Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow
Alexander Radishchev (1749-1802) came from a moderately wealthy noble family with landholdings in Saratov Province. He was educated in the Corps of Pages in St. Petersburg and went on to study law and philosophy at the University of Leipzig in Germany. On his return to Russia in 1771, Radishchev pursued a intermittent career in state service rising eventually to the post of Chief of the St. Petersburg Customs House. In 1790, Radishchev published Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow, a passionate tirade against the evils of serfdom and the corruption of Russian life. Radishchev's journey marks the first open condemnation of serfdom in Russian public life, and his overwrought emotional portrayals, drawing heavily on the style and motifs of pre-romantic sentimentalism, quickly drew the attention of Russian readers and the wrath of Catherine the Great. Alarmed by the radicalism of the French Revolution, Catherine saw in Radishchev's audacity a threat to the state and pronounced him "a rebel worse than Pugachev." Radishchev was arrested, tried and condemned to death, a sentence which Catherine commuted to 10 years exile in Siberia. Under Paul I, Radishchev was released from exile and his full rights as a nobleman were restored in 1801. He committed suicide in 1802.
Selections here =
Mednoe (an emotional account of a serf auction)
Torzhok (on censorship)
SAC editor has introduced boldface and certain hypertext links
to fit the text to our course
SOURCE of the introduction above and "Mednoe", which follows = Seton Hall website "Documents in Russian History"
Twice every week all of the Russian Empire is informed that N. N. or B. B. is unable or unwilling to pay what he has borrowed, taken or what is demanded from him. The borrowed money has been gambled away, traveled away, spent away, eaten away, drunk away, given away or has perished in fire and water. Or N. N. or B. B. has in some other way gone into debt or incurred an obligation. Any case will do for the announcement which reads: At ten o clock this morning, on order of the county court or city magistrate, the real estate of retired captain T... consisting of house no. X, in such and such a district and six male and female souls, will be sold at auction. The sale will take place at said house. Interested parties may view the property in advance.
Everyone is interested in a bargain. The day and hour of the sale has arrived. Buyers are assembling from all around. In the hall where the sale is to take place, the condemned are standing motionless. An old man of 75 years, leaning on a elmwood cane, is anxious to find out into whose hands his fate will pass, who will close his eyes. He served with the Master’s father in the Crimean campaign under Field Marshal Munnich [ID]. At the battle of Frankfurt he carried his wounded master off the field of battle on his shoulders. Returning home, he became the tutor for his young master. In [the master's] childhood, he had saved the boy from drowning, jumping into the river into which he had fallen while crossing on a ferry, and putting his life at risk, pulled him out. In [the master's] youth he had bailed him out of prison where he had been confined for his debts incurred while serving as a junior officer. An old women, 80 years of age, the old man’s wife, was the wet nurse for the mother of the young master: she was the young man’s nanny and had been the housekeeper up until the very moment when she was brought out for this auction. In all the years of her service she never wasted anything of the master’s, never thought of her own profit in any way, never lied, and if she ever gave occasion for annoyance it was only on account of her simple hearted scruples. A woman 40 years of age, a widow, was the wet nurse for the young master. And even now she still feels a certain tenderness toward him. Her blood flows in his veins. She is his second mother: he owes his life to her even more than to his natural mother. The latter had conceived him in a light-hearted moment, and had taken no part in his infancy. His nurses brought him up. They part with him as if with a son. A young woman, 18 year of age, her daughter and the granddaughter of the old couple. Wild beast, monster, reprobate! Look at her, look at her crimson cheeks, at the tears pouring from her enchanting eyes. Was it not you who, failing to entrap her innocence through flattery and enticement or to shake her steadfastness with threat, finally resorted to deceit. Having married her to your companion in treachery, your took his place and partook of the pleasure, which she had disdained to share with you. She found out about your deceit. Her bridegroom touched no more her bed, and you, deprived of the object of your