Darejan Menabde # 5
On the World Outlook of the Georgian Travel Narrative in
the First Quarter of the 19th Century
Abstract: Cultural and literary tendencies characteristic of classical realism were clearly manifested in the Georgian narrative of the first quarter of the 19th century. A number of interesting literary figures emerged in the circle of princes, among them Gabriel Ratishvili, the author of the composition “A Brief Story about Russia” and Nikoloz Onikashvili, the author of the “Travel”. Interpretations of particular historical events given in the narratives of G. Ratishvili and N. Onikashvili offer interesting material for understanding the world outlook of these writers, as well as taking into account the interrelation of the literary text and political context.
Key words: Interpretations, literary text, political context.
Cultural and literary tendencies characteristic of classical realism were clearly manifested in the Georgian narrative of the first quarter of the 19th century. The change of the literary vector northward was essentially defined by political factors. If the purpose of 18th-century “travels” was to visit holy places, bring to light Georgian antiquities, get acquainted with the situation in the world, carry out diplomatic, military and trade missions, etc., in the new texts political orientation as well as peculiarities of the writers’ world outlook, in general, came to the foreground. With account of the historical context travelers – the authors of memoirs evaluated political events from a new perspective, they were aware of the possible national-state dangers, and quite often showed a critical attitude towards the aggressive policy of Russia in their works.
At the beginning of the 19th century the greater part of the Georgian political and literary elite found itself in the involuntary emigration in Russia. As the Georgian emigrants (princes and their milieu) were deprived of any possibility of legal political activity by the local authorities, they mainly directed their intellectual efforts towards the search for new cultural and literary landmarks. A number of interesting literary figures emerged in the circle of princes, among them Gabriel Ratishvili, the author of the composition “A Brief Story about Russia” and Nikoloz Onikashvili, the author of the “Travel”.
In this paper we present two texts of these two authors one of which– that of G. Ratishvili’s – was published twice and both times incomplete (“Saqartvelos Moambe” 1863; Shaduri 1962) and the second text by N. Onikashvili was published just once (Meparishvili 1971). Today these publications are already a bibliographic rarity
These authors are less known to a wide public. However, the interpretations given in the narratives about concrete historical events provide interesting material for taking into consideration the world outlook of the mentioned writers as well as the relationship of literary text and political context.
Gabriel Ratishvili (1771 – approx. 1825) is a writer who due to historical circumstances appeared in Russia together with the Georgian royal family of the Bagratids and personally attended the declaration of the known manifesto by Alexander I on 12 September, 1801. His memoirs composition “A Brief Story about Russia” has kept us a chronicle of those tragic days. According to the widely spread opinion the composition was written between the years 1801 and 1802. This is an extended description with inclusions of verses by Georgian writer travelling into Russia, a historical source which contains in abundance the data about state-political life of that time Russia, social-economic state and Georgia-Russia relations.
“A Brief Story about Russia” is an important composition in various ways but this time we touch only one question – how Gabriel Ratishvili, a direct witness and participator, described and perceived the most important but at the same time extremely tragic historical events of the early 19th-century Georgia.
It is known that at the beginning of the 19th century Russian imperial court “invited” the Georgian princes to Saint Petersburg. According to G. Ratishvili, Tsar Paul I “wished” to meet Giorgi XII’s children – Ioane, Bagrat and Mikheil Bagratids. For Georgians it was obvious what a perfidious intention this “invitation” had but they were forced to obey the order. Soon came the day of “sadness”. Ioane Batonishvili accompanied by his adjutant, G.Ratishvili - a chronicler of a long travel, with his retinue (I.Kobulashvili, Z.Andronikashvili, N.Onikashvili) set off.
In the spring of 1801 Georgian Crown Princes and their retinue first came to Moscow and then to St.Petersburg. Due to the fact that coronation of the new emperor (Alexander I) delayed, the royal court postponed the reception of Georgian Princes for a long time. Meanwhile, they were given the opportunity to see the sights of St.Petersburg. Naturally, the Russians hoped that the richness and brilliance of the city would make an appropriate impression on Georgians.
Finally, in the autumn Russian government invited the Princes and their retinue to Moscow to the coronation of a new emperor Alexander I. Several days later the vice-chancellor A.Kurakin gave them a reception and expressed the sovereign’s benevolence. However, the situation unexpectedly changed and Georgians faced the terrifying reality – they were familiarized with a manifesto signed by Alexander I on September 12, declaring the kingdom of Kartl-Kakheti annexed to the Russian crown.
G. Ratishvili, who directly witnessed and attended the announcement of the manifesto of Alexander I, renders the greatest tragedy of the situation: “Three days passed and the Manifesto ordering the abolition of the monarchy in Georgia was published, and thus Russia took over Georgia... And instead of being delighted we were deeply saddened”. G. Ratishvili was well aware what dire consequences this manifesto would bring to Georgia. It is interesting to note that he included the translation of the manifesto text translated by V. Chilaev into his composition. The writer tries to bring to the reader the variety of his feelings and emotions. In our view the whole tragedy of this situation is focused in the following phrase: “… Instead of royal dignity we got red ribbon of St. Anne… orders, golden stamps, watches... and we, who have lost our age-old statehood and brought grief to our families, are in great perplexity what to do”. There are many other examples in the composition which clearly show us how fully historical and political context of the early 19th century was reflected in G.Ratishvili’s literary text.
