Military officer, commissioner under Catherine II for the drafting of a new code of law, journalist, literary critic, social critic, satirist, translator at the College of Foreign Affairs, publisher, an idealist with strong moral convictions, a good organizer and businessman, Freemason but staunchly Russian Orthodox, the Metropolitan of Moscow having said that he wished all Christians were like him: Nikolai Novikov was a complete man of the Enlightenment without being Voltairean. When Novikov began his writing and publishing activity in the late 17605, satirical journals of the English type such as the Tatler and the Spectator of Addison and Steele were popular in Russia. Catherine the Great was herself the sponsor and regular contributor to one such journal called Vsiakaia Vsiachina (1769; Odds and ends); in response to this rather harmless publication, which limited its satirical attacks to the question of vice in general, Novikov launched Truten’ (1769–70; The drone), a satirical review concerned with the realities of Russian life: the lack of education, the insufficiency of mere Church learning, the brutality of serfdom. It published editorials, letters to the editor, replies to “Granny” (the Empress), and articles under names such as those by Mr. Drone, the fictitious editor standing idly aloof from the affairs of the world, an editor “not altogether qualified for the business I have undertaken.” Then there was Mr. Perochinov (pencil sharpener), Pravoliubov (the lover of truth), who used to mock Madame Miscellany for not knowing Russian well (the Empress was of German origin), Chistoserdov (pure heart), and Mr. Nedoum (perplexed):
“I do not know why the air here is so very different from that in England. There wise men go mad, while here, those without reason are thought intelligent.” After Truten’ came other satirical reviews: Pustomelia (1770; The chatterbox, or tattler), Zhivopisets (1772– 73; The painter), and Koshelek (1774; The purse). In them Novikov trained the reader to appreciate the nuances of social behavior. Ideas and opinions were never served up plain: readers were not meant to be passive, but were drawn into a new relationship by being invited to participate in the journal’s activities. However, these journals were also the beginning of social criticism in Russia and as a result were all suppressed.
Novikov also wrote serious works, establishing new traditions in Russia. In 1772. he published Opyt istoricheskogo slovaria o rossiiskikh pisateliakh (An essay at an historical dictionary of Russian writers), the first work of its kind in Russia, which did much to popularize writers of the day such as Denis Fonvizin, Fedor Aleksandrovich Emin, and V.N. Maikov. In another historical work, Drevniaia rossiiskaia biblioteka (1773–75; The ancient Russian library), Novikov tried to emphasize the greatness and civility of Russia’s past in order to reply to the Russian and foreign (especially French) detractors of the Motherland, who saw it as a backward country: “It is useful to be acquainted with the customs, mores and way of life of other peoples in other times…it is shameful to look down on one’s own fellow countrymen.” Novikov was dissatisfied with the French influence on the Russian noble class and wrote “not everything here, thank God, has yet been contaminated by France.”
In 1775 Novikov became a Freemason: “…I had no bearings nor any foundation on which I might build spiritual peace and so without prior deliberation I fell into the Freemasons.” This marked the beginning of a religious phase in his writing. His review Utrennii Svet (1777–80; Morning light) carried none of the satire of the earlier reviews, but was moral and educational: “…hold up to individuals, many of them as fickle as butterflies, the mirror of truth, and guide them along the path from the superficial and corporal aspect of man to the very essence of his inner being.”
In 1779 Novikov moved from St. Petersburg to Moscow, where he successfully ran the Moscow University Press. His office was a combination of publisher, hospital, and pharmaceutical laboratory, which treated the poor for free. In Moscow he also became more involved with the Freemasons and operated a secret Freemason press, the Tipograficheskoi Kompanii (Typographical company), eventually leading to his arrest and death sentence in 1792., which was later changed to 15 years’ imprisonment.
However, he was released in 1796 after the death of the Empress, with the order that he could not go back to writing or publishing.
Novikov was a great admirer of classical literature and did much to promote it in Russia. He also published many Western works by Shakespeare, Rousseau, Lessing, Diderot, Voltaire, Beaumarchais, Swift, Milton, Pope, and others. His later Moscow reviews, such as Moskovskoe Ezhemesiachnoe Izdanie (1781; Moscow monthly) and Vecherniaia Zaria (1782; Evening light), were a mixture of moral lessons and teaching on the immortality of the soul together with political, geographical, and historical matters.
Novikov’s writing style was simple and straightforward, and not particularly original.
The central ideas in his writings, apart from his satirical social criticism, were the harmony and beauty of creation, as well as the belief that each individual contains a spiritual light, but a light that has been obscured by evil deeds. Novikov also had a talent for popularizing ideas. He saw art as therapeutic and beneficial: “those sisters poetry and art do not hinder, but rather aid us in our internal development.” He was the first writer in Russia to be concerned with the raising of children—“when the rearing of children has reached the acme of perfection, everything else will be made easy”—and began publishing a series of books for them. He helped to spread culture, learning, and a civic consciousness to the most remote regions of Russia. Through his essays and publications, Novikov helped to instruct an entire generation of Russian nobility.