desire, turned to force. Four scoundrels, executors of your will, holding her arms and legs--- No! Let us go no further. On her brow is sorrow, in her eyes despair. She is holding the infant, the sorrowful fruit of your deceit or violence, and the living image of his lascivious father. Having given birth to him, she began to forget his father’s savagery, and her heart began to feel tenderness toward the baby. She is afraid that he will fall into the hands of another like his father. The infant... your son, barbarian, your blood. Or do you think that there is not obligation when there is no church ceremony? Do you think that the blessing given at your order to the hired preacher of the word of God has confirmed their union? Do you think that forced marriage in God’s church can be called matrimony? The Almighty despises force, and delights in the wishes of the heart; they alone are uncorrupted. O, how many acts of fornication and seduction are committed in the name of the father of joys and the comforter of sorrows in the presence of his witnesses, unworthy of their office! A youth of twenty five, her wedded husband, companion and confidant of his master, who has now repented of his services. In his pocket is a knife. He grasps it tightly; it is not hard to guess his thoughts. Fruitless zeal! You will go to another. The hand of your master, hanging constantly above the head of the slave will bend your neck to any service. Hunger, chill, torment and heat – all of this will stand against you. Your mind is alien to noble thoughts. You do not know how to die. You will bend and will become a slave in spirit as well as law. And if you take it in to your mind to resist, you will die an agonizing death in chains. There is no justice over you both. If your tormentor does not wish to punish you himself he will become your accuser. He will turn you over to the city justice. Justice! Where the accused has almost no power to defend himself! Let us pass over the other unfortunates brought out for sale.
Barely had the dreaded hammer let out its hollow thud when the four unfortunates learned their fate – tears, sobs and moans pierced the ears of the entire assembly. Even the hardest were moved. Petrified hearts! Almost fruitless sympathy? O Quakers! [ID] If we had your hearts we would have made a collection, bought these unfortunates and given them their freedom. Having lived many years in each other’s embrace, these unfortunates because of this abominable auction will feel the anguish of parting. But if the law or, better to say, barbarian custom, for this is not written in the law, allows such contempt for humanity, who has the right to sell this infant? He is illegitimate: the law liberates him. Stop, I will denounce this; I will save him. But if only the others could be saved along with him. O fortune! Why have you doled out to me such a miserly share. It is only now that I begin to feel the passion for wealth. My heart is so troubled that I jump up from amid the assembly and giving the last pennies from my wallet to the unfortunates, I run out. On the stairway, I met a friend, a foreigner [Englishman].
"What has happened to you? You are weeping!."
"Go back" I said to him, "do not be a witness to this shameful spectacle. O, once you cursed the barbaric custom of selling of black slaves in far off colonies of your fatherland; go back," I repeated, "do not be a witness to our darkness lest you must reveal our shame to your countrymen in talking to them of our customs." "I can not believe it," my friend said to me. "It is impossible that in a place where all are allowed to think and believe as they wish, such a shameful custom exists." "Do not be astonished." I said to him, "the establishment of freedom of belief offends only priests and monks, and even they are more interested in acquiring sheep for themselves rather than for Christ’s flock, but freedom for rural inhabitants would offend, as they say, the right of property. And all those who might be fighters for freedom are all great landowners, and freedom is not to be expected from their council but from the heavy weight of enslavement itself.
Source: A.N. Radishchev, Puteshestvie iz Peterburga v Moskvu, Volnost'. (St. Petersburg: Nauka, 1992) pp. 92-94.
Translated by Nathaniel Knight
For an English translation of the full text see Aleksandr Nikolaevich Radishchev, A Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard UP, 1958).
At the post station here I met a man who was on his way to Petersburg to present a petition. It consisted of a request for permission to set up a free printing press in this town. I told him that no such permission was necessary, since this freedom had been granted to all. But what he really wanted was freedom from censorship, and here are his reflections on the subject.
