle of A Conversation, namely, the odd indication “[sent] from Astrakhan´” at the end of the pamphlet. Why from Astrakhan´ of all places? I suggest that what we have here is Bulgarin’s attempt at black humor. The only reason that made the word Astrakhan´ special at the time was the fact that the city served as the gateway through which the cholera—both the then current disastrous pandemic of 1830–31 and the previous outbreak of 1823— had spread from Asia to European Russia.[53] Thus, if my guess is correct, Bulgarin thought of his pamphlet—jokingly—as a symbolic “plague” that he would be sending to Pushkin. But did it reach him?


Did Pushkin Read the Pamphlet?

     If the proposed attribution is correct, then the most intriguing question from the point of view of Russian literary history becomes whether or not Pushkin read the pamphlet, and if so, what his reaction was. Although the answer to this question lies beyond the scope of the present article, I will try to give the sketch of a possible answer.

     In the winter–spring of 1831 the newly-wed Pushkin was living with his wife in Moscow, and Bulgarin could have assumed that the poet would read the pamphlet as soon it appeared in print. If so, that was another miscalculation: by late May when the pamphlet arrived in Moscow book­stores, the Pushkins had already moved to St. Petersburg and then to Tsarskoe Selo.

     Two of Pushkin’s closest friends, who were still in Moscow, did read it, however, and found it worthy of his attention. On June 17, 1831, Viazem­sky writes laconically to Pushkin: “Chital li ty o Borise Godunove razgovor, napechatannyi v Moskve? Prochti, moia radost´.”[54] On July 3, Pushkin answers this inquiry with a pun: “Razgovorov o Borise ne slykhal i ne vidal; ia v chuzhie razgovory ne vmeshivaius´.[55] Nashchokin, the other friend, in his letter of July 15, 1831 to Pushkin, is much more ex­plicit in his recommendation. He even pays the anonymous author a few mocking compliments and ends up comparing him to Sir Walter Scott (incidentally, a possible hint at Bulgarin, who fashioned himself as the “Russian Scott”):

[П]робежал я где-то Разговор о Борисе Годунове Учителя с Помещиком, – очень хорошо – и кто написал ни как сего не воображает что лучше и похожее описать разговором – суж­дений наших безмозглых грамотеев семинаристов ни как не льзя – это совершенный слепок с натуры; думая написать на тебя злую критику – написал – отрывок – достойный поместить в роман; прочти сделай одолжение, ты по разговору узнаешь говорящих, и еслиб осталось место, я бы рассказал рост их, в чем одеты, словом сказать прекрасно – Валтер Скот совершенный.[56]

On 21 July 1831, Pushkin replied as follows:

[Т]ы пишешь мне о каком<-то> критическом разговоре, которого я еще не читал. Если бы ты читал наши журналы, то увидел бы, что всё, что называют у нас критикой, одинаково глупо и смеш­но. С моей стороны я отступился; возражать серьозно – не возможно; а паясить перед публикою не намерен. Да к тому же ни критики, ни публика не достойны дельных возражений.[57]

The use of eshche in the first sentence of this passage (eshche ne chital) reveals that Pushkin assumed that he would read A Conversation later on. In fact, as his Opyt vozrazhneiia na kritiki shows, Pushkin was quite attentive—and sensitive—to the critical reception of his work. It would have been odd and uncharacteristic of him to neglect a lengthy article (indeed, a booklet) on his latest and most cherished literary production, especially after the booklet had been recommended, even though mock­ingly, by his two closest friends. The mention of the “not yet read” pamph­let leads Pushkin into a pessimistic assessment of current literary criti­cism (glupo i smeshno), and a bitter vow not to answer the critics, either seriously, or “clowning around.”