Nikolai Ivanovich Novikov. Born 8 May 1744 at TikhvinskoeAvdot’ino family estate, near Bronnitsii. Studied at the Moscow University gymnasium for the nobility, 1755–60.
Served in the Izmailovskii Regiment, 1762–67; secretary with Catherine II’s Legislative Commission for the drafting of a new code of laws, 1767–69. Editor and main contributor, Truten’, 1769–70, Pustomelia, 1770, Zhivopisets, 1772–73, and Koshelek, 1774. Joined the Freemasons, and became an adherent of Rosicrucianism, 1775.
Publisher, Sanktpeterburgskie Uchenie Vedomosti (St. Petersburg academic news), 1777, and Utrennii Svet, 1777–80; moved to Moscow, 1779, where he published several journals and newspapers, including the Moskovskie Vedomosti (Moscow morning news), 1779–89, Ekonomicheskii Magazin (The economic magazine), 1780–89, Moskovskoe Ezhemesiachnoe Izdanie, 1781, Vecherniaia Zaria, 1782, Gorodskaia i Derevenskaia Biblioteka (Town and country library), 1782–86, Pokoyashchisia Trudoliubets (The
diligent at rest), 1784–85, and Detskoe Chtenie Dlia Serdtsa i Razuma (Children’s reading for heart and mind), 1785–89; publisher, Moscow University Press, 1779–89;
founder, Tipograficheskoi Kompanii publishing house, 1784–91. Married Aleksandra legorovna Rimskaia-Korsakova (died, 1791), 1781: one son and one daughter. Arrested for supposedly publishing illegal works (a culmination of his fall from favor with Catherine II), 1792, and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment; held in prison until the death of Catherine II, 1796: after his release not allowed to resume publishing or journalism; retired to his family estate. Died (of a stroke) at Tikhvinskoe-Avdot’ino family estate, 12 August 1818.
Essays and Related Prose
Truten’, 1769–70; edited by P.A.lefremov, 1865, and A.S. Suvorin, 1902
Pustomelia, 1770; edited by A.N.Afanas’ev, 1858
Zhivopisets, 1772–73; edited by P.A.lefremov, 1864, and A.S. Suvorin, 1900
Koshelek, 1774; edited by A.N.Afanas’ev, 1858, and A.S. Suvorin, 1900
Satiricheskiie zhurnalii N.I.Novikova: Truten’ 1769–1770; Pustomelia 1770; Zhivopisets 1772–1773; Koshelek 1774, edited by P.N.Berkov, 1951
Other writings: Opyt istoricheskogo slovaria o rossiiskikh pisateliakb (1772), the serial Drevniaia rossiiskaia biblioteka (1773–75), and satirical short stories (1782).
Collected works edition: Izbrannie sochineniia, edited by I.V. Malishev and
Stepanov, V.P., and Iu.V.Stennik, in Istoriia russkoi literaturi XVIII veka:
Bibliograficheskii ukazatel’, Leningrad, 1968: items 5686–6168
Jones, W.Gareth, “Novikov’s Naturalized Spectator,” in The Eighteenth Century in Russia, edited by G.Garrard, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973:149–65
Jones, W.Gareth, Nikolay Novikov: Enlightener of Russia, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984
Leonard, Gerald Irwin, Novikov, Shcherbatov, Radishchev: The Intellectual in the Age of Catherine the Great (dissertation), Binghamton: State University of New York, 1980
McArthur, Gilbert H., The Novikov Circle in Moscow, 1779–1792 (dissertation), New York: University of Rochester, 1968
McArthur, Gilbert H., “Freemasonry and Enlightenment in Russia: The Views of N.I.Novikov,” Canadian-American Slavic Studies 14, no. 3 (1980):361–76
Monnier, André, Un publiciste frondeur sous Catherine II: Nicolas Novikov, Paris: Institut d’Études Slaves, 1981
Okenfuss, Max J., “The Novikov Problem: An English Perspective,” in Great Britain and Russia in the Eighteenth Century: Contacts and Comparisons, edited by A.G.Cross,
Newtonville, Massachusetts: Oriental Research Partners, 1979
Webster, William Mark, Novikov, Freemasonry and the Russian Enlightment (Master’s dissertation), Montreal: McGill University, 1987
Weinbaum, Alexandra, N.I.Novikov (1774–1818): An Interpretation of His Career and Ideas (dissertation), New York: Columbia University, 1975
Zenkovsky, V.V., A History of Russian Philosophy, vol. 1, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1953
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