At the crossroads of his creative life Nikolai Karamzin described himself in 1803 as a man “who has aided the development of [Russian] language and taste, earned the flattering attention of the Russian public, and whose trifles, published in the various languages of Europe, have received positive reviews from renowned foreign authors” (Cross, 1971, 218). He viewed literature as a major conduit for Russia's legitimate entry into Europe and became the first Russian writer to achieve renown in Europe as a symbol of the new Russia. His profound understanding of cultural mechanisms later led him to concentrate on Russian literary language and Russian historiography, fields in which he laid the groundwork for the flowering of Russian culture.
Born into the family of a retired officer, he studied at a school run by a Frenchman in the provincial capital Simbirsk and at a Moscow boarding school run by a German. In 1781-84 he served in the Guards, and before his retirement he translated several minor pieces from the German. His literary career began in earnest during his five years in the Masonic Friendly Learned Society in Moscow, led by Nikolai Novikov and aimed at disseminating “wisdom, ” largely through ambitious publishing projects. Here Karamzin met numerous prominent cultural figures, including the poet Vasily Petrov and A.M. Kutuzov, to whom he addressed his Pis'ma russkogo puteshestvennika. He also entered into correspondence with Johann Kaspar Lavater, a Swiss sentimentalist. In 1787 he published a prose translation of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, which “marks an epoch as the first faithful translation into Russian” of Shakespeare (Cross, 1964, 93); in a preface Karamzin defended Shakespeare's nonclassical drama along the lines of contemporary German views. He also published a translation of Lessing's Emilia Galotti, several translations for the society's journal Detskoe chtenie dlia serdtsa i razuma (which he edited in 1787-1789), and several sen-