     This vow—especially the “clowning” part—and the mood expessed in it stand in sharp contrast to the text that Pushkin sat down to write just a few days later, in the last week of July: the marvelously funny and biting anti-Bulgarin parody Torzhestvo druzhby ili Opravdannyi Anfim Orlov. Something must have happened after July 21 (the date of the letter to Nashchokin cited above) that provoked him and spurred him into writing a new—and very energetic—anti-Bulgarin satire. [58]

     Rather than attacking first, Pushkin tended to counter-attack, and did so without much delay. Pushkin’s “O zapiskakh Vidoka” was written on March 15–18, 1830,[59] four days after the publication of Bulgarin’s “Anek­dot.” Pushkin’s article “Novye vykhodki” appeared in The Literary Gazette on August 9, 1830, in response to—and just two days after—the publica­tion of Bulgarin’s “Second Letter from Karlovo.” Torzhestvo druzhby seems unique as a major attack that had not been provoked by any new escapade on Bulgarin’s part—unless, of course, at some time after July 21 Pushkin had got hold of A Conversation, read it, attributed it to Bulgarin, and decided to answer in kind right away.[60]


Dartmouth College



Gronas, Mikhail. "Who Was the Author of the First Book (or Rather Booklet) on Pushkin?" Pushkin Review 11 (2008): 1-31.

[1] Anonymous, O Borise Godunove, sochinenii Aleksandra Pushkina. Razgovor Pomeshchika, proezzhaiushchago iz Moskvy cherez uezdnyi gorodok, i vol´noprakti­kuiushchago v onom uchitelia Rossiiskoi Slovesnosti (Moscow: V universitetskoi tipografii, 1831), reprinted in Russkaia kriticheskaia literatura o proizvedeniiakh A. S. Pushkina: Khronologicheskii sbornik kritiko-bibliograficheskikh statei, ed. V. Zelinskii (Moscow: Tipografiia Kolchugina, 1887), 3: 106–18, and in Pushkin v prizhiznennoi kritike, ed. V. E. Vatsuro, S. A. Fomichev, and E. O. Larionova (St. Petersburg: Gosudarstvennyi Pushkinskii teatral´nyi tsentr, 2003), 3: 82–90. This text will henceforth be referred to as A Conversation and cited in the text accord­ing to the pagination in Zelinskii.

[2] B. P. Gorodetskii, Tragediia A. S. Pushkina “Boris Godunov” (Leningrad: Prosveshchenie, 1969), 92.

[3]Girlanda no. 24–25, pt. 2 (1831), reprinted in Zelinskii, Russkaia kriticheskaia literatura, 3: 115–16.

[4]Severnyi Merkurii, no. 28 (1831): 116, quoted in Gorodetskii, Tragediia A. S. Pushkina, 92.

[5] V. G. Belinskii, “O Borise Godunove, Sochinenii Aleksandra Pushkina. Razgovor,” Listok, no. 45 (10 June 1831): 95–96, reprinted in Zelinskii, Russkaia kriticheskaia literatura, 3: 117.

[6] Petr Viazemsky seems to have believed that A Conversation was authored by the minor poet Vladimir Filimonov (1787–1858), the author of the comical poem Duratskii Kolpak. In an 1831 letter to Pushkin Viazemsky writes: “Razgovor o Godunove, skazyvaiut, Filimonova: on Filimonami i pakhnet.” Letter of 15 July 1831 in A. S. Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 14, Perepiska 1828–1831 (Moscow–Leningrad: Izd–vo AN SSSR, 1937–59), 190–1. This suggestion, however, seems to be completely arbitrary. At the time Filimonov had no aesthetic or per­sonal reason to be hostile towards Pushkin. The idea of Filimonov’s authorship has been rejected by Pushkin scholars. See G. O. Vinokur, Kommentarii k Borisu Godu­novu A .S. Pushkina (Moscow: Brandes, 1999), 251. A reviewer in Moskovskii tele­graf (no. 7, pt. 38 [1831]: 399) suggested that the author was Nedoumko (pseudo­nym of the critic N. I. Nadezhdin). This suggestion is also quite unlikely, both because Nadezhdin had no reason to conceal his identity, and because by that time he had already expressed his—generally positive—opinion on Boris Godunov in an article in Teleskop no. 4, pt. 1(1831): 546–74. See A. M. Berezkin’s commentary to the publication of the pamphlet in Vatsuro et al., Pushkin v prizhiznennoi kritike, 3: 355–57, for an overview of hypotheses on the possible authorship of A Conversa­tion. Berezkin concludes that “vopros ob avtorstve broshiury ostaetsia otkrytym” (355). Also see G. O. Vinokur’s comment in Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 7, Dramaticheskie sochineniia, 438, as well as L. B. Modzalevskii, ed., “Prime­chaniia,” in A. S. Pushkin, Pis´ma, vol. 3, 1831–33 (Moscow-Leningrad: Academia, 1935), 329.

