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Page:Modern Russian Poetry.djvu/17

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Introduction


Modern Russian literature took its rise in the early nineteenth century. This was, more or less, the Russian counterpart of the Elizabethan Age. Energizing liberal influences were in the air; men's pulses were stirred by the Napoleonic drama; a national self-consciousness came into being; the winds of a new world were blowing from widened horizons. And there was the same coincidence of favorable environment with the accident of genius. Yet if the English Renaissance found its expression in drama, it is notable that nascent Russian literature blossomed in lyricism. England had her Shakespeare, and Russia had her Pushkin,—with a difference.

He is placed in the company of Dante, Shakespeare and Goethe by his compatriots, yet even they admit that he lacks the universal significance of his elder peers. He remains, however, the national poet acknowledged as the first and perhaps the greatest literary artist of his country, a figure upon whom more admiration and scholarship have been lavished than upon any one else. Had he been accessible to the outside world, its current conceptions of the mood and manner of Russian literature would be different. The Byronism with which he began, early gave place to a reconciliation with reality and to a classic sobriety which made Mérimée declare him "An Athenian

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