Aleksandr Herzen was to the modern Russian essay what Aleksandr Pushkin was to verbal art: he created standards of language and genre that later essayists could not ignore and would use as points of departure. Claimed as their direct forebear by radical leftists and Westernizers, Herzen also exerted a considerable influence upon intellectuals of all stripes. Beginning in the mid-1830s, Herzen wrote a large number of articles, editorials, reviews, and open letters. His most famous essays were written in cycles. His first major works, the cycles Diletantizm v nauke (1842–43; Dilettantism in science) and Pis’ma ob izuchenii prirody (1845–46; Letters on the study of nature), were published in Russia in the journal Otechestvennye Zapiski (Fatherland notes). Herzen took his family into exile in Europe in January 1847, deciding to remain abroad as long as Russia was oppressed with censorship and serfdom. Real social change, he argued, was happening in France, far away from the stagnant regime of Tsar Nicholas I. In his first two years in Europe during and after the turmoil of 1848, Herzen wrote perhaps his greatest single essayistic cycle, S togo berega (first pub. in German, 1850, in Russian, 1855; From the Other Shore).
Disillusioned with the results of the revolution, Herzen turned his essayistic efforts to acquainting European intellectuals with the political and social conditions of Russian life.
His writing no longer took the form of essay cycles, but rather of separate articles. The essay Le Peuple russe et le socialisme (1851; The Russian People and Socialism), an open letter to the French historian Jules Michelet, is among the best examples of this writing. Most importantly, Herzen saw his chief purpose in acting as a free, uncensored voice speaking to educated Russians about taboo political and social issues. In 1853 Herzen opened his Free Russian Press in London. Separate numbers of his almanac, Poliarnaia Zvezda (1855–69; The polar star), and his newspaper, Kolokol (1857–67; The bell), were smuggled across the border, where they were read avidly and in tight secrecy, so that by 1862, when the ban on Herzen’s name was officially lifted, thousands of readers were at least acquainted with his ideas.
Herzen’s “moral education” was strongly founded on a youthful love for the German Sturm und Drang movement and its most prominent writers, Schiller and Goethe, and a later affinity for German idealist philosophy, particularly that of F. W.J.von Schelling. In Schiller’s writings he found a high valuation of friendship that went beyond the individuals involved to a devotion to the betterment of society, nation, indeed, all humanity. From both Schiller and Schelling he adopted a belief in the power of the conscious, knowing self to form the surrounding environment. In these early responses to literature and philosophy can be found that generosity of spirit that would distinguish his greatest essays. The concept of socialism first became known to Herzen in 1834 when he read the French utopian socialist, Henri Saint-Simon. It was in Hegel that, in the 1840s, Herzen found what he called “the algebra of revolution.” Although he developed political beliefs considerably more radical than those of most of his generation, he always held onto a faith in the private and public responsibility of the individual self and was always skeptical of social utopias, philosophical systems, and political theories abstracted from life experience.
Herzen’s essay style combines breadth of spirit and passion with a sharp satirical wit normally associated with Gogol’. The goal of his essays was, as he put it, “to convince by making a strong impression.” Thus, the force of his argument rested frequently on a few striking points rather than on pedantic adumbration of facts. In Herzen’s time most major philosophical essays were written in French or German. If they were written in Russian, they tended to be so narrowly scholastic as to be unreadable by all but a narrow clique of academics. Herzen had the following to say about the generation of students of the late 1830s who were devoted to the study of German philosophy: “Our young philosophers ruined not only their native language but their understanding. Their attitude toward reality became scholastic and literary… Everything really direct, every simple feeling was reduced to an abstract category, and as a result became emptied of life—a pale, algebraic shadow.” The great contribution of Herzen’s early career was to make philosophical inquiry accessible to educated Russian readers and to use it to build a new practice of public discourse in the Russian language. His greatest works, From the Other Shore and his autobiography, Byloe i dumy (wr. 1852–68, pub. 1855–69; My Past and Thoughts), are both brilliant performances of this new discourse.
The discussion of philosophy in Russian is directly linked in all Herzen’s writings to the creation of a new kind of public self. Herzen grew up in the 1820s when the chief model of social selfhood was the honnête homme, a kind of social chameleon who could adapt harmoniously to any circle in high society. Modeled in part on Goethe, Herzen’s public self was broadly educated and conversant in a variety of contemporary scientific, literary, and, by inference, social-political developments. Aesthetically and scientifically educated people, Herzen suggested, are in a position to be socially responsible, not just to adapt to but to exert an influence upon their social environment. In his first major cycle, Diletantizm v nauke, Herzen made the point as clearly as the oppressive times allowed: “ …from the temple of science [read also: philosophy] humanity will issue forth with proud uplifted brow inspired by consciousness toward the creation of the kingdom of heaven.” Herzen’s interest in philosophy and science was always directed away from the thin air of pure theory and toward engagement with “reality,” experience, and action.
The targets of Herzen’s early invective (for example, in “Moskvitianin’o kopernike” [1843; “The Muscovite” on Copernicus]) were conservative circles in educated Russian society based around such journals as Moskvitianin (The Muscovite) and their sycophantic concept of “nationalism” which aped that proclaimed by the court.