[7] On the history of the Orlov-Bulgarin joke, see S. V. Berezkina, “A. A. Orlov i antibulgarinskaia bor´ba 1830–1833 gg,” Vremennik Pushkinskoi komissii, no. 21: (Leningrad: Nauka, 1987): 181–85; and Vatsuro et al., Pushkin v prizhiznennoi kritike,3: 467–72.

[8]Teleskop no. 9, pt. 3 (1831): 107–08.

[9] Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 11: 204–10, 211–15.

[10] “Razbor poemy Poltava, soch. Aleksandra Sergeevicha Pushkina,” Syn Ote­chestva 3: 15 (1829): 36–52; no. 16 (1829): 102–10, reprinted in Vatsuro et al., Pushkin v prizhiznennoi kritike, 2: 132–42, hereafter referred to as “Review of Poltava” and cited in the text according to the pagination in Vatsuro.

[11] F. V. Bulgarin, “Rassmotrenie Russkikh al´manakhov na 1828 god,” Severnaia pchela, nos. 3, 4, 5 (1828), excerpt reprinted in Vatsuro et al., Pushkin v prizhiz­nennoi kritike, 2: 30–33.

[12] F. V. Bulgarin, “‘Russische bibliothek für Deutsche’ von Karl von Knorring,” Severnaia pchela, no. 266 (1831), reprinted in Vatsuro et al., Pushkin v prizhiz­nennoi kritike, 3: 128–31.

[13] F. V. Bulgarin, Dimitrii Samozvanets (Moscow: Kronos, 1994).

[14] Reprinted in A. I. Reitblat, Vidok Figliarin:Pis´ma i agenturnye zapiski F. V. Bulgarina v III otdelenie (Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 1998), 91–97, hereafter referred to as Censor’s Report and cited in the text according to the pagination in Reitblat.

[15] I will be proceeding on the assumption that Bulgarin’s authorship of the Censor’s Report has been all but proven. This attribution was first suggested by Boris Toma­shevsky, and then substantiated by G. O. Vinokur in his “Kto byl tsenzorom ‘Borisa Godunova?’” Vremennik Pushkinskoi komissii 1 (Moscow-Leningrad: Izd-vo AN SSSR, 1936): 109–19. In addition to a number of convincing textual parallels between the Censor’s report and various texts by Bulgarin, Vinokur cites a peculiar linguistic usage: the author of the Censor’s Report obviously takes the verb pri­pominat´ (to recollect) to mean “to remind,” instead of the correct napominat´. This mistake is probably due to a confusion with the Polish verb przypominać, which does mean “to remind,” and thus indicates that the author was most likely a native speaker of Polish, which Bulgarin in fact was. Vinokur’s attribution is by now gen­erally accepted, although B. P. Gorodetskii (“Kto zhe byl tsenzorom ‘Borisa Godunova’ v 1826 godu,” Russkaia literatura, no. 4 [1967]: 109–19) tried to question Bulgarin’s authorship of the Censor’s Report and suggested N. Grech as a possible candidate. This hypothesis, however, has been convincingly disproved by A. A. Gozenpud in his article “Iz istorii literaturno-obshchestvennoi bor´by 20–30-kh godov XIX veka (‘Boris Godunov’ i ‘Dimitrii Samozvanets’),” in Pushkin: Issledo­vaniia i materialy (Leningrad: Nauka, 1969): 6: 252–75. Gozenpud lists a number of coincidences between the Censor’s Report and Bulgarin’s historical novel Dimitry the Pretender, and cites even more examples in Bulgarin’s oeuvre of the polonism pripominat´ instead of napominat´.

[16] Gozenpud, “Iz istorii,” 261.

[17] Ibid., 263.

[18] Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 7: 87.

[19] Gozenpud, “Iz istorii,” 261.

[20] Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 8: 87.

