share the publication with friends & colleagues
By Yuri LABYNTSEV, Dr. Sc. (Philol.), leading researcher, RAS Institute of Slavonic Studies
Count Nikolai Rumyantsev is a standout in more ways than one. One of those who have made Russia's history, he has done a great deal as a patron of our science. "This unforgettable lover of the sciences accomplished much more for the progress of the sciences and education in Russia in the last twelve years of his life than had all his predecessors in this field..." That's what his contemporary, Baron Gustav Rosenkampf, said about Count Rumyantsev. His time came to be known as the Rumyantsev age.
Nikolai Petrovich Rumyantsev was born in 1754 during the reign of Empress Elizaveta Petrovna (Elizabeth). His father was an illustrious warlord-Field Marshal Pyotr Rumyantsev, elected to the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences as honorary member; for his brilliant feats beyond the Danube he had a title of Zadunaisky added to his name. And his grandfather has been much in favor with Emperor Peter the Great early in the 18th century. Small wonder that the highborn youth had excellent opportunities at the court of Empress Catherine the Great* (enthroned in 1762) who had him and his brother sent abroad for further education.
The young man spent five years in alien parts. He applied himself to his studies and did quite a bit of traveling besides-visited Germany, France and Italy. Back home Nikolai Rumyantsev was appointed ambassador at the German diet and served as a career diplomat in Europe for a decade and a half. Emperor Pavel (Paul), who succeeded his mother, Catherine II, in 1796, elevated him to a rank of Hofmeister (steward of the court). Count Rumyantsev fared quite well under the next czar, Alexander I (enthroned in 1801), as government minister of commerce and foreign minister, and then as head of the State Council. He retired in 1814 as a holder of the State Chancellor's title (accorded for life) and died twelve years afterwards.
Count Nikolai Rumyantsev was a controversial figure among both his contemporaries and offspring. Although no one queried the high stature of his personality, his activities as well as his likes and dislikes were assessed ambivalently.
As the minister of commerce, Count Rumyantsev showed himself as an active reformer combating in all ways Russia's economic backwardness. He secured changes in the mercantile legislation, had waterways improved and new canals built for ship navigation; he dispatched expeditions, including one that circumnavigated the globe. Count Rumyantsev contributed to the exploration of the country's eastern and northern regions, and came out for tightening Russia's economic ties with the American and Asian continents. Nikolai Petrovich has great services in the development of Russia's industry and agriculture, too.
One regarded him as a "liberal"-by no means a laudatory name in those
* See: L. Mankova, "Golden Age of Sciences...", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2004. - Ed.
times, in Russia anyway; this accusation was reinforced during the work of Mikhail Speransky's reform commission with which Count Rumyantsev was in close touch by virtue of his position as head of the State Council.
Such accusations (of high treason, too!) did not leave him cold. Then came a nervous breakdown as Napoleon's troops crossed into Russia in the summer of 1812. All that made his further career impossible. Count Rumyantsev was also disappointed in the commission's abortive work to reform Russia. From now on he gave up his life to the sciences and Russia's history. Resigning, he turned to what was to become his overriding passion, namely collecting and publishing materials on Russia's history, and on her ties with other countries and nations. Actually it all began in his younger days abroad: the youth showed great interest in his homeland's past. The young diplomat was collecting all bits of historical evidence and even buckled down and wrote historical notes of his own.
In 1790, then thirty-six, Nikolai Rumyantsev approached Catherine II with a plan to publish Russian diplomatic treaties and agreements, but this idea was shelved. He returned to it twenty years later, shortly before his resignation.
At Count Rumyantsev's solicitation, Emperor Alexander I issued a fiat-set up a commission on publishing government deeds and treaties. Established at the Moscow Archives of the Foreign Office, this commission was headed by Nikolai Bantysh-Kamensky, director of the Archives. Nikolai Petrovich Rumyantsev wished to compile a fundamental edition in many volumes that could cover in full the history of Russia as a great world power.
This work was cut short by the Napoleonic invasion and the travails of the war when the French seized Moscow and burned it down. Count Rumyantsev, who fell out of grace, had to tender his resignation as government minister. To add insult to injury, N. Bantysh-Kamensky died in 1814. But Nikolai Rumyantsev did not give up his pursuits, he looked for capable aides in his project.