He also made fun of their incompetence in matters of science and thought. In Diletantizm v nauke he wittily undermined a prevalent attitude of political quietism and argued for an outlet for scientific knowledge in the real world. Pis’ma ob izuchenii prirody argued against scholastic scientific inquiry and created a positive image of the well-rounded thinker, naturalist, and artist. From the Other Shore was addressed to issues of broad European interest. Here Herzen stood against the abstract ideals and systems of the radical elite—this time, Hegelian historical teleology. He argued instead that human history is really an outgrowth of natural chaos. Disillusioned with the French revolutionary experience, in his post-1848 writings Herzen found a new model for the realization of socialism, the Russian peasant and the peasant mir or commune. This new populism was expressed in the open letter to Michelet.
The motto of Kolokol was a quotation from Schiller: “I call to the living.” Herzen announced the strongly political program of exposing every injustice and corrupt act to the light of the media: “The Bell [Kolokol] will resound with whatever touches it—the absurd decree, or the senseless persecution of Old Beiievers, grandees’ thievery or the ignorance of the Senate. The comic and the criminal, the malicious and the crude—all will play to the sound of The Bell.” Here for the first time in Russian history was a consistent, long-term assault on the internal politics of the tsarist regime. It is not by chance that Herzen became known as a “second government.”
Herzen acted as a bridge between the 1840s generation of idealistically minded “superfluous men,” and the radical utilitarians—Nikolai Chernyshevskii and others—of the 1860s; his achievements were strongly admired by Russia’s Marxists. Nonetheless, it is essential to remember his considerable impact on writers and thinkers of other orientations, for example, Dostoevskii, whose dramatic, philosophical dialogues owe much to the thinker, Tolstoi and Pasternak, whose views of history were strongly influenced by Herzen, and the Marxistturned-Idealist philosopher, Semion Frank.
Aleksandr Ivanovich Herzen. Born 25 March 1812 in Moscow. Studied physics and mathematics at Moscow University, 1829–33, degree, 1833. Joined a group of students to debate progressive ideas: arrested with other members and charged with “dangerous freethinking,” 1834: exiled as a government clerk in Perm’, 1835, Viatka, 1835–37, and Vladimir, 1837–39. Married Natal’ia Zakhar’ina (died, 1852), 1838: eight children (only one son and two daughters survived infancy). Clerk, Ministry of Internal Affairs,
Moscow, 1839, and St. Petersburg, 1840. Exiled again to Novgorod on the grounds of spreading baseless rumors, 1841, but permitted to return to live in Moscow, 1842. Wrote a series of essays on philosophy and the natural sciences using the name Iskander, 1842– 47. Moved to Europe, 1847, living in Paris, 1847–49, then Switzerland and Nice, 1849– 52. His mother and son killed in shipwreck, 1851, and his wife died after an affair with the German poet Georg Herwegh, 1852. Lived in London, 1852–64, where he was joined by Nikolai Ogar’ev, with whose wife he had an affair; coeditor, with Ogar’ev, of émigré publications throughout the 1850s and 1860s; founder, Free Russian Press, 1853, Poliarnaia Zvezda, 1855–69, and Kolokol, 1857–67. Lived mainly in Switzerland, 1865– 69. Died in Paris, 11 January 1870.
Essays and Related Prose
Diletantizm v nauke, 1842–43
Pis’ma ob izuchenii prirody, 1845–46
Vom anderen Ufer, 1850; as S togo berega, 1855; as From the Other Shore, translated by Moura Budberg, 1956
Le Peuple russe et le socialisme: Lettre à Monsieur J.Michelet, 1855; as Russkii narod I sotsializm, 1858; as The Russian People and Their Socialism: A Letter to M.J.Michelet,
translated by V. Linton, 1855; as The Russian People and Socialism: An Open Letter to Jules Michelet, translated by Richard Wollheim, 1956
Byloe i dumy, in Poliarnaia zvezda, 1855–69; as My Exile in Siberia, translated by M.Meizenburg, 2 vols., 1855; as The Memoirs of Alexander Herzen, translated by J.D.Duff, 1923; as My Past and Thoughts, translated by Constance Garnett, 6 vols.,
1924–27, and abridged in 1 vol., 1968, revised by Humphrey Higgins, 1982; part as Ends and Beginnings, edited by Alice Kelly, 1985; part as Childhood, Youth and Exile, translated by J. D.Duff, 1979
“Kontsy i nachala” (Ends and beginnings), in Kolokol (The bell), 1862–63; also in Esche raz: Sbornik statei Iskandera (Once again), 1866
Pis’ma k staromu tovarischchu: Sbornik posmertnykh statei Aleksandra Ivanovicha Gertsena (Letters to the old comrade), 1867–69
Eshche raz Bazarov (Bazarov once more), 1869
Sbornik posmertnykh statei (Posthumous essays), 1870
“Kolokol”: Izbrannye stat’i A.I.Gertsena, 1857–1869 (The bell: selected articles 1857– 1869), 1887
Izbrannye filosofskie proizvedeniia (Selected philosophical prose works), 1946
Selected Philosophical Works, translated by Leo Navrozov, 1956
Za piat’ let (1855–1860) (In the course of five years), 1960
A.I.Gertsen o literature (Herzen on literature), 1962
Estetika, kritika, problemy kul’tury (Aesthetics, criticism, cultural problems), 1987
Pis’ma iz Frantsii i Italii, as Letters from France and Italy, 1847–1851, edited and translated by Judith E.Zimmerman, 1995
Other writings: several novels (including Kto vinovat? [Who Is to Blame], 1845–46)
and short stories.