[21] F. V. Bulgarin, “Rassmotrenie Russkikh al´manakhov na 1828 god,” Severnaia pchela, nos. 3, 4, 5 (1828), excerpt reprinted in Vatsuro et al., Pushkin v prizhiznennoi kritike, 2: 30–33.

[22] Bulgarin, “‘Russische bibliothek für Deutsche,’” 130.

[23]Censor’s Report, 92.

[24] Vinokur, Kommentarii k Borisu Godunovu, 212

[25] It is noteworthy that the very rhetoric of A Conversation in approving of this scene—namely, exaggerated praise of a part at the expense of the whole—has a close parallel elsewhere in Bulgarin’s Pushkiniana. In A Conversationthe characters prognosticate: “Помещик: Да, если бы так была написана вся повесть. Учитель: Тогда бы стали хвалить” (113).
     In 1829, announcing the publication of Pushkin’s Poltava, Bulgarin also quotes a passage that he deems the best in the poem (the description of a cossack carrying a letter to the tsar), and adds the following comment: “Повторяем, что это лучшее, по нашему мнению, место в целой поэме, и не взирая на то, что целая поэма прекрасная, Пушкинская, но если б в ней было таких десять страниц, то она была бы в десятеро лучше.”*** (F. V. Bulgarin), “Poltava, poema Aleksandra Pushkina,” Severnaia pchela, no. 39 (1829), reprinted in Vatsuro et al., Pushkin v prizhiznennoikritike, 2: 127, attributed to Bulgarin by P. N. Stolpianskii (see Pushkin v prizhiznennoi kritike, 2: 394). In both cases, the author expresses a wish that the whole text be written in the same way as the favored parts. Compare also the similar use of the subjunctive and the pronominal tak/takikh:

A Conversation: если бы так написана была вся повесть … тогда бы
Announcement about Poltava: если б в ней было таких десять страниц, то

[26] Quoted in Gozenpud, “Iz istorii,” 274.

[27] Vinokur, “Kto byl avtorom,” 208.

[28] Bulgarin, Dimitrii,303.

[29] F. V. Bulgarin, “Sochineniia D. V. Venevitinova,” Severnaia pchela, no. 75 (1831), reprinted in P. N. Stolpianskii, “Pushkin i Severnaia pchela (1825–1837),” Pushkin i ego sovremenniki, vyp. 23–24 (1916): 173.

[30] Zelinskii, Russkaia kriticheskaia literatura, 2: 134.

[31] F. V. Bulgarin, “Novye knigi. ‘Monastyrka’ Pogorel´skogo,” Severnaia pchela, no. 32 (1830): 27–29; the quoted passage in on p. 28.

[32] It is unclear whether the author is quoting from specific texts or merely alluding to a poetic cliché. The reference may be to a well-known 1821 elegy Dejection (Unynie) by Pushkin’s friend (and Bulgarin’s enemy) Evgeny Baratynsky: “Рассеи­вает грусть пиров веселый шум. / Вчера, за чашей круговою, / Средь братьев полковых, в ней утопив мой ум, / Хотел воскреснуть я душою.” E. A. Boratynsky, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (St. Petersburg, 1914), 1: 20. Or it may be a reference to Batiushkov’s Tibullus’ Elegy (Tibullova elegiia): “У светлого огня, с подругою младою, / Я б юность вспомянул за чашей круговою.” K. N. Batiushkov, Polnoe sobranie stikhotvorenii (Moscow-Leningrad: Sovetskii pisatel´, 1964), 55. It could also allude to one of many instances in the early Pushkin, for example, Ruslan i Liudmila: “Утих веселый шум гостей, / Не ходит чаша круговая.” Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 4: 73.

[33]Severnaia pchela, no. 30 (1830), reprinted in Stolpianskii, “Pushkin i Severnaia pchela,” 164.

[34] Quoted in V. Gippius, “Pushkin v bor´be s Bulgarinym v 1830—1831 gg,” in Pushkin: Vremennik Pushkinskoi komissii (Moscow-Leningrad: Izd-vo AN SSSR, 1941), [Vyp.] 6, 242.

