Darejan Menabde # 8
From Mtsiredi Ram Motkhroba Rosiisa by Gabriel Ratishvili
to Mgzavris Tserilebi by Ilia Chavchavadze
In 1863 Ilia Chavchavadze published Mtsiredi Ram Motkhroba Rosiisa (“A Short Narrative on Russia”, preserved in the autographical collection – S 2910), a work of travel-memoir genre by Gabriel Ratishvili (1771-circa 1825) in issues XI-XII of Sakartvelos Moambe. G.Ratishvili is an interesting poet, prose writer and author of memoirs of the so-called transition period. His biography is little known and his work is not known fully either.
In Sakartvelos Moambe the first (incomplete) publication of the work was printed, to which I.Chavchavadze made the following note: “This work is written by Prince Gab. Ratishvili who accompanied the children of our king, when they were sent into exile to Russia. He describes what he saw from Tbilisi to Petersburg, tells us everything that happened to him, and this narrative is not without interest”. Although I.Chavchavadze began to publish the work, due to the closing down of the journal, he could not finish it. It was published only in 1962 by V.Shaduri in the collection Georgian Writers on Russia (Shaduri: 156-301). In this publication the manifesto of Alexander I and the address of Platon of Moscow are omitted (Shaduri 1962: 254; 260). Mtsiredi Ram Motkhroba Rosiisa is mostly a prose text, in which several dozens of poems are included. The work must have been composed in 1801-1802.
G.Ratishvili is hardly a well-known author for the general public. Therefore, in the present paper I shall try to explain why I.Chavchavadze must have shown interest in his work.
G.Ratishvili, an interesting poet, prose writer and author of memoirs, accompanied Prince Ioane to Russia as his adjutant at the beginning of the 19thc., he visited St. Petersburg and Moscow, attended the coronation of Emperor Alexander I and the issuing of the well-known manifesto of September 12, 1801 by the new emperor. His route was: Tbilisi, Mtskheta, Lars, Mozdok, Moscow, St.Petersburg, and the way back: Moscow, Tsaritsin, Astrakhan, Mozdok, Vladikavkaz, Lars, Stepantsminda… In his work the narration begins with the departure from Tbilisi (7.III.1801), and ends with the return of G.Ratishvili to his homeland, his own estate (according to some reports, village of Ksovrisi). The factual material of the work was undoubtedly written in this period of time, its literary styling, completion and final editing occurred as soon as the author returned home with his vivid impressions. It should be assumed that G.Ratishvili was writing a diary during his journey, in which he entered his impressions and observations. If this was not the case, such a detailed elaboration, such an accurate description of facts and events as is found on every page of Mtsiredi Ram Motkhroba Rosiisa would have been inconceivable. In spite of the humble title, it is not “a short narrative” at all, on the contrary, it is an extensive description of the travel of the Georgian writer to Russia, with poems inserted in it, an extensive narrative on Russia, a valuable historical source, in which there are numerous accounts on the state and political life of Russia of that period, its social and economic state, the relations between Georgia and Russia, and so on.
In the person of G.Ratishvili one finds an author of memoirs educated on the traditions of old Georgian literature and thoughtful of the national ailment, who tells us the reasons of his journey, explains what forced the princes to leave Georgia at the beginning of the 19th c., how the author found himself in Russia and how he suffered from the life in a foreign country, what made him decide to write memoirs, etc.
Mtsiredi Ram Motkhroba Rosiisa is a composition that is noteworthy in a number of respects. As noted above, G.Ratishvili was educated on the traditions of old Georgian literature. At the same time, unlike authors of memoirs of the preceding period (G.Gelovani, V.Orbeliani and others), he showed a political flair. He felt the possible danger from Russia, the tragedy of the situation, and conveyed all this in an impressive way in his work.
G.Ratishvili is also significant because he is the only author who witnessed directly and attended the announcement of the manifesto of Alexander I. He was a writer who saw the expectable historical events with the utmost clarity.
Although Mtsiredi Ram Motkhroba Rosiisa offers a detailed description of the towns and villages of Russia, its people, traditions, customs and sights, the entire work is imbued with the extremely sad and depressed mood of the author.
