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  Philologica 2 (1995)  


(Comments on an Academic Commentary. 34)


This article is a continuation of I. A. Pil’shchikov’s article in vol. 1 of “Philologica”


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3. Batiushkov and French culture of the sixteenth, seventeenth and the first half of the eighteenth centuries. It is not entirely by chance that Batiushkov’s first publication (1801) was a translation into French: he was bilingual and “bicultural”. His “literary” familiar correspondence is in Russian (whereas business, domestic and the polite society letters or fragments are French); but even in his Russian letters the amount of French quotations, allusions or puns competes with (if not exceeds) Russian.

Batiushkov’s knowledge of French Renaissance literature, at least as it is reflected in his letters and literary works, was (naturally for that time) limited to Marot, Malherbe, Mathurin Régnier, and Michel de Montaigne whose Essais he always admired. In the correspondence, we find references to Montaigne’s book, a direct (though modified) quotation from Ess. III, ii, and less obvious allusions.

Batiushkov was “at home” in seventeenth-century French literature. All the French quotations from Boileau’s Satires were indicated by Majkov; Zorin corrected Majkov’s inaccuracy in the identification of L’Art poétique IV, 26, and commented on one allusion in Russian (AP I, 171—173). References to AP I, 59 and I, 49—50 in Batiushkov’s letter to Gnedich (29 May 1811) have not been recognized by either scholars. Majkov’s valuable remarks on Batiushkov’s use of Sat. IX, 212 are suppressed in the later commentary without any good reason (as a result, the Boileau subtext in a letter to Olenin on 23 Nov. 1809 has been left unexplained).

Despreaux’s conception of French literature had come down to Batiushkov in a later revised version of Voltaire and La Harpe. In particular, this is witnessed by a quotation from Quinault’s Roland (II, 3) in a letter to Viazemskij (July 1812) — the line which was misinterpreted by all commentators.

Batiushkov’s letters are difficult to imagine without a “personage”, the bonhomme La Fontaine, and reminiscences from his fables. Most quotations from the Fables were identified by Majkov, another three by Zorin. Majkov’s references have been distorted in the 1989 edition; one reference disappeared. The article suggests the textual critique of Lafontainian quotations (Fable XII, [25], 12) in letters to Gnedich (16 Jan. and 1 Feb. 1810) and (again in connection with La Fontaine) a hypothetical interpretation for the concluding phrase of Batiushkov’s letter to Viazemskij on 17 May 1814.

Batiushkov blithely confessed that he had been “brought up in awe of” “the great” Racine. Passages evidencing his good knowledge of this author were not commented on properly. The concluding line of act III of Iphigénie (III, 7: 1084), which is found in the correspondence twice, passed unnoticed for Majkov, and was incorrectly referred to by Zorin. A faithful French quotation from Britannicus (I, 2: 173—174) in a letter to Ekaterina Murav’eva (20 Jan. 1816) has been overlooked by both scholars. It would be helpful for the reader if the lines from Mixail Lobanov’s translation of Iphigenie appraised in Batiushkov’s letter to Gnedich (11 May 1811) were identified in the commentary.

In Batiushkov’s view of French comedies, leadership definitely belongs to Molière’s; references in passing to the great comedian are found in his letters from all periods. A letter to Gnedich on 3 May 1809, with its two quotations from Le Misanthrope, created perplexity. Majkov referred to the first of these lines (III, 1: 794) as “act II, scene 1”: this mistake went through all the later editions; another quotation (I, 1: 112) was identified in 1989. With the former line, Batiushkov showed his habitual neglegentia epistolarum: he did not retain the coherence in the “macaronic” phrase. The whole of the sentence became irreversibly incomprehensible after the changes introduced by each subsequent editor into Batiushkov’s passage. The article restores the manuscript reading and provides a reconstruction of the original meaning through the comparison of Batiushkov’s text with Moliere’s phrase to which he referred.

The whole range of eighteenth-century French comedies is represented in the correspondence. Thus, we find quotations in French from Piron’s La Metromanie (III, 7: 1119), Palissot’s Les Philosophes (III, 3: 926, previously thought to be Batiushkov’s original phrase) or Beaumarchais’s Le mariage de Figaro (from act V, scene 3; not specified in the comments). However, “second” to Molière is Gresset with his Le Méchant. Batiushkov was fond of repeating II, 3: 761 and II, 1: 512 (on the latter two different comments are made at once in the 1989 edition, one of them being correct). Majkov’s note on II, 7: 974 (letter to Gnedich, 27 Nov. — 5 Dec. 1811) is suppressed in the modern commentary; a modified quotation of Le Méchant II, 3: 804 (letter to Gnedich, 23 March 1810) was referred to as “act II, scene 2” by Majkov and “act II, scene 1” by Zorin.

4. Addenda to parts 1 and 2 include the discussion of some other allusions and quotations which were misinterpreted or left unexplained in the commentaries: Virg. Ecl. 2. 69 and Georg. 2. 490 (letters to Gnedich, 13 March 1811, March 1817); Tac. Ann. 6. 5—6 (letter to A. I. Turgenev, 24 March 1819); Lucr. De Rer. nat. 2. 14 (letter to Gnedich, 7 Nov. 1811); and Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri II, 3 (letter to Olenin, 17 July 1818).


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