A People Passing Rude
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3.  William Henry Leeds and Early British Responses to Russian Literature

Anthony Cross

‘The Westminster Review (WR) was the very first English periodical of any kind to give a tolerably complete general sketch of Russian literature in its various departments; and though no more than a mere map of the subject, it may be said to have been drawn up according to ‘the latest authorities and discoveries’, and to have been well calculated to excite a more powerful interest than that of mere curiosity’.1 This is the opening sentence of a review that appeared in 1841 in the very same Westminster Review, but some thirty-five volumes and seventeen years later than the ‘sketch’ to which it referred. ‘Politics and Literature in Russia’, for such was the running title of the sketch, had been written in 1824 for the very first number of the Westminster Review by its recently appointed editor, John Bowring, who in 1821 had published to wide acclaim and professed astonishment the first of the two volumes of his Rossiiskaia antologiia: Speciments of the Russian Poets. In the introduction to that work Bowring expressed his intention ‘to write a general history of Russian literature’,2 which several reviewers, confessing ignorance of all Russian authors with the exception of Karamzin, encouraged him to do. However, he removed the sentence from the second edition of his anthology published later that year and contented himself on assuming editorship of the Westminster Review with a relaying of information taken mainly from the German version of A.A. Bestuzhev-Marlinskii’s ‘Vzgliad na staruiu i novuiu slovesnost’ v Rossii’ (‘A Look at Old and New Literature in Russia’, 1823).3

Ignorance of Russian literature, coupled with an unassailable sense of cultural superiority, was a badge worn very lightly by English journalists, authors, travellers, and public at large in the first decades of the 19th century, indeed, up to and beyond the Crimean War, but it was to some extent a case of convenient corporate amnesia. During the reigns of Catherine and Paul there were significant contributions made by a series of knowledgeable and informed writers, notably Rev. William Coxe, Rev. William Tooke and Dr Matthew Guthrie, to provide sound information about Russian cultural, literary and scientific achievements.4 Coxe’s Travels, going into six editions between 1784 and 1803, was one of the most widely read and consulted ‘guides’ and its long chapter on Russian literature and the likes of Lomonosov, Sumarokov and others was used, for instance, as the source for entries in biographical dictionaries towards the end of the 18th century, but it tended to be the hostile and dismissive Edward Daniel Clarke’s influence that was the most marked throughout the second decade of Alexander’s reign and beyond and helped to create the impression of a continuing Russian cultural wasteland.5 It was, however, evidence of literary activity precisely during Alexander’s reign that was missing and it was indeed Bowring’s happy fate to be seen as the discoverer of Russian poetry and literature, adding to his already mentioned anthology and essay another review in July 1825 that initiated British awareness of the art of the fabulist Krylov, who alone (Pushkin, Gogol and Lermontov not excepted) was to become a familiar name in the pre-Turgenev-Tolstoi-Dostoevskii era.6

It is during the reign of Nicholas I that Bowring’s initiative was given new impetus and it is fitting that the journals primarily associated with this development should proclaim their foreign interest in their titles: the Foreign Review and Continental Miscellany (FRCM), which survived a mere two years from 1828 to 1829, carried in its second volume (1828) an extensive review of Nikolai Grech’s Opyt kratkoi istorii russkoi literatury (Attempt at a Brief History of Russian Literature, 1822),7 already briefly acknowledged the previous year as a source in the first volume of the Foreign Quarterly Review (FQR), its infinitely more successful and long-lived rival, in its review of Emile Dupré de Saint Maure’s Anthologie russe (1823).8 The author of this second item is generally acknowledged to be the Scottish bibliographer and journalist, John George Cochrane (1781-1852), and soon to be the journal’s editor, who was assisted (and one suspects in no small measure) by ‘a Russian friend’, Ivan Iakovlevich Smirnov, a secretary in the Russian embassy in London and son of its long-serving chaplain. Both articles have excited some interest in modern times for their discussion, however flawed with inaccuracies, of Pushkin and his work and the first of them, in the Foreign Review and Continental Miscellany, as further distinguished by the first mention in Britain of Evgenii Onegin, about which the reviewer writes:

Among other points of this poet’s resemblance to Byron may be mentioned his facility of composition, and variety of subjects; his “Eugenius Onegin”, which, like “Beppo”, is designed as a satire on the follies of the fashionable world, is not only curious as a picture of the manners of the higher classes in Russia at the present day, but also attractive for the touches of loftier poetry, and the warmth of feeling which it occasionally displays. Like “Don Juan”, this production has been published piecemeal, and is not, we believe, yet completed, so that we cannot judge sufficiently of the plan to express on its merits. (FRCM, II, 299)

No less historically significant are the verse translations of passages from ‘Ruslan i Liudmila’, ‘Kavkazskii plennik’ and ‘Brat’ia razboiniki’ (FRCM, pp. 296-300), which have justly been acclaimed as ‘the first English translations from Puskin’.9 The identity of the reviewer, however, has never previously been positively established: Gleb Struve in his important study of Pushkin’s early English reputation, published long ago in 1949, alone suggested in a footnote that ‘both the style of his article and some of its ideas resemble a later article on Poltava in the Foreign Quarterly Review; it is quite likely that the two came from the same pen’, while Vadim Rak in the most recent revisiting of the subject concluded that ‘some Russian, visiting London in 1828, was in all probability involved [prichasten] in the extensive review’.10 The reviewer was in fact William Henry Leeds (1786-1866), a truly significant figure in the early history of British reception and perception not only of Russian literature but also of Russian art and architecture.