As was mentioned above, this journey was also described by one more writer – Nikoloz Onikashvili. Now let us get acquainted with his point of view – as to how the same traveling episodes are rendered by another writer.
Nikoloz Onikashvili, a writer and calligraphist, was a secretary to Ioane Batonishvili and in the years of 1801-1802 accompanied him to Russia. N. Onikashvili is the author of “Description of Moscow, Petersburg and...” a composition of traveling and memoir character. In this book not only Moscow and Peterburg are described but there is rich actual material about other mentioned points, peoples, events, etc. And most importantly it describes a long travel to the north. That is why sometimes it is called: “The Travel from Mtskheta to Petersburg”, more frequently –“The Travel from Tbilisi to Petersburg”, or simply “The Travel”.
The “Travel” does not have an exact date but according to the records kept in the text we can suppose that the writer wrote his own impressions daily, i.e. in 1801 and not later.
N. Onikashvili’s “Travel” does not distinguish either by artistic merits or compositional perfection. But it is interesting first of all as an important historical source, which familiarizes us with one episode of the Russo-Georgian interrelations in the early 19th century – the travel of Georgian Crown Princes and their retinue from Georgia to Saint Petersburg. The author’s record is reliable and authentic; the narration is so detailed and contains so many important records, diverse actual material that the writer even seems to be frightened for the reader not to cast doubt in its truth. That is why being convinced in his own truth he announced innocently: “It was all seen with our own eyes.” In this composition special attention is paid to the rendering of the narrator’s impressions. The “Travel” is a documentary descriptive composition rather than artistic descriptive essay.
In spite of all this, by outlook N. Onikashvili is quite different from that G. Ratishvili. These writers traveled together from Tbilisi to Saint Petersburg, visited the same towns and villages, saw and described the same sights. It is true in their records, their documents here and there differences can be observed but more frequently they informed similar news and describe the same facts and subjects due to which their diaries contain not only concrete factual similarity but verbal-lexical correspondence. There is enough material in the text evidencing this and after familiarization and comparison it won’t be difficult for the reader to conclude that N. Onikashvili borrowed in abundance from G. Ratishvili.
However, N. Ratishvili who did his best for making his narration similar to G. Ratishvili’s text, is sometimes rather careful (or may be, indifferent?!). For example, noting has been said in his composition about the contents of the manifesto, how the declaration of the manifesto was perceived by Georgian Princes and members of their retinue. The writer’s personal attitude to the fact is not seen. Here is the only quotation which shows the writer’s psychological attitude almost word by word is rewritten from G. Ratishvili’s book (e.g.: G. Ratishvili: “Now we do not know what to expect from the vicissitudes of fate”; N. Onikashvili: “Now you will see the transmutations of fortune for us”).
Perhaps N. Onikashvili’s Russophilic political orientation is indicated by the fact that there is no awareness of the dire consequences caused by the abolition of the Kingdom of Kartl-Kakheti in his “Travel”, as well as those strong nostalgic moods which run through G. Ratishvili’s “A Brief Story about Russia”.
Thus, the texts of these two authors, which actually deal with one and the same events, present absolutely different visions of historical reality, different interpretations. Essentially, there are two dissimilar stories of one and same fact.
Although G. Ratishvili and N. Onikashvili – members of Prince Ioane’s retinue, the son of Giorgi XII – appeared in Russia at the same time and visited almost the same places, the dissimilarity of the authors’ political and world outlook, different perceptions of historical reality are obvious in their texts. For G. Ratishvili (the first Georgian writer who attended the issuing of the manifesto by Emperor Alexander I on September 12, 1801 and described this situation), the tragedy of a new political reality is evident and it is important for him to make an impact on the reader’s consciousness. As to N. Onikashvili, he is just a descriptor, who is so impressed by the outward brilliance of the foreign country that fails to realize the aftermath of the fateful political changes and dangers linked with it.
Interpretations of particular historical events given in the narratives of G. Ratishvili and N. Onikashvili offer interesting material for understanding the world outlook of these writers, as well as taking into account the interrelation of the literary text and political context.
Meparishvili 1891: Meparishvili L. From history of cultural relations between Russian and Georgian peoples (N.Onikashvili “Travel from Tbilisi to Petersburg).“Historical Bulletin”, #25-26 (1971), 183-236.
Ratishvili 1863: Ratishvili G. “A Brief Story about Russia”. “Saqartvelos Moambe”, ##11, 12, 1863.
Shaduri 1962: Shaduri V. (Compiler). Georgian writers about Russia. Tbilisi: “Sabchota Saqartvelo”, 1962.
Volume 4, Issue 2