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Alexander Radishchev

Alexander Radishchev

Russian prose writer, poet, philosopher, de facto head of the St. Petersburg customs, member of the Commission for drafting laws under Alexander I.


Radishchev spent his childhood on his father's estate in the village of Nemtsovo, Borovsk uyezd, Kaluga province. Radishchev's initial education seems to have been directly attended by his father, a devout man, who had a good command of Latin, Polish, French, and German. As was the custom at the time, the child was taught Russian literacy by the Book of Hours and the Psalter. By his six years, a French teacher was assigned to him, but the choice turned out to be unfortunate: the teacher, as he was later learned, was a runaway soldier. Soon after opening of the Moscow university, approximately in 1756 Alexander's father took him to Moscow, to the house of his maternal uncle (whose brother A.M. Argamakov was a director of the university in 1755-1757). Here Radishchev was entrusted to the care of a very good French governess, a former adviser to the Rouen parliament who had fled from the persecution of Louis XV's government. The Argamakovs' children had an opportunity to study at home with professors and lecturers of the university gymnasium, so one cannot exclude that Alexander Radischev was trained here under their guidance and passed, at least partially, the program of the gymnasium course.

In 1762, after the coronation of Catherine II, Radishchev was granted a knighthood and sent to St. Petersburg to study in the Corps of Pages. The Corps of Pages trained not scholars, but courtiers, and pageboys were obliged to serve the empress at balls and in the theater.

Four years later, among the twelve young nobles, he was sent to Germany, to the University of Leipzig to study law. During the time he spent there, Radishchev immensely broadened his horizons. In addition to a thorough academic school, he perceived the ideas of the leading French Enlighteners, whose works to a great extent prepared the ground for the bursting twenty years later of the bourgeois revolution.

Of Radishchev's comrades, Fyodor Vasilievich Ushakov is especially remarkable for the great influence he had on Radishchev, who wrote his "Life" and printed some of Ushakov's works. Ushakov was a more experienced and mature man than his other companions, who immediately recognized his authority. He was an example to other students, guided their reading, instilled in them strong moral convictions. Ushakov's health had been upset even before his trip abroad, and in Leipzig he still spoiled it, partly by poor nutrition, partly by excessive study, and became ill. When the doctor announced to him that "tomorrow he would have no more life," he met his death sentence firmly. He bade farewell to his friends, then, calling Radishchev alone, put all his papers at his disposal and told him, "remember that it is necessary to have rules in life, so as to be blessed." Alexander Nikolayevich Radishchev's last words "marked an indelible line in his memory".

Service in St. Petersburg

In 1771 Radishchev returned to St. Petersburg and soon entered the service as a protocol officer with the rank of Titular Counselor. He did not serve long in the Senate: the comradeship of clerks and rude treatment of superiors weighed him down. Radishchev joined the staff commanding in St. Petersburg General-in-Chief Bruce as chief auditor, and stood out for his conscientious and courageous attitude to their responsibilities. In 1775 he retired and married the sister of his friend in Leipzig, Anna Vasilievna Rubanovskaya, and two years later he entered the service of the Commerce Board, which was in charge of trade and industry. There he became very close friends with Count Vorontsov, who later helped Radishchev in every way during his exile to Siberia.

From 1780 he worked at the St. Petersburg customs, having risen to the position of chief by 1790. From 1775 to June 30, 1790 he lived in St. Petersburg at Gryaznaya Street, 14 (now Marata Street).

Literary and publishing activities

The foundations of Radishchev's worldview were laid in the earliest period of his activity. Returning to St. Petersburg in 1771, a couple of months later he sent to the editors of the journal "Painter" an excerpt from his future book "Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow", where it was published anonymously. Two years later Radishchev's translation of Mabli's Reflections on Greek History was published. Other works by the writer, such as "Officer's Exercises" and "Diary of One Week", also belong to this period.

In the 1780s Radishchev worked on his "Journey" and wrote other works in prose and verse. To this time belongs a huge social upsurge across Europe. The victory of the American Revolution and the French Revolution that followed it created a favorable climate for the promotion of ideas of freedom, which Radischev took advantage of. In 1781-1783 he wrote the ode "Liberty", a response to the victory of the American Revolution, then partially included in his "Journey from Petersburg to Moscow". In 1789 he joined the Society of Friends of the Word Sciences, and was a major influence on it. In the same year he published an article "Conversation on what is a son of the Fatherland" (in the journal "The Conversational Citizen") and a pamphlet "The Life of Fyodor Vasilievich Ushakov" (anonymous), dedicated to a friend of his youth[7].

