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I have so many photographs of plaques and busts and monuments of Alexander Pushkin’s presence in Russia that I could almost – almost – get away with doing a blog devoted just to him. This location today has two plaques commemorating the fact that Alex used to hang out here with his friend Pavel Nashchokin in 1831-32. Actually one plaque (see above) declares what I have just stated; a second, the more generic kind of plaque (that you see immediately below) claims that Pushkin “lived here with his friend P.V. Nashchokin” in 1831. The two apparently made an excellent pair. Pushkin “loved life,” as the saying goes, and Nashchokin appears to have loved it no less. When his mother died she left all her considerable properties to Pavel’s older brother and sister because she knew her youngest son would squander it in no time. Here is what one Russian history website writes about Pavel Nashchokin: “Nashchokin was a cheerful, extravagant, reckless man who was quick to lend money and quick to forget to demand payment of the debt, never abandoned the homeless and unsettled, was a peacemaker who shared the last coin he had. He would become fabulously rich, winning cards or receiving an unexpected inheritance, after which he would throw Lucullean feasts for his friends…” The obvious next step of that phrase is he could just as easily lose everything he had. He was up to his neck in debt within months of his mother’s death in 1828.
In the early 1830s Nashchokin moved often, residing at five different addresses in the first half of the decade. It’s a boon for Pushkin fans, for it assured us a spate of plaques going up a few hundred years later to commemorate all these meeting places.
The structure we peruse today is 4/2 at the corner of Gagarinsky Lane and Nashchokin Lane. It’s a lovely early 19th-century building, one of those low, two-story, stand-alone buildings, painted in that powdery yellow I so love (the photos here distort it some, itlooks duller than in real life). I have no idea what color it was 185 years ago, of course.
The same site I quoted earlier adds this lovely tidbit about Pushkin coming into Moscow from his home in St. Petersburg and telling cabbies to take him to Nashchokin’s: “When he was in Moscow, Pushkin always stayed with Voinych [that was Nashchokin’s patronymic]. He was always as amused as a child when the cabbies would faultlessly find the road to the home of his friend who often changed apartments.”
In other words, of course, Nashchokin’s was a place many a cabbie had driven to.
Russian Wikipedia tells us that by 1831, Nashchokin had two children, a boy and a girl, by a Gypsy singer whose name was Olga Soldatova. Pushkin became the girl’s God father, just as Nashchokin was God father to Pushkin’s first son, Alexander. Pushkin asked Pavel to be God father to his second son, but Nashchokin was ill at the time and could not make the trip from Moscow to St. Petersburg.
Pushkin (1799-1837) and Nashchokin (1801-1854) first met when the two were kids at the Tsarskoe Selo college in 1814-15. Nashchokin spent time as an officer in the Tsar’s army, but retired for “domestic reasons” in 1823 at the age of 22. The two grew close after Pushkin spent time in exile after the Decembrist Uprising in 1825. Nashchokin never did anything that would have caused anyone other than direct descendants to remember him, but his friendship with Pushkin made him something of a folk figure, and even a relatively frequent object of serious study. It is the reality of Pushkin in Russia that anything or anyone he ever touched or even cast an eye on became an object of considerable historical interest. The Pushkin scholar Mikhail Gershenzon wrote a 70-page essay in 1912 entitled “Pushkin’s Friend Nashchokin,” which considers not only the retired officer’s relationship with Pushkin, but also with Nikolai Gogol. Be forewarned: This is what happens when you hang out with a famous person and then a scholar comes along to comment:
“Nashchokin interests Pushkin clearly for his purely artistic features: the attractive expressiveness of his personality and life,
the harmonic play between his relatively large spiritual powers and his typical love of domestic life. Pushkin primarily admires Nashchokin unselfishly as a luxurious object of attention, then studies him, reflecting on the mechanics of this phenomenon, seeking in his actions general psychological and historical laws. It is impossible to deny that Gogol, too, was attracted by Nashchokin’s picturesque qualities; but he [Gogol] consciously neglects this aspect of the matter and hastens to transform this vivid image, which Pushkin appreciated as a poetic jewel, into an instrument of practical use, a tool for the structuring of society. Pushkin could be fascinated by Nashchokin for the very process of his turbulent emotions, whether full of drama or typically common; for Gogol his manifestations of sinfulness and social malignancy were repulsive...”
Gershenzon notwithstanding, Nashchokin, during his life, was one of the liveliest figures, not an object of study, at the center of Russian cultural life. Aside from Pushkin, the crown jewel, to be sure, Nashchokin counted among his friends the poets Vasily Zhukovsky, Yevgeny Baratynsky, Denis Davydov, Nikolai Yazykov, the novelist Mikhail Zagoskin, the philosopher Pyotr Chaadaev, the painters Karl Bryullov and Vasily Tropinin, the composer Alexei Verstovsky, the actor Mikhail Shchepkin and the critic Vissarion Belinsky.
Belinsky called Nashchokin “a kind and splendid person.”