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The Presidential Library’s collections illustrate Decembrist Ivan Pushchin and his unbending faith of Fatherland’s better days

15 May 2019

May 15, 2019 marks the 221st anniversary of the birth of one of the leaders of the uprising on Senate Square of December 14, 1825, a member of the secret society “Union of Welfare”, the first graduate student Ivan Ivanovich Pushchin (1798-1859).

The lines from the letter to the son of the first director of the Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum E. A. Engelhardt tell much: there were those among the Decembrists who were still in charge during the investigation in Petersburg or later, under the influence of hard convictions, reconsidered the uprising "a miserable game of revolution, which killed so many young people", But that was not Ivan Pushchin, whose loyalty to ideals and spiritual maturity put him in the first row of true patriots of Russia.

The proof is several rare editions from the Presidential Library’s collections: the book “Notes by I. I. Pushchin on Pushkin” [introductory article by E. I. Yakushkin] (1907), the Moscow edition of “Notes on Pushkin. I. I. Pushchin" (1925) and "Letters from G. S. Batenkov, I. I. Pushchin and E. G. Toll" (1936). The introduction of the preface to “Portraits of the Decembrists” series of postcards by artist A. Rybakov is also of interest (2014).

... After graduation from the Lyceum, who forever made friends with Pushkin, Ivan Pushchin did not care of the ranks and titles unlike Korf, Gorchakov, and others. Just like Pushkin, who had ironically treated his chamber junkers, Pushchin after leaving the lyceum entered the Guards Horse Artillery, but did not remain in military service for long. Once the Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich sharply remarked to him that the lanyard on the saber was tied out of shape. Pushchin immediately filed his resignation, E. I. Yakushkin reports in the preface of the Notes of I. I. Pushchin on Pushkin.

In order to show that any service to the state and the people is not demeaning, a graduate of the imperial lyceum Pushchin decided to take the lowest police post (quarterly overseer). This angered his relatives, his sister on her knees urged him to abandon this intention. Pushchin gave in to requests and instead of a police post he took the place of a judge in the Criminal Department of the Moscow Court. At that time service in the lower judicial places was not prestigious. There, however, like the higher ones, corruption prevailed, the independence of the court existed only on paper. Judge Pushchin firmly stood guard over the law. Many people viewed his daily administration of justice as a civil feat.

Meanwhile, the events that led to the uprising on Senate Square were brewing. Entered into the secret society "Union of Welfare" immediately after the end of the lyceum, Ivan Pushchin on December 14 came to Senate Square. Pushkin at that time was serving an exile in Mikhailovskoye, and, it should be noted, Ivan Pushchin, realizing the great talent of a friend, fraternally insistently pushed Pushkin away from participation in the conspiracy. But at the same time he openly expressed his liberal views. “If Pushchin was hesitant to accept Pushkin into a secret society, then there is no doubt that his conversations were supported in the poet by the way of thinking that was expressed in his poems and prepared for him a quick exile. The very life of Pushchin should have had the same influence”, - we read in the preface to Notes.

As for the uprising itself, from the very beginning everything went contrary to the plans of the Decembrists. According to eyewitnesses, in this situation, Pushchin is one of the few who has kept his presence of mind. “When the cavalry pioneer squadron, which had received orders to occupy the English Embankment, began to trot between the square of the Moscow regiment and the Senate, the soldiers, thinking that the cavalry pioneers were attacking, opened fire on them”, - Yakushkin wrote in the introduction to Notes. - The officers, who saw that this was not an attack, shouted to the soldiers to stop shooting, but they did not stop the fire, as the shots drowned out the orders given. Pushchin was the only one at that moment. He shouted to the drummer: “beat a retreat”; the drummer hit the hook and the shooting stopped. Pushchin left the square one of the last; his grandfather's coat was shot in many places with a canister”.  

Then there were the arrest, the Shlisselburg fortress, the long wait for the sentence, according to which the penalty was replaced by eternal Siberian hard labor in exile. Under the amnesty of 1856 and due to illness, Pushchin was allowed to return to Petersburg.

According to L. Dobrinskaya in the preface to the “Portraits of the Decembrists”, “Black carriages took to Siberia the best, most worthy people of Russia. The tsar celebrated his victory - the enemy was defeated and locked up in prison. But the Decembrist Lunin was right, saying: “You can get rid of people, but you cannot get away from their ideas... They were deprived of everything: title, property, health, fatherland, and freedom, but they could not take away people's love from them”.