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  Philologica 4 (1997)  
   
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M. I. SHAPIR

THE PHENOMENON OF BATEN’KOV AND THE PROBLEM OF MYSTIFICATION
(The Linguistic and Versification Aspect. 1—2)

 
 
 


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Summary

1. Introduction. It is not only the life of Gavriil Baten’kov (1793—1863), but also the posthumous fate of his writings that has turned out to be full of many impenetrable enigmas. This Decembrist poet was long considered “an author of one work”: only one poem of his, The Wild One, was published during the author’s lifetime (and that only anonymously), and this work was not highly esteemed by past generations of scholars. With time, his other poems were discovered, but they were also pronounced “lacking in skill” (Gershenzon). Readers’ attitudes to Baten’kov the poet have recently changed radically, in the course of the last two decades — first and foremost, thanks to the appearance of Aleksandr Iliushin’s monograph, The Poetry of the Decembrist G. S. Baten’kov (Moscow 1978). In this study, a whole number of excellent poems were published for the first time. Today, however, the lion’s share of the texts included in Iliushin’s book (perhaps the best of Baten’kov’s legacy) is not supported by reliable documents: “the manuscript collection of Baten’kov’s poems, presented by the author to S. P. Trubeckoj”, which was preserved in one of the State Archives, disappeared without trace. Until it is re-discovered, the question of authenticity of many of Baten’kov’s works cannot be approached, except by the methods of a philological critique of the text. Therefore, the aim of the present article is to find out: how can textual criticism benefit from a comparative linguistic and versification analysis of the authentic and dubious Baten’kov, carried out against the background of the Russian poetic tradition of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

So far, the study of versification has often given in to much simpler tasks. Can it therefore in any way help textual criticism, in the case when mystification is not obvious, and the dubious texts might have been composed by a gifted poet and scholar? In the meantime, there are more than enough reasons to consider the problem of authenticity of Baten’kov’s poetic heritage a complex one. Firstly, the texts presented by Iliushin are supported by a good legend: the editor refers to Baten’kov’s manuscript writings, the material existence of which is confirmed by archival inventories. Secondly, some works from the missing document had been studied and even partially published before Iliushin’s monograph appeared, so that if we are dealing with a hoax, the authentic verses are thoroughly mixed up with non-authentic ones. Lastly, the authenticity of these poems has not been doubted before, whereas the works from the missing manuscript were endlessly republished, and they became the subject of investigations by many scholars (among them very authoritative ones, such as V. N. Toporov).

Why, then, is it necessary to pose the question of mystification, rather than express gratitude to the editor who preserved for us the texts which the curators of the State Archives were unable to protect? The justification for my sceptical attitude lies in the nature of Iliushin’s creative personality: not only is he a professional student of versification, but also a gifted poet of, so to speak, a protean type, who easily and gladly disguises his face under different poetic masks. Iliushin is a poet-translator who tends not only to literal rendering, but even to poetic mimicry. At the same time he never signed his original poems with his real name: of the three long poems he published, two were ascribed to “an unknown author”, and the third to Apollon Grigor’ev. Iliushin the student of Russian classical texts is almost inclined to co-authorship with the poets of the past. Thus, when conjecturing about the lacunae in Polezhaev’s poems, the scholar composed a number of verses (in place of those which were lost), and, because of a misunderstanding, colleagues included these lines in the Collected Works of Polezhaev. Iliushin is also known in the role of editor-mystificator. When he compiled the Russian text of Danto’s Inferno from the translations of different poets, he had to make certain realia uniform; to do this, he in particular anonymously re-wrote two tercets by Katenin. It is clear that the specificity of Iliushin’s gift could have enabled him to compose the dubious poems of Baten’kov. This, however, does not lead to any final conclusions: advocates of the “counterfeit” version should prove that Baten’kov himself could in no way be the author of these poems. The possibility is not excluded that our discipline is incapable of this task.

2. Versification. The comparison of authentic and dubious texts was conducted in three aspects: versification, linguistic-versification, and the purely linguistic. (Only the results of the comparative study of versification are included in this issue of the journal). In terms of their metric and stanzaic composition, the two groups of texts reveal, on an equal footing with their global similarity, some partial differences. The metre is less “classical” in the authentic Baten’kov, while the stanzaic structure is less classical in his alter ego. Such a result, however, may equally have “natural” or “artificial” origins: metric and stanzaic norms of the poetic text are the most common and superficial ones; they are easily recognizable and therefore they are easy to assimilate. On the contrary, too a slavish reproduction of them, a fear of diverging only slightly from the original could only be suspicious, and such a connoisseur of poetry as Iliushin would certainly have foreseen this.

In terms of stress rhythm, the similarity between Baten’kov and the dubia is really striking. The rhythmic profile of the iambic tetrameter in both groups belongs to a so called “transitional type”: the proportions of stresses on the first two feet are equal, or approximately equal, while the difference between the frequencies of rhythmic forms is not higher than 2%. However, Iliushin with his peculiar rhythmic sensitivity could have easily imitated the manner of Baten’kov (a few years ago, when translating Piron’s Ode à Priape as if it had been translated some two hundred years earlier, Iliushin proved to be able to reproduce flawlessly the rhythm of Russian verse of the late 18th century). The similarity of the structure of word-boundaries is not so impressive, but no textological conclusions can be drawn from the differences which have been discovered: in the dubia, the rhythm of word-boundaries is a little more archaic in the fully stressed lines, while in Baten’kov it is more archaic in the lines in which the second and third feet are pyrrhics. However, if all these texts are considered as a single body, the total parameters will very closely approximate the average figures for the period.