The structure of Mtsiredi Ram Motkhroba Rosiisa is simple. The work is divided into chapters. Several sections are singled out: Shesavali Tsignisa Mtsiredi Raime Motkhroba Rosiisa (“Introduction to the Book A Short Narrative on Russia”), Vitareba Mozdokisa (“The Situation in Mozdok”), Vitareba Voronezhisa (“The Situation in Voronezh”), Vitareba Tulisa (“The Situation in Tula”), Vitareba Moskovisa (“The Situation in Moscow”). Then the division and titles are no longer found and only in the final part a small section is singled out which is entitled Vitareba Astrakhanisa (“The Situation in Astrakhan”). The first section - Shesavali Tsignisa Mtsiredi Raime Motkhroba Rosiisa – is the introduction of the work as well as a confession of G.Ratishvili.
G.Ratishvili informs us about the reasons of the journey, explains why the Georgian princes had to leave their homeland, how the author found himself in Russia and how he suffered from the life in the foreign lands, why he decided to write memoirs, and so on. The description of the journey was for him “the cause … for cheering up” and “for driving away sadness”, at the same time, it was intended to “arouse the mind”.
The nostalgic mood is in general characteristic of Mtsiredi Ram Motkhroba Rosiisa. In G.Ratishvili’s words, they left their homeland and were miserable in the foreign country. They did not know how things would develop, in a happy or an unhappy manner. G.Ratishvili’s thought and worried about this. And when the manifesto of September 12 became known to the Georgian princes and the members of their retinue, arriving in Moscow at the ceremonial of the accession to the throne of Alexander I, G.Ratishvili wrote with grief: The manifesto was issued and it was decreed that the heirs to the throne of Georgia will not reign any more, but instead they will obey the Russian law, and we were greatly distressed to read this, as we expected joy, but let God dispose how it shall be (Shaduri 1962: 259) and ibid: Instead of the right to reign over Georgia, we received the red ribbon of Anna and we do not know and wonder what we have done, we, who lost the reign and ruined our family (Shaduri 1962: 263-264).
In this way, according to G.Ratishvili, Georgian princes received the red ribbon of Anna instead of the right to reign over Georgia, and so on. This is the spirit that imbues G.Ratishvili’s Mtsiredi Ram Motkhroba Rosiisa, in this way the eye-witness writer viewed the future of his homeland.
G.Ratishvili knew well and made wide use of the Georgian-language ecclesiastical and secular literature. Naturally, he knew the Bible, which he used in his work, but unlike other literary works of that period, Mtsiredi Ram Motkhroba Rosiisa is not overburdened with Biblical images, names and quotations. In this sizable book only several Biblical names are found (Solomon the Wise, John the Baptist, Luke the Evangelist and others) and just a few quotations are cited from the Bible. It is obvious that G.Ratishvili knew other translated works as well, for example, the biography of the founder of the genre of fable, Aesop, which was translated in the Georgian language too – Tskovreba Da Mokalakoba Gonebamakhvilisa Ezopesi (“The Life of Witty Aesop”). G.Ratishvili knew old Georgian literature better. As noted above, in the work poems are inserted, in which often the influence of previous poets is observable. The traveler-writer not infrequently borrowed from Rustveli, Teimuraz I, Besarion Gabashvili and other famous writers.
I.Chavchavadze’s interest in the work by G.Ratishvili must not have been accidental. “This story is not without interest”, wrote I.Chavchavadze significantly, as the views and assumptions expressed by G.Ratishvili at the beginning of the century (Mtsiredi Ram Motkhroba Rosiisa is composed in 1801-1802) were perceived much more acutely in the 1860s. It is noteworthy that I.Chavchavadze chose the same route – “from Vladikavkaz to Tbilisi” – in order to introduce his action program to the Georgian public.
24-year-old Ilia Chavchavadze returned to his homeland from St.Petersburg by the same route, which in his time was passed by G.Ratishvili – Vladikavklaz, Lars, Stepantsminda, Pasanauri…On the way he is thinking about the past, the present and the future of Georgia: “…How shall I greet my country and how will it greet me”, he has a quite specific goal: “…Shall I be able to say a kindred word to it … To tell it by this word that there are many countries born much unhappier than we, but living in a much happier way: and to gather each spark, which it is not possible that is not flickering in everyone, as a great fire in order to warm the chilled heart of my country” (Chavchavadze 1980: 14). The way which the writer must pass certainly has its function (Ratiani 2006: 64-67; 74; 82-88; 121-123; 154-156). On this way he must meet iamshchik (coachman) and Khevian Lelt Ghunia, take a look at the Terek and Mount Kazbek, wish that there be in his country “a person who does not sleep even in his sleep, sad at heart because of the unhappiness of his country” and to worry when he thinks that “the country is ruined, destroyed”…
Mgzavris Tserilebi (“Letters of a Traveller”) by I.Chavchavadze was written after 60 years from the creation of G.Ratishvili’s Mtsiredi Ram Motkhroba Rosiisa. G.Ratishvili, confused with the state of affairs, asks in his work with fear and suspicion: “What will happen or how will things develop after that…”, whereas 24-year-old I.Chavchavadze, also returning from St.Petersburg, realizes the social and political situation in Georgia which lost its statehood and asks the question directly: “For how long? Oh, for how long, for how long?...my dear homeland!...Give me an answer”.