The reasons for Leeds’s hitherto modest niche may easily be established. Anonymity was the norm for articles in the journals of the early 19th century and very few of his articles were signed, designated if at all with the letter ‘L’ or sometimes ‘HL’. It is only his own compositions or translations that seem to bear his full name. He was unbelievably prolific and his publications were not only contributions to journals but also included books he edited or for which he wrote introductions. His range was very wide and Russian literature was to a degree an avocation. He has no entry in the Dictionary of National Biography, although he fully deserves one, and it is in dictionaries of architects and reference works on architecture that his name appears.11 Only one article on his work as an architectural critic, and then for a single journal, has been published.12 It is the Wellesley Index of Victorian Periodicals that first allowed most researchers to see his contributions to leading journals, but it contains a far from complete list of his articles even in those periodicals it covered13—and his work appeared in other journals and publications such as almanacs, albums, and encyclopedias. If we look only at his contributions to Russian literature, then his presence is even less apparent and appreciated, and recognition of his achievement, very partial and fragmentary, is determined by a scholar/researcher’s particular areas of study and expertise rather than by interest in the man himself. Thus he was known to some Pushkin scholars, such as the aforementioned Struve and Rak, but not, for instance, to M.P. Alekseev. Because Leeds wrote something, as will be seen, about Gogol, he is included by Karl Lefevre in his study of that writer’s early British reception, but he is only referred to as the reviewer ‘L’.14 Several of his articles in The Foreign Quarterly Review are briefly cited in Dorothy Brewster’s East-West Passage of 1954, but Leeds is nowhere named.15 His achievement in that journal is more widely appreciated by Eileen Curran, but her study is restricted precisely to the journal, while not identifying some of his contributions and without any reference to his other activities.16

Who, then, was this elusive and enigmatic man? Leeds was born in Norwich in 1786, but nothing is known of his early years or education and he first surfaces in 1815, when he showed a design for a monument to Admiral Nelson at the Norwich Society of Artists. He subsequently exhibited architectural drawings at the Royal Academy and Society of British Artists but he seems not to have received any formal training as a draughtsman or architect. It is as a frequently controversial and acerbic architectural journalist and critic that he was to earn his reputation, particularly for the series of articles under the pseudonym ‘Candidus’ that he wrote in the 1830s, when his particular bête noire was Greek Revivalism. He worked for the London booksellers Baldwin and Cradock, but small inheritances following the deaths of his brother and sister, augmented by fees for his journalism and editing, allowed him to pursue an independent career. Some insight into his personality and work is provided in an obituary written by the philologist and engineer Hyde Clarke (1815-95), who had known Leeds for more than thirty years, particularly as a colleague on The Building News where it appeared.17 It is a unique contemporary source, invaluable for what Clarke knew and revealing for ignorance he himself acknowledged of much else.

Conceding that Leeds had ‘a fierce disposition’, he describes him as a foe of ‘humbug’, ever ready to cross swords and attracting controversy for his views, committed to the cause of enlightening a wide readership about art and architecture, and refusing to believe that ‘architecture was a mystery far beyond the vulgar kin’. He also, amusingly, noted that ‘there are many readers of this publication who knew Leeds, in his advanced life, as an old bore, and avoided him accordingly’. He was ‘a bookworm’, increasingly surrounded by dusty piles of books, leaving at his death in 1866 at the good age of seventy-nine a library of some three thousand books that was sold over four days, although, somewhat surprisingly it contained very few books about Russia or in Russian.18 Although Leeds suffered from a speech defect, he was an assiduous and talented student of languages, probably not conversing readily or fluently, but reading with ease books in German, French, Italian, and Russian. Precisely when and why he began his study of Russian is unknown, although it would seem to have been in the 1820s, possibly inspired by the example of Bowring to enter into an unknown area of research and probably teaching himself. He certainly never visited Russia and may never have spoken the language or even met a Russian. Leeds, however, had a deep commitment to literature, was widely read, dabbled in verse, and apparently left a number of unpublished dramatic works. He loved to insert the occasional foreign word into his articles, ‘an alloy’, Clarke suggests, ‘by which his anonymous writings can often be known’. He also had a penchant for neologisms and is said, for instance, to have coined in 1843 the phrase ‘to Puginise’, meaning ‘to mix up political and theological speculations with architectural ones’.

