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IN his little manual on modern Russian literature, published about ten years ago, Prince D. H. Misky describes Solovyev as "the greatest name in Russian Philosophy . . . he was the first Russian to combine strict religious orthodoxy with a political liberalism of a European type." At least two other works of Solovyev's have been translated into English: "The Justification of the Good" and "Three Conservations on War, Peace, and the End of History," but the present translation of his essay on Plato, which by the way has been done completely by Richard Gill, will introduce the philosopher to the English-speaking public in a somewhat more acceptable guise than either his longish ethical treatise or his witty dialogues were ever able to do; for interest in Plato is persistent and so it is always timely to have interpretations of Platonism--what indeed could be more interesting than an interpretation from pre-Revolutionary Russia?
The Melancholy Dane
Professor Janko Lavrin of University College, Nottingham, provides an informative introduction, though he makes no effort "ad captandum vulgus" by mentioning what is likely to win the vast majority of readers: Solovyev's criticism of "Hamlet", in which is demonstrated (as indispensable to the tragic venture of the play) the capital importance of Hamlet's belief in blood-vengeance, despite his Christian faith, and of his "general incapacity to put into execution any law." This is a most ingenious criticism of Shakespere, and it will serve to remind one that Russians have been unorthodox critics from the beginning -- a fact which is to be read between the lines of Dr. E. J. Simmons's recent study, "English Literature and Culture in Russia." Solovyev writes further, pointing out the obvious with all the modesty and non-chalance of genius: "It is often overlooked that the theme in 'Hamlet' is only a revival of the ancient theme of Orestes." The Shakespere critique is only a rather long deviation from the real subject, which is the life-drama of Plato and Socrates, but it is an "aside" that intensifies the interest of the main theme. Perhaps Solovyev is so stimulating a critic because he was himself a poet, even a mystic, as well as "second to A. Tolstoy alone in the art of nonsense verse," to quote from Prince Misky again.
One goes to Solovyev chiefly for the light which he sheds on Tolstoy, his inveterate opponent in religion, and on Dostoievsky. All three men must be studied if one wishes to understand the intellectual life of Tsarist Russia at the end of the XIXth century, which was dominated by Pan-Slavism and religiosity, with unperceived but strong currents of Marxism and anarchism. Solovyev's "Plato" first appeared in 1898, two years before his death, and it served to reinforce the philosophical opposition to materialism and positivism. Such disciples as he now retains are emigres in Paris and Prague. Bolshevism has swept his philosophy
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