It should be mentioned that in G.Ratishvili’s work the text of the manifesto of Alexander I is included, which, as becomes clear from the note, was translated from the original by Vasil Chilayev (Chiladze), who was assigned to the Georgians arriving in Russia as an interpreter (preochik). Together with the princes, he attended the accession to the throne of Alexander I and the announcement of the manifesto, and he repeatedly appears in the work after this too. This is the first translation of the Manifesto of September 12, 1801 of Alexander I, carried out V.Chilayev to enable the princes present in Russia to familiarize with the document. There is an interesting detail here: “The Manifesto of Alexander I on the Joining of Georgia to Russia” was published in the Russian language two times, the Russian-Georgian parallel text was for the first time published in Moscow in 1801, from which it was taken by Platon Ioseliani. The translation by Vasil Chilayev has not been published yet to the present day (Menabde 2005: 205-207). It differs from the official translation mentioned above by the phraseological and lexical structure and peculiarities. Along with this, it contains several interesting details inserted by the translator and the author of the Mtsiredi Ram Motkhroba Rosiisa.
I.Chavchavadze published in Sakartvelos Moambe only the first part of the work by G.Ratishvili (the journey from Tbilisi to Moscow), that is why it does not include the Manifesto. It is omitted in the edition of Mtsiredi Ram Motkhroba Rosiisa by V.Shaduri too, which, in my opinion, must have been caused by the political and ideological state of affairs of that period (Menabde 2005: 202).
It turns out that the indicated manifesto was published in the Georgian language in Georgia only in 1867 (The Life of King Giorgi XII…1867: 287-294), i.e. after I.Chavchavadze began its publication in Sakartvelos Moambe (1863). Before that time the above-mentioned manifesto was not yet available to the Georgian readers in their native language. I think, this circumstance may also have become one of the reasons of I.Chavchavadze’s interest in this work. However, unfortunately, this section of Mtsiredi Ram Motkhroba Rosiisa was not published at that time.
The fact itself that I.Chavchavadze began to publish Mtsiredi Ram Motkhroba Rosiisa and Sakartvelos Moambe devoted its pages to this work, already confirms that G.Ratishvili’s work was highly appraised and recognized. It is also significant that when A.Tsagareli compiled the collection of works by Georgian poets, along with the poems by Besiki, A.Chavchavadze, G.Orbeliani, N.Baratashvili, I.Chavchavadze and A.Tsereteli, he included one poem (God, who are praised…) from the work of G.Ratishvili too.
Thus, as demonstrated above, both works are based on the journey between Russia and Georgia. However, the main and essential factor uniting them is the attitude of the authors towards “the fate of Georgia”. The observation of these two texts provides interesting material concerning how the political life of Georgia and respectively, the public opinion developed over six decades of the 19th c.
Menabde 2005: Menabde D. Gabriel Ratishvili – The Chronicler of the Tragedy of Georgia. Literaturuli Dziebani, XXVI, Tb.: 2005 (in Georgian)
Ratiani 2006: Ratiani I. The Chronotope in the Prose of Ilia Chavchavadze. Tb.: Universali, 2006 (in Georgian)
Ratishvili 1863: Ratishvili G. Mtsiredi Ram Motkhroba Rosiisa. Sakartvelos Moambe, №№11, 12, 1863 (in Georgian)
Shaduri 1962: Shaduri V. Georgian Writers on Russia. Compiled by V.Shaduri. Tb.: Sabchota Sakartvelo, 1962 (in Georgian)
Chavchavadze 1988: Chavchavadze I. Complete Works in Twenty Volumes. Vol.II, Tb.: Metsniereba, Sabchota Sakartvelo, 1988 (in Georgian)