The American Historical Review/Volume 23/Reviews of Books/Modern Russian History

Modern Russian History: being an Authoritative and Detailed History of Russia from the Age of Catherine the Great to the Present. By Alexander Kornilov, Professor at the Politechnicum of Peter the Great in Petrograd. In two volumes. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1917. Pp. 310, 370. $5.00.)

It is really a pity. Here is an excellent book on a subject about which there is little good literature in English, and it is made almost unreadable for us by the incompetence of the translator. He is evidently a foreigner with a large theoretical knowledge of English, but he has no real sense of a clear idiomatic use of the language. The order of his clauses is apt to be clumsy, there are countless inversions, articles are inserted where they do not belong, and omitted where they do (in Russian there are no articles), there are many mistakes in the use of prepositions, and words of all kinds are used with not quite their right meaning and sometimes with totally wrong ones and sometimes with no warrant for their existence. The reader is thus kept in a continual state of irritation while he is trying to find out what a sentence means or should mean, or is jarred by some extraordinary expression. To quote a few examples, we find such terms as "ideational", "hydraulicians", "draining wars", "civilism", "cadet corpuses", "motivated", "the anachronic despoty". Paper money is called "assignations", and we are told about their "course". Instead of he "disapproved of", we have he "regarded negatively". The Academicians, such as Storch, are dubbed "academic Storch", etc.

The following if not perhaps fair are characteristic passages: Not satisfied with the custom repressions Paul ordered arrested all English goods in the stores (I. 61).

To the next period we must assign the following four decades of the nineteenth century, when the results of the abolition of serfdom had developed the further process of the substitution by a constitutional of the autocratic state (I. 65).

As a comment on Alexander I. we find:

In a fatal way he had destroyed for himself the possibility of a consequential and regulated leadership of Russia on the way of progress and fundamental improvement of her state, destroyed it by being carried away with the chance for participation in the world-events of his time (I. 217).

Chapter XXVII. begins with the sentence: "The attentate of Karakozov, on April 4, 1866, produced a shocking impression upon Alexander and upon the public" (II. 111).

Coming at last to the subject of Professor Kornilov's two volumes, the first criticism one has to make is that the title is misleading. It promises a general history of Russia, but the work is almost confined to Russian institutions and political development in the last century and a half. Foreign relations and wars and expansion of territory are touched upon only in a casual and rather slipshod manner, and there are several errors in statement. Economic development comes out a little better, but not much, and there is nothing about such things as the progress of science, literature, or art. On its real topic the book is valuable. It has been written with evident care and competence, with outspoken liberal conviction, but soberly and without rhetoric. The facts it gives are of consequence in themselves, but it covers too much ground to go deeply into any of them. Being composed for Russians, it presupposes a certain knowledge of Russian history on the part of its readers. It also has a great many proper names, which makes it confusing, especially to a public not already familiar with most of them, and to whom they seem uncouth. In short, Professor Kornilov's work is a scholarly, judicious compendium of an important subject, but it is not likely to prove attractive to many American readers.

The transliteration of Russian words is in the main good, though there are some inconsistencies and a few mistakes, especially in names that were originally foreign, not Russian. Ts is better than tz (for instance, tsar, not tzar), and there is no sense in the form "Nicolas", which is not the English and still less the Russian way of writing the name.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.


The longest-living author of this work died in 1928, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 94 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.