The Crimson Bookshelf
ENGLISH LITERATURE AND CULTURE IN RUSSIA (1553-1840), by Ernest J. Simmons. Harvard University Press. $3.50.
FIRST of all, one must record his gratitude to Dr. Simmons for making the first extensive study ever to be published in English of the literary relations between England and Russia. A further vote of thanks is due the author for having compressed no small amount of recondite facts into a compact volume, written in a clear, readable style of exposition which might well serve as a model for subsequent treatises in comparative literature. Only a person as learned as Dr. Simmons will be able, of course, to measure nicely how much compression has taken place; the general reader's gauge must be the number of suggestions which present themselves here and there.
The earliest Anglo-Russian rapport occurred during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and of Ivan the Terrible, and it originated in commerce. From then on, English ideas and institutions began to permeate Russia; their influence in the reign of Peter the Great, for example, is notable, and not even the excessively francophile trendencies of Catherine the Great were able to give them any real setback. Locke and Newton, as we should guess, were known to the Russian intelligentsia, even if the knowledge was gained through French intermediaries, and Shakespere, likewise, as the whole history of criticism shows, is too great ever to be altogether ignored anywhere for long; he came into his own in Russia at the beginning of the XIXth century, when the Russian General, Ivan Alexandrovitch Velyaminov made a prose translation of "Othello" from the French version of Ducia.
As the chief country during the Romantic movement, England produced (always excepting Rousseau) the most tearful sentimentalists like Sterne, who, had Russian imitators, and the most energetic poseurs like Byron, traces of whose stock-in-trade are discoverable in Lermontov and in the great Puslakin. Through the Waverly Novels, Scott gave an impetus to Russian historical fiction which can hardly be exaggerated. "After Byron," says Dr. Simmons, "no figure in English literature caught the popular imagination or won the devotion of Russian writers to the same extent, influences continued to be sure, but they were of a superficial and passing nature. Russia no longer had to go to school to Western Europe." By 1841 Turgenev, Dostorevsky, and Tolstoi were beginning their careers, so that Russia was really in a fair way to writing off, at compound interest, her debt to England and the rest of her European creditors.
Dr. Simmons owes us another book, which must carry on the story of Anglo-Russian relations from 1840 to the end of the third decade of the XXth century. It is also stipulated in the book that Dr. Simmons must show, among other things, the extent to which Tchekov influenced, for better and for worse, the English short story as written, for instance, by the late Katherine Mansfield. We have no doubt, with the present work as our criterion, that Dr. Simmons will discharge his duty commendably.