Academic journal article Pushkin Review

The Influence of Barry Cornwall and the Phenomenon of Polygenesis in Alexander Pushkin's "Little House in Kolomna"

Academic journal article Pushkin Review

The Influence of Barry Cornwall and the Phenomenon of Polygenesis in Alexander Pushkin's "Little House in Kolomna"

Article excerpt

   Most writers steal a good thing when they can,
   And 't is safely got't is worth the winning.
   The worst of 't is we now and then detect'em,
   Before they ever dream that we suspect'em. (1)

Pushkin and Cornwall: The Nature of Scholarly Work on the Subject

In considering the question of the influence of the nineteenth-century English poet Barry Cornwall on the creative works of Alexander Pushkin, scholars to date have concentrated primarily on the comparative framework of Cornwall's "Dramatic Scenes" and Pushkin's "Little Tragedies." While this topic is indeed important, it is nevertheless indisputable that the effects of Cornwall's poetry on Pushkin are not limited to these works alone. However, few scholarly works consider other aspects of Cornwall's influence. (2) This essay will analyze the phenomenon of polygenesis in Alexander Pushkin's "Little House in Kolomna" in connection with Barry Cornwall's poems "Gyges" and "Diego de Montilla: A Spanish Tale," two works that are not part of the "Dramatic Scenes."

The existence of certain similarities between these two works of Barry Cornwall and Pushkin's "Little House in Kolomna" was originally acknowledged by N. V. Iakovlev in his 1917 article "Poslednii literaturnyi sobesednik Pushkina Bari Kornuol." However, that article only broached the topic superficially without providing a detailed analysis of the subject. (3) Using the comparative methodology employed in B. V. Tomashevsky's "Strofika Pushkina" will allow us to produce precisely such an analysis. In "Strofika Pushkina," Tomashevsky shows repeatedly how Pushkin selectively borrowed material and forms from other poets and used them in his own verse and for his own goals. As we will see, this explains precisely Pushkin's reception of Cornwall's "Gyges" and "Diego de Montilla; A Spanish Tale."

Pushkin's Acquaintance with the English Language and Works of Barry Cornwall

In his 1822 letter (4) to the poet and translator N. I. Gnedich, Pushkin points out that the English language, both in the form of poetry and of prose, has finally begun to affect Russian literature. In the same letter, Pushkin also expresses his hope that these effects would prove to be a more favorable influence on Russian poetry than the "timid" and "mincing" (zhemannaia) French poetry. Thus, already in 1822 Pushkin was not only interested in English poetry, but also seemed to view it as a potentially positive and healthy source from which his own language and art could enrich itself. After several failed attempts, Pushkin finally embarked on serious study of the English language in 1828, and by 1829, during his trip to the Caucasus, he was startling his friends Zakhar Chernyshev and Mikhail Iuzefovich with his "terrible English pronunciation but excellent understanding of Shakespeare [in the original]." (5)

It is not clear when Pushkin became first acquainted with the poetry of Barry Cornwall. N. K. Kozmin, for example, suggests that Pushkin read Cornwall's name in the "Revue Encyclopedique" as far back as 1820, and that some of his poems were certainly known to Pushkin before 1829. (6) Most scholars believe, however, that the correct date, at least for the beginning of the period when Pushkin became truly interested in Cornwall, is the year 1829 or 1830. In 1829, in Paris, A. and W. Galignani published The Poetical Works of Milman, Bowles, Wilson, and Barry Cornwall. P. V. Annenkov and A. O. Ishimova, to whom Pushkin addressed his last letter, acknowledge this anthology as the original source of Pushkin's interest in Cornwall. (7) It is also recognized that Pushkin took The Poetical Works of Milman, Bowles, Wilson, and Barry Cornwall to his estate Boldino in 1830, and that he studied it there during the most prolific period of his life. (8) Pushkin directly translated two of Cornwall's poems from that anthology: the song "Here's a health to thee, Mary" and the serenade "Inesilla! I am here," and probably borrowed the form of Cornwall's "Dramatic Scenes," (9) as well as certain parts of their content, for his own "Little Tragedies. …

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