- Alternate meaning: Mikhail Lermontov (ship)
Mikhail Lermontov in 1837
Mikail Yurevich Lermontov (Михаил Юрьевич Лермонтов), (October 15, 1814–July 27, 1841), Russian poet and novelist, often called "the poet of the Caucasus", was born in Moscow, of Scottish descent (from the Learmount family), but belonged to a respectable family of the Tula province, and grew up in the village of Tarkhanui (in the Penzensk government), which now preserves his remains.
His grandmother—on whom the whole care of his childhood was devolved by his mother's early death and his father's military service—spared neither cost nor pains to give him the best education she could imagine. The intellectual atmosphere which he breathed in his youth differed little from that in which Pushkin had grown up, though the domination of French had begun to give way before the fancy for English, and Lamartine shared his popularity with Byron.
From the academic gymnasium in Moscow Lermontov passed in 1830 to the university, but there his career came to an untimely close through the part he took in some acts of insubordination to an obnoxious teacher. From 1830 to 1834 he attended the school of cadets at Saint Petersburg, and in due course he became an officer in the guards. To his own and the nation's anger at the loss of Pushkin (1837) the young soldier gave vent in a passionate poem addressed to the tsar, and the very voice which proclaimed that, if Russia took no vengeance on the assassin of her poet, no second poet would be given her, was itself an intimation that such a poet had come already. The poem all but accused the powerful "pillars" of Russian high society of complicity in Pushkin's murder. Without mincing words, it portrayed this society as a cabal of venal and venomous wrteches "huddling about the Throne in a greedy throng", "the hangmen who kill liberty, genius, and glory" about to suffer the apocalyptic judgement of God. Cleaving the repressive atmosphere of 1830's Russia like a lightning bolt from a still sky, the poem had the power of Biblical prophecy, though the poet's contemporaries were often more likely to perceive it as the ravings of a madman.
The tsar, however, seems to have found more impertinence than inspiration in the address, for Lermontov was forthwith sent off to the Caucasus as an officer of dragoons. He had been in the Caucasus with his grandmother as a boy of ten, and he found himself at home by yet deeper sympathies than those of childish recollection. The stern and rocky virtues of the mountaineers against whom he had to fight, no less than the scenery of the rocks and of the mountains themselves, proved akin to his heart; the emperor had exiled him to his native land.
Lermontov visited Saint Petersburg in 1838 and 1839, and in the latter year wrote the novel, A Hero of Our Time, which is said to have been the occasion of the duel in which he lost his life in July 1841. In this contest he had purposely selected the edge of a precipice, so that if either combatant was wounded so as to fall his fate should be sealed.
Lermontov published only one small collection of poems (1840). Three volumes, much mutilated by the censorship, were issued in 1842 by Glazunov; and full editions of his works appeared in 1860 and 1863. Bodenstedt’s German translation of his poems (Michail Lermontovs poetischer Nachlass, Berlin, 1842, 2 vols.), which indeed was the first satisfactory collection, gave Lermontov a wide reputation outside Russia.
His novel has found several translators (August Boltz, Berlin, 1852, etc). Among his best-known pieces are Ismail-Bey, Hadji Abrek, Walerik, The Novice, and, remarkable as an imitation of the old Russian ballad, The song of the tsar Ivan Vasilievitch, his young bodyguard, and the bold merchant Kalashnikov (1837).
See Taillandier, "Le Poète du Caucase", in Revue des deux mondes (February 1855), reprinted in Allemagne et Russie (Paris, 1856); and Duduishkin’s "Materials for the Biography of Lermontov", prefixed to the 1863 edition of his works. The Demon, translated by Sir Alexander Condie Stephen (1875), offers an English version of one of Lermontov's longer poems.
This article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.