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Russian Personalities

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Nikolai Karamzin – writer and historian

Nikolai Karamzin – writer and historian

Nikolai Karamzin – writer and historian


Nikolai Karamzin was a Russian writer, historian, and journalist. He was a founder of 19th-century Russian imperial conservatism and a pioneer national historian.
Nikolai Mikhailovich Karamzin was born on December 1, 1766 in the Simbirsk province. The boy was educated at home and at the age of fourteen went to continue his studies in Moscow. He wrote poetry and several novels, including Poor Liza. He joined the active Masonic movement. Karamzin served only briefly in the military before retiring to devote himself to intellectual pursuits.
In 1789 he travelled to western Europe where he visited several luminaries, including Immanuel Kant. He described his trip in his Letters of a Russian Traveler, published in 1790.

His main purpose in literature and journalism was to promote a culture of politeness. He founded several journals. In 1802 Karamzin founded the monthly European Messenger, one of the most important “thick journals” of the 19th century.
In October 1803, Karamzin became official historiographer to Tsar Alexander I. He uncovered many yet unknown sources on Russian history.
In 1811 Karamzin presented his Memoir on Ancient and New Russia. Seven years later, in 1818, he published the first eight volumes of his History of the Russian State, of which 11 of the 12 volumes were published before his death. Alexander Pushkin called the History “the heroic deed of an honest man.”
In 1816 Karamzin moved to St. Petersburg.
In 1825 the unexpected death of Alexander and the Decembrist Revolt undermined Karamzin’s health. He died on May 22, 1826. Karamzin was married twice and had 10 children.
Karamzin’s work was very important for the development of the literary language. He sought to create one language “for books and for society, to write, as they say, and speak as they write.” He freed the literary language from Slavic words – heavy and dilapidated words and phrases, simplified the syntax, created and introduced a large number of necessary new words, such as the future, industry, the public, love, human. At the beginning of the nineteenth century literary youth fought vigorously for the language reform of Karamzin.

Nikolai Karamzin – writer and historian