Clarke was not really interested in anything other than Leeds’s architectural passion and this led him to make patently untrue statements. While he was undoubtedly right in emphasizing Leeds’s punctiliousness in matters of style (perhaps somewhat convoluted and precious to modern tastes), he could hardly be further from the truth in saying ‘he wrote little’, when his estimated output is over a thousand items.19 No less obviously inaccurate is his contention that Leeds’s ‘acquaintance with Russian [was] kept up for solely for what architectural information he could glean from original sources’.

On 10 January 1831 Leeds wrote an unpublished letter to the famed Scottish publisher John Murray II in which he offered for publication his now lost translation of Ippolit Bogdanovich’s famous ‘ancient tale in free verse’, Dushen’ka (1783), ‘the first attempt ever made in this country to give an entire version of a Russian poem of any length’.20 He then suggested that ‘within the last three or four years Russian literature has begun to attract a good deal of attention in Germany, & I hope that ere long it will be so in England also. Many things may be found in it worth translating, & I would willingly undertake something of the kind, could I meet with any encouragement to do so’. He then revealed that he had been the author of the anonymous review in the Foreign Review and Continental Miscellany in 1828 and expressed the hope that the editor (J.G. Lockhart, Walter Scott’s son-in-law) of the House of Murray’s Quarterly Review would also feel ‘disposed to introduce an article on the subject’. Lockhart evidently didn’t, and it was instead to the Foreign Quarterly Review that he turned and in July 1831 there was published the first of his many ‘Russian’ contributions to that journal.

Leeds had continued to contribute to the Foreign Review and Continental Miscellany during the remaining months of its existence, most notably in volume IV, when he produced a substantial review of the only recently published tale in verse, Div i Peri (St Petersburg, 1827) by the young minor poet and acquaintance of Pushkin, A.I. Podolinskii (1806-86).21 Leeds accompanied his review with long translated excerpts and it is interesting to note that the subject, made famous in Thomas Moore’s Lalla Rookh (1817), spurred him to creative emulation, publishing in The Bijou in 1830 his own poem ‘Paradise and the Peri’.22 This was signed, as was his next publication, which, however, has a historical significance way beyond its intrinsic value. In the first volume of The Royal Lady’s Magazine, and Archives of the Court of St. James’s (1831) there appeared ‘Specimens of Russian Poetry’, comprising Leeds’s versions of a piece from Mikhail Zagoskin’s opera Ivanovskii (?), a poem entitled ‘Children’s Youthful Pastimes’ by ‘Shlaepushkin’ (Fedor Slepushkin (1783-1848), whom he calls in a footnote ‘the Russian Bloomfield’), and ‘The Spanish Serenade’ ‘from the Russian of Pushkur’, which I believe to be the first published English translation of a poem by Pushkin, his ‘Ispanskii romans’ of 1824, beginning with the repeated refrain: ‘Zephyrs of eve / Sport, thro’ the air, / And flit o’er the stream / Of Guadulquivér’.23

Before we survey Leeds’s contributions to the Foreign Quarterly Review, we might note not only as further evidence of his prodigious and unflagging activities his keen interest in the progress of the arts in Russia. In the first volume of the Foreign Review he had offered a ‘notice of the Fine Arts in Russia’, derived from an unspecified Russian source which he thought probably overplayed their flourishing state.24 However, two years later, in 1831, he contributed to the first volume of Fraser’s Magazine a substantial essay on ‘The State of the Fine Arts in Russia’ that named many names among architects, painters and their like in frequently mangled transcriptions and essentially confirmed what he had earlier doubted.25 That same year he began to contribute to another new journal, the Library of the Fine Arts, of which under its new title of Arnold’s Library of the Fine Arts he became editor in November 1832. In 1831 he entered into a controversy aroused by an obituary of the painter George Dawe of the Hermitage 1812 Gallery fame and revealed in a review of Sir William Gell’s Pompeiana (1832) not only his dislike of Palladio but introduced the sort of reference that was his unique signature, when, praising the advantages that glazing had brought to architecture, he wrote ‘In his poem O Polzae Stekla, Lomonosov has sung the praises of glass—a singular subject, it will perhaps be thought, but the Russian bard was as much a votary of science as of the muse’.26 In 1832 he translated Zinaida Volkonskaia’s ‘Project for a Museum of Fine Arts, in the Imperial University of Moscow’ and followed it by ‘A Visit to the Academy of Arts’, an important neglected version of Konstantin Batiushkov’s ‘Progulka v Akademiiu khudozhestv’, as well as providing information in the ‘Miscellaneous’ section on, for instance, the latest building developments in St Petersburg (St Isaac’s, the Alexander Column, the Aleksandrinskii Theatre) and the ill-fated architect Vasilii Bazhenov.27

