Release from exile. Taras Shevchenko's travel to Nizhny Novgorod (part of the biography written by C.H. Andrusyshen)


Release from exile. Taras Shevchenko's travel to Nizhny Novgorod

(part of the biography written by C. H. Andrusyshen)

(Introduction of "The poetical works of Taras Shevchenko. The Kobzar" by Constantine  Henry Andrusyshen and Watson Kirkconnell)

Taras Shevchenko. Archangel Cathedral in Nizhny Novgorod

Taras Shevchenko, "Archangel Cathedral in Nizhny Novgorod"

It was only in April 1857 that Shevchenko, in a letter from his constant and assiduous friend, M. Lazarevsky, received news that in January Tsar Alexander had finally given permission to relieve him from military service. The official instruction to that effect, however, arrived in Orenburg only on July 21. Shevchenko was free again, and on August 2, in a fishing boat, he sailed across the Caspian to Astrakhan, which he reached three days later. On August 23, after nearly three weeks in that unattractive city, where he visited many of the friends he had known in Kiev, he sailed on a steamship up the Volga to Nizhni Novgorod. On the way he visited Saratov, Samara, and Kazan. When on September 20 he reached his destination, the police presented him with an order from Uskov to return to Orenburg, for, according to the latest official communication which Uskov received shortly after Shevchenko had left, the poet was not to return to St. Petersburg or to Moscow but was to wait in Orenburg for further instructions as to where he was to go. The difficulty was overcome by his friends in Nizhni Novgorod who advised him to simulate an illness. So influential were they with the police physician that he certified that Shevchenko was actually ailing. That statement was countersigned by the chief of police. The “indisposition" lasted some six months, while his friends in St. Petersburg were making arduous efforts to gain him admittance to the Russian capital.
During his enforced stay in Nizhni Novgorod, Shevchenko plunged into the social life of that provincial city, where he was visited by many of his countrymen. Correspondence from his Ukrainian friends began to increase, and he became pleasantly aware that his fame in Ukraine, far from suffering an eclipse, as he had feared, on the contrary had reached its zenith. All were expecting new verses from him. Under this exhilarating impression, his Muse suddenly revived, and he began to revise his previous poems and make elaborate plans for his future as an artist and poet. Everywhere he was received with open arms, and matinees and soirees were arranged in his honour. One of the highlights of this carnival period was the special visit on Christmas Eve of the famous seventy-year-old actor, M. Shchepkin, an intimate friend of his, who, besides appearing in several other plays, celebrated the occasion of Shevchenko's release by acting the leading role in Kotliarevsky's Moskal-Charivnik (Moskal the Wizard), which Shevchenko himself organized for production.

Katya Piunova, sixteen-year-old actress
Katya Piunova,
sixteen-year-old actress

That play afforded Shevchenko another romantic outlet, for in its chief female role appeared the fifteen-year-old Katia Piyunov, a talented, lively actress, full of promise. Shevchenko, now forty-three, bald, stooped, grey-bearded, and aged beyond his years, fell deeply in love with her. Naively imagining her already as his wife, he made arrangements to have her engaged in the Kharkiv theatrical troupe, and to that end sought to establish her reputation by writing favourable reviews of her performances. As her protector, he finally wrote her a letter of proposal of marriage and informed her parents of his intention. Secretly, this proposition was ridiculed as a piece of theatrical folly; overtly, it was accepted without any definite answer, for the young woman was still waiting for a successful outcome of her application to join the Kharkiv troupe. Once she received a positive answer from the management, she gave Shevchenko a definite “no.” To judge by the entry of this incident in his Diary, he did not know what struck him. 

The blow was softened somewhat by an official 'document which arrived on February 25, permitting him to return to St. Petersburg on the condition that he remain under strict police supervision and that the administration of the Academy of Art vouch for his future good behaviour. Shortly before his departure on March 8, he was further overjoyed at receiving from Gern his four “bootleg” booklets.

The régime had good reason to suspect Shevchenko, for in spite of the pardon he received, he did not abandon his radical views with regard to the tsarist government, and expressed himself quite openly against it. That attitude is only too evident in the poetry he wrote during his Nizhni Novgorod period, particularly in one poem where he voiced a longing for a Washington to appear in Ukraine (as well as in the entire Russian Empire, for all that) “with his new and righteous law.” In his long masterpiece, “The Neophytes,” which he wrote under intense inspiration in a matter of a single week, and which seems to be a sudden artistic outburst of his feelings pent-up in the course of some seven years at Novopetrovsk, he poured out his caustic venom against Tsar Nicholas I and the tyranny he represented. Quite true, he made the action take place in Nero's Rome during the persecution of the first Christians, but the subterfuge was only too ill disguised, and no one could mistake whom Nero delineated. The poem is one of the pearls of Ukrainian literature and a chef-d'oeuvre of universal value in that it proclaims the eventual efficacy of the Christian principles of Truth, Justice, and Brotherhood among men, and preaches the ideal of forgiveness as enunciated in the Lord's Prayer.

Introduction written by Professor C.H. Andrusyshen

Source: The Poetical Works of Taras Shevchenko. The Kobzar. Translated from the Ukrainian by С.H. Andrusyshen and Watson Kirkconnell. Published for the Ukrainian Canadian Committee by University of Toronto Press, 1964. Toronto and Buffalo. Printed in Canada, Reprinted, 1977, p. 36 - 38.


   Read more:

Shevchenko's life and work
Introduction of "The poetical works of Taras Shevchenko. The Kobzar" by Constantine Henry Andrusyshen and Watson Kirkconnell.

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