Birth of Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky, Russian Poet, Translator, Mentor of Emperor Alexander II
Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky was born on January 29 (February 9), 1783 in the village of Mishenskoye, Belyovsky Uezd, Tula Governorate. He was the illegitimate son of the landowner Afanasi Ivanovich Bunin and the captive Turkish woman Salkha (in baptism – Yelizaveta Dementievna Turchaninova). The boy was adopted and given his surname and patronymic by the impoverished landowner Andrey Grigoryevich Zhukovsky, an acquaintance of Afanasi Bunin, who lived in their house. In a legal marriage, Afanasi Bunin and his wife Maria Grigorievna (nee Bezobrazova) had 11 children, of whom five survived by 1770. The only son Ivan died at a young age in 1781. Zhukovsky was not separated from other children in the manor house and was surrounded by the same care and affection. According to the current romantic legend, Maria Grigorievna loved him as her own son.
In 1790, after the family moved to Tula, Vasily Zhukovsky was sent to the Christopher Rode Boarding School. During his studies, the boy showed no aptitude for science and was expelled from the Main National School, which he entered after the boarding school, in 1792. He was taken in by the family of his half-sister Varvara Afanasyevna Yushkova. During these years, Vasily Zhukovsky became fascinated with theatre and began to show interest in literature.
In 1797, he entered the Moscow University Noblemen’s Pension, where he studied history, Russian literature, French, German, drawing, as well as got involved in literary art (in 1797, he published the poem May Morning in the Useful and Pleasant Pastime magazine). After graduating from the boarding school in 1800, he became one of the founders of the Friendly Literary Society.
In 1802-1807, he lived in Mishenskoye, engaged in self-education, translations and writings. The first success of Vasily Zhukovsky was brought by the elegies The Rural Cemetery (1802), The Evening (1807), and the romantic ballad Lyudmila (1808). In 1808-1811, he collaborated with the Bulletin of Europe journal, in which he published literary translations and critical essays. The creative work of Vasily Zhukovsky in 1802-1814 laid the foundations of the so-called elegiac school that dominated Russian poetry in 1810s – early 1820s. The features of the new school included focus on the “life of the soul” and its main values (friendship, love), sensitive perception of nature, intonation of sadness, melody of verse. Later, religious and philosophical motives began to prevail in the lyrics of Vasily Zhukovsky of 1815-1824, sorrow and compassion became integral attributes of earthly existence, and hope for afterlife retribution emerged. In 1815, young writers who formed the Arzamas circle rallied around Vasily Zhukovsky in St. Petersburg.
In 1817, Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky was invited to be the Russian language teacher to Princess Charlotte, the future Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. He enjoyed universal love, and soon became his own man in the royal family. The quiet life at the court contributed to the flourishing of the poet's creativity. In addition to his own works, Vasily Zhukovsky was engaged in literary translations from Schiller, Goebel, Goethe, Körner, Uhland, Ramler, Byron. In 1820, at Zhukovsky’s apartment, A. S. Pushkin finished reading Ruslan and Lyudmila, and received his portrait as a gift from him with the signature: “To the winner-student from the defeated teacher ...”
In 1826-1841, Vasily Zhukovsky served at the court as the tutor of the heir to the throne, the future Emperor Alexander II. An individual training program was developed for the young prince, consisting of three stages and covering the age from 8 to 20 years. Vasily Zhukovsky saw the main task in education as “to show the soul of a young tsarevich the way to not only understand everything beautiful, but to love the beautiful so that his soul finds pleasure in doing good and feels disgust for evil itself.”
Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky himself taught the heir the Russian language, grammar, history, physics and chemistry. The mentor carefully selected books to read. Part of the books the young man had to read alone, part – they read together to have a discussion later. At the insistence of Vasily Zhukovsky, the military disciplines of Tsarevich Alexander began to be taught only from the age of 11, and not from 9, as was previously customary. In 1837, when Alexander came of age, it was decided to let him explore Russia, its nature, sights, population, and its way of life. Zhukovsky participated in the development of the travel route, and headed the retinue of the heir. In 1838-1839, he accompanied the Tsarevich on a trip to Europe.
In 1841, Vasily Zhukovsky retired with the rank of privy councilor and went to Germany, where he married Elizabeth, the daughter of the German artist G. von Reutern. His main work at this time was the translation of the poem Odyssey (1849). The last, original poem Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew (published in 1857) remained unfinished.
Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky died on April 12 (24), 1852 in Baden-Baden, Germany. After the cremation, the ashes were moved to the Alexander Nevsky Lavra in St. Petersburg.
Lit.: Глинский Б. Жуковский В. А. // Русский биографический словарь. Петроград, 1916. Т. 7. С. 60–117; Коровин В. Л. Жуковский // Большая российская энциклопедия.
Based on the Presidential Library’s materials:
Vasily Zhukovsky (1783–1852): [digital collection];
Гоппен Н. С. Венценосный москвич: Очерк двадцатипятилетия царствования государя императора Александра II [1855 г. -1880 г.]. СПб., 1880 (about the mentor V. A. Zhukovsky: scans 14–21);
Е. Л. Александр II, царь-освободитель. М., 1892 (about the mentor V. A. Zhukovsky: scans 5–15);
История царствования императора Александра II. СПб., 1882 (about the mentor V. A. Zhukovsky: scans 10–11, 12–14);
Сборник Императорского Русского исторического общества. [Т. 30]: Годы учения его императорского высочества наследника цесаревича Александра Николаевича, ныне благополучно царствующего государя императора. СПб., 1880.