The translation of Batiushkov’s essay followed a year or so after a very favourable review of his Opyty v stikhakh i proze (Essays in Verse and Prose, 2 vols, 1817), together with a version of his poem ‘Umiraiushchii Tass’ (‘The Dying Tasso’), that Leeds had contributed as his second ‘Russian’ article for Foreign Quarterly Review (FQR, IX, 218-22). He had begun the previous year, in volume 8 (1831), with a review of Faddei Bulgarin’s historical novel Dimitrii samozvanets (Dimitrii the Impostor, 2nd edn, 1830) (FQR, VIII, 117-39) and over the period 1831-43 he contributed eight review essays, complemented by at least the same number of ‘miscellaneous literary notices’ that are frequently informative and detailed and indicative of Leeds’s continued interest in Russian literature, despite his ongoing and steadily increasing attention to architectural matters.28

Bulgarin held a particular place of affection with Leeds, who had indeed already written in the Foreign Review in 1828 about the then still incomplete Ivan Vyzhigin, ili russkii Zhil Blas (Ivan Vyzhigin, or the Russian Gil Blas), as well as translating a long passage from the novel. In what may well have been his last published ‘Russian’ piece in 1846 he also translated an excerpt from Bulgarin’s memoirs, prefacing it with the confession that ‘we were before not a little prepossessed in Bulgarin’s favour, having formed our acquaintance with him as a writer almost with our very first study of the Russian language itself’ and recognizing him as ‘almost the very first who introduced into it [Russian literature] both the modern novel and historical romance’.29 Nevertheless, Leeds was not prepared to over-praise Bulgarin’s efforts, noting his failure ‘to display any great power or originality’, and was generally unhappy with the picaresque mode of Ivan Vyzhigin, which he felt inevitably brought caricature and satire and not a reassuring picture of contemporary society.

By the time Leeds reviewed Dimitrii samozvanets an English translation (1831) of Ivan Vyzhigin had appeared and was soon followed by an English version (1833) of Mikhail Zagoskin’s Iurii Miloslavskii, ili Russkie v 1612 godu, both of which were deemed by Leeds as ‘eminently unsuccessful’ and merit mention merely as the first Russian novels to appear in English dress, however ill-fitting.30 Leeds’s review of Zagoskin’s novel (FQR, XI (1833), pp. 382-403), which appeared before the publication of the translation, was largely a re-telling of the story, but his overall judgment was that it deserved ‘a very respectable place in the fictitious literature of modern Europe’, although he was quick to deride efforts to raise Zagoskin to equal status with Sir Walter Scott. He finished with a brief look at Zagoskin’s Roslavlev, ili Russkie v 1812 godu, but preferred the earlier work that allowed the writer greater freedom in the creation of characters, just as he had opted for Bulgarin’s foray into historical romance rather than for his portrayal of the contemporary scene.

At the end of his Zagoskin review, Leeds had signalled his intention to write about ‘another Russian novelist, who has risen upon the literary horizon, and to bear our testimony to the merits which seem to announce a distinguished reputation for Lazhetchnikov’. This did not materialize, but Leeds’s interest in the long form of the novel which he seemed to regard as a touchstone of a nation’s cultural maturity did not diminish. For the next three years, following a change of ownership and editorial policy,31 he wrote nothing about Russian literature for the journal, but in 1838 he returned to the infant Russian novel in another extensive review that was principally devoted to an historical romance by Rafail Zotov, Niklas, Medvezh’ia lapa, ataman kontrabandistov (Nicholas Bearspaw, Ataman of the Smugglers, 1837, and a collection of tales (1837) by Aleksandr Vel’tman (FQR, XXI (1838), pp. 56-78). The running title was ‘Russian novel writing’ and Leeds offered a series of characteristic pieces of advice to practising and budding Russian novelists, observing that ‘at present they are pursuing an erroneous course, adhering, as if it were a particular merit, to all the conventional and worn-out forms’. He demands a depiction of ‘what really exists around them, so as to convey a faithful portraiture of native society and manners, of actual feelings and passions in their various phases and degrees, not caring whether what was so produced accorded or not with the literary fashions of other countries’. They are too prone to strive for ‘incidents fantastic and improbable, and, for the most part also stale and hacknied, without a claim to invention or ingenuity’.

Leeds reacted strongly against French and particularly German models and, not surprisingly, believed that if examples were to be sought, then they should be English: ‘we would gladly give up all their historical romances and flashy melodramatic tales for one such narrative as the Vicar of Wakefield, or one clear and vivid picture of domestic lie as exhibited in Miss Austen’s novels,—full of vigour and force, yet quiet and perfectly unpretending’. Then finally in 1844, in virtually his last contribution to the journal, the publication of a translation, and a good one, of Ivan Lazhechnikov’s Basurman as The Heretic by none other than Thomas Shaw gave Leeds the opportunity to write, if briefly, about ‘a work purely and intensely national’ and to assert, after some twenty years of observing its progress, that ‘nothing could be more erroneous than the commonly received opinion, that Russia has no indigenous literature, none that has its root in native popular ground, that her writers put forth only translations or imitations of foreign works’ (FQR, XXXIII, p. 242).

