The Diary of a Russian Censor

The Diary of a Russian Censor

The Diary of a Russian Censor

The Diary of a Russian Censor

Excerpt

In an almost daily record kept over a span of fifty-one years, Aleksandr Vasilievich Nikitenko, who served for over forty years in various offices of the Censorship Department and Ministry of Education of tsarist Russia, has left to literary scholars, historians, political scientists and sociologists a wealth of material on the literary, historical and social life of the Russian people during the period 1826 to 1877.

It would be misleading to ascribe the fame and interest of his diary to his censorship activities alone, for throughout his life he was engaged in a variety of pursuits: for fifty years he published literary criticism, articles on aesthetics and the history of literature; he edited newspapers and literary journals; for thirty years he was a professor of literature at St. Petersburg University and other institutions and, finally, a member of the Academy of Sciences. He played an active policy-making role on scores of governmental committees and commissions and was also active in social organizations. Thus, for most of his adult life he was to be found in the very midst of the literary, political and social scene.

Moderate in his views, always seeking a balance between the radicals and reactionaries of his time, he adds a new dimension to the vast literature that has reached the West from the representatives of extremist camps.

What gives the diary a particular poignance and significance are the lowly origins of its author and his courageous struggle against almost overwhelming obstacles to win freedom, obtain an education, and gain the dignity and respect that are the right of all human beings. By origin a serf, he never forgot that he was, as he said in his diary, "a plebian from head to toe."

Aleksandr Vasilievich Nikitenko was born in a Ukrainian hamlet in 1804, the son of an illiterate, but warm-hearted, intelligent, and affectionate mother and a brilliant, self-educated father. His parents were owned by the wealthy Count Sheremetev whose three hundred thousand serfs and vast estates were to be found in many provinces of Russia. Although a serf, his father received some formal education as a member of the count's choir in Moscow. At the age of seventeen, when his voice changed, he was discharged from the choir and returned from Moscow to the Ukraine, where he was variously employed as a clerk and school teacher. He continued to educate himself, was fluent in French, read widely (Voltaire was one of his favorite authors) and maintained a correspondence with men of high standing. He even accumulated sufficient knowledge to practice medicine of sorts, treating himself, his family, and fellow villagers who sought his help for common ailments. However, he was a restless romantic, a dreamer, an impractical fellow whose brilliance and . . .

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