[35] Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 11: 208. Another episode speaks to the fact that Bulgarin was prone to accuse his enemies of excessive drinking. In May 1827 the members of the St. Petersburg English club blackballed Bulgarin, mainly be­cause of his reputation as an informer. The furious Bulgarin complained to Benckendorff that he was rejected, while “vziatochniki, kazennye vory, p´ianitsy, igroki, bankroty tolpami, tolpami, kak stado, vkhodiat v klub,” in his “Letter to Benckendorff, 12 April 1827,” quoted in Reitblat, Vidok Figliarin, 160.
     A. I. Reitblat notes that Bulgarin must have complained to many people that it was the drunkards at the English club who were at fault for his humiliation, since his view of the affair became the subject of an anonymous 1829 epigram, entitled In vino veritas: «Не избран в члены Фирс почтенного собранья, / Кричит с досады он, что члены в день избранья / В похмелье были, в полусне; / Что будто бы его вино забраковало, / Хотя б и так – утехи мало; / Ведь правда, говорят, в вине», quoted in Reitblat, Vidok Figliarin, 82.

[36] On the censorial history of Boris Godunov, see Vinokur, Kommentarii, 211–17, and Reitblat, Vidok Figliarin, 97.

[37] See Vinokur, Kommentarii, 217.

[38] Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 14: 67.

[39] The accusation is repeated by Del´vig in Literaturnaia gazeta, no. 20 (1830): 161, reprinted in Vatsuro et al., Pushkin v prizhiznennoi kritike, 2: 236, and by Pushkin himself in Torzhestvo druzhby (Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 11: 209–10).

[40]Literaturnaia gazeta 1: 14 (17 March 1830), quoted in Vatsuro et al., Pushkin v prizhiznennoi kritike, 2: 453.

[41] Reitblat notes: «Несмотря на всю преданность интересам царя и России, Булгарин, будучи поляком, автоматически вызывал подозрения в пропольской и антирусской деятельности» (Vidok Figliarin, 138). On two occasions, in 1827 and 1828, just two years before the events described, Bulgarin had been forced to defend himself in writing against grave accusations of pro-Polish subversive activities brought by the colonial administration and was barely able to clear his name thanks to his connections with the secret service. See Bulgarin’s exculpative reports against official accusations made by N. N. Novosil´tsev in Reitblat, Vidok Figliarin, 135–38 and 311–16. On the biographical context of this episode, see A. Reitblat’s commentary to these documents (ibid., 138, 316–17) and M. Lemke, Nikolaevskie zhandarmy i literatura 1826–1855 gg. (St. Petersburg: Izd. S. V. Bunina, 1908), 249–53. Still, the matter was not officially dismissed until late November 1829, and in 1830–1831 Bulgarin was undoubtedly very sensitive to the topic.

[42] See V. V. Gippius, “Pushkin i zhurnal´naia polemika ego vremeni,” Pamiati Pushkina (St. Petersburg, 1900), 277–328; and “Pushkin v bor´be s Bulgarinym v 1830–1831 gg.,” 235–55; A. G. Fomin, “Pushkin i zhurnal´nyi triumvirat 30-kh godov,” in A. S. Pushkin, Sochineniia, ed. S. A. Vengerov (St. Petersburg, 1911), 5: 451–92.

[43] Quoted in S. Ia. G[essen], “Pushkin v perepiske N. M. Iazykova s V. D. Komov­skim,” Pushkin: Vremennik Pushkinskoi komissii (Moscow-Leningrad: Izd–vo AN SSSR, 1936), 1: 381.

[44] Ibid., 381–82.

[45] The rumor might have well been true. Smirdin had bought the rights to sell Boris Godunov from Pletnev and Pushkin and was therefore invested in the success of the tragedy. See N. P. Smirnov-Sokol´skii, Rasskazy o prizhiznennykh izdaniiakh Pushkina (Moscow: Izd-vo Vsesoiuznoi knizhnoi palaty, 1962), 255–58. Being the largest bookseller in the country gave Smirdin considerable influence over writers and journalists.

[46] Quoted in Reitblat, Vidok Figliarin, 27–28.

