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Он у нас осьмое чудо

May 4, 2010
Он у нас осьмое чудо —
У него завидный нрав.
Неподкупен — как Иуда,
Храбр и честен — как Фальстаф.
С бескорыстностью жидовской,
Как хавронья мил и чист,
Даровит — как Тредьяковской,
Столько ж важен и речист.
Не страшитесь с ним союза,
Не разладитесь никак:
Он с французом — за француза,
С поляком — он сам поляк,
Он с татарином — татарин,
Он с евреем — сам еврей,
Он с лакеем — важный барин,
С важным барином — лакей.
Кто же он?   .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

The much-maligned Trediakovskii

Bulgarin’s last and first names are the rhyme-words of the last two lines, and readers filled in various metrically correct versions of the answer, along the lines of “Фаддей Булгарин/ Знаменитый наш Фаддей.”

The flaw Lermontov attacks reappears in Nekrasov’s poem in his sarcastic praise of Bulgarin as неподкупен and characterized by бескорыстность.  This longer poem adds other criticisms: Bulgarin is a bad writer, a dishonest coward, and most of all inconstant and insincere.  He acts one way with one person and another way with another.  The shift from the list in 11-14 to the superficially similar lines 15-16 is nice. Whatever your nationality, Bulgarin acts is if he is on your side, indeed one of you; and he plays the servant or the master, depending on whether he is with his social superiors or inferiors.  (There is an implied egalitarian ideal in lines 15-16, and I wonder how many people lived up to it in stratified 1840s St. Petersburg; perhaps the idea is that differences in status may be acknowledged, but in a muted way, not exaggerated into obsequiousness or arrogance.)

The plain anti-Semitism behind line 5 anticipates the even plainer anti-Semitism seen occasionally in Nekrasov and his contemporaries in the 1860s and 1870s.  In line 14, Jews are presented as a “nationality” parallel to Frenchmen, Poles, and Tatars, all non-ethnic-Russian groups found in significant numbers in the Russian Empire.

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