Whether he was writing about prose or poetry Leeds was ever aware of the presence of Pushkin. It was as if he felt obliged to introduce some mention or discussion of a writer so renowned in his homeland but about whom he always had some niggling reservations. In his very first article for the Foreign Review in 1828, which has already been highlighted, he devoted some 5 pages to the poet, generally positive and informative, but the sting was in the tail: ‘this apparent fertility is rather a matter of regret than congratulation, for instead of sending forth so many slight compositions, we should be better pleased to find him applying his talents to some work of varied and sustained interest, worthy of his powers, and redeeming the promise of excellence given in his Ruslan and Liudmila’ (FR, II, p. 300). It was much in the spirit of a headmaster’s report on a bright pupil who could do better. It became a perpetual criticism that Pushkin frittered his time on minor pieces in verse and prose when he should have concentrated on the epic and the sustained narrative. In his review of Bulgarin he strikes the same note, declaring that Pushkin ‘instead of concentrating his talents in some undertaking of at least tolerable magnitude, has preferred exhibiting his versatility and—his indolence’ (FQR, VIII, p. 118). The same volume for 1831 contained among its ‘Miscellaneous Literary Notices’ news of the publication of Boris Godunov and of another chapter of Evgenii Onegin (FQR, XV, pp. 256, 519) and would seem to give the lie to Leeds’s accusations both of idleness and little ambition, but Leeds had not as yet seen the tragedy and Evgenii Onegin, ‘a poetical romance’, was for him still a work in progress, but with which he never really came to terms. It was, nevertheless, obviously time for Leeds to face Pushkin full square and it was the publication of Poltava in 1829 that gave him the pretext for a major review that was the only English contemporary critique of the poet’s work of real substance and significance (FQR, IX (1832), pp. 398-416).

Leeds begins by tackling the inevitable comparison of Pushkin and Byron and ‘although we could wish that Pushkin did not remind us quite so much of Byron, we consider his productions as affording evidence of indisputable genius and power; they exhibit many masterly touches, much vigour of hand, and not a few beauties and traits of detail, together with that peculiar hue which is derived from the language in which they are expressed’ (p. 398). He goes into considerable detail to identify what he considers ‘Byronic’ in Pushkin’s manner before he embarks on a survey of the poet’s work. Beginning with the early lyric poems, he discusses Ruslan i Liudmila and, no longer regretting that Pushkin had moved on to a different form of composition, reviews the southern poems, where he finds plot cedes to ‘the workings of the feelings alone, and the emotions of the human heart’ (p. 404). Out of sequence, he had earlier mentioned Evgenii Onegin as demonstrating Pushkin once again as ‘an emulous follower of Byron’ but ‘a satiric narrative […] unquestionably very inferior’ to both Beppo and Don Juan (pp. 400-1), but then prefers to say no more about a ‘still incomplete’ production, before turning to Poltava. This is a poem he inevitably also views in a Byronic context, but he is largely impressed by evidence of Pushkin’s growing maturity as a poet, his ‘greater vivacity and variety of colouring, more graphic force and richness’. Nevertheless, Leeds’s final judgment seems strangely misplaced, for while reiterating his call for ‘something for enduring fame’, he warns that Pushkin’s place might otherwise be ‘among the poetae minores of his country’ (p. 416). The running title of the review is ‘Pushkin and Rilaeev’ and Leeds devotes the final two pages to a tribute to a poet ‘who, like Pushkin, may be considered as belonging to the Byron school, and who, if he had not been prematurely cut off, there is every reason to suppose would have proved himself no mean rival to him’ (pp. 416-7) and translates a passage from Ryleev’s Voinarovskii.32

In 1839 there appeared the last of Leeds’s major reviews for the Foreign Quarterly Review, a very detailed account of Ksenofont Polevoi’s Mikhail Vasil’evich Lomonosov (1836), an example of biographie romancée he clearly would have preferred as straight biography (FQR, XXIII, pp. 316-39). His penultimate contribution to the Foreign Quarterly Review came 4 years later in 1843, and was an interesting table of 18th- and 19th-century Russian literature by date of death of authors from Kantemir (1744) to Kachenovskii (1842), followed by an alphabetical listing of living authors (FQR, XXX, pp. 242-50). By authors, he understood not only poets, dramatists and prose writers but also practitioners in the other arts, and therefore there are noted architects such as Starov and Bazhenov, painters such as Losenko and Alekseev, sculptors such as Kozlovskii and Martos, and musicians such as Berezovskii and Bortnianskii. In his introduction he declared, and not without reason and no little vanity, that the Foreign Quarterly Review had ‘done more than any other publication, in communicating intelligence relative to Russian Literature and Art’. He suggested that the table was also partly an index to the articles that had earlier appeared in the Foreign Quarterly Review and that it also showed that ‘there are other names besides those of Lomonosov and Sumarokov, Karamzin and Pushkin, who claim notice in biographical works’.

