Here’s another tidbit from Early Modern Russian Writers (see this post), Alexander Levitsky’s introduction to his article on Mikhail Kheraskov:

The slim volume of poetry with which Mikhail Matveevich Kheraskov’s oeuvre is represented in this [i.e., the 20th] century does not even begin to outline the influence this poet had on the development of Russian literature, nor does it give any idea of his actual importance for Russian cultural history. Cliché formulas about Kheraskov, mostly generated during the period following his death and generally hostile to his legacy, abound even among scholars of eighteenth-century literature. Much of this unjust posthumous assessment stems from the fact that Kheraskov simply is not read. If his complete works were ever published, they would fill the space on bookshelves occupied only by the most prolific of poets. His only published collected works (1796–1803) comprise twelve volumes but account for only about half of his writings. Besides being scarce, Kheraskov’s works are but a pale reflection of a man who left his imprint on practically every genre practiced during his long life and who helped shape the aesthetic norms of his age.

Kheraskov was one of the century’s most important men of letters [….] A most versatile writer of poetry, drama, and prose; founder of the first Russian literary salon, in which his wife, E. V. Kheraskova, the first Russian female poet to be published, actively participated; publisher of the first Russian weekly devoted to literature and publisher and participant in a number of other journals; one of the first to introduce sentimentalism to Russian literature; a novelist and the creator of the first historical epic poem in Russia, the Rossiada (The Rossiad, 1779); the overseer of Moscow University; an important Mason; and, finally, a colleague and patron to many Russian writers. The young Nikolai Karamzin declared Kheraskov to be Russia’s greatest poet, and his works were generally considered classics during his lifetime.

Misperceptions about Kheraskov’s role in literature have a variegated history with at least two phases. The first began in the midst of the Romantic movement, which in Russia was even more violently opposed to classicist literary norms than in Europe. The second phase began in the twentieth century and did not involve any hostility but was due rather to a conceptual fallacy by a pioneer in eighteenth-century literary studies, Grigorii A. Gukovsky, who took it upon himself to resurrect the stature of another important but nearly forgotten poet, Aleksandr Sumarokov. In doing so he tended to subordinate nearly every poet associated at some point of his life with Sumarokov to the status of his pupil, and Kheraskov was no exception.

I’ve liked Kheraskov ever since I read Sergei Aksakov‘s wonderful autobiographical novels, in which he reminisced about growing up reading Rossiada, which I duly dipped into and enjoyed, so I’m glad to see him defended so stoutly.


  1. !
    It’s hard for me to imagine anyone in today’s Russia who would read Kheraskov for pleasure, except for a few hardened aficionados and equally hard-pressed students. So well done you for bringing him up.
    As for me, I’d like to be a fly on the wall in Kheraskovs’ salon listening in on their arguments about the Russian language. When you think of it, it’s so fascinating how the lines of public debate were being established then, the lines that are still very much alive.
    And all very much influenced by the revolutionary events in America and France.

  2. and another point: isn’t it fascinating that ‘foreign’ rulers, Hanoverians in England and Katherine in Russia contributed so much to building the national narrative.

  3. It is indeed.

  4. I wonder what attracts the spammers? If it were in Russian at least the name of the poet would have been a clue.

  5. Kheraskov comes from Herescu, a Romanian surname. His parents were immigrants from Wallachia who came to Russia during Peter the Great’s Prut campaign.
    Interestingly, it turns out that Herescu is a patronymic from Hersch, Yiddish form of German Hirsch (Deer).
    It’s not clear whether his ancestors were Germans (there were plenty of them in Romanian lands) or converted Jews.

  6. David Marjanović says

    It’s not clear whether his ancestors were Germans (there were plenty of them in Romanian lands) or converted Jews.

    Must have been Jewish at some point, because absolutely nobody who isn’t Jewish is named Herschel or Hirsch or anything similar. The only animal that’s a complete name is Wolf.

  7. It’s quite amazing how many Russian poets are of Jewish descent.

  8. Most of them are usually 20th, rarely 19th century.
    But when Kheraskov was born, there were no Jews in Russia at all!

  9. Exactly, which increases the amazingness factor.

  10. many Russian poets are of Jewish descent.
    It’s a reflection of the history of persecution and revolutionary movements. Medieval purges in Western Europe drove many to Eastern Europe, and after the partitions of Poland the Pale of Settlement was established under Catherine the Great (Kheraskov’s time) – the regions within the Russian Empire (including Poland and Ukraine) where Jewish settlement and limited self-government was allowed. It explains the numbers. I think Jewish population in Russia accounted for about 40 percent of the world’s.
    But is there any evidence that Kheraskov had Jewish roots?

  11. It’s a reflection of the history of persecution and revolutionary movements.
    What do persecution and revolutionary movements have to do with numbers of poets?

  12. Inspiration?

  13. Found more about Herescu family.
    The Herescu or Năsturel family is a very old Romanian boyar clan, first mentioned in 14th century.
    The name Herescu comes apparently from Hereşti estate near Bucharest which belonged to the Năsturel family (in fact, it is alleged that one of the Herescu-Năsturel has founded the city of Bucharest)
    Hereşti estate is claimed to have been named after certain count Henrih or Here Năsturel.
    So we are back to Germans.

  14. No, serious, I won’t ever link ethnicity or religious belief to creativity, but there was a well-known side-effect of the Pale and its regulations: some highly skilled, highly educated professionals (intelligentsia) were excluded from the limitations of the Pale and allowed to live in cultural capitals. Parents would push their children to acquire those skills.
    This may not be linked directly to a high number of poets, but the high value such people were putting on education and culture may be.

  15. In addition, Ashkenazi Jews, by encouraging the marriage of scholars where surrounding cultures discouraged it, bred for intelligence (or at least scholarship) for centuries.

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