A Half-Century of Greatness: The Creative Imagination of Europe, 1848-1884

By Frederic Ewen; Jeffrey Wollock | Go to book overview

Chapter Two
Young Dostoevsky
The Road to Siberia

Oh, may it come quickly
The time when the peasant
Will make some distinction
Between book and book,
Between picture and picture;
Will bring from the market,
Not the picture of Blücher,
Not a stupid “Milord,”
But Belinsky and Gogol!
Oh, say, Russian people,
These names—have you heard them?
They're great. They were borne
By your champions, who loved you,
Who strove in your cause,
'This their little portraits
Should be in your houses!
Nekrasov, “Who Can Be Happy in Russia?”

Farewell Russia, my unwashed land,
Land of serfs, land of masters,
Farewell, gendarmes in handsome blue,
My people, their victims, farewell!
Perhaps the steep crags of the Caucasus
Will save me from your pashahs,
Their ever watchful, ever wakeful eye,
And ears that the least sound alerts….
—Mikhail Lermontov

No imperial lightning rods established by Tsar Nicholas I and his agents after the Decembrist uprising of 1825 were sufficiently effective to deflect the flow of new ideas or the mental unrest of a part of the younger generations. The powerful and populous armies of the Tsar, “the gendarme of Europe,” might stand ready on the borders of Poland in anticipation of another uprising, or, at the call of a harassed ally, be prepared to rush to his aid; at home, the censorship, the knout, Siberia, and the everwatchful political police, the “Third Section,” directed by Count Benckendorff, or later

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