And he succeeded in this undertaking, in spite of his grave malady (deafness), an aftereffect of an illness that afflicted him in 1812. He managed to enlist ever new talented historians and a great number of enthusiastic collectors. Count Rumyantsev spent more than a million rubles of his own on the project, a mammoth sum for those days. About a fifth of this money was invested into the publishing business. Count Rumyantsev also subsidized the publishing and the printing of the commission's proceedings.
Rumyantsev, a Russian Maecenas and patron, rallied a nonformal group, the "Rumyantsev coterie", which brought together dozens of patriotically minded intellectuals from all parts of Russia. That "scholarly druzhina, or detachment" united people of various walks of life and nationalities-civil servants and university professors, academicians and priests; Russians, Ukrainians, Byelorussians, Lithuanians, Poles, Serbians, French, Germans and Finns... These enthusiasts have left a trace in the history of Russian culture as the forerunners of the Archeographic Commission of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Little by little three major centers of the coterie's activity took shape: one in Moscow, at the commission charged with the publishing of government deeds and treaties; another one-in St. Petersburg in Count Rumyantsev's mansion; and the third
one - in Byelorussia where it had three affiliates: in Gomel (housed in Nikolai Rumyantsev's manor, too), Polotsk and in Vilno (Vilnius), the capital of the former Great Principality of Lithuania populated mostly by Eastern Slavs, Byelorussians in particular.
Count Rumyantsev searched high and low for rare books and manuscripts, and in this work he was assisted by all members of his coterie. Working as librarians for him were eminent scholars, such as Andrei Gipping (historian), Andrei Chegrin (philologist and ethnographer), Alexander Vbstokov (philologist in Slavonic studies), and other distinguished men of letters. Young scholars, too, endeared themselves to the cause-for instance, Konstantin Kalaidovich and Pavel Stroyev. The range of commission-agents was far wider, they were merchants and peasants-Old Believers for the most part, who kept many rarities in their homes (not much expensive in the outlying provinces by the way). A good many ancient books were stashed away within monasteries, or scattered in the attics of decrepit old churches. There appeared more and more of the enlightened, competent collectors like Count Alexei Musin-Pushkin and Count Fyodor Tolstoy; their libraries also owed a good deal to Old Believers. Ivan Snegiryov, a Moscow University professor well versed in history and ethnography, praised Old Believers as "connoisseurs" and even sought their advice as reviewers and editors. The same is true of Ivan Sakharov, an ethnographer and student of folklore, who always consulted them.
Let me stress: learned Old Believers could be found in various parts of this country. Having expert knowledge of old letters and MS styles, they used research methods adopted at a later date by classical archeography, and thus thought ahead of their time-up until the first half of the 19th century at any rate. These "connoisseurs" could well have descended from the lettered men of the Kievan Rus (9th - early 12th centuries) and also could have harked back to St. Maxim the Greek (man of letters, translator and publisher-early 16th century); Arch-priest Awakum, the mastermind of the Russian church schism (mid-17th century)... Later on, under Peter the Great, Old Believers set up communities countrywide-particularly, in the Russian Far North, and east of the Volga. Nikolai Novikov (1744 - 1818), a distinguished publisher, en-lightener and writer, likewise enlisted the services of Old Believers; he knew they could be of much help in circulating his writings.
Thus, Old Believers had gained a lot of experience in the antiquarian business of their own which, in the words of Pyotr Bessonov, a well-known Slavonic student, came to unite "all parts of Russia from some humble izba cabin at Saratov or Tobol down to H.M. Public Library".
The great majority of bibliophilic Old Believers would generously give of their knowledge and furnish essential documental evidence. So Count Rumyantsev could draw upon their aid and succor. One of them, Tikhon Bolshakov, a book merchant in Moscow, proffered his help in compiling both private and state-owned book collections (incidentally, most of the old MSS and books he has collected are now in the custody of the Russian State Library). In 1853 the Public Library of St. Petersburg elected him a correspondent honoris causa;before that, he had become a member of the Moscow-based Society of Russian Antiquities. That's why Fyodor Buslayev, an eminent
philologist of the 19th century, pointed to Bolshakov as his teacher. Pavel Stroyev (historian and archeographer), also thought highly of Bolshakov for his assistance and scholarly inquisitions (Bolshakov helped him in finding books and MSS for Count Rumyantsev's collection). Stroyev expressed his cordial gratitude to the famous bookseller for great assistance in the monumental "Description of Old Slav Books" which he, Pavel Stroyev, supplied as an addendum to the inventories of the libraries of Count Fyodor Tolstoy and Ivan Tsarsky (merchant).