Some years earlier, he had already made a strong case for Krylov in a detailed two-part analysis with numerous translations of fables that appeared in Fraser’s Magazine in 1839 and 1842.33 Here, as in many of his reviews, he went consciously and happily beyond the confines of his original brief, mocking in the opening pages of the second part the inadequacies of the recently published History of Russian Literature, with a Lexicon of Authors (Oxford, 1839, translated by George Cox from the German of Friedrich Otto), emphasizing how out-of-date it was and pointing to his own work and other reliable works of reference.34 He made specific reference to the Entsiklopedicheskii leksikon, ‘fourteen very thick and closely printed octavo volumes’ already published but only the third letter of the alphabet reached. It was these volumes, together with the first volume of the Slovar’ russkikh svetskikh pisatelei (Dictionary of Russian Secular Authors), that were the point of departure for a provocative article on ‘Russian Literary Biography’ in the Westminster Review in 1841 (the opening lines of which were quoted to begin this paper). Regretting that the works under review have not yet reached ‘the more interesting and important names in Russian literary biography’, he himself supplied ‘a chronological list of some of the principal literary figures etc who have died in the last twenty-five years’, which looks directly to his ‘Table’ of Russian literature appearing in the Foreign Quarterly Review the following year.

The article in the Westminster Review commands interest for any number of reasons. One is the obviously heartfelt complaint about the difficulties of obtaining Russian books, for ‘no Russian works are imported by any of the foreign booksellers’, and the attack on the British Museum, which is ‘so very scantily provided with Russian books, as to afford scarcely any assistance whatever’, adding in a footnote that the absence of a classified catalogue makes it virtually impossible to locate what foreign books it has anyway. Another is yet another contribution to his ongoing engagement with Pushkin, here said to ‘have transformed himself into a Russian version of Byron, with some admixture of Goethe, and the novelty of the shape thus assumed procured for him, with his countrymen, the credit of originality’. Once again he voices the regret that there was not more ‘substance and stamina’ in the poetry, while continuing his dismissal of the prose works as ‘poor and meagre in themselves, and in a puerile and extravagant taste, abounding with the worst faults of the German school, out-Germanized’ (WR, XXVI, pp. 40-1). His critique of Pushkin pales, however, before his astonishing attack on Gogol, provoked by his reading of the very positive appraisal provided by Heinrich König in his Literarische Bilder aus Russland (1837).35 The previous year, Leeds had spoken warmly of Gogol’s essay ‘Ob arkhitekture’ from his collection Arabeski (Arabesques) (FQR, XXIV, 311-2), but here he launched into a scathing demolition of various stories from Mirgorod and ended with a rejection of ‘such writers as Gogol and Co., who dive down to celebrity, by writing down to the level of the lowest capacity and the lowest taste, and whose seeming strength is no better than feebleness in hysterics, whose liveliness is that of St Vitus’s dance’ (WR, XXVI, pp. 42-4, 47-8).

Concurrent with these journalistic activities at the end of the 1830s Leeds had been contributing entries to the Penny Cyclopaedia, produced by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge over the years 1833-43. It was a project close to his heart and he took the opportunity to insert up-to-date biographies, based on the latest Russian dictionaries and encyclopedias, of some twelve writers from Kantemir to Pushkin and of the architect Voronikhin, as well as his final long essay on Russian literature that named many more.36 His hitherto unremarked essay on Pushkin, appearing in 1841, was his final appreciation of ‘certainly the most distinguished poet of Russia in the present century’. He refers readers to what he had said in his earlier reviews about the long poems, but is much more positive in his overall appraisal of the poetry, while remaining dismissive about ‘a few tales and essays’.37

Merely on the basis of his acquaintance with his writings on Pushkin in the Foreign Quarterly Review, Gleb Struve suggested that Leeds’s article on Poltava, while not of the quality of the much more widely acknowledged Thomas Shaw’s articles and translations that began to appear in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1845,38 was ‘for its time amazingly comprehensive and understanding’.39 He finished with the hope that ‘more will be found out about this pioneer of Russian studies in England, who seems to me to be, in some ways, more interesting than Bowring‘. Indeed, he is. While it is understandable that ‘Leeds on Pushkin’ has been the centre of attention, it represents only a part, and a very small part, of his total ‘Russian’ output over the 18 years it has been possible to trace his work (1828-46). Leeds was a dedicated chronicler of contemporary Russian literature, providing information about publications and authors that is remarkably comprehensive. Despite the difficulties in obtaining books, he was very much up-to-date and increasingly relied on direct information from Russian sources rather than via German or French reviews. Over the years there is a distinct maturing and growing self-confidence in his writing and judgments about Russian literature, accompanied by his sense that he was witnessing its coming of age and the emergence of a new generation of authors. He undoubtedly had his blind spots, his strange prejudices, and likes and dislikes that frequently run counter to modern tastes and judgments. He perhaps suffered by championing such as Bulgarin and not being fulsome enough in his praise of Pushkin and nonplussed by Gogol. Nevertheless, it is to be regretted that what he achieved did not penetrate more deeply into the consciousness of the British reading public, but his anonymity, his contributions to so many different journals and the absence of good translations (other than his own!) in book (or any) form of almost all of the authors he discussed did not help his cause in the years up to the Crimean War. In a letter to John Murray in 1844 he had suggested that a useful volume could be made out of his scattered and various articles on architecture, but nothing of this nature ever appeared. There is, however, a strong case to be made for the publication of Leeds’s articles on Russian literature with the aim of establishing his significance as the first major English critic of Russian literature.


