March 01, 2011

The Reform Not Taken

in march 1811, Tsar Alexander I arrived in Tver, where his sister Yekaterina Pavlovna lived. The renowned writer Nikolai Karamzin was also there. By then Karamzin was already celebrated for his stories and verse, first and foremost Poor Liza (Бедная Лиза), the tale of a peasant girl’s tragic love for a nobleman by the name of Erast. The Liza of the title drowns herself, unable to endure the prospect of life without her lover, who had heartlessly abandoned her. Countless readers shed tears over Liza’s plight and echoed Karamzin’s famous words, “Even peasant girls are capable of love.”

Karamzin proved to be not only an outstanding writer, but also a talented publisher. His journal, European Herald (Вестник Европы), enjoyed great popularity. However, several years prior to 1811, Karamzin had given up belles lettres and publishing, left St. Petersburg, and settled down in his estate outside Moscow to devote himself to what would eventually turn into his twelve-volume History of the Russian State.

The tsar knew all about this. He had a great deal of fondness and respect for Karamzin, and the feeling was mutual. If monarchs can, in principle, have friends, then Alexander and Karamzin were friends. When the writer was living in St. Petersburg, he often spent his summers in Tsarskoe Selo, where he and the tsar spent many a morning walking together in the park, engaged in frank discussion. Naturally, they were glad to see one another in Tver. They spent a long time in conversation, and Karamzin read the tsar excerpts from his History. Everything seemed to be just fine.

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