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Populism and Romantic Agony: A Russian Terrorist's Discovery of Baudelaire

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 January 2017

Adrian Wanner*
Department of Foreign Languages, University of Evansville


Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) has been hailed by followers in many countries as a forerunner of symbolism, if not as the father of modern poetry tout court. In Russia, Andrei Belyi celebrated him together with Nietzsche in 1909 as a "Patriarkh Simvolizma"; and Valerii Briusov wrote in the same year: "Is it possible to question the importance of Baudelaire's Fleurs du mal for the formation of the whole worldview of modernity?" Ellis (L.L. Kobylinskii), the most zealous of all Russian symbolist "Baudelaireans," even tried to convince the menshevik social democrat, N. Valentinov, that Baudelaire was "the greatest revolutionary of the nineteenth century, in comparison with whom all Marxes, Engelses, Bakunins, and the rest of the brotherhood which they created, are simply nothing."

Slavic Review , Volume 52 , Issue 2 , Summer 1993 , pp. 298 - 317
Copyright © Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies. 1993

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1. “Sharl’ Bodler,” Vesy, no.6 (1909): 71. Republished in Arabeski (Moscow: Musaget, 1911), 248.

2. Foreword to Frantsuzskie liriki XIX veka (1909), quoted from V.Ia. Briusov, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii i perevodov (St. Petersburg: Sirin, 1913-1914), 21:9Google Scholar.

3. See Valentinov, N., Dva goda s simvolistami (Stanford: Hoover Institution, 1969), 154Google Scholar.

4. See in particular Donchin, Georgette, The Influence of French Symbolism on Russian Poetry ('S-Gravenhage: Mouton, 1958 Google Scholar), passim.

5. Between 1869 and 1872, Otechestvennye zapiski published seven poems by Baudelaire in the translation of the populist N.S. Kurochkin (1830-1884): “Les Petites vieilles, ” no.3 (1869); “Spleen [IV],” no.12 (1869); “La Fin de la journee,” no.4 (1870); “Le Portrait,” “Les Hiboux,” “Spleen [I],” no.l (1871); and “Le Crepuscule du soir,” no.8 (1872). D.D. Minaev's translation of “Abel et Cain” appeared in Iskra, no.2 (1870). As early as 1856, at a time when Baudelaire was still relatively unknown even in his own country, Otechestvennye zapiski published a critical appraisal of his poetry. This article also contains the first publication (in French) of the poem “Le Flacon” (see my “Le premier regard russe sur Baudelaire et la publication du ‘Flacon',” Bulletin Baudelairien 26, no.2 [December 1991]: 43-50).

6. Efim Etkind has drawn attention to this fact in his article “Baudelaire en langue russe,” Europe, no. 56-57 (April-May 1967): 252-61.

7. P.F. lakubovich, Stikhotvoreniia. Vstup. stat'ia, podgotovka teksta i primech. B.N. Dvinianinova (Leningrad: Sovetskii pisatel', 1960). This edition contains 27 of Iakubovich's Baudelaire translations. Dvinianinov is also the author of a monograph on lakubovich (Mech i lira: Ocherk zhizni i tvorchestva P.F. Iakubovicha [Moscow: Nauka, 1969]), which pays only scant attention to Iakubovich's significance for the Russian reception of Baudelaire (see 95-96, where a reference is made to his 1895 Baudelaire edition). Other sources seem even more reticent: Kratkaia literaturnaia entsiklopediia points to “translations” by lakubovich but fails to mention whom he translated.

8. See Belyi, Andrei, Nachalo veka (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1990), 20, 53Google Scholar.

9. Some rather amateurish assassination attempts were frustrated by the numerous police informers who had penetrated the party. See Adam Ulam, B., In the Name of the People: Prophets and Conspirators in Prerevolutionary Russia (New York: Viking Press, 1977), 390–91Google Scholar.

10. Wortman, Richard, The Crisis of Russian Populism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1967), 184Google Scholar.

