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Chapter 10

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

The Story of the Ukraine
by Clarence Manning

published by
Philosophical Library
New York,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 12

 p155  Chapter Twelve

The Awakening in Eastern Ukraine

In 1798 there suddenly appeared in St. Petersburg, a volume entitled the Eneida, written by one Ivan Kotlyarevsky. It was a travesty of Virgil's Aeneid, in which the Trojans were depicted as the wandering Kozaks who had been expelled from the Sich less than twenty-five years before. Furthermore the volume was written in the popular dialect of the province of Poltava where the author was serving as an official of the government. The revival of the Ukrainian spirit had commenced.

All possible honor must be paid to Kotlyarevsky for his audacious effort which was crowned with so much success and it would have been a godsend for Ukraine, had any one a century earlier had the courage and the intellectual independence to have made the same attempt. The tragedy of Ukraine had been, as we have seen, largely caused by the fact that the scholars of Kiev had adopted only a reactionary attitude toward the language question. They had striven so hard for the preservation of Church Slavonic that they had ignored the revival of the vernacular in both Poland and Russia. Even Skovoroda with all of his inspired teachings as to the rights of the individual had not ventured to break this old and stultifying tradition. Kotlyarevsky did and the results were at once visible.

Yet there was more to this innovation than the mere publishing of a book in the Ukrainian language. The spirit of Europe had been changing for over a quarter of a century and consciously or not Kotlyarevsky was a reflection of that change. Not only he among the Ukrainians but such men  p156 as Dositey Obradovich among the Serbs and Dobrovsky for the Czechs reflected the new attitude.

All of these men were products of the Enlightenment, that interesting movement of the eighteenth century which endeavored to apply the rule of reason to human affairs. They were often well trained in the classical languages and their cool intellectual powers fitted well with the powdered wigs and the stately manners of the courts of the enlightened despots. There was much in the writings of the Kievan school which encouraged a man like Kotlyarevsky. The various comedies produced in the school, the comical intermezzos, and all the varied performances which had dragged on at weary length in pseudo-Church Slavonic, all could be cited as proto­types for a whimsical treatment of a classical theme.

There was more to it than this. The Russian scholars under the influence of Lomonosov carefully adapted to the new Russian literature the ideals of Boileau and the French scholars who created the high, low and middle styles of literary language. The low was to form the language of comedy and of humorous episodes. It was to be free from those survivals of Church Slavonic that still maintained a definite position in the odes and tragedies of Russian literature. There were many burlesques of classical authors being published in Russian. Ippolit Bogdanovich, a Ukrainian, writing in Russian, had metamorphosized LaFontaine's Amours de Psyche into a Russian form. Free adaptation was the order of the day and if an author were to create humor by the use of the vernacular, how much better it was for a Ukrainian gentleman to employ the real vernacular and to transform the characters of Aeneas and his followers into the real Kozaks who were even then wandering around the Black Sea?

That was one possible source of inspiration but there was another which was rising with increasing vehemence  p157 throughout Europe. For centuries, the goal of literature was to appeal to the educated and noble classes by describing in elevated language the feelings and the emotions of the nobles and the more elevated and developed personalities. The common people had vanished from literature, except in comic interludes.

A new trend started with the work of Jean Jacques Rousseau who taught the superiority of the simple and natural man to the pattern of civilization and sophistication. His ideas were developed in the literary sphere by Johann Gottfried Herder, who emphasized the value of folksongs and of the poetry of so‑called primitive nations. Herder's influence resulted in the collecting of folksongs from all the people of Europe. Among these the gatherings of Serb folksongs were especially prominent. Thus by the end of the eighteenth century, interest in the ideas, the poetry and the customs of the various peoples hitherto ignored had become one of the leading components of the new studies.

It was thus that the Eneida appeared at the psychological moment when interest in the people was reaching a new high and when the French Revolution was already disturbing the settled political situation. The work revealed Kotlyarevsky both as a masterly adapter of the Aeneid and also as an authority on the manners and customs of the Kozaks. With its jesting and serious tone, it aroused attention among many of the descendants of the Kozak officers who had already become Russianized, and at the same time it fitted so well within the official and tolerated literary bounds that it was impossible for the authorities to regard it as revolutionary and administer any punishment to its bold author.

Still later, in his two comedies, Kotlyarevsky gave examples of the drama in the vernacular Ukrainian, and in both he drew clear differentiations between the manners and customs of the Ukrainians and those of the Moskals. There is still in these no question of political separation, but the  p158 author went back very definitely to the ideas of the older Kievans who had gone to Moscow and St. Petersburg, and emphasized the difference in the psychologies of the two peoples.

