Speaking Russian, and not French, after Napoleon's invasion

LANGUEN, Jacques

Petit manuel russe à l'usage des Français. Ouvrage propre à faciliter l'intelligence de la langue russe ; dans lequel les mots russes sont représentés avec leur prononciation figurée en caractères français et prosodiée

Publication: Chancellerie privée du Ministère de la Police, St. Petersbourg, 1819.

LANGUEN, Jacques, Petit manuel russe à l’usage des Français. Ouvrage propre à faciliter l’intelligence de la langue russe ; dans lequel les mots russes sont représentés avec leur prononciation figurée en caractères français et prosodiée

How to get by in St. Petersburg in (phonetic) Russian during Pushkin’s time: a great guide for the higher society. Uncommon.

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Our Notes & References

First edition thus of this interesting manual to get by in Pushkin’s St. Petersburg, published by the Russian police.

An earlier version was published in 1811, with a slightly different title and including a short historical overview of the Russian literature. The present, reworked version, became popular and was reprinted several times during more than 50 years. The dialogues chosen in the manual give clear hints at its aimed lectorate: the high society of St. Petersburg (specifically). As most of its members spoke French, the book must have appealed to wider audience than only the French native speakers (and it includes the occasional mistake in French). It includes, for example, how to give instructions to one’s barber (and complain), or how to ask directions in the street. A whole dialogue is focusing on the city sights of the Russian capital (but nothing on Moscow). The educated visitor would also be able to ask for the “salon littéraire du Sr. Pluchart à la grande Morskaya” (Pluchart was then one of the foremost publishers, later printing, in French, famous lithographed albums aimed, precisely, at tourists).

Unusually, all dialogues are also written in a phonetic transliteration, to facilitate the pronunciation: no need to learn Cyrillics! The small-size, handy book also contains a short grammar, a detailed vocabulary and, at end, comparative tables with coins, weights and measures.

Interestingly there is another issue, also dated 1819 but printed at the Senate. We tend to think that this second version was published later than ours, as it states ‘Nouvelle édition, revue et corrigée’.

Scarce in both variants: we could trace only one copy in France (with the Senate imprint, in Grenoble) and eight other ones through WorldCat, regardless of the imprint (2 in the US – NYPL and Harvard, 3 in the UK, one in Fribourg, Pisa and Sydney).


Cat. Russica L269.

Item number



Physical Description

Octavo. Title, table of contents, 74 pp.


Contemporary grey pebble-grained cloth, flat spine lettered in gilt.


Binding a bit stained and discoloured, corners lightly rubbed; a bit stained internally, including title, occasional pencil marks, pencil ownership signature to title, repeated to upper flyleaf.

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