11. Letter to P.A. Grabovskii, 22 September 1896, published in Russkoe bogatstvo, no.5 (1912): 53.

12. See L. Mel'shin (P.F. Grinevich, i.e., P.F. Iakubovich), Ocherki russkoi poezii (St. Petersburg: Russkoe bogatstvo, 1904), 48Google Scholar. The dislike was mutual. Iakubovich's poetry was referred to in the symbolist press as the “rhymed howlings of Mr. Iakubovich” (rifmovannye zavyvaniia g. Iakubovicha) ( Sadovskoi, B., Vesy, no.8 [1905]: 63Google Scholar).

13. Iakubovich, , Stikhotvoreniia (1960), 245Google Scholar.

14. Anri Sear (Henry Ceard), “Pis'ma iz Parizha. Poeziia i poety sovremennoi Frantsii,” Slovo, no.5 (1879): 29-62 (on Baudelaire, 31-45). It was from this article, the first extensive and benevolent discussion of Baudelaire ever to be published in the Russian press, that Iakubovich “personally learned about the existence of Fleurs du Mal” (see P.Ia[kubovich], “V poiskakh sokrovennogo smysla,” Russkoe bogatstvo, no.8 [1901]: 87). Henry Céard (1851-1924) was a naturalist writer and member of Zola's “groupe de Médan.” His view of Baudelaire as a realist rather than a decadent met with Iakubovich's approval. Ceard's article was later reprinted as a foreword to the translations published in the 1887 edition of Iakubovich's poetry. See M. Kamshev (P.F. Iakubovich), Stikhotvoreniia (St. Petersburg, 1887), IX-XXXII.

15. Sharl’ Bodler, Tsvety zla. Perevod P. Iakubovicha-Mel'shina (St. Petersburg: Obshchestvennaia pol'za, 1909). Predislovie, 2.

16. The first book-length collection of Iakubovich's poetry, which came out in 1887 under the pseudonym Matvei Ramshev, contains 23 Baudelaire translations. Another nineteen poems, together with an article on Baudelaire, appeared anonymously in December 1890 and April 1891 in Severnyi vestnik. In December 1894, the “Petrovskaia Biblioteka” in Moscow published a separate volume with 53 poems from Fleurs du mal in Iakubovich's translation—the first book-length Russian edition of Baudelaire. After 1898, Iakubovich's poetry, signed with “P.Ia.,” came out in a two-volume edition published by Russkoe bogatstvo. Under the heading “Splin i Ideal,” the second volume (first published 1901, reissued in 1902 and 1906) contains Iakubovich's collected Baudelaire translations (since 1906 under the title “Tsvety zla” [Flowers of Evil]). A separate edition with the title Tsvety zla and signed with Iakubovich's full name appeared in 1909.

17. The Soviet critic N.I. Balashov called “Révoke” “the greatest masterpiece of French revolutionary poetry before the ‘Internationale'” ( “Legenda i pravda o Bodlere,” in Sharl’ Bodler, Tsvety zla [Moscow: Nauka, 1970], 236Google Scholar).

18. See Oragvelidze, G. G., “Pervye russkie perevody iz BodleraSbornik nauchnykh trudov Tashkentskogo universiteta, no.512 (1976): 104-13Google Scholar.

19. Sharl’ Bodler, Tsvety zla (1909), 3-4.

20. Ibid., 1.

21. See Die Struktur der modernen Lyrik: Von Baudelaire bis zur Gegenwart (Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1956), 47-49.

22. Iakubovich, , Stikhotvoreniia (1960), 325-26Google Scholar. Parts of the poem (stanzas 1-5 and 12) are quoted in the foreword to the 1909 edition of Tsvety zla. Iakubovich originally planned to use it as a preface to his anonymous 1895 Baudelaire edition.

23. “Decadence in Russian Literature,” in The Modern Encyclopedia of Russian and Soviet Literature, ed. Harry B. Weber (Gulf Breeze: Academic International Press, 1977), 5:90.