Everyone in our country is now permitted to own and operate a printing press, and the time has passed when they were afraid to grant this permission to private individuals.... Now anybody may have the tools of printing. However that which may be printed is still under watch and ward. Censorship has become the nursemaid of reason, wit, imagination, of everything great and enlightened. But where there are nurses, there are babies and apron strings.... Where there are guardians, there are minors and immature minds unable to take care of themselves. If there are always to be nurses and guardians, then the child will walk with apron strings for a long time and will grow up to be a cripple. Mitrofanushka (2) will always be a minor, will not take a step without his valet, and will not manage his inheritance without a guardian. Everywhere these are the consequences of the usual censorship, and the sterner it is, the more disastrous are its consequences. Let us listen to Herder [ID]: (3)
The best means of promoting good are noninterference, permission to work for a good cause, and freedom of thought. Any inquisition is harmful to the realm of learning. It makes the air stifling and smothers the breath. A book that has to pass through ten censorships before it sees the light of day is no book, but a creature of the Holy Inquisition, very often a mutilated unfortunate, beaten with rods, gagged, and always a slave. In the province of truth, in the kingdom of thought and spirit, no earthly power can or should pass judgment. The government cannot do it, much less its hooded censor. In the truth he is not a disinterested judge, but an interested party like the author.... All improvement can take place only through enlightenment. Neither hand nor foot can move without head and brain.... The better grounded a state is in its principles, the better ordered and the brighter and stronger in itself, the less danger it incurs of being moved and swayed by the winds of shifting opinion, by any satire of an overwrought writer. All the more readily, then, it will grant freedom of thought and (with some allowance for its situation and condition) freedom of writing, through which truth will ultimately be victorious. Only tyrants are suspicious, only secret evildoers fearful. An open-hearted man, who does good and is firm in his principles, lets anything be said about himself. He walks in the light of day and turns to his own advantage even the worst lies of his enemies…. All monopolies of thought are harmful.... The ruler of a state must be almost without any favorite opinion of his own in order that he may be able to embrace, tolerate, refine, and direct toward the general welfare the opinions of everyone in state. Hence great rulers are so rare.
Having recognized the usefulness of printing, the government has made it open to all. Having further recognized that control of thought might invalidate its good intention in granting freedom to set up presses, it has turned over the censorship or inspection of printed works to the Department of Public Morals. Its duty in this matter can only be the prohibition of the sale of objectionable works. But even this censorship is superfluous. A single stupid official in the Department of Public Morals may do the greatest harm to enlightenment and may for years hold back the progress of reason. He may prohibit a useful discovery or a new idea, and may rob everyone of something great. Here is an example on a small scale. A translation of a novel is brought to the Department of Public Morals for its imprimatur. The translator, following the author, in speaking of love calls it "the tricky god." The censor in uniform and in the fullness of piety strikes out the expression, saying, "It is improper to call a divinity tricky." He who does not understand should not interfere. If you want fresh air, remove the smoky brazier. If you want light, remove that which obscures it. If you do not want the child to be timid, throw the rod out of the school. In a house where whips and sticks are in fashion, the servants are drunkards, thieves, and worse.
Let anyone print anything that enters his head. If anyone finds himself insulted in print, let him get his redress at law. I am not speaking in jest. Words are not always deeds, thoughts are not crimes. These are the rules in the Instruction for a New Code of Laws. But an offense in words or in print is always an offense. Under the law no one is allowed to libel another and everyone has the right to bring suit. But if one tells the truth about another, that cannot, according to the law, be considered a libel. What harm can there be if books are printed without a police stamp? Not only will there be no harm;. there will be an advantage, an advantage from the first to the last, from the least to the greatest, from the Tsar to the last citizen.