  1   ‘Russian Literary Biography, &c’., Westminster Review, XXVI (July-October 1841), p. 35. The reviewer, who, as will be shown, was W.H. Leeds, was far less complimentary about Bowring’s efforts when writing for a different journal five years earlier, suggesting that ‘there was a freedom of interpretation in many passages, that amounted to positive blunders, and those, too, of a most ridiculous kind—quite sufficient to justify the suspicion that it was first of all done out of Russian into some other language before it was done into English’ (Foreign Quarterly Review, XVI (1836), p. 446).

  2   Rossiiskaia antologiia: Speciments of the Russian Poets, I (London, 1821), p. i. See my ‘Early English Specimens of the Russian Poets’, Canadian Slavic Studies, IX (1975), pp. 44-62.

  3   Westminster Review, I (January 1824), pp. 80-101 (pp. 92-100 are specifically concerned with Russian literature).

  4   See my ‘The Reverend William Tooke’s Contribution to English Knowledge of Russia at the End of the Eighteenth Century’, Canadian Slavic Studies, III (1969), pp. 106-15; ‘Arcticus and The Bee: An Episode in Anglo-Russian Cultural Relations’, Oxford Slavonic Papers, NS II (1969), 62-76; ‘British Awareness of Russian Culture (1698-1801)’, Canadian-American Slavic Studies, XIII (1979), pp. 412-35.

  5   The Cambridge don travelled through Russia in the reign of Paul, but his account, Travels through Russia and the Bosphorus, many times reprinted thereafter, appeared for the first time only in 1810.

  6   ‘J.A. Krilov’s Russian Fables’, Westminster Review, IV (July 1825), pp. 176-8. The work reviewed was Fables russes, tirées du recueil de m. Kriloff et imitées en vers français et italiens par divers auteurs (Paris, 1825). See my ‘The British and Krylov’, Oxford Slavonic Papers, NS XVI (1983), pp. 91-140.

  7   Foreign Review and Continental Miscellany, II (1828), pp. 279-309.

  8   Foreign Quarterly Review, I (1827), pp. 595-631. An equally influential source of information was the ‘Coup d’oeil sur l’histoire de la langue slave, et sur la marche progressive de la civilization et de la littérature en Russie’, included in Adrien Balbi, Introduction à l’atlas ethnografique du globe, I (Paris, 1826), pp. 321-57. Its unnamed author, Balbi’s young Russian friend, was in this instance the Shishkovite N.I. Bakhtin (1796-1869).

  9   See Gleb Struve, ‘Puškin in Early English Criticism (1821-1838)’, American Slavic and East European Review, VIII (1949), p. 301.

10   Ibid., p. 302; V.D. Rak, ‘Prizhizhennaia izvestnost’ Pushkina za rubezhom: Angliia’, in Pushkin: issledovaniia i materially, XVIII-XIX (St Petersburg, 2004), p. 247.

11   Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects, II (London, 1982), p. 654 (entry by R. Windsor Liscombe); James Stevens Curl, A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (2nd edn, Oxford, 2006), p. 438; Howard Colvin, Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840 (4th edn, New Haven and London, 2008), pp. 640-1.

12   Odile Boucher-Rivalain, ‘William Henry Leeds (1786-1866), critique architectural et sa contribution à la Westminster Review dans les années 1840’, Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens, LV (2002), pp. 33-41.

13   Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals, 1824-1900, V (Toronto and Buffalo, 1989), pp. 456-7.

14   Carl Lefevre, ‘Gogol and Anglo-Russian Literary Relations during the Crimean War’, American Slavic and East European Review, VIII (1949), pp. 106-9.

15   Dorothy Brewster, East-West Passage: A Study in Literary Relationships (London, 1954), pp. 52-5.

16   Eileen M. Curran, ‘The Foreign Quarterly Review on Russian and Polish Literature’, Slavonic and East European Review, XL (1961-2), pp. 209-16. (Curran’s discussion is flawed by her failure to attribute to Leeds several articles in the late 1830s that clearly bear his stamp. Equally, her assertion that Leeds ‘always appeared ignorant of the pre-19th century Russian literature which had found such favour with Cochrane and Smirnove’ (pp. 210-11) is wide of the mark.)

17   Hyde Clarke, ‘William Henry Leeds, Architectural Critic’, The Building News, XIV (4 October 1867), pp. 681-2 (11 October), pp. 697-8 (18 October), pp. 717-8.