24. On Gautier's essay and its influence on the French reception of Baudelaire, see Carter, A. E., Baudelaire et la critique française, 1868-1917 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1963),1925 Google Scholar; and Jauβ, Hans Robert, Aesthetische Erfahrung und literarische Hermeneutik (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1982), 848–51Google Scholar.

25. “Shad’ Bodler,” Severnyi vestnik, no.12 (1890): 202.

26. See Oeuvres completes de Ch. Baudelaire (Paris: Alphonse Lemerre, n.d.), 1: 14.

27. “Sharl’ Bodler,” 206.

28. Ibid., 208.

29. Oeuvres completes, 23.

30. See the note in P.Ia[kubovich], Stikhotvoreniia. Tom vtoroi (St. Petersburg: Russkoe bogatstvo, 1901), 274Google Scholar: “Not afraid anymore of playing into the hands of a disagreeable literary movement, I can present my work to the reader with a clear conscience— fully convinced that, with all its shortcomings, it can evoke only good and pure feelings. ”

31. Stikhotvoreniia Bodlera (Moscow: Izdanie Petrovskoi biblioteki, 1895).

32. “Predislovie,” ibid., III-IX. A revised version of this article, entitled “O ‘Tsvctakh zla',” was later included in Bal'mont's essay collection Gornyia vershiny (Moscow: Grif, 1904), 54-58.

33. See A.B. Muratov, “P.F.lakubovich: Pis'ma k F.D. Batiushkovu,” in Kzhegodnik rukopisnogo otdela Pushkinskogo Doma na 1972 g. (Leningrad: Nauka, 1974), 103Google Scholar.

34. “Having very little talent, and feeling unconsciously (or perhaps even con sciously) the whole naive primitiveness [dopotopnost’] of his poetic taste, Mr. Bal'mont must have seized with great j o y the new ‘symbolist’ theories, giving him the right to write all sorts of nonsense under the tag of a profundity inaccessible to simple mortals, and we had one warped, affected and insincere poet more.” (Ocherki russkoi poezii, 329.)

35. See P. Iafkubovich], “Bodler, ego zhizn’ i poeziia,” Russkoe bogatstvo, no.4 (1896): 143-44.

36. 25 September 1895. Quoted in Muratov, “lakubovich: Pis'ma k F.D. Batiushkovu,” 103.

37. “Bodler, ego zhizn’ i poeziia,” 151.

38. Ibid., 156.

39. Ibid., 159.

40. Severnyi vestnik, no.4 (1891): 110.

41. A similar “de-erotization” happened to the “chairs d'enfant” in verse 9, which change from “a girl's cheeks” (shcheki devushki — “devushka” being a grown-up girl) in Severnyi vestnik to a “child's body” (telo detskoe). The second version is closer to Baudelaire's original but one wonders whether this change does not make the passage even more perverse.

42. “Bodler, ego zhizn’ i poeziia,” 167-68.

43. A typical example is the marxist critic Andreevich (i.e., Evgenii Andreevich Solov'ev, 1867-1905). In his article “Dekadenty” (Nauchnoe obozrenie, no.8 [1901]: 76-99), Andreevich dismisses Iakubovich's characterization of Baudelaire's “idealism” as sheer nonsense: “There was no ideal whatsoever in Baudelaire, neither vague nor unvague, neither clear nor unclear, neither ‘expressed’ nor unexpressed” (97). Baudelaire is called “the most decadent of all decadents” and even his alleged compassion for the poor seems suspicious: “There is less love and tenderness here than excitement over the smell of decay” (98).

44. Ellis, the chief “Baudelairean” among the Russian symbolists, called Iakubovich's Baudelaire translation “far-fetched, arbitrary, clumsy and coarse” (Vesy, no.7 [1907]: 75).

45. See P.Grinevich (P.F. Iakubovich), “Zametki chitatelia,” Russkoe bogatstvo, no.4 (1900): 140-60. This article was republished in Ocherki russkoi poezii, 391-404.

