A History of Goryúkhino Village – extract from my translation

From Belkin’s autobiographical introduction to his History

The idea of abandoning second-hand and untrustworthy anecdotes for the recital of great events that really happened had long stirred my imagination. To be observer, judge and prophet of epochs and nations seemed to me the highest rank a writer could attain. But what history could I, with my pitiable education, write which men of great learning and good judgement had not tackled before me? What historical subjects had they not already exhausted? Should I begin to write a universal history…? Should I turn to the history of the fatherland?… I contemplated a history of more limited scope, such as a history of our provincial capital… but even here so many obstacles, to me insurmountable! – a journey to the city, visits to the governor and the bishop, requests for access to archives and monