Эпиграммы на Ф. Булгарина
Россию продает Фаддей
Не в первый раз, как вам известно,
Пожалуй он продаст жену, детей,
И мир земной, и рай небесный,
Он совесть продал бы за сходную цену,
Да жаль, заложена в казну.
This epigram, apparently from 1837, is one of many aimed at Faddei Bulgarin. Before Lermontov, Pushkin wrote some, and later Nekrasov and Shcherbina and others would join in. I’m starting an “epigrams on Bulgarin” category with the intention of someday looking at the whole set together. After Pushkin, I wonder if poets are attacking Bulgarin as a person or literary phenomenon that they know and hate, or if Bulgarin becomes a traditional target to the point of abstraction, and the later epigram-writers only want to be poets like Pushkin.
Lermontov has another Bulgarin epigram from the same time, or rather a variant of this one:
Россию продает Фаддей
И уж не в первый раз, злодей.
I had thought this second version was the flattest epigram in all of Russian poetry, all invective with no twist, and not especially flowery or interesting invective at that. But as is often the case I’d missed the joke by not knowing the exact cultural context. At the time Bulgarin was trying to sell copies of a book published under his name (though written by someone else) with the title “Россия в историческом, статистическом, географическом и литературном отношениях…” (see I. S. Chistova’s notes). So now he was trying to sell Russia, but in the past he had also sold out Russia.
I wonder what order Lermontov wrote the two versions in, and what he intended to do with them. In the longer version, he doesn’t seem to have faith in the Russia joke, and uses it to introduce a longer joke that we don’t need to know the context to appreciate: Bulgarin would sell everything that should be sacred to him, including his conscience, but unfortunately he’s already mortgaged his conscience, so he can’t. If in thousands of years, nineteenth-century Russian culture has become quite obscure and fragmentary, and this is the only surviving text mentioning Bulgarin, you can imagine a future scholar making a footnote to the name: “Faddei (active early 19th century), known for his dishonorable and duplicitous acts.”