46. Batiushkov, F. D., “Bodler i ego russkii perevodchikMir Bozhii, no.8 (1901): 11-19Google Scholar.

47. P.F. Iakubovich, “V poiskakh sokrovennogo smysla (otvet F.D. Batiushkovu),” Russkoe bogatstvo, no.8 (1901): 77-87.

48. Batiushkov, F. D., “Eshche neskol'ko slov o Bodler i ego russkom perevodchike (otvet gnu P.Ia.)Mir Bozhii, no.10 (1901): 8-15Google Scholar.

49. Fifteen of Iakubovich's letters to Batiushkov are preserved in the manuscript division of Pushkinskii Dom, St. Petersburg (IRLI, f.20, no. 15273). Three of them were published by A.B. Muratov in Ezhegodnik rukopisnogo otdela Pushkinskogo Doma na 1972 g., 101–11Google Scholar.

50. In a footnote to the poem in the 1909 edition of Tsvety zla (248), Iakubovich wrote: “The use of the word ‘sage’ in connection with a woman usually has a special meaning: What do I care about your chastity? … The translation manages to express this idea only remotely.” Starting with the 1902 edition of Iakubovich's poetry, the first line of the poem was changed to “May the proud world despise you” (Pust1 tebia gordyi svet preziraet).

51. Batiushkov should not have given up so quickly. Modern French scholarship seems to side with his interpretation. See Claude Pichois's commentary ( “Deux femmes sont ici en cause ” ) in Baudelaire, , Oeuvres completes (Paris: Gallimard, 1975), 1:893Google Scholar.

52. “An artistic translation has to strive not only for closeness to the original, but also to formal beauty in the language in which the translation is made. And it is difficult to say which of these two tasks is more important. In any event, one should not sacrifice one for the other” (Letter to Batiushkov, 8 October, 1901 [IRLI, f.20, no. 15273]).

53. Bodler, , Tsvety zla (1909), 5-6Google Scholar.

54. The connection between romanticism and populist poetry has been analyzed by Nikolai V. Os'makov in his study Poeziia revoliutsionnogo narodnichestva (Moscow: Izdvo AN SSSR, 1961), 162–92Google Scholar. However, Os'makov failed to take into account the “decadent” side of romanticism, highlighted by Mario Praz in his classic La came, la morte e il diavolo (1930), published in English (translated by Angus Davidson) as The Romantic Agony (London: Oxford University Press, 1933). On Baudelaire, see in partic ular the chapter “The Shadow of the Divine Marquis,” 95-186.

55. See, for example, “V buriu” (1881), “Fantaziia” (1882) or “Smert’ orla” (1884) (Stikhotvoreniia [1960], 314, 100-3, 110-11).

56. “Bodler, ego zhizn’ i poeziia,” 169. The symbolists would not have disagreed with that.

57. First published in M. Ramshev (P.Iakubovich), Stikhotvoreniia (1887), 17. Iakubovich considered this translation as one of his best: “[The translator] regards this translation, free in details but exactly rendering the meaning, as one of his most successful works” (note to Tsvety zla [1909], 245).

58. For a brief discussion of this translation and comparison with Ellis's version of the same poem, see Etkind, “Baudelaire en langue russe,” 254-57.

59. Iakubovich shared this attitude with N.G. Chernyshevskii, who condemned the new genre as inadequate in a letter to his son of 5 March, 1885. His comment came in response to prose poems which his son had written in Paris under Turgenev's influence. Chernyshevskii's advice was to rework them in verse (see Chernyshevskii, , Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v 15-i tomakh [Moscow: GIKhL, 1950], 15:518–19Google Scholar).

