Karamzin, Nicolai Mikhailovich

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Karamzin, Nicolai Mikhailovich (1766 – 1826): Russian Writer.

Karamzin, perhaps the most significant Russian prose writer of the Eighteenth Century began the Russian Sentimentalism genre. In fact, Russian literature dating from the1790’s to the 1820’s is often referred to as dating from the Karamzin era.

Karamzin, son of a retired army captain, was born in Simbirsk. His mother died when he was two. The family physician and educated neighbors were responsible for his early schooling, and from about 1777 – 1778, Karamzin attended a boarding school in Simbirsk. For the next five years, he lived in Moscow, studying under Matthias Schaden, a professor of Moral Philosophy, and graduating in 1781.

After graduating, he lived in St. Petersburg and enrolled in the Preobrazhensky Guards regiment. In 1784, upon his father’s death, Karamzin retired from the military and returned to Simbirsk. Shortly afterwards, he entered the “Golden Crown” Masonic Lodge, and in 1785, moved to Moscow and joined the Novikov, Nikolai Ivanovich’s Friendly Learned Society. Despite his occasional skepticism, the Masonic beliefs and philosophies had a profound influence on Karamzin’s subsequent work. He translated spiritual and moral works, and also began co-editing a journal for children, in which his first original works appeared, including the short story “Evgenii I Yuliya”

In May 1789, Karamzin traveled to Europe, probably sponsored in part by the Masons, and in 1791, he published a widely popular Letters of a Russian Traveller. He married E. I. Protasova, a mason in 1801, and worked on A History of the Russian State, a twelve volume work, from 1818-1825. In 1825, he abandoned his projects because of poor health, and died at the age of sixty in 1826.

Further Reading:

Dictionary of Literary Biography. Volume 150: "Early Modern Russian Writers, Late Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries." Edited by Marcus C.Levitt. Detroit: Gale Research, 1995.

Sigrid Kelsey

Louisiana State University