Lomonosov, Mikhail

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Lomonosov, Mikhail (1711-1766): Russian Writer and Scientist.

Mikhail Lomonosov was one of Russia’s most prominent Enlightenment figures in literature and the sciences. He was born to a ship-owning family in the village of Mishanovka near Archangel. At the age of 19, he traveled to Moscow for education and demonstrated extraordinary talent. He was sent to study mathematics, physics, chemistry, and metallurgy in Germany (1736-1740). There, he studied with the distinguished philosopher Christian Wolff who greatly influenced him. He also began experimenting with syllabo-tonic poetry and composing odes. Because of financial difficulties, he had to go back to Russia. He started to frequent the Academy of Sciences of St.Petersbourg and served there as a chemistry professor. In 1743, he participated in an ode composition debate with Sumarokov, Aleksandr and Vasily Trediakovsky, in which he upheld the idea that the iamb best suits the solemn tone of the ode. He played an important role in founding Russia’s first university in 1755, and he also introduced the art of mosaics to his country.

Lomonosov’s greatest contributions to the Enlightenment period came through his literary practice and theory. Beginning with his “Ode on the Capture of Khotin” (1739), he set the main tone for Russia’s military odes and panegyrics to monarchs, in which he wrote most fervently for the Empress Elizabeth and praised Peter I as a reformer and hero. Lomonosov set the standard for spiritual odes with works such as the Morning and Evening Meditations on God’s Greatness, which combined scientific descriptions of the sun’s surface and the Aurora Borealis with reverent gratitude toward the Creator. His Rhetoric presented tropes and words with multiple potential meanings as the basis for poetry. His “Preface on the Usefulness of Church Books in the Russian Language” (1758) correlated stylistic layers of the language to the hierarchy of genres. Lomonosov’s Russian Grammar (1755) was the first published grammar of the language written in Russian, and it played a crucial role in codifying the vernacular spelling and alphabet.

Further Reading:

Ilya Serman, Mikhail Lomonosov: Life and Poetry, 1988.

Alisa Gayle Mayor