"Laying the foundations of modern paremiology" - but banned and destroyed


Ruskiia poslovitsy

[Russian Proverbs]

Publication: Sanktpeterburg, Imp. Akad. nauk, 1785.

BOGDANOVICH, Ippolit, Ruskiia poslovitsy

Early and daring gathering of Russian proverbs, at Catherine’s request. Later destroyed, but present in Pushkin’s library. Scarce first edition.

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Our Notes & References

An entertaining collection of popular proverbs, rearranged into couplets and published at Catherine II’s request – but soon banned by the government. First edition.

Of noble Ukrainian descent, Ippolit Bogdanovich (1744-1803) was a freemason, civil servant, bibliophile and a poet “on par with the main poets of his time” (Polovtsov, our translation here and elsewhere), especially famous for his Dushenka. He also became one of the first Russian folklorists, a “pioneer in the development of Russian paremiology [study of proverbs]” (Vladimir Dal, quoted by Sharaia; Dal himself published an important such collection).

As his preface explains, Bogdanovich created this versified collection of popular proverbs to encourage “good morals and good behaviour” among Russian people. A nice example of pre-Golden Age poetry, the work is based on a few earlier books of proverbs that he found inconsistent, “coarse” and “outdated”.

Bogdanovich collected some 1,211 proverbs, structured them by themes into separate chapters and rewrote them in verse. “Akin to anonymous authors of the Western Middle Ages or writers of the Renaissance, Bogdanovich literalized Russian proverbs, [and] by doing so he equated the Russian tradition with the Western one. His collection is also unprecedented in its structure. Breaking with the traditional principle of alphabetical order applied from the very beginning of Russian paremiography, Bogdanovich laid the foundations of modern paremiology and developed the principles of thematic classification based on the parsing of proverbs by meaning” (Sharaia). Among the section titles are “necessary patience in life”, “shame of ostentation”, “folly of hubris”, “service to the sovereign”, “misfortune is not a vice”, “misfortune of gamblers”, “bad education”, “caution in making decisions” and many others.

Catherine II enjoyed the work and requested to publish it at the expense of the Imperial Academy of Sciences – a very prestigious publisher indeed. The book became popular among several generations of scholars and literary figures, including Aleksandr Pushkin who kept a copy with his own annotations in his library. Bogdanovich’s work on Russian proverbs must have influenced his celebrated and contemporary Dushenka: indeed Terras notes that the poem contains “elements of Russian folklore, proverbial turns of speech” (p. 134).

Yet in 1808, the Academic Committee ordered the destruction of a large part of its print run (1,959 copies out of 2,500 printed). The book is therefore scarce: we could trace only one example at auction in the West (the Diaghilev-Lifar copy, in 1975), and three complete copies passing through the market of the last decade in Russia. OCLC locates six holdings: Harvard, LoC, Cornell, Stanford, Michigan, and British Library, to which we can add a handful of copies in Russian libraries.


From the estate of Ksenia Muratova (1940-2019), a descendant of the celebrated art historian Pavel Muratov; Ksenia was herself a noted art historian, Professor Emerita of Art History at Rennes 2 University in France, and founder of the Pavel Muratov International Center of Studies in Rome.


Svod. Kat. 637; Sm.-Sok. Biblioteka 71 (with a negative judgement: “one of the most unhappy attempts of the author of ‘Dushenka'”, but acknowledging Catherine’s interest); Sopikov 8564; Modzalevskii, Katalog Biblioteka Pushkina, 41.

Polovtsov A. A., Russkii biograficheskii slovar: v 25 t., SPb, Imp. ist. o-vo, 1896-1918.

Sharaia O. V., “Poslovitsy v Rossii: tri veka paremiografii. Les proverbes en Russie: trois siècles de Parémiographie” / Sous la dir. de Viellard S. – P.: Centre d’Etudes slaves et Inst. d’Etudes slaves, 2005. – T. 76, FASC. 2/3. – 222 P // Sotsialnye i gumanitarnye nauki. Otechestvennaia i zarubezhnaia literatura. Ser. 6, Iazykoznanie: Referativnyi zhurnal, 2007, #4.

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Physical Description

Three parts in one vol. 8vo (20 x 13 cm). Title, [4] pp. foreword and t.o.c., 76; Title, [2] foreword, 38, [2] t.o.c.; Title, [2] t.o.c., 47 pp., with baroque woodcut head- and tail-pieces. Signature A in v. 1 is found in 2 settings; in this copy, like in Harvard’s, proverb no. 8 on p. 15 ends with reading: dozzhok (var. 2 in Svod. Kat.).


Contemporary half roan over marbled boards, flat spine.


Binding very worn but holding firm; waterstain throughout, stronger towards end, the odd other spot or pencil mark, but still crisp and sound.

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