Complete works edition: Sobranie sochinenii, 30 vols., 1954–66.
A.I.Herzen: Materialy k bibliografii, Leningrad, 2 vols., 1970
Gillel’son, M.I., E.N.Dryzhakova, and M.K.Perkal’, A.I. Herzen seminarii, Moscow, 1965
Acton, Edward, Alexander Herzen and the Role of the Intellectual Revolutionary, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979
Babaev, E.G., “A.I.Gertsen i ‘metafizicheskii iazyk’,” Russkaia Rech’ 2 (1987):30–35
Berlin, Isaiah, “Herzen and Bakunin on Individual Liberty,” in his Russian Thinkers, edited by Henry Hardy, London: Hogarth Press, and New York: Viking Press, 1978:82–113
Berlin, Isaiah, “A Remarkable Decade: IV. Alexander Herzen,” in his Russian Thinkers, edited by Henry Hardy, London: Hogarth Press, and New York: Viking Press, 1978:186–209
Carr, Edward Hallett, The Romantic Exiles: A Nineteenth-Century Portrait Gallery, Boston: Beacon Press, 1961; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968 (original edition, 1933)
Dryzhakova, E.N., “Dostoevskii i Gertsen: U istokov romana ‘Besy’,” in Dostoevskii: Stat’i i materialy, vol. 1, Leningrad: Nauka, 1974:219–38
Elizavetina, G.G., “A. I.Gertsen i spory slavianofilov s zapadnikami,” Izvestiia Akademii Nauk (Seriia literatury i iazyka) 33 (1974):75–79
Elsberg, Iakov E., Gertsen: zhizhn’ i tvorchestvo, Moscow: Goslitizdat, 1956 (original edition, 1948)
Gromova, L.P. “A.I.Gertsen o russkoi zhurnalistike 1940-kh godov,” Vestnik
leningradskogo universiteta: Filologiia 1 (January 1988):33–40
Iaroslavtsev, Ia. A., “A.I.Gertsen v legal’noi pechati perioda pervoi revoliutsionnoi situatsii,” Russkaia Literatura 2 (1989):200–07
Kelly, Aileen, “Irony and Utopia in Herzen and Dostoevsky: From the Other Shore and Diary of a Writer,” Russian Review 50, no. 4 (1991):397–416
Koslovskii, L.S., Gertsen—publitsist, St. Petersburg: Energiia, 1914
Lanskii, L.P., “‘Prototip’ gertsenovskogo stilia,” Russkaia Rech’ 3 (1978):33–35
Letopis’ zhizni i tvorchestva A.I.Gertsena: 1812–1870, edited by B.F.Egorov and others, Moscow, 1974
Lishchiner, S.D., “Gertsen i russkaia ‘intellektual’naia proza’,” Voprosy Literatury 20, no. 4 (1976):172–95
Malia, Martin, Alexander Herzen and the Birth of Russian Socialism, 1812–1855,
Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, and London: Oxford University Press, 1961
Partridge, Monica, “Alexander Herzen and the English Philosophers, Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes,” Zeitschrift für Slawistik 35, no. 1 (1990):35–47
Perlina, Nina, “Vozdeistvie gertsenovskogo zhurnalizma na arkhitektoniku i
polifonicheskoe stroenie ‘Dnevnika pisatelia’ Dostoevskogo,” Dostoevsky Studies 5 (1984):141–55
Polianina, T.V. “Poetika zaglavii v publitsistike A.I.Gertsena: Kolokol,” Voprosy Russkoi Literatury 1 (1981):73–80
Putinsev, V.A., Gertsen; pisatel’, Moscow: Iszdatel’stvo Akademii Nauk, 1963
Shostak, M.I., “Vpechatliaia—ubezhdat’ Zametki o stile Gertsenapublitsista,” Russkaia
Rech’ 5 (1975):43–49
Skliarevskii, G.I., “A.I.Gertsen o russkom literaturnom iazyke,” Russkaia Rech’ 1 (1970):17–20
Sukhomlin, E.G., “Zhanrovoe svoeobrazie pamfletov A.I. Gertsena,” Voprosy Russkoi
Literatury 2 (1973):68–73
Sukhomlin, E.G., “U istokov russkogo fel’etona: O fel’etonakh A.I. Gertsen 1840-kh godov,” Voprosy Russkoi Literatury 1 (1975): 57–63
Vomperskii, V.P., “K 125-letiiu so dnia vykhoda Kolokola: ‘Zovu zhivykh’,” Russkaia Rech’ 4 (1982):3–8
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