1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kriloff, Ivan Andreevich

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21939231911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 15 — Kriloff, Ivan Andreevich

KRILOFF (or Kruilov), IVAN ANDREEVICH (1768–1844), the great national fabulist of Russia, was born on the 14th of February 1768, at Moscow, but his early years were spent at Orenburg and Tver. His father, a distinguished military officer, died in 1779; and young Kriloff was left with no richer patrimony than a chest of old books, to be brought up by the exertions of a heroic mother. In the course of a few years his mother removed to St Petersburg, in the hope of securing a government pension; and there Kriloff obtained a post in the civil service, but he gave it up immediately after his mother’s death in 1788. Already in 1783 he had sold to a bookseller a comedy of his own composition, and by this means had procured for himself the works of Molière, Racine, Boileau; and now, probably under the influence of these writers, he produced Philomela and Cleopatra, which gave him access to the dramatic circle of Knyazhin. Several attempts he made to start a literary magazine met with little success; but, together with his plays, they served to make the author known in society. For about four years (1797–1801) Kriloff lived at the country seats of Prince Sergius Galitzin, and when the prince was appointed military governor of Livonia he accompanied him as official secretary. Of the years which follow his resignation of this post little is known, the common opinion being that he wandered from town to town under the influence of a passion for card-playing. Before long he found his place as a fabulist, the first collection of his Fables, 23 in number, appearing in 1809. From 1812 to 1841 he held a congenial appointment in the Imperial Public Library—first as assistant, and then as head of the Russian books department. He died on the 21st of November 1844. His statue in the Summer Garden is one of the finest monuments in St Petersburg.

Honours were showered upon Kriloff while he yet lived: the Academy of Sciences admitted him a member in 1811, and bestowed upon him its gold medal; in 1838 a great festival was held under imperial sanction to celebrate the jubilee of his first appearance as an author; and the emperor assigned him a handsome pension. Before his death about 77,000 copies of his Fables had found sale in Russia; and his wisdom and humour had become the common possession of the many. He was at once poet and sage. His fables for the most part struck root in some actual event, and they told at once by their grip and by their beauty. Though he began as a translator and imitator he soon showed himself a master of invention, who found abundant material in the life of his native land. To the Russian ear his verse is of matchless quality; while word and phrase are direct, simple and eminently idiomatic, colour and cadence vary with the theme.

A collected edition of Kriloff’s works appeared at St Petersburg, 1844. Of the numerous editions of his Fables, which have been often translated, may be mentioned that illustrated by Trutovski, 1872. The author’s life has been written in Russian by Pletneff, by Lebanoff and by Grot, Liter, zhizn Kruilova. “Materials” for his life are published in vol. vi. of the Sbornik Statei of the literary department of the Academy of Sciences. W. R. S. Ralston prefixed an excellent sketch to his English prose version of the Fables (1868; 2nd ed. 1871). Another translation, by T. H. Harrison, appeared in 1883.