September 01, 2011

The Lyceum

It was on October 19, 1811 that, in the presence of His Highness Emperor Alexander I, the Lyceum at Tsarskoye Selo was inaugurated. The institution’s first years, like everything associated with the name of Alexander Pushkin, has long since become the stuff of legend within Russian culture. Schoolboys eagerly pursuing knowledge, the great poet’s awakening to his calling, the burgeoning lifelong friendships among some of the era’s most iconic figures, the broad-minded education that turned boys into remarkable men…

And, like any legend, this one is part truth and part fiction. The boys were indeed exceptional, for the most part. Among the Lyceum’s early graduates, some would turn out to be careerists or simply dull, unsociable people not worth remembering. What lives on is the memory of Pushkin and his circle.

For most of his time there, Pushkin was far from the school’s pride and joy. His academic performance was uneven. In general, it was considered sophisticated to mock those who took their studies too seriously, despite the fact that achievement was closely monitored. “This list is downright nonsense,” the schoolboys chanted about the log in which their grades were entered. “Who’s first, who’s last, they’re all zeroes, all zeroes, ay liros, liros, liros.” Furthermore, Pushkin, who had become close with many of his classmates, had a hard time getting along with his teachers. The stanza he addresses to them in his famous poem “October 19” was not included in the final version.

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