Whatever may have been the definite purpose of Kotlyarevsky in starting his work, he succeeded in giving the Ukrainians what they had long wanted — a definite modern language, and by doing this he laid a sound basis for a new movement. From the day when he first published the Eneida, Ukrainian literature has not lacked for writers. Of course in the beginning various people turned their hand to practicing the new medium for various purposes, but there has been an overwhelming tendency for all who had any special talent to emphasize the hardships of the people and to follow Kotlyarevsky in using their influence on behalf of the people as against the foreign and denationalized landowners. Thus from the very beginning the revived Ukrainian was not burdened with that type of aristocratic idealism that so marked the other Slavonic languages.

Opponents of the modern Ukrainian movement have often spoken slurringly of this literary movement, because its early writers did not directly challenge the Russian government and remained merely literary men. It betrays a curious ignorance, for in all of the Slavonic revival the process was exactly the same. The emphasis, whether in Ukraine or among the Czechs or elsewhere, was at first on literary and grammatical points. The very nature of Kotlyarevsky's work pushed the Ukrainian cause much further in the direction of democracy than was the case in the other languages.

The second stage in the revival was the introduction of Romanticism. This movement tended to look back toward the past. Its masters, in Russia and Poland and in all other countries, sought striking episodes from the past. They looked for outbursts of unbridled passion, of daring and of  p159 excitement and they found it in plenty among the Kozaks. The History of the Rus′ was now printed and it, even more than Karamzin's History of the Russian Empire, became the source book for the Romantic writers. Pushkin knew of it in Russian and so did Kondraty Fedorovich Ryleyev, that stormy petrel of the Decembrist movement who paid with his life for his participation in the movement in 1825. Many of his best poems dealt with the exploits of the old rulers of Kiev, of the Kozaks, of Nalyvayko and Voynarovsky, the nephew of Mazepa. Even though they tried to keep within the confines of the lawful type of Russian history, they could not fail to emphasize those qualities of personal independence which were rarely stressed in Muscovite tradition. Nikolay Gogol, the son of one of the earliest writers in Ukrainian, felt the same drive and in Taras Bulba he pictured the unbridled courage and daring of the old Kozaks in their struggle against the Poles. The Poles too felt this same influence and there appeared again a large number of Polish poems with their scenes located in Ukraine among the Kozaks.

It was to this phase of the revival that Taras Shevchenko, who was to be the stabilizer of Ukrainian and its greatest master, belongs. In the Kobzar, after dealing with various aspects of Ukrainian life and legend, all typical of the Romantic movement at its best, he turns to themes from Kozak history; and in the Night of Taras, in Ivan Pidkova, and later in the Haydamaki and Hamaliya, he gives us some of the greatest poems in Ukrainian when he describes the campaigns of the Kozaks against the Poles and the Turks. It is noticeable that most of these themes deal with the struggle against the Poles. That was more filled with the type of episode which suited the Romantic poet than was the period of conflict between the Hetman state and Moscow. The grinding force of the Russian steam-roller had prevented incidents of the old traditional type and we need not  p160 wonder that the Romantic poets in their desire to go back to the distant past paid more attention to events of the days before Khmelnitsky, when the Kozaks were the most democratic, the most unrestrained, and the most success­ful.

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Taras Shevchenko in 1840

(Self portrait)

Thus, by the time the rumbles of the Revolution of 1848 began to be heard, Ukrainian literary and linguistic revival was well under way. The literature had reached in the works of Shevchenko the level of the other Slavonic literatures. It had done this despite the disapproval of the Russian literary critics, especially Belinsky, who affected to believe that there was no real call for the erection of Little Russian, as he loved to call Ukrainian, into a literary language. His judgments on the Kobzar and the Haydamaki are almost ludicrous in their efforts to prove that Shevchenko was only a peasant trying to show off before Russian society. A few years later Apollon Grigoryev unhesitatingly placed him on a level with Pushkin and Mickiewicz, but he was exceptional in his willingness to follow his own ideas rather than the official promulgations of the intelligentsia.

In another field the Ukrainian revival went far: the field of ethnology and of folklore. The Romantic temperament, aided and abetted by the teachings of Herder, turned its attention to the manners and customs of the village. There grew up a veritable harvest of investigators who, whether in fiction form as in the case of Hrihori Kvitka-Osnovyanenko or in the form of scientific treatises, pictured every aspect of Ukrainian life. These men, and some of them were to be found among the Russianized gentry, emphasized the differences that existed in the manners and customs between the Ukrainians and the Great Russians. They noted with care the differences in the construction of the village houses, the arrangements of the houses and the farms, the embroideries, the legends, the folklore. They collected the popular songs, the dumy, the historical poems. Anything and everything that marked the life of the people in all of its manifestations  p161 they willingly committed to paper and step by step they gathered and preserved a picture of life in a Ukrainian village as it existed in the days of serfdom.

It is easy to overlook this kind of work and to regard it as the mere product of literary men and scholars. Yet the works of Maksimovich, of Tsertelev, and of many more served as a preliminary step to the raising of political aspirations. The study of the past carried on both by Ukrainians and by the Russian authorities brought to light much forgotten information. Thus the Governor General Bibikov in 1843 founded the Kiev Archaeological Commission, on which Shevchenko was for a time employed. This aimed to collect information on the past, to secure paintings of old buildings, and to supply details of history. It is highly significant that a firsthand knowledge of the past obtained in this work brought many of the young scholars and artists to realize more clearly than they had done before the historical value of many of the old Ukrainian writings which had existed up to that time only in manuscript.

A comparison with almost all of the other cultural revivals of the suppressed nations of Europe shows that such a beginning was the usual procedure. Even among the Czechs it became necessary to awaken the country to an appreciation of its past and the earliest leaders were poets such as Kollar and Jungmann, and historians like Palacky and Safarik. Among the Serbs it was Obradovich and his friends who undertook the task of acquainting the people with the achievements of the past and with modern conditions.

In all cases the political development came later and was not always in the beginning closely coordinated with the cultural movement. It was here that the difficulties of the Ukrainians multiplied. During the eighteenth century, the Estates of the Kingdom of Bohemia had become a completely moribund institution. They still went through the motions of existence and the same kind of historical study that called  p162 attention to the language and literature could be applied to searching out the rights of these long surviving traditions and breathing new life into them.

So it could have been in Ukraine, had there existed even a rudimentary form of the Hetman state. When we realize that the Russian Governor General Repnin could fall into governmental disfavor because his wife was a relative of the last hetman, Cyril Rozumovsky, we can see what might have been the consequences of even a paper continuation of the old order. Catherine had done her work well and she had eliminated every vestige of the former Hetman state. She had eliminated the Sich and while she had allowed some of the Kozaks to form a new organization in the Kuban, there was after fifty years no sense of continuity anywhere. The nobles had been almost completely Russianized in outlook. They owed their wealth and position to the ruin of the old order and while they might sympathize with and be moved by the plea of Kotlyarevsky, there was no likelihood that they would bestir themselves and risk their position in any mad adventure. For good or ill, they were lost to the call of Ukraine.

All they could do was to contribute in some small way to the foundation of the Universities of Kharkiv and Kiev, which had been started during the reign of Alexander I, largely through the advice and influence of Adam Czartoryski, one of the close friends of the Tsar and an ardent Polish patriot. His influence was rather expended on the problem of Poland and for this reason he had worked energetically in the revival of the University of Wilno in the old capital of Lithuania. For the same purpose he had inspired the freedom of universities in the Ukrainian cities but he had hoped that these would serve as centres of a Polish rather than of a Ukrainian revival. He partially succeeded, for Polish influence in both Kiev and Kharkiv grew rapidly during the years before the Polish revolt of 1831, even  p163 though it was from these institutions that many of the early Ukrainian song collectors, archaeologists, and historians were drawn.

Besides this, the Russian system did not contain, as the Austrian did, any loopholes for the formation of legal parties or political agitation. Catherine had seen well to this and in fact her attitude was only a legitimate Westernized expansion of the attitude of Tsar Alexis, when his delegates refused an oath to Khmelnitsky at the moment when the Kozaks first accepted the protection of the Tsar at Pereyaslav. Russia was indeed a monolithic state in which no one possessed any real rights except the tsar. The Kozak Host had been an anachronism and it had perished. Now with the Ukrainian revival there was no legal means of recalling the old rights and privileges for any one, much less the peasants living as serfs on the lands of denationalized and foreign masters.

The revival of the Ukrainians was, and was destined to remain, a purely cultural revival in a monolithic Russia which proudly had annexed the ancient history of Kiev and considered itself its legitimate successor. Little Russia seemed to the authorities merely a part of the whole and once all distinguishing characteristics had been removed in law, there was no way of restoring them except as the gift of the tsar or by the disintegration of the country.

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Page updated: 20 Sep 22