The first English translation of Russian verse, or a literary forgery?

Posted on 3rd March 2017 by simonbeattie

One rare item I shall have with me next week at the New York book fair is this:

It’s a work I’d never heard of before: the first edition (there was also a reissue, with a cancel title-page, in 1816) of supposedly a translation of a poem, in which ‘a Russian Boyar adopts the son of a deceased peasant, for whom he entertained a friendship.  His lordship was at this time childless; but, shortly after, his lady presented him with a daughter.  She only lived, however, to embrace her child, and to recommend her future union with the adopted Alexis.  The Boyar promises.  The children are brought up with the avowed intention of being united; but, when they have attained an age to be sensible of their mutual and unalterable attachment to each other, the arrival of a noble stranger changes the scene: he induces the Boyar to Exile his favourite, for the purpose of weakening his daughter’s hitherto approved affection, and of marrying her according to her rank.  The heroine true to her first love pines for her absent Alexis; till, being at the brink of the grave, her father resolves to restore his child, by recalling the object of her affections, and blessing their union.  But mercy came too late.  The youth, more noble of spirit than of birth, seeks glory in the field of battle, and falls at the battle of Dresden, with the name of a hero …’ (Critical Review).

The book is not listed in either of the standard bibliographies of English translations of Russian literature and begs the question: is it a translation at all, or simply an unknown English writer capitalising on the fashion for all things Russian which arose in Britain during the Napoleonic Wars?

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