Our Notes & References
First edition in Russian of this rare work, with great provenance: presumably from the library of Catherine the Great, with the manuscript shelfmark in the hand of her librarian Aleksandr Luzhkov, later in the famous Smirdin Library and the Fekula collection.
Of all the Russian emperors, Catherine II was undoubtedly the most passionate bibliophile: by the end of her reign, her library counted around 40,000 volumes, uniting collections of her husband Petr III, Diderot, Voltaire, Marquis of Galiani and the historian Mikhail Shcherbatov. To bring order to her expanding collection, she invited in 1771 an Honorary Member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences, Aleksandr Ivanovich Luzhkov (1754-1803), who later became the principal keeper of the Hermitage library, antiquities and jewels until his retirement in 1796.
Luzhkov was the first to arrange books according to their headings instead of their acquisition date as it was done earlier: “For this purpose, he tore the notebooks, in which the books had been already listed, into strips, classified them according to their contents and, having glued them to the sheets of paper on which the name of the department of literature was written, he gave them new numbers” (Pavlova, our translation here and below). For Luzhkov’s convenience when cataloguing, these new numbers could be therefore often indicated on the books themselves, like on this copy according to the catalogue of the great collector Paul Fekula.
This copy joined later the celebrated lending library of Aleksandr Smirdin (1795-1857), Pushkin’s publisher and a leading figure of the bookselling world of Russia’s so-called Golden Age of literature. Smirdin’s large lending library, reaching about 50,000 volumes, turned out to be a high spot of of Russian bibliography too: its extensive printed catalogue, published in 1828, with additions until 1856, is considered “the most valuable bibliography of the history of Russian 18th and 19th century books” (Tartakovskii). It was often the only list of Russian books available to foreigners, and served for example as a guide for the British Museum’s acquisitions and development of Russian holdings in the 19th century.
Fidler’s lifetime eulogy to Tsar Boris Godunov (1552-1605) was first published in Latin in Königsberg (nowadays Kaliningrad) in 1602/1603 as Constantini Fiedleri oratio luculenta in Borissum Godunovium. Very rare, this Latin text wasn’t published again until this first Russian edition, translated by Sergei Voronov and dedicated to the aristocrat Aleksandr Viazemskii (1727–93), Catherine’s trusted dignitary. Such a reedition of a historical text -by the most prestigious State press- is very representative of a movement in Russian publishing under Catherine the Great, when many works of the 17th and early 18th century appeared again, whether famous texts or secondary ones, developing in a larger scale a stronger conscience of national identity and history.
Godunov’s reign was highlighted by the beginning of Russia’s rapprochement with the West, and “the gratitude of foreigners to the Tsar’s favours,” notes Nikolai Karamzin in his famous History of the Russian State, “did not remain fruitless for his fame: a scholarly man, Fidler, a resident of Konigsberg (brother of one of Godunov’s physicians [Kasper Fidler]), composed a word of praise for him in Latin in 1602 which was read in Europe” – including the important French book collector Jacques-Auguste de Thou. Glorifying tsarist autocracy, Fidler enumerates Godunov’s virtuous qualities: his fatherly care for his subjects, gentleness, mercy, love of enlightenment and favour for people of learning. He does not forget to mention his gratitude for his brother Kaspar’s advantageous position at the court and even suggests that Godunov deserves the title of “Augustus” more than all previous Russian sovereigns.
Both Latin and Russian editions are extremely rare: we could not trace any other copy of this Russian edition at auction in and outside Russia. Although we could find some physical copies in Russia and one in Azerbaijan (National Library), there is apparently none other in Western Libraries.
A second Russian edition was published in 1787 and is more common.
Catherine II (shelf mark ‘179’); Alexander Smirdin (both early and later bookplate toi upper pastedown); Rossica bookshop (booklabel); Paul M. Fekula (num. 1650 in his catalogue; sold Christie’s London in 2006, to:); Pr. Philip Longworth (1933-2020, historian, writer and book collector, esp. on Russian history).
Bitovt 1788; Fekula 1650 (this copy); Smirdin 6512 (this copy); Sopikov 10832; Svod. Kat. 7771; Boris Tartakovskii. Sovetskaia istoricheskaia entsiklopediia. V 16 tomakh. Sovetskaia entsiklopediia, Moskva, 1973—1982, Vol. 13; Nikolai Karamzin, Istoriia Gosudarstva Rossiiskogo, Moskva, 1989, Kn. III, t. XI; Zaitseva I. Tsarskoselskaia biblioteka Ekateriny II, Gos. muzei-zapovednik “Tsarskoe selo”; Zhermena Pavlova, Imperatorskaia biblioteka Ermitazha. 1762-1917. 1988.