Lovers of Wisdom, The

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The Lovers of Wisdom (Liubomudry ), writers based in Moscow during the 1820s, were strongly influenced by Romanticism and set out to explore the philosophical, religious, aesthetic and cultural implications of German Idealist philosophy. The Society for the Love of Wisdom met secretly in the apartment of its president, Vladimir Odoyevsky (ca. 18031869) from 1823 to 1825. While the Society formally disbanded following the Decembrist uprising, its members' works continued to display unity of interest and purpose through the late 1820s. The group's core consisted of Odoyevsky, Dmitry Venevitinov (18051827), Ivan Kireyevsky (18061856), Alexander Koshelev (18061883), and Nikolai Rozhalin (18051834). But the number of people generally considered Lovers of Wisdom is much broader, including Alexei Khomyakov (18041860), Stepan Shevyrev (18061864), Vladimir Titov (18071891), Dmitry Struisky (18061856), Nikolai Melgunov (18041867), and Mikhail Pogodin (18001875).

In secondary literature, the Lovers of Wisdom have long been overshadowed by the Decembrists. While the Decembrists pursued political and military careers in St. Petersburg and allegedly conspired to force political reform, the Lovers of Wisdom bided their time at comfortably undemanding jobs at the Moscow Archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They indulged in speculation on the most abstract issues, with a bent toward mysticism. Even their choice of name, "Lovers of Wisdom" as opposed to "philosophers", or philosophes, is thought to have marked their opposition to the progressive tradition of the radical Enlightenment.

Yet the Lovers of Wisdom thought of themselves as enlighteners in the broader sense. They aimed to reinvigorate Russian high culture by attacking the moral corruption of the nobility and promoting creativity and the pursuit of knowledge. They contrasted the superstition and petty-mindedness of the nobility to the moral purity of the "lover of wisdom," who often appeared in their satires and oriental tales in the guise of a magus, dervish, brahmin, Greek philosopher, or sculptor, or a misunderstood Russian writer. Whether in short stories, metaphysical poetry, or quasi-philosophical prose works, Odoyevsky, Venevitinov, Khomyakov and Shevyrev emphasized the great spiritual and even religious importance of the young, creative individual, or genius. The special status of such individuals was only highlighted by their apparent moral fragility and vulnerability in a hostile environment.

The group was heavily indebted to Romanticism and to German Idealist philosophy. Admittedly, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling's philosophy seems to have appealed in part because it was difficult to understand. As Koyré (1929) remarked, their Romanticism was characterized by a "slightly puerile desire to feel 'isolated from the crowd,' the desire for the esoteric, which is complemented by the possession of a secret, even if that secret consists only in the fact that one possesses one." (p. 37). But their works also display a genuine commitment to principles such as the fundamental unity of matter and ideas, and the notion that these achieve higher synthesis in the absolute, the spirit that guides the world. To them, creating a work of art, or striving for any kind of knowledge, brought the individual into contact with the absolute, lending the artist or intellectual special religious status.

Such views did not accord with Orthodox Christianity. The political authorities did not welcome them either. Yet the Lovers of Wisdom found ways of promoting their views in poetry and prose they published in journals and almanacs, especially in Mnemozina (18241825), edited by Odoyevsky with the Decembrist Wilgelm Kyukhelbeker, and Moskovsky vestnik (18271830), edited by Pogodin. They also published translations from leading voices of Romanticism such as Goethe, Byron, Tieck and Wackenroder.

The closure of Moskovsky vestnik in 1830 marked the end of the Lovers of Wisdom as a group. But the death of Venevitinov, often considered their most talented member, in 1827, had already dealt them a blow, as did the departure of many key members from Moscow in the late 1820s. In the early 1830s, the group's members developed in new directions. Some of them, such as Kireyevsky and Khomyakov, eventually became leaders of the Slavophile movement, arguably the most coherent and original strain in nineteenth-century Russian thought.

See also: decembrist movement and rebellion; khomyakov, alexei stepanovich; kireyevsky, ivan vasilievich; odoyevsky, vladimir fyodorovich; pogodin, mikhail petrovich


Gleason, Abott. (1972). European and Muscovite: Ivan Kireevsky and the Origins of Slavophilism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Koyré, Alexandre. (1929). La philosophie et le problème national en Russie au début du XIXe siècle. Paris: Librairie Ancienne Honoré Champion.

Victoria Frede