18   Catalogue of the Architectural and Foreign Library of the Late W.H. Leeds, Esq. comprising a large collection of books relating to the arts, painting, sculpture, and architecture, works in Russian, Danish, Swedish, German, French, Spanish, and Italian literature […] which will be sold by auction, by Messrs Puttick and Simpson […] on Monday, April 29th, and three following days (London, 1867). There were runs of a few Russian periodicals and dictionaries but the only individual literary works were a two-volume edition of Kheraskov (1820) and a three-volume collection of Karolina Pavlova (1841).

19   The estimate is by the late Phoebe Stanton (1915-2003), professor of architecture at Johns Hopkins University. She compiled a sixty-six page typewritten bibliography which is held with her voluminous research materials, mainly on A.W. Pugin (about whom she published a book in 1972), in the archive of the Royal Institute of British Architects, London, StP/1—and to which I am indebted.

20   National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh, Murray Archive, Ms.40685. (There are three other letters from Leeds to Murray, dated 1836 and 1844 (2), but they are concerned solely with architectural matters.)

21   Foreign Review and Continental Miscellany, IV (1829), pp. 245-8. Podolinskii’s poem received extensive reviews in Moskovskii telegraf, XXI (1827) and Moskovskii vestnik, XV (1827) and I have been unable to establish whether Leeds’s review was an adaptation of either of these.

22   The Bijou: An Annual of Literature and the Arts, III (London, 1830), pp. 271-88. (Leeds had contributed to the first volume ‘The National Norwegian Song’ (ibid., I (1828), pp. 173-5. Other contributors to this almanac included Coleridge, James Hogg, Robert Southey, and many other luminaries.)

23   Royal Lady’s Magazine, and Archives of the Court of St. James’s, I (1831), pp. 83-5.

24   Foreign Review and Continental Miscellany, I (1828), pp. 338-9.

25   Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country, I (April 1830), pp. 276-86.

26   Library of the Fine Arts, I (April 1831), pp. 229-33; (July), p. 498.

27   Ibid., III (1832), pp. 54-5, 123-32 (Volkonskaia); Arnold’s Library of the Fine Arts, NS I (1833), pp. 160, 337-8 (Miscellaneous); NS III (1834), pp. 451-6, 522-9 (‘Batiashkov’, i.e. Batiushkov).

28   Although John Macray (later to become the first librarian of the Taylorian in Oxford) held overall responsibility for this section of the journal, there is little doubt that it was Leeds who supplied all the Russian material.

29   ‘Charles XII and Peter the Great’, New Monthly Magazine and Humorist, LXXVIII (1846), pp. 17-25. (Leeds, incidentally, elsewhere alludes to a further translation from Bulgarin, entitled ‘My First Acquaintance with Karamzin’ and published in the old Monthly Magazine, that I have been unable as yet to locate.)

30   Westminster Review, XXXVI (1841), p. 38. Ivan Vejeeghen, or, Life in Russia, 2 vols. (London and Edinburgh, 1831), trans. by George Ross; The Young Muscovite, or, The Poles in Russia, paraphrased, enlarged and illustrated by Frederick Chamier and by the author of ‘A Key to the Houses of Parliament’, 3 vols. (London, 1833).

31   See Curran, ‘The Foreign Quarterly Review’, pp. 215-6.

32   Leeds did not forget Ryleev. See his praise in 1836 for Ryleev’s Dumy (FQR, XVI, p. 446).

33   ‘Russian Fabulists, with Specimens’, Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country, XIX (February 1839), pp. 153-63; XXV (February 1842), pp. 237-50. On Leeds’s treatment of Krylov, see my ‘The British and Krylov’, pp. 96-8.

34   Ibid., XXV, pp. 237-40.

35   König was essentially conveying the opinions of N.A. Mel’gunov, a professor at Moscow University, who was very pro-Pushkin and Gogol and very anti-Bulgarin and Grech, which also did not endear him to Leeds. On König/Mel’gunov, see R. Iu. Danilevskii, ‘Molodaia Germaniia’ i russkaia literatura (Leningrad, 1969), pp. 138-44.

36   Penny Cyclopaedia, V (1836), pp. 51-2 (Bogdanovich); VIII (1837), p. 430 (Derzhavin); IX, p. 42 (Dmitriev); XIII (1839), pp. 177 (Kantemir), 178 (Karamzin), 207 (Khemnitser and Kheraskov); XV, p. 109 (Lomonosov); XIX (1841), pp. 136-7 (Pushkin); XXII (1842), pp. 105-15 (Russian language and literature); XXIII, pp. 268-9 (Sumarokov); XXVI (1843), pp. 391-2 (Fonvizin), 430 (Volkov), 453 (Voronikhin).

37   Ibid., XIX, p. 137.

38   On Shaw, see L.M. Arinshtein, ‘Tomas Shou—angliiskii perevodchik Pushkina’, in A.S. Bushmin et al. (eds.), Sravnitel’noe izuchenie literatur (Leningrad, 1976), pp. 117-24; Patrick Waddington, ‘Shaw, Thomas Budge’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, L (Oxford, 2004), pp. 127-8.

39   Struve, ‘Puskin in Early English Criticism’, p. 314.