The surname of Karamzin is usually associated with the notion of “Russian sentimentalism”. Indeed, NM Karamzin was the largest representative of this literary and artistic direction, but his true place in the domestic culture is much broader than this characteristic. The author of the thoughts of the whole generation, the author of the works that influenced the destinies of readers, the book-style reformer, whose light handwriting literature spoke in the natural language of an educated society, the creator of the first multivolume history of the Russian state, a courageous citizen who spoke unflattering truth in the eyes of the kings themselves, this writer in the eyes of his contemporaries. To this “service record” should be added and the fact that NM Karamzin was the first Russian writer, with all his activities,
Interest in European culture was instilled in the future writer as a child. Receiving the usual home schooling for noblemen, Nicholas along with the Church Slavonic studied French and German. In the first place was the study of languages and in the program of a private boarding house of one of the professors of Moscow University, where from a distant estate located near Simbirsk, young Karamzin came to continue his studies. In the hostel, he diligently engaged in self-education, reading modern German, French and English literature. Already in these years his writing abilities were manifested. Nevertheless, at the end of his studies, the seventeen-year-old Nikolai, following the rule adopted among the nobles, entered the military service in St. Petersburg. However, at the first opportunity, – and that was presented only in a year,
In Moscow, N. M. Karamzin approached the outstanding Russian enlightener and publisher NI Novikov, whose cooperation with him provided him with an opportunity to express himself as a talented writer and translator of European writers. In addition, Novikov introduced the writer into a secret Masonic society, which played no part in the cultural life of Russia. And although soon Karamzin, who did not accept the magnificent ceremonies of the Masonic meetings, left the ranks of the members of this organization, he remained faithful to his ideas of moral self-improvement and historical progress until the end of his life.
In 1789, N. M. Karamzin went on a trip to Europe. Conceived as the final stage of self-education, it really became the main life university for the
twenty-three-year-old writer. He traveled to Germany, Switzerland, England and France, he got acquainted with the traditions and sights of these countries, met with prominent figures of European culture, including famous philosophers Gerder, Kant and others. But especially valuable for Karamzin was the experience of direct observation of events The great French Revolution, the beginning of which coincided with his stay in Paris.
In his assessments of these events, the writer tried to be as objective as possible. He was clearly aware of the fateful significance of the French revolution, which marked the beginning of a new historical epoch throughout Europe, and honestly admitted that personally to him, the inquisitive “Russian traveler,” revolutionary upheavals did not cause any harm. However, becoming an involuntary witness of an avalanche of violence threatening to “destroy in blood and flame” the ideals of the Enlightenment, Karamzin once and for all abandoned the idea of the possibility of a revolutionary transformation of reality. The conviction that only enlightenment and moral self-improvement are the true path of the development of society determined its moral, writers’ and civic positions.
Upon his return to his homeland, the writer created the “Moscow Journal”, in which he published works by the most famous Russian authors. This approach provided a “newborn” publication a great success. However, the main attention of readers was attracted by the work of the publisher, printed in parts, representing his impressions of the recent trip to Europe. Unusual was the artistic and journalistic form of this work, clearly marked in his name – “Letters of a Russian traveler.”
Written in the form of runaway notes, Karamzin’s “Letters…” unfolded a wide panorama of European life. However, unlike the heroes of the traditional travel literature, the Karamzin “traveler” not so much described the pictures of the “alien” world as he reproduced his individual view of them. It was the look of a Russian person who noticed the advantages and shortcomings of Western life and thereby encouraged readers to compare Russian order with European ones, and ultimately to think about the present and future state of affairs in Russia. But first of all it was the view of the “sentimental” person who perceives the world through the prism of not reason, but of feelings. Thus, Karamzin’s “Letters…”
“Letters of the Russian traveler” brought N. M. Karamzin wide popularity in Russia. The publication of a number of other poetic and prose works further strengthened the glory of the “singer of the sensitive soul” and the “sorcerer of the red inventions” who had become entrenched. It seemed that a happy literary destiny had already been determined and it remains only to continue the path along the successfully found path… However, with the onset of the XIX century. In the life of the writer, changes occurred.
First of all, the direction of his journalistic activity changed: Karamzin founded the first political magazine in Russia called The Herald of Europe, which became an important link in Russian cultural life. In addition, his ideas about the meaning of writing have changed: on the pages of the newly created publication, the former “magician of red inventions”, who recently perceived art as a flight into the realm of fantasy, introduced a new understanding of literature that prescribes to it a huge social significance due to the power of the influence of the artistic word on minds and hearts of readers. And according to this understanding, the direction of his creative thought also changed: from now on Karamzin as a writer was interested not so much in the sphere of individual “feelings” as in the national Russian character and historical personalities, in whose heroic deeds this character finds the most complete expression. In this vein, for example, is written his last novel “Martha-posadnitsa”, which depicts the character of a Russian woman who did not want to submit to the despotism of the Moscow Tsar Ivan III, who destroyed the liberties of Novgorod.
N. Karamzin’s transition to new creative positions coincided with his entry into a new field of activity: having been appointed by the decree of Emperor Alexander I as the court historian, he undertook the compilation of the “History of the Russian State”, to which he dedicated the remainder of his life. This painstaking work, crowned with the appearance of incomplete twelve volumes, was of enormous national importance: enlightened Russians practically did not know their own history, and without such knowledge, neither their respect for the fatherland nor “respect for oneself” could be formed. Aware of the enlightenment and educational tasks of his scientific work, Karamzin chose such a perspective of comprehension of Russian history that allowed him not only to build an integral and consistent “plot” of the country’s historical development, but also to demonstrate vivid historical examples of true love for the homeland, and at the same time – express their own feelings and thoughts about the events described. Therefore, in his interpretation there was a very peculiar concept of Russian history, in which the glorification of the monarchical system was combined with the condemnation of cruel tyrant monarchs, and the idea of Russia’s original historical development – with the idea that Russia as a part of Europe should adopt European values. However, on the whole, the goal of patriotic comprehension of the historical path of the Russian state was achieved. It should also be noted that in his “History…” the writer used extensive material, drawn from ancient Russian chronicles, legends and legends. This material was little known to Russian readers, so Karamzin appeared in their eyes, in the words of Pushkin, Columbus of ancient national history. But, in addition, the writer has also shown himself to be the Columbus of the Russian soul, since in the process of understanding the historical path of the country he discovered a number of fundamental features of the national character.
Of course, “History…” Karamzin contained a lot of contradictions and misconceptions, which already caused controversy among its first readers. Nevertheless, the appearance of this multi-volume work is still today one of the most significant events of Russian culture of the early 19th century. For the contemporaries of Karamzin “The History of the Russian State” has become a kind of alphabet of civil-patriotic self-education, and for many writers, artists and composers – the richest source of stories and images of their works.