The St. Petersburg English Review.

Looking for something else (as usual), I stumbled upon something that startled me considerably: The St. Petersburg English Review of Literature, the Arts and Science (vol. 1, 1842). I knew there was an English colony in the city and it was fashionable for the Russian upper crust to study English, but had no idea there was enough demand to support a journal, even if short-lived (it lasted a little over a year). The first issue opens with a List of Subscribers, which begins (of course) with His Majesty the Emperor and Her Majesty the Empress and continues through a bunch of Highnesses to H.E. the British Ambassador and an alphabetical list starting with Abaza, Mlle. Vera and ending with Zacharevitch, Mr. Neginn; presumably “Tolstoy, the Count” is this guy. And that turns out not to be an isolated phenomenon; checking Google Books further I learned from People, Languages and Cultures in the Third Millennium: Book of Proceedings, 2000 FEELTA International Conference (ed. L. P. Bondarenko) that “In the middle of the 19th century, some magazines in English were being published in St. Petersburg and Moscow, such as The St. Petersburg English Review of Literature: The Art and Science (1848 [sic]); The Nevsky Magazine: A Journal of Literature, Science and Art (1880); English Literary Journal of Moscow, etc.” Who knew?

Incidentally, the first issue of The St. Petersburg English Review (which consists mainly of anodyne reprints from English publications) ends with a Miscellanea section that today might be labeled News of the Weird; I quote two of the entries:

A Yankee Gourmand. — A man returned home one night very late and rather the worse for liquor; and being hungry withal, he stuck his fork in a bowl of something that his wife had left upon the table before retiring. He worked away with his mouthful very patiently for some time; at length, not being able to masticate what he considered was intended for his supper, he sung out to his wife, “I say, old woman, where did you get your cabbages from? they are so ‘nation stringy, I can’t chew them.”
   “My gracious!” cried the good lady, “if the stupid filler ain’t eating up all my caps that I put in starch over-night!”

American Artists. — A painter in New Orleans possesses such extraordinary talents, that he can paint a pine-plank, or any other piece of wood, so exactly like marble, that when thrown into the river it will instantly sink to the bottom.

Shades of Zeuxis! (In the first, “‘nation” is short for “tarnation,” a euphemism for “damnation”; I presume “filler” is intended to represent “feller” = “fellow.”)


  1. Ken Miner says

    “‘nation” is short for “tarnation,” a euphemism for “damnation”;

    I always thought “‘nation” back then was simply short for “damnation” — why go through the intermediate “tarnation”?

  2. Because “damnation” was too strong to wink at back then; nobody would dream of saying it unless they wanted to be considered irredeemably low-class. Compare the substitutes for the euphemisms for the Russian “three-letter word.”

  3. I mean, obviously I don’t actually know it was short for “tarnation” rather than “damnation,” but that’s what my Sprachgefühl tells me, and I trust my Sprachgefühl.

  4. Tarnation, by the way, is a hybrid of Eternal ‘God’ and damnation, and is probably the ancestor of darn ‘damn’.

  5. “New of the Weird” is actual news (or at least stories that have been reported as news elsewhere). These seem more like the jokes in Reader’s Digest.

  6. Ken Miner says

    @Keith Ivey I thought the second one (about “a painter in New Orleans”) was worthy of Mark Twain, and went a-googling. But I found only that both were copied (as Hat said) from “English publications”.

  7. “Nâtion!” is an oldfashioned expletive in Jèrriais, presumably short for “damnâtion” (which seems, as far as I can tell, to be unattested and isn’t in the Dictionnaire Jersiais-Français). The more common, but still frightfully oldfashioned, version is “‘tèrdit nâtion!”, a combination of “‘tèrdit” and “nâtion”, but with ‘tèrdit not agreeing with feminine nâtion. One could speculate whether this has been influenced by English tarnation. ‘Tèrdit is, as the Dictionnaire tells us, an abbreviation of “întèrdit” – forbidden – used as an intensifying swear: “Chu ‘tèrdit papi!” – this darn/damn paper.

  8. J. W. Brewer says

    I am slightly puzzled by the use of ‘nation here for part-of-speech reasons — surely the unminced version would be “so damn[ed] stringy” rather than “so damnation stringy”?

  9. Hey Brewer,

    The guy was obviously drunk. Likely thanks to one of your paternal relatives. No need to puzzle over his unminced words.

  10. Ken Miner says

    @ J. W. Brewer That usage was common in the 19th century in the speech of not very respectable young men-about-town, to judge by novels of the period. “Damnation”, “tarnation” and “‘nation” were expletives, and as such could combine with almost anything, somewhat like our f-word today. Perhaps we can say that when something becomes a pure expletive it no longer has a part-of-speech.

  11. I found the painter story in the NYMirror and (along with the cap story) in London’s Literary Gazette and Journal of the Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, &c.

    In that paper, under the rubric “A few Far-Westers by the last packet”, we also learn that:

    “An American paper complains, that in salting down horses for victualling the navy, sufficient attention is not paid to the removing the shoes, and that in consequence the teeth of many of the sailors have been pretty considerably injured.”

    Other items are of equally low humor and credibility. Those colonists!

  12. And in between them, this gem:

    Absence of Mind.–A doctor in Boston, a short time since, gave one of his patients a piece of paper, and threw the medicine into the fire; nor did he discover his mistake till the man began to recover from his illness.

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