The usual rules of the censorship are: to strike out, blot out, prohibit, tear, burn everything that is opposed to natural religion and Revelation; everything in opposition to the government; every personal reflection; everything contrary to public morality, order, and peace. Let us examine this more closely. When a fool in his raving says, not only in his heart, but with a loud voice, "There is no God", there is heard upon the lips of all the fools a loud and fleeting echo, "There is no God, there is no God." But what of it? The echo is a sound that strikes the air, sets it vibrating, and disappears. It seldom leaves a mark upon the mind, and then only a faint one, and never any trace upon the heart. God will always be God, perceived even by those who do not believe in Him. But if you think that the Supreme Being will be offended by blasphemy, can an official of the Department of Public Morals be His chosen attorney? The Almighty will not give a power of attorney to one who shakes a rattle or sounds the alarm bell. The hurler of thunder and lightning, Whom all the elements obey, the agitator of hearts beyond the limits of the universe, will disdain to be avenged even by the king himself (who imagines himself to be His vicegerent upon earth). Who can be the judge in an offense against the Eternal Father? The real offender against God is the person who imagines that he can sit in judgment on an offense against Him. It is he who will be answerable-- before Him.
Dissenters (raskol'niki) [ID] from the revealed religion have so far done more harm in Russia than atheists who do not acknowledge the existence of God. There are not many of the latter among us, because few among us are concerned about metaphysics, The atheist errs in metaphysics; the dissenter in crossing himself with only two fingers. Dissenters is our name for all those Russians who depart in any way from the common doctrine of the Greek Church. There are many of them in Russia; thus they are allowed to hold divine services. But why should not every aberration be permitted to be out in the open? The more open it is, the quicker it will break down. Persecutions have only made martyrs.... The consequences of schisms are sometimes harmful. Prohibit them, for they are propagated by example. Destroy the example. A printed book will not cause a schismatic to throw himself into the fire, but a moving example will. To prohibit foolishness is to encourage it. Give it free rein so that everyone will see what is foolish and what is wise. We are all Eve's children: what is prohibited is coveted.... (4)
But in prohibiting freedom of the press, timid governments are not afraid of blasphemy, but of criticism of themselves. He who in moments of madness does not spare God, will not in moments of lucidity and reason spare unjust power. He who does not fear the thunders of the Almighty laughs at the gallows. Hence freedom of thought is terrifying to governments. The freethinker who has been stirred to his depths will stretch forth his audacious but mighty and fearless arm against the idol of power, will tear off its mask and veil, and lay bare its true character. Everyone will see its feet of clay; everyone will withdraw the support which he had given it. Power will return to its source; the idol will fall. But if power is not seated in the fog of contending opinions, if its throne is founded on sincerity and true love of the general welfare, will it not rather be strengthened when its foundation is revealed? And will not the true lover be loved more truly? Mutuality is a natural sentiment, and this instinct is deeply implanted in our nature. A solid and firm building needs only its own foundation, it has no need of supports and buttresses. Only when it is weakened by old age does it have need of lateral support. Let the government be honest and its leaders free from hypocrisy; then all the spittle and vomit will return their stench upon him who has belched them forth. However the truth will always remain pure and immaculate. He whose words incite to revolt (in deference to the government, let us so denominate all firm utterances which are based on truth but opposed to the ruling powers) is just as much a fool as he who blasphemes God. Let the government proceed on its appointed path. Then it will not be troubled by the empty sound of calumny, even as the Lord of Hosts is not disturbed by blasphemy. But woe to government if in its lust for power it offends against truth. Then even a thought shakes its foundations; a word of truth will destroy it; a manly act will scatter it to the winds....
(1) Torzhok = a small town roughly 200 km northwest of Moscow.
(2) Mitrofanushka = a diminutive version of the traditional given name Mitrofan. Radishchev uses it here to imply something on the order of "Little Johnny" or "Little Mikey."
(3) Herder = Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803), a German philosopher and writer. His advocacy of intuition over rationality formed the basis for German Romanticism. Radishchev apparently paraphrases the paragraph that follows from Herder's musings on censorship.
(4) An allusion to the Garden of Eden story from the Biblical book of Genesis, in which Eve is tempted by Satan to eat a prohibited apple from the Tree of Knowledge.
The following webpage provides a few brief selections from Radishchev's Journey