Alongside the “horizontal” rhythm (that is the rhythm of individual lines) the “vertical” rhythm was also analysed, that is, the rhythm created by different combinations of lines. The author (or the authors) of the poems under consideration are totally indifferent to the degree of monotony: the distribution of homogeneous lines in the text corresponds precisely with the mathematical probability. A peculiar accentual structure of the odic decima also brings Baten’kov and the dubia closer together: in both groups of poems, the initial quatrain of the odic stanza is organized in conformity with the twentieth-century model (undulatory decrease in the proportion of stressed feet in the line, from the beginning of the strophoid to its end), whereas the final sixaine is organized in conformity with the eighteenth-century model (the rise of the proportion of stressed feet in the line at the beginning and at the end of the strophoid, with the fall in the middle). Moreover, both the authentic and dubious poems tend to include fragments with homologous compositions: in our material, the lines with equal rhythmic forms are rhymed more frequently than should be expected. Furthermore, the correlation between rhythm and rhyme is often reinforced by syntactic parallelism and occasional rhymes within the lines. At the same time, the possibility cannot be excluded that homologous compositions are a commonplace of the poetic language: at times they are caused by the grammatical identity of the rhyming words.

Unlike the metric features, the stanzaic and rhythmic features (which testify to the deep structural similarity between the authoritative and dubious texts), the comparative study of the rhyme reveals the fact of their no less deep differences. However, these differences do not embrace all aspects of rhyme. For example, the proportion of “exact” masculine rhymes in the dubia coincides with that in Baten’kov, while the decrease in the proportion of “exact” feminine rhymes is achieved chiefly by the spasmodic increase in the number of “approximate” rhymes: the non-coincidence of vowels in the post-stressed syllable is found in authentic poems only twice, while in the dubia 29 times. Such a striking contrast in the system of rhyming is symptomatic, but nevertheless it cannot serve as an unconditional proof of the spuriousness of the dubious works. The fact is that at least one third of the poems which are confirmed by manuscripts or publications from Baten’kov’s lifetime, were composed in the 1810s and 1820s, whereas 80% of the lines which demand attribution are (according to the 1978 edition) from the 1850s and 1860s. M. L. Gasparov has demonstrated that, from the 1810s to the 1850s, the maximum use of “approximate” rhymes rose more than tenfold. This evolution not only took place because of changing generations; the poetics of individual authors also changed from one decade to another. This can be illustrated using the example of Tiutchev’s verse; I calculated the proportions of “approximate” rhymes in his poetry: 2. 1% in the 1810s, 6. 5% in the 1820s, 9. 2% in the 1830s, 13. 2% in the 1840s, 10. 3% in the 1850s, 17. 9% in the 1860s, and 16. 9% in the 1870s. Of course, in Tiutchev the process of assimilation of “approximate” rhymes was slow and continuous, while in Baten’kov (if we consider his authoritative and dubious texts as the works of the same author) a qualitative transition took place from a more or less strict ban even on graphic dissimilation of vowels to a more or less free phonetic dissimilation. But Tiutchev, unlike Baten’kov, did not spend 20 years in the Peter-and-Paul fortress cut off from the literary movement of his epoch.

No less suspicious than the phonetics is the grammar of rhymes in the dubia. In the authentic Baten’kov, more than half the rhymes (52. 9%) are grammatically identical, while in the dubious poems there are only 37. 2% of such rhymes. But even this circumstance is not a final proof. Roman Jakobson maintained that the age-old history of Russian rhyme is the history of its degrammaticalization. In terms of the level of grammaticality, the early Baten’kov is close to Lomonosov, while the “later” is close to Fet. Not only his authentic poems, but even the dubious ones cannot be compared with Tiutchev’s, in which the maximum of grammaticality of the rhyme never exceeded 33. 3%. Again, the only trouble is caused by the leap, with which Baten’kov could in a moment cross the gap between the poetics of the 18th and 19th centuries. However, if natura non facit saltus (and not certainly), the culture abounds in such leaps. Indeed, Baten’kov composed his first poem after release using 5-foot iambs without caesura, a metre he had never used before (Hope, 1846); he grew fond of ternary metres at the end of life, although he did not like them before. Perhaps his system of rhyming also changed, as did his metric and stanzaic repertory? I would not insist on this proposition, but in theory it is not improbable.

There is no doubt that the versification in the dubia has a number of features, including constitutive ones, which do not find any analogues in the authentic works. Some of these features make it necessary to look for a much more compelling corroboration of Baten’kov’s authorship, than merely the Editor’s assertion. Nevertheless, all differences between authoritative and dubious poems which have been discovered do not exceed the limits of what is possible within the creative work of a single poet, and they do not enable us to argue unreservedly that the dubious texts could in no way have been composed in the 19th century. Nothing else is left but to accumulate such differences in the hope that the study of other levels of the poetic language will give us the arguments which can make the solution self-evident.

This article is continued in the next issue of “Philologica”

 


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