Our Notes & References
The so-called ‘miniature’ edition of Russia’s most important fables, “among the top achievements of Russian literature” (Terras): they “stand out in the grand Euro-American tradition including Aesop and La Fontaine and are imbued with a literary realism that has a very audible and Russian feeling to it [… Krylov] made ample recourse to forms of Russian oral poetry, especially the proverb, thanks to which his fables quickly became part of the texture of everyday Russian life” (Cornwell).
A lovely example attractively bound in a full, gothic-style binding, complete with the scarce portrait frontispiece, of this “charming toy-book, very well made” (Smirnov-Sokolskii), and one of the first small-format Russian books.
The first edition of his fables in 1809 projected Krylov (1768-1844) to the forefront of Russian literature, before he became Russia’s national writer a decade or so later, especially thanks to his fables related to Napoleon’s campaign in Russia. In 1830, Aleksandr Smirdin, a major publisher and bookseller, offered Krylov an unprecedented ten-year contract for the right to publish his fables, and innovated in 1835 with this small-format edition, reprinted almost without any changes in 1837.
Smirdin’s edition and its technical prowess was hailed by contemporaries, such as the famous literary critic Vissarion Belinskii: “It sparks the liveliest surprise and joy confirming that we begin to develop our taste for beautiful editions and witness the acceleration of book printing successes” (our translation from Sm.-Sok.). It is one of the earliest Russian books printed in this format and with such “gorgeous small type […] surprisingly precise and clear” (Sm.-Sok.) – two years before Pushkin’s famous ‘miniature’ Evgenii Onegin of the same format, and printed at the same State Press.
Provenance R.K. (Cyrillic initials to spine foot); Nikolai Karatchevskii (contemporary ownership inscription on rear endleaf); unidentified inscriptions to front endleaf.
Bibliography Sm.-Sok., Moia biblioteka 794; Rasskazy o knigakh 262-63 (“very rare”); Cornwell, Reference Guide to Russian Literature, p. 471; Terras, A History of Russian Literature 138.