Count Rumyantsev's contemporaries furnish ample evidence on the condition of Russian scholarship, libraries and archives. Professor Mikhail Pogodin, the Moscow historian (and the number one book collector after Nikolai Rumyantsev's death) described the situation this way: "The libraries had no catalogs, no one cared to gather and itemize sources, and put in order what was available; chronicles were not studied and interpreted-they were not even published in due scholarly fashion; writs lay here and there in monasteries."
Grieved by a lackluster situation like that, Count Rumyantsev and his coterie suggested a broad archeographic program unprecedented in its scope. Pavel Stroyev formulated its purpose most aptly: "May all of Russia become one single library within our reach! We should not limit our pursuits to hundreds of well-known manuscripts, we must recover reams of them kept in churches and monasteries which nobody is taking care of and which nobody has ever described; kept in all the various archives ravaged by time and negligent ignorance; and in all the various cellars and basements, with no streak of sunlight in."
Yes, for a long time no one could care less about the evidentiary materials rotting away in church and monastery libraries. Said Stroyev: "Thousands of Slavonic manuscripts, charters and antique books are lying about in all these libraries-in synodal, academic, seminarist, consistorial and other ones. There could have been much more of them, but sloth and ignorance of every kind is contributing to the steady downfall in their numbers. These manuscripts, charters and books are in fact our chief aids on our national history, the history of our state, church and people... Men of letters who occupy themselves by studying Russian antiquities are much hampered by a shortage of materials. What with the present situation, this drawback would be exacerbated in time: many documents, intact but shortly before, are gone. These manuscripts, charters and books are useless at theological academies and seminaries: teachers and students alike do not know how to use them, despise and take no care of
them. The priors and superiors of monasteries and churches are quite arbitrary in their use, bartering, spoiling and even destroying them. Only a few theological libraries keep a modicum of order; but for the most part their stock is in dust-covered piles, and is just listed in the registers."
The actual conditions proved even more retrograde as Count Rumyantsev and his men explored the libraries of Russian monasteries. An expedition they sent to the New Jerusalem Monastery west of Moscow filed this report: "... The Father Superior said the library had more books in it forty years ago, with some taken to the Synod and left at Count Musin-Pushkin's (including a Gospel as well as several chronicles and annals); others were burned up by Bishop Silvester which he deemed just useless rubbish." In another cloister near Moscow, the St. Joseph of Volokolamsk Monastery, the archives were in a tower in which the windows had no frames and where a heap of books was covered with snow. Little wonder that Count Rumyantsev's men were not at all welcome there; but even the largest church book depositaries in Moscow would not let them in. Say, Alexander Malinovsky, who headed the commission on the printing of government deeds and treaties (and besides, director of the Moscow archives of Foreign Office), complained that he had met with a flat refusal when asking for the catalog of MSS in the custody of the synodal printing-house.
State archives and libraries, too, showed just as little hospitality. Count Rumyantsev, then the omnipotent Chancellor of State, complained to Metropolitan Eugene Bolkhovitinov (a historian and lexicographer he held in great esteem, and honorary member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences) that he had it much easier abroad, in alien states, than at home. Indeed, the expeditions he sent to other countries had accomplished their objective with astounding alacrity in surveying dozens of archives and libraries. In Sweden, they copied annals and chronicles of the 14th to 17th centuries; and in the archives of Konigsberg (today, Kaliningrad) they made copies of the acts dating back to Grand Duke Vassily of Muscovy (1505 - 1533) and historical writings. Traveling to the German port of Ltibeck, members of the expedition familiarized themselves with evidentiary materials on the history of Novgorod and its contacts with the Baltic area. Such work was also carried out in dozens of other European cities, such as Hamburg, Danzig, Dresden, London, Paris, Rome, Copenhagen, Vienna, Florence and Genoa, to name but a few. Expedition members inspected over a hundred old libraries and recovered a wealth of new material not known heretofore. Count Rumyantsev got thousands of copies (often facsimiles) executed with good skills.
