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There is much of interest to tell about the poet Alexei Koltsov and the bust that honors him at the southwest end of Koltsov Square in Voronezh. But what catches my eye first of all is the fact that, according to Russian Wikipedia, an American diplomat, “a fan of Koltsov’s poetry,” attended the unveiling of this marble monument on October 27, 1868. An American fan of Koltsov’s poetry? In 1868? Amazing. Most American diplomats in Russia these days hardly know poetry from ping pong. In all my 28 years in Moscow I have known two, perhaps three, individuals at the American embassy who would have. Which makes me look upon Eugene Schuyler as a bona fide miracle. I had never heard about Schuyler; now I want to know as much about him as possible. He was one of the first Americans to receive a PhD from an American Univeristy (Yale). A chance meeting with some Russian sailors in New York in 1863 gave rise to Schuyler’s interest in Russian language and, eventually, literature. In 1867, on his own request, he was sent to Russia as a consul. This guy was not one to waste opportunities. En route to Moscow, he stopped in Baden-Baden to introduce himself to Ivan Turgenev (whose literary translator he would subsequently become). Impressed, Turgenev gave him a letter of introduction that he took to Leo Tolstoy in Moscow, and he translated Tolstoy’s The Cossacks in 1868. Imagine that at the U.S. embassy in Moscow – the consul sitting around translating Tolstoy and Turgenev.
Schuyler knew Koltsov only by reputation, of course. Kolstov’s dates were 1809-1842. Schulyer himself was born in 1840. But Schuyler obviously knew Russian literature well enough to make it a point to travel to Voronezh for the unveiling of the bust you see here. Well, maybe he didn’t come specially for this event. He had traveled to Central Asia by way of the Volga in spring of 1868. Maybe he just happened to be coming through on his way home. Also in 1868, he traveled to Yasnaya Polyana, near Tula, to visit Tolstoy, who was finishing War and Peace at that time. Maybe the trip to Voronezh was wrapped around that little journey somehow.
But wait a minute – do you realize what I just wrote? Schuyler visited Tolstoy when the latter was finishing his latest little concoction, War and Peace. Can you imagine dinner talk?
SCHUYLER (Fastening bib on chest): So, Leo. How’s tricks?
LEO (Glaring at his wife who stands in the shadows): Ah. Not good. Natasha’s giving me fits.
Tolstoy’s wife disappears more deeply into the shadows.
LEO: Oh, nobody. It’s nothing. Natasha. And a guy named Pierre.
SCHUYLER: Hmm. Sounds romantic. (Raises voice. To Tolstoy’s wife in the shadows.) Sofya Andreyevna! The soup is to die for! Turgenev never served me anything like this!
A satisfied smile shines out of the darkness.
LEO (Paying no attention to last comment): Not really. It’s mostly war, politics and philosophy.
SCHUYLER (Looking back at Tolstoy): Oh, I…
LEO: But it’s a damn lot better than Turgenev.
But let’s get back to Kolstov, about whom I wrote once before in this space. The bust we see today was created by an Italian sculptor living in St. Petersburg. His name was Avgustin Triscorni, not to be confused with Agostino Triscorni, who was his father or uncle or something, a famous St. Petersburg artist at the end of the 18th/beginning of the 19th century. Triscorni created the monument based on a detailed drawing by local artist Alexander Kyui (sometimes spelled Cui). As such, it is generally considered that the monument is the joint work of Triscorni and Kyui.
There is, in fact, an entire booklet written about this monument. It is called The Monument to A.V. Koltsov and it was written by Valery Kononev. (GoogleBooks lets you get at some of the pages, depending on what you are searching for.) This book, incidentally, tells us that the “foreign guest” Schuyler came “especially” for the unveiling of the bust.
The idea for the monument belonged to Koltsov’s sister. (One source tells us she was A. Andronova; but he also had a sister Anisya Semyonova). Koltsov’s sister organized the raising of funds and she is the one who commissioned Triscorni to do the work. All did not go smoothly, as the fee demanded by the sculptor was not met by the subscriptions purchased by Voronezh residents. According to Kononev’s book, “The money collected in Voronezh was insufficient and on the day of the monument’s unveiling the Council of Nobility opened up a new subscription. Still, the Voronezh authorities were unable to pay up their debt to Trisconi, who, subsequently, twice filed complaints against the Voronezh bureacrats with the Tsar’s office of the Foreign Ministry. Only in 1870 did the City Duma pay off the sculptor ‘out of unused funds collected as aid for families of low-ranking bureaucrats during the Crimean War.’ In all, the monument to the famous Voronezh citizen cost the city 3,413 rubles.”
The completed monument arrived in Voronezh from St. Petersburg on December 19, 1867. The Nadezhda, or Hope, transport company charged 955 rubles, 55 kopecks, for the honor of moving the piece of art. It was originally planned to be unveiled on Oct. 2, 1868, but the ceremony was put off until Oct. 27. Nobody bothered to cover the “un-unveiled” monument for these three weeks, so someone reportedly put a visor hat on top of it. As Kononev tells us, there was no particular publicity in regards to the unveiling, the result of which is that very few people came. That only makes us admire the now mythical Eugene Schuyler all the more.
The square around the monument was the first of its kind in Voronezh, and this monument itself was only the second to be unveiled in the city. The first honored Peter the Great. Subsequently a gaping hole in the city, named Lenin Square, formed behind the Koltsov bust. In the final photo here you can see Lenin in the distance, waving at us as though he hopes we won’t forget him. Fat chance. My new hero is Eugene Schuyler.