Chernets, kievskaia povest’ [The monk, a tale of Kiev].

St Petersburg, National Education Department Press, 1825.

8vo, pp. [2], 64; old shelf-mark to title, some contemporary ms. annotations; reinforced at inner margin throughout, tear through pp. 13-14 repaired with slight loss, marginal repairs to two leaves, a few spots and stains, last leaf dusty; still a sound copy in later nineteenth-century quarter textured cloth and marbled boards, green paper spine label.


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Rare first edition of Kozlov’s major work, a Byronic poem that brought him success on a par with that of Pushkin; the unsigned preface is probably by Zhukovsky, the introductory poem is dated September 1824. ‘The Monk was for twenty years of our century the same as Karamzin’s Poor Liza was for ninety years of the last … For a few years before it was published the poem travelled in manuscript all across Russia. It took an abundant and full tribute in tears from beautiful eyes; men knew it by rote’ (Belinksy, quoted in Smirnov-Sokol’skii).

Kozlov (1779-1840) enjoyed a successful military and civil service career before being struck by paralysis in 1821, becoming completely blind. Already with a strong command of French, he learned English and German and took to writing, translating Scott, Byron and Moore. ‘Kozlov was one of the first Russians to come under the influence of Byron and to translate him into Russian … [The Monk] is a Byronic confessional poem, a tale of love, death, and revenge shrouded in an atmosphere of mystery … [It] enjoyed three successive printings’ (Terras), and spawned numerous imitators. Chernets presented an ambiguous Byronic hero; it is a story of a terrible crime and of ultimate repentance. The hero loses his wife and child through the intrigues of a villain, and passes seven years in the wilderness, before tracking down and killing the felon; he retires to a monastery to repent.

Kozlov also played host to a distinguished literary salon, attended by Zhukovsky and Pushkin, to whom he sent a copy of Chernets; Pushkin replied in the form of a poem: ‘Pevets! Kogda ia pered toboi …’. Inevitably, comparisons were made between the poets by contemporaries – Byron had also played a part in Pushkin’s poetical formation – not always in Pushkin’s favour. Viazemsky, for example, wrote to Aleksandr Turgenev in 1825 that, ‘there is in Chernets more feeling, more thought than in Pushkin’s poems’.

Kilgour 556; Smirnov-Sokol’skii 762. OCLC shows 4 copies: Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Library of Congress.

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