In 1789 he established a printing house, and in May 1790 printed his main work, "Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow".

Arrest and Exile 1790-1796.

The book began to sell out quickly. His bold arguments about serfdom and other sad phenomena of public and state life at that time drew the attention of the empress herself, to whom someone delivered the Journey and who called Radishchev "a rebel, worse than Pugachev. A copy of the book, which reached Catherine's desk, was preserved and she peppered it with her cynical remarks. Where the tragic scene of the sale of serfs at auction is described, the Empress deigned to write: "A sad tale of a family sold under the hammer for the debts of the lord begins."[9][10] [9] In another place of Radischev's work, where he tells about a landowner killed during the Pugachev revolt by his peasants for the fact that "every night his messengers brought to him a sacrifice of dishonor that which he had appointed that day, it was known in the village that he had put to death 60 maidens, depriving them of their chastity", the Empress herself wrote - "hardly a histories of Alexander Vasilievich Saltykov"[11].

Radishchev was arrested; his case was reassigned to S. I. Sheshkovsky. Put in a fortress, during interrogations Radischev led a line of defense. He did not mention any name of his assistants, he saved his children, and also tried to save his own life. The Criminal Chamber applied to Radishchev the articles of the Code on "attempt on the sovereign's health", on "conspiracy and treason" and sentenced him to death. The sentence, passed to the Senate and then to the Council, was approved in both instances and submitted to Catherine.

On September 4, 1790 the decree was signed,[12] which found Radischev guilty of breaking his oath and the post of a citizen, by publishing the book "full of the most false opinions, destroying the peace of the society, belittling the respect due to the government, tending to make the people resentful against the heads and commanders, and finally with offensive and violent expressions against the dignity and power of the tsar"; Radishchev's guilt is such that he fully deserves the death penalty, to which he was sentenced by the court, but "for mercy and universal joy" his execution was replaced by a ten-year exile to Siberia, to Ilimsky burg (Irkutsk province). But after Catherine's death the writer was pardoned. Radishchev stayed in the places of confinement for 6 years. On the order to exile Radischev the empress in her own hand wrote: "goes to mourn the pitiable fate of the peasant state, although it is undeniable that our peasants have no better fate good landlord in the entire universe."[11]

The treatise "On Man, His Mortality and Immortality" created by Radischev in exile contains numerous paraphrases of Herder's works "On the Origin of Language" and "On Perception and Feeling of the Human Soul"[13].

The Emperor Paul I soon after his accession (1796) returned Radishchev from Siberia. Radishchev was ordered to live on his estate in Kaluga province, the village of Nemtsov.

The last years

Monument to A. N. Radishchev on the Literators' Pavements in St. Petersburg

After the accession of Alexander I, Radishchev was given absolute freedom; he was summoned to St. Petersburg and appointed a member of the Commission for drafting laws. Together with his friend and patron Vorontsov he worked on a constitutional project entitled "Gracious Letters Patent".

There is a legend about the circumstances of Radishchev's suicide: called to the commission to draw up laws, Radishchev drafted a liberal code, in which he spoke of the equality of all before the law, freedom of the press, etc. Chairman of the commission Count P. V. Zavadovsky gave him a stern indictment for his way of thinking, harshly reminding him of his former hobbies and even mentioning Siberia ("Eh, Alexander Nikolaevich, do you still feel like idle talk, or is Siberia not enough for you?"). Radishchev, a man in poor health, was so shaken by Zavadovsky's reprimand and threats, that he decided to commit suicide: he drank poison and died in terrible agony. The inconclusiveness of this version is obvious: Radischev was buried in the cemetery near the church according to the Orthodox rite with a priest, suicides at the time were buried in special places outside the fence of the cemetery.

The book "Radischev" by D. S. Babkin, published in 1966, offers a different version of Radischev's death. His sons, who were present at his death, testified of a heavy physical ailment, which stroke Alexander Nikolaevich already during the Siberian exile. The immediate cause of his death, according to Babkin, was an accident: Radishchev accidentally drank a glass with imperial vodka, "prepared in it for burning his eldest son's old officer's epaulettes. The burial documents state a natural death. In the register of the church Volkovsky cemetery in St. Petersburg under 13 September 1802 among the buried indicated "collegiate counselor Alexander Radishchev, fifty-three years old, died of consumption" at the removal was a priest Vasily Nalimov.

Radishchev's grave has not yet been preserved. It is assumed that his body was buried near the Church of the Resurrection, on the wall which in 1987 was installed a memorial plaque[15].


August 31, 1749
Alexander Radishchev was born in Moscow.


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