60. Cf. the poem “V Sibiri, okovannoi liutym morozom” (1907), Stikhotvoreniia (1960), 279.

61. Ibid., 59.

62. Tsvety zla (1909), 7-8.

63. Avrelii (V. Briusov), “Novyi perevod Bodlera,” Vesy, no.4 (1904): 42. The number 200 is, of course, erroneous (Baudelaire himself did not write that many poems). To be sure, Briusov's praise of lakubovich was probably motivated in part by his own agenda, namely his intention of dealing a blow to Ellis. He also pointed out that Ellis plagiarized some of his translations from lakubovich. According to Belyi's testimony, Ellis was so upset about this review that he threatened to kill Briusov (see Nachalo veka, 453). Nevertheless, there seem to have been some mutual positive feelings between Briusov and lakubovich. Briusov became aware oflakubovich's Baudelaire translations as early as 1895, when he commented on them in a letter to V.K. Staniukovich (see Literaturnoe nasledstvo. T.28: Valerii Briusov [Moscow: Nauka, 1976], 732). lakubovich's opinion of Briusov was slightly more benevolent than the one he held of the other “decadents,” since he acknowledged in him a certain “idealism:” “By the way, we have To point out that even in the realm of decadent fantasies, Mr. Briusov, in our view, favorably distinguishes himself from his colleagues: although he sometimes develops ugliness and vulgarity to monstrous dimensions, one can see that he is sincererely imbued with an idealistic mood, the naive dream of some great task in store for him and the other ‘symbolists'” (Ocherki russkoipoezii, 334). One wonders whether Iakubovich would have been heartened to learn that Briusov became a communist after 1917.

64. Gor'kii, Sobranie Sochinenii v 30 tt. (Moscow: Gos. izd-vo khudozh. lit-ry, 1949-56), 23:128–29Google Scholar.

65. Ibid., 20: 261.

66. Obrazovanie, no. 2 (1906): 154-55. Lunacharskii also wrote the entry on Baudelaire in Literaturnaia entsiklopediia (1929), 1: cols. 547-51. Gor'kii's and Lunacharskii's positive appraisals had a certain long-term effect on the Soviet reception of Baudelaire. It later played an important role in the “rehabilitation” of the poet in the 1960s when, after decades of Stalinist vilification, it was necessary to clear him of his decadent image in order to allow his publication in the Soviet Union. As the French poet metamorphosed from a bourgeois decadent into an honorary member of the Soviet pantheon of critical realists, his early discovery by the Russian populists became a matter of national pride. Pavel Antokol'skii, for example, wrote in the foreword to the first Soviet edition of Baudelaire's poetry in 1966: “We cannot forget that eighty years ago the first Russian readers of Baudelaire were our populists. They called him a ‘French Nekrasov'” ( Bodler, , Lirika [Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1966], 16 Google Scholar). Both Kratkaia literaturnaia entsiklopediia and Bol'shaia sovetskaia entsiklopediia, (3rd ed.) include references to Lunacharskii in their presentation of Baudelaire and end with the statement “He lived in evil, loving the good” (on zhil vo zle, dobro liubia), which is declared to be Gor'kii's saying. The Soviet commentators seemed unaware of the rather piquant fact that they were not quoting Gor'kii but the decadent Bal'mont. Gor'kii plagiarized this line from a poem in Bal'mont's introduction to Iakubovich's 1895 edition (see Stikhotvoreniia Bodlera, Predislovie, IX).

67. See Mary Louise Loe, “Gorky and Nietzsche: The Quest for a Russian Superman,” and Tait, A. L., “Lunacharsky: A ‘Nietzschean Marxist?',” in Nietzsche in Russia, ed. Bernice G. Rosenthal (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), 251–92Google Scholar.

68. In his polemical article against Mir Bozhii, lakubovich criticized the Russian marxists for their flirtation with Nietzschean and symbolist ideas, accusing them of treating the people (narod) with contempt (see “Zametki chitatelia,” 154).

69. As late as 1888, Merezhkovskii sent lakubovich, who was then in a labor camp in Siberia, a copy of his first volume of poetry (containing translations of three poems by Baudelaire), with the dedication “To my dear colleague lakubovich as a sign of deep respect” (see lakubovich, , Stikhotvoreniia [1960], 25Google Scholar).

70. Quoted in Ruff, M. A., Baudelaire (Paris: Haitier-Boivin, 1955), 64Google Scholar.

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