A couple of years ago I wrote about Mikhail Gronas’s superb book Cognitive Poetics and Cultural Memory: Russian Literary Mnemonics; now the Pushkin Review has published an article of his on a subject perhaps of more specialized interest, Who Was the Author of the First Book (or Rather Booklet) on Pushkin? Spoiler: he thinks it was Faddey Bulgarin (aka Jan Tadeusz Krzysztof Bulharyn), a nasty piece of work who had a grudge against Pushkin and no scruples about scurrilous anonymous attacks. But the fun is in the details, and anyone interested in early-nineteenth-century Russian literary life should enjoy it. And for what it’s worth, he convinces me. (Russian translation here.)


  1. A fascinating tale. Also a salutary reminder of the very narrow nature of literary circles, almost down to a ‘who’s fucking who’ level of familiarity. When people speak of, say, Russian literature, it’s easy to forget that this often means nothing more than ‘St Petersburg literature’ or ‘Moscow literature’.
    This Bulgarin fellow sounds interesting. Being a Pole in Russia wasn’t just an abstract issue.
    According to Wikipedia, he was born into a noble Polish family near Minsk, his father was exiled to Siberia for having assassinated a Russian general, he was educated in a St. Petersburg military school and took part in the Battle of Friedland, but was soon afterwards arrested for theft. He deserted his regiment to go to Warsaw but ended up being conscripted into the Grande Armée, with which he fought in several campaigns before being taken prisoner in 1812 and transported to Prussia, after which there is a 6-year lapse in his biography.
    Pushkin’s judgement on him seems to be the one that survives. To quote: “Bulgarin’s unscrupulous manners made him the most odious journalist in Russia. Alexander Pushkin, in particular, ridiculed him in a number of epigrams, changing his name to Figlyarin (from a Russian word for ‘clown’).”
    Was he a Pole in a difficult position in Russian society, or just a straight-out cad? It’s hard to get a picture of the man just from reading the article.

  2. Most of the “Poles” who lived in eastern provinces of pre-partition Poland-Lithuania were in fact Polonized Russians/Ruthenians who converted to Catholicism.
    Bulharin/Bulgarin family appears to be a Russian noble family of Tatar origin* which settled in Grand Duchy of Lithuania (according to Russian Wikipedia, in late 16th century)
    * It seems quite likely that their ancestor was a native of Muslim Tatar city of Bulgar on Volga river

  3. In high school we had a somewhat salty Scot who had been a tank driver in Tunisia chasing the Germans. While teaching French he came up with a story I have never heard or read since.
    When Roland was waiting in ambush at Roncesvalles he rose in his stirrups at the sight of the ‘Arabs’ or mozarabs and shouted ‘Here come the buggers!’ meaning Bulgars, since they were also Muslim at the time.
    Of course the story was a fabrication, but was it Mr Harcus’s or someone else’s? Sounds to me now like a British army joke.

  4. The ‘they’ I refer to were the Bulgarians.

  5. bugger “sodomite,” 1550s, earlier “heretic” (mid-14c.), from M.L. Bulgarus “a Bulgarian” (see Bulgaria), so called from Catholic bigoted notions of the sex lives of Eastern Orthodox Christians or of the sect of heretics that was prominent there 11c.

  6. Aha!

  7. Trond Engen says

    I have to agree wirh Watch blog.
    That Bulgar etymology is priceless. Now I’m waiting for ambassadors to be called home for consultations.

  8. Bulharyn was a really nasty character, morally abhorrent and repugnant. Here’s an interesting anecdote about him and pro-Polish poem published in his magazine: http://idelsong.livejournal.com/354693.html

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