[47] A. Kh. Benckendorff, “Pis´mo Pushkinu,” 9 January 1831, in Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 14: 142.

[48] Reitblat, Vidok Figliarin, 425.

[49] Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 14: 169.

[50] In fact, Bulgarin’s own colleagues on The Northern Bee must not have recognized his authorship (assuming here that our proposed attribution is correct), since the newspaper published a short and somewhat negative review of the pamphlet (no. 167 [28 July 1831], signed “–v–”, reprinted in Vatsuro et al., Pushkin v prizhiz­nennoi kritike, 3: 90–92). If Bulgarin were in St. Petersburg and in charge of the newspaper when this review appeared in the summer of 1831, the very fact of such publication would constitute a strong argument against the proposed attribution: why would Bulgarin approve for publication a negative review of his own literary production? But Bulgarin spent the summer of 1831 on his Karlovo estate, away from the capital and from The Bee. During this period, N. Grech was in sole charge of the newspaper. It is possible that Grech, had he read the pamphlet, would have recognized the hand of his friend and collaborator. But it is unlikely that Grech did read it. The Northern Bee routinely commisioned reviews for most new literary publications, and Grech surely did not have time to read all the books reviewed by his contributors.

[51] On the addendum prohibiting anonymous publications in the press, see V. E. Vatsuro, “K izucheniiu ‘Literaturnoi gazety’ Del´viga—Somova,” Vremennik Push­kinskoi komissii, (Leningrad: Nauka, 1965), 23–36; and Lemke, Nikolaevskie zhandarmy, 58. For contemporary reactions, see the entry for 30 December 1831 in the diary of the censor A. V. Nikitenko in Dnevnik (Moscow: Goslitizdat, 1955), 1: 95; and Viazemsky’s letter to Pushkin, dated 14 January 1831, in Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 14: 144.

[52] In May 1831, i.e., approximately when Bulgarin (if he was the author of A Conversation) would have been arranging for the delivery of the manuscript, one such cordon line was constructed around the town of Narva. According to the biography of A. Peiker, who was in charge of this cordon, it went «от Финского залива, вдоль левого берега реки Наровы и по восточным берегам Чудского и Псковского озер, до границы Псковской губернии» (http://www.biografija.ru/show_bio.aspx?id=104830, accessed on 21 June 2008), thus completely blocking all direct communication be­tween the Derpt region, where Bulgarin’s estate was located, and St. Petersburg.

[53] On the history of cholera morbus in Russia, see S. Ia. Gessen, Kholernye bunty(1830–1832) (Moscow: Izd-vo Politkatorzhan, 1932. The fact that the pandemic originated in Astrakhan´ was a piece of general knowledge: see, for example, Push­kin’s short memoir note entitled “Cholera” (1831): «Перед моим отъездом Вя­земский показал мне письмо, только что им полученное: ему писали о холере, уже перелетевшей из Астраханской в Саратовскую губернию». A. S. Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v 10 tomakh (Leningrad: Nauka, 1977–79), 8: 52.

[54] Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 14: 177.

[55] Ibid., 187.

[56] Ibid., 192.

[57] Ibid., 196.

[58] Тhe fact that in the letter Pushkin explicitly states his unwillingness to engage in polemics has been used to suggest that Pushkin could only have written Tor­zhestvo druzhby after he wrote the letter. See Gippius, “Pushkin v bor´be,” 250.

[59] Published in The Literary Gazette[Literaturnaia gazeta], no. 20 (6 April 1830), dated on the basis of a mention in the March 18, 1830 entry in M. P. Pogodin’s diary. See M. P. Pogodin, “Dnevnik,” Pushkin i ego sovremenniki, 23–24, 103.

[60] A detailed substantiation of this claim is the subject of research in progress; for now it must remain a rough—and hopefully lucky—guess.  The accepted view holds that Pushkin was inspired to write Torzhestvo druzhby by the comical squabble between Grech and Nadezhdin regarding the merits of Bulgarin’s prose. It is clear that Pushkin used this as a pretext and source of some parodic material; however, that particular literary skirmish involved Grech, Nadezhdin, and Bulgarin—but not Pushkin, and it is my belief that it alone would not be enough to provoke an answer from Pushkin.