The Religious Language of Russian Poets in 1812

in Russian History
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Russian poets during the reign of Alexander I widely employed images and stories from Old Testament Scriptures to describe the ongoing wars with Napoleon, especially regarding the invasion of 1812. Their ideas are collected in a body of patriotic literature, which has received little attention for its literary merits but provides insight into the contemporary climate of opinion and the ways in which Russians responded to the French Revolution and Napoleon. Across Europe, other writers and intellectuals exhibited millenarian tendencies, seeking a renewed world with the old order swept away. While Russian writers exhibited similar concerns with finding a way to regenerate the decadent European world, they did so by appealing to their own experience as expiation for Europe’s sins. This study argues that the Napoleonic Wars catalyzed the development of Romantic Nationalism and the development of a messianic national myth, which arose primarily in Moscow after its destruction in 1812.



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Andrzej Walicki, Philosophy and Romantic Nationalism: The Case of Poland (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994), 240–41.


Peter Duncan, Russian Messianism: Third Rome, Holy Revolution, Communism, and After (London: Routledge, 2000), 3.


 See also David Rowley, “Redeemer Empire: Russian Millenarianism,” American Historical Review 104, no. 5 (Dec. 1999): 1582–1602, esp. 1591–92.


A.N. Pypin, Obshchestvennoe dvizhenie pri Aleksandre I (Petrograd: Ogn’, 1916), 295ff.; A.K. Dzhivelegov et al., eds., Otechestvennaia voina 1812 goda i russkoe obshchestvo, 7 vols. (Moscow: Sytin, 1911–12).


V.V. Poznanskii, Ocherk formirovaniia russkoi natsional’noi kul’tury: Pervaia polovina XIX veka (Moscow: Mysl’, 1975), 7; Poety-Radishchevtsy, ed. A. Orlov (Leningrad: Sovetskii pisatel’, 1979); N.M. Mikhailovskaia, “Zhurnal ‘Syn Otechestva’ perioda Otechestvennoi voiny i stanovleniia dekabrizma (1812–1818),” Uchennye zapiski Udmurtskogo pedagogicheskogo instituta, 13, no. 9 (1956): 57–83; Marc Raeff, “Filling the Gap between Radishchev and the Decembrists,” Slavic Review 26, no. 3 (Sept. 1967): 395–413.


Boris Gasparov, Poeticheskii iazyk Pushkina kak fakt istorii russkogo literaturnogo iazyka (Vienna: Gesellschaft zur Förderung slawistischer Studien, 1992), 83–117.


Darrin McMahon, Enemies of the Enlightenment: The French Counter-Enlightenment and the Making of Modernity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), chs. 2–3.


Riasanovsky, Emergence of Romanticism, 91.


Mark Al’tshuller, Predtechi slavianofil’stva v russkoi literature: Obshchestvo “Beseda liubitelei russkogo slova” (Ardis: Ann Arbor, 1984), 373.


N.M., Obshchestvo liubitelei rossiiskoi slovesnosti pri Moskovskom universitete: Istoricheskaia zapiska i materialy za sto let (Moscow: Snegireva, 1911), 9–18.


Erich Auerbach, Scenes from the Drama of European Literature (New York: Meridian, 1959), 59. For the given example, see Augustine, City of God, bk. XV, ch. 26.


Daniel Rowland, “Moscow – the Third Rome or the New Israel?” Russian Review 55 (Oct 1996): 591–614; David Goldfrank, ed. and trans., Nil Sorsky: The Authentic Writings (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Studies, no. 221, 2008), 8.


William Brown, A History of Russian Literature of the Romantic Period (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1986), 1: 52–53.


Zorin, Kormia dvuglavogo orla, 175.


V.V. Kapinst, “Videnie plachushchego nad Moskvoio Rossianina,” Sobranie sochinenii v dvukh tomakh, ed. D.S. Babkin, 2 vols. (Moscow: AN SSSR, 1960), 2: 194.


Gavriil Derzhavin, “Gimn liro-epicheskii,” in Sobranie 1812, 1: 23.


Matvei Avramov, “Moskva, oplakivaiiushchaia bedstviia svoi, nanesennyia ei v 1812 godu rukoiu zhestokago i zlochestivago vraga, i vmeste uteshaiushchaia strazhdushchikh synov svoiikh,” in Sobranie 1812, 2: 78.


Avramov, “Moskva,” 95.


Mikhail Dmitriev, Glavy iz vospominanii moei zhizni (Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 1998), 448.


Nikolai Shatrov, “Moskva v 1812 godu,” in Sobranie 1812, 1: 379ff.


Nikolai Shatrov, “Molitva izrail’skago naroda vo vremia nashestviia Sennakhirimova voinstva na Ierusalim,” in Sobranie 1812, 1: 59–62.


Nikolai Shatrov, “Pesn’ pobednaia izrailskago naroda na porazhenie sennakherimova voinstva,” Stikhotvoreniia, 3 vols. (Moscow: n.p., 1831) 2: 99–114.


Nikolai Shatrov, “Pozhar Moskvy v 1812 godu,” Stikhotvoreniia, 2: 87.


S.T. Aksakov, Raznyia sochineniia (Moscow: Stepanova, 1858), 11–19.


Nikolev, “Gimn pesnopevtsa,” in Sobranie 1812, 2: 106.


James Class, “Russian Messianism during the Napoleonic Wars” (PhD diss., Georgetown, 2004), chapters 5 and 7; James Class, “A Romantic Visionary Among the Orthodox: Archbishop Avgustin and Russian Messianism in the Napoleonic Wars,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 55, no. 4 (2011): 381–404.


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