Nikolai Rumyantsev seized every opportunity for his research activities. His extensive connections which he gained in the years of his service at home and abroad often helped him out. He enjoyed certain privileges as Russia's former foreign minister respected by many European monarchs, and thus he gained admittance to places off limits to other people. The count used dozens of aides who furnished precious information to him, both Russian and foreigners, like Wuk Karajic, a Serbian philologist and folklore student; there were also friendly scholars, diplomats and librarians working in Germany,
Sweden, the Low Countries, France, Britain and Italy.
Russian scholars traveling abroad also helped Count Rumyantsev's "learned druzhina" in its activities. One of them was Father Mikhail Bobrovsky of Byelorussia involved with medieval studies. As Vilno University sent him on an European tour as visiting researcher for five years, he turned to be of much use to Rumyantsev. As a priest, Father Bobrovsky gained access to Vatican collections closed to other Russians. He examined and copied a great many historical materials, and even drew up a catalog of Slavonic MSS of the Vatican library. A few years after, Cardinal Angelo Magi, the library's prefect, had this catalog published. But Russia, of course, was the main arena for the Rumyantsev coterie whose untiring efforts were rewarded with ever new findings. All in all, the count and his assistants studied as many as a hundred and fifty state, church and private collections, and recovered thousands of historical documents. They sent expeditions far and wide to scour major libraries and archives. Rumyantsev set up workshops in some of the largest book depositaries so as to copy the rich documentary material there. This work went on for many years, up until the count's death.
Count Rumyantsev was generous in rewarding the work of librarians and copyists, and spent his own money on the best of artists without stint. He was just as lavish in rewarding his coworkers, often granting a lump sum of hundreds of rubles to each and everyone. And he paid thousands of rubles for most significant works; such munificent payments went to Vassily Sopikoy, the "father of Russian bibliography" (from 1813 to 1821 he published data on more than 13,000 writings that saw print in Russian and in Old Church Slavonic up until the turn of the 19th century). So he had a point in praising the count in a letter to K. Kalaidovic, working for Rumyantsev on a long-term basis for big money: a capable and well-to-do man could accomplish far more than so many hollow and rotten societies combined, he wrote.
Nikolai Petrovich Rumyantsev financed not only archeographical expeditions-he spared no money for archeological, ethnographical and geographical studies as well. Members of his coterie, while searching for documentary historical pieces of evi-
dence, also collected artifacts of material culture and made sketches of their finds; and they did not neglect folklore either. The Rumyantsev-sponsored expeditions made sensational discoveries-such as the Anthology of Svyatoslav dated anno 1073 (one of the oldest Slav manuscripts); the hitherto unknown writings of Old Russian, Bulgarian and other authors; the parchment MSS of the 11th to 13th centuries, annals, and chronicles; a unique copy of the 1497 Code of Laws; and lots of ancient writs. All that was recovered in the vicinity of Moscow. But Rumyantsev and his aides did just as well in other parts of this country, in particular, east of the Urals, and in Siberia. According to Vladimir Kozlov, a contemporary Russian historian and Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the acme of their achievements was a series of expeditions in the country's west and south, especially in White Russia (Byelorussia), where Chancellor Rumyantsev had the largest estates. He used to stay there for long periods, and it was there that he was buried on April 1, 1826, upon his demise in St. Petersburg (January 3, 1826).
Count Rumyantsev and his "druzhina" ("scholarly detachment") have accomplished a remarkable lot in retrieving obscure documents otherwise doomed to oblivion and rain. They brought all these bits of historical evidence into a single repository, a wellspring of knowledge for other generations.
Nikolai Rumyantsev and his fellow workers had a dream: they wanted to found a museum of antiquities as a gift of material culture for generations to come. They visualized it rather as a research center "bearing on Russia's history". As an institution the Rumyantsev museum was legalized only after the count's death. It stores a rich stock of books and manuscripts, as well as ethnographic, numismatic and art collections. Its thesaurus also includes archives of the Rumiantsev kin (with about a thousand items) and data on the exploits of the count's "scholarly druzhina".
The Rumyantsev museum has turned into one of the world's largest libraries-the Russian State Library in Moscow where the Rumyantsev Museum was moved in 1861.
Permanent link to this publication:
LRussia LWorld Y G