Alexander Nikolaevich Radishchev was born in 1749 in the family of a rich landowner, spent his childhood in the estate of Nemtsov near Kaluga.
In St. Petersburg there was a privileged institution for the children of wealthy nobles – the Corps of Pages. There they prepared young men for court service. In the correspondence building the young man learned court life, met with Catherine, whose vagaries were part of the duties of the page.
In 1766, the six best students of the Corps of Pages were sent by the government to Leipzig University to continue their education. Among the best was Radishchev. He saw Europe, whose life was so different from Russian life, got acquainted with the ideas of European philosophers-enlighteners. At this time in Goethe, Leipzig studied – in the future – the great German poet. Radishchev began to write poetry, to translate. He called the autocracy “the state that is the most resistant to human nature.”
Returning to Russia, Radishchev entered the service. He tried everywhere to act conscientiously and became the head of St. Petersburg customs, received the Order of St. Vladimir from the hands of the Empress and earned respect from the best people of his era. At every step Radishchev met with manifestations of autocracy, arbitrariness, despotism, with which his heart did not want to put up.
So, Radishchev is forty-one years old. He is no longer a boy page, but a mature husband. He saw life, took
Radishchev makes a bold attempt to look directly at the objects and phenomena of Catherine’s reality. In the home printing house, with an innocent name lulling the censor’s vigilance, he publishes the book “Journey from Petersburg to Moscow”.
English writer Lawrence Stern creates the book “Sentimental journey through France and Italy”. The main idea of this book is the self-worth of the human personality, its uniqueness and freedom. Radishchev takes the form of travel as the basis of his work and develops the idea of Stern: what prevents the freedom of the individual in Russia?
Radishchev describes his journey from the new capital of Russia to the old one. Calling chapters on the names of stations, he tells various incidents and cases that he observed in life or himself was their participant. He meets and talks with different people: peasants, noblemen, stationmasters, merchants, recruits, writers, solicitors, seminarians.
Catherine was outraged. “Radishchev is a rebel worse than Pugachev!” – she said with fervor, Radishchev fell into the hands of her domestic executioner Sheshkovsky, and then was sentenced to death. Catherine replaced the execution with a ten-year reference to Siberia, to the Ilim jail – then this punishment was almost more terrible than execution.
Five years later Catherine died, her son, Pavel I, allowed Radishchev to settle near Moscow under the supervision of local authorities.
Having ascended the throne, Alexander I called Radishchev to the commission on the drafting of laws. Radishchev proposed to destroy the table of ranks, to introduce a jury trial, to abolish torture during interrogation, to introduce freedom of printing, to establish free trade, to release serfs, and to eliminate corporal punishment.
What happened next, no one knows for sure. What event pushed Radishchev to the last step? Not wishing to serve the state contrary to its principles, he drinks poison.
September 2, 1802 Radishchev passed away, but his main book – “Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow” – “was an expression of such truthfulness” that “is one of the most notable phenomena in the history of Russian literature of the XVIII century.”