Novikov, Nikolai Ivanovich

views updated May 18 2018


(17441818), writer, journalist, satirist, publisher, and social worker.

Nikolai Ivanovich Novikov was a prominent writer, journalist, publisher, and social worker who began the vogue of the satirical magazine. Catherine II's efforts to proliferate ideas of the Enlightenment had injected new vigor in Russian writers in the early 1760s. Hoping to demonstrate to the West that Russia was not a despotic state, she established a "commission for the compilation of a new code of laws" in 1767 and published "instructions" for the commission in major European languagesa treatise entitled Nakaz dlya komissii po sochineniyu novogo ulozheniya. She also began the publication in early 1769 of a satirical weekly modeled on the English Spectator entitled All Sorts and Sundries (Vsyakaya vsyachina ) and urged intellectuals to follow her example. For a brief period, all editors were freed from preliminary censorship.

An enthusiastic believer in the Enlightenment, Nikolai Novikov accepted the challenge and published a succession of successful journalsTruten (The Drone, 17691770), Pustomelya (The Tattler ) in 1770, Zhivopisets (The Painter ) in 1772, and others. Novikov became a pioneer in the journalistic movement in the 1770s and 1780s, and the works of prose appearing in his journals amounted to both a new literary phenomenon for Russian culture and a new form for the expression of public opinion. He took Catherine's "instructions" seriously and cultivated works that delved deeply into questions of political life and social phenomena that formerly lay within the sole jurisdiction of the tsarist bureaucracytopics that could be considered before only in secret and with official approval. In addition to editing and publishing four periodicals and a historical dictionary, The Library of Old Russian Authors (17721775) in thirty volumes, Novikov also took over the Moscow University Press in 1778. His publishing houses operated first in St. Petersburg and then in Moscow, offering a prodigious quantity of books designed to spread Enlightenment ideas at a modest price. Novikov dedicated himself and his fortune to the advancement of elementary education as well, publishing textbooks and even the first Russian magazine for children.

Novikov can be viewed as a tragic figure in Russian history. Abruptly in 1774 Catherine II blocked publication of his journals because of their sharp attacks on serious social injustice. By imperial order she stopped further books from being produced. In 1791 she closed his printing presses. Regarding education as her own bailiwick, she was probably irked by Novikov's successful activities. Novikov's association with the Freemasons also alienated her. A middle-of-the-road theorist rather than a purist, Novikov was sometimes caught in a paradox between his keen appreciation of European Enlightenment and his high regard for the ancient Russian virtues. Freemasonry seemed to offer a way out of the paradox to a firm moral standpoint.

Catherine II, however, had always opposed secret societies, which had been outlawed in 1782 (although Freemasonry had been exempted). Her predecessor Peter III, whom she had skillfully dethroned, had been favorably disposed towards Freemasonry. Equally, her political rival and personal enemy, the Grand Duke Paul, was a prominent Freemason. Further, since the break with England, Russian Freemasonry had come under the influence of German Freemasonry, of which Frederick the Great, the archenemy of Catherine, was a dominant figure. To Catherine, it must have seemed that everyone she disliked intensely was a Freemason.

Novikov was arrested but never tried and was sentenced by imperial decree to detention in the fortress of Schlüsselburg for fifteen years. He was released when Paul became emperor in 1796, but retired from public life in disillusionment to study mysticism. He never could engage fully in Moscow's literary world again.

See also: catherine ii; enlightenment, impact of; journalism


Jones, W. Gareth. (1984). Nikolay Novikov, Enlightener of Russia. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Levitt, Marcus C. (1995). Early Modern Russian Writers: Late Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Detroit: Gale Research.

Johanna Granville

Novikov, Nikolai Ivanovich (1744–1818)

views updated Jun 11 2018


NOVIKOV, NIKOLAI IVANOVICH (17441818), for about three decades one of the defining figures of the Russian Enlightenment. Born into a middling noble family, he was part of the earliest cohort of students at the noble boarding school of the newly opened Moscow University (founded in 1755). He continued on to the university, although, like most of the literati of his age, he left well before completing his course of study. Commissioned as a lieutenant in a guards' regiment, he left the service quite early (an act made possible in 1762 by a law freeing the nobility from compulsory service). Thereafter he devoted his energies to letters and the fledgling world of Russian literary journalism in St. Petersburg.

In 1767 he participated, first in St. Petersburg and then in Moscow, as a secretary in the Legislative Commission established by the empress Catherine the Great. Grand in its intention to produce a new fundamental law (Ulozhenie) for the empire, the commission actually produced very little legislation and served more as a semi-public forum for discussing matters of public policy. It adjourned in December 1768, and Novikov resigned to become a full-time editor and journalist. Over the next five years he immersed himself in St. Petersburg's literary life, editing several of its so-called satirical journals. With titles such as The Painter, The Tattler, and The Drone, these mostly monthly journals endeavored to bring the spirit of European satire to Russia's small educated public, while at the same time focusing on Russian affairs and customs. The determination to respect Russia's own antiquity was a defining feature of Novikov's work, motivating him, among other things, to publish an extensive, multivolume compendium of Russian antiquities entitled The Ancient Russian Library.

In 1778 he moved back to Moscow and took out a ten-year lease on Moscow University Press, an act that elevated him to the status of a publishing magnate, arguably Russia's first. Equally important, he became a member of the Rosicrucians, whose blend of service and religious pietism came to have a significant influence on his outlook. In 1783, Catherine issued an edict allowing private parties to own and operate presses with relatively little governmental oversight, at least through the 1780s. Novikov and his associates took advantage of this opportunity by establishing a series of interconnected publishing ventures, the largest of which, the Typographical Company, rivaled Russia's largest institutional presses. By the mid-1780s Novikov's enterprises, which included a separate Masonic publishing house, were producing over 40 percent of all titles published in Russian. They sponsored an extensive program of translation, producing Russian versions of contemporary European literature.

Novikov's publicistic successes (financially, his ventures generally operated at a large loss), along with his devotion to a particularly secretive and religious brand of Freemasonry, attracted the suspicion of police officials in Moscow. Investigated at least four times between 1785 and 1792, he was stripped of the Moscow University Press lease in 1789 and then arrested in 1792. Freed to return to his estate during the reign of Paul I, he remained there in relative obscurity until his death in 1818. But he maintained a very active correspondence with other leading masons, such as Alexander Labzin, especially during the early years of the reign of Alexander I.

See also Catherine II (Russia) ; Enlightenment ; Freemasonry ; Journals, Literary ; Printing and Publishing ; Russian Literature and Language .


Jones, W. Gareth. Nikolay Novikov, Enlightener of Russia. Cambridge, U.K., 1984.

Smith, Douglas. Working the Rough Stone: Freemasonry and Society in Eighteenth-Century Russia. DeKalb, Ill., 1999.

Gary Marker

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