Alexander Radishchev: The First of the Repentant Nobles
A reformer of law and critic of society, writes Lionel Kochan, Radishchev emerges as a founding figure in the liberal tradition of the Russian intelligentsia.
“I looked about me and my soul was afflicted with the sufferings of mankind... I felt that each man could strive for the well-being of his fellows.”
These words were written by Alexander Radishchev and with them, it has been truly said, the Russian intelligentsia was born and the first of the repentant noblemen made his appearance in Russian life and literature.
Radishchev’s manifesto appeared in the dedication of his famous Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow. It was published in 1790 and, although the book was passed by the censor, apart from insignificant cuts, this did not protect its author from the wrath of the Empress Catherine. She annotated her copy of the work with violently hostile comments and had Radishchev sentenced to ten years’ exile in central Siberia.
But in 1797, following the death of the Empress and the accession of her son Paul, Radishchev was permitted to return to Russia and live in seclusion on his family estates. He was further rehabilitated in 1801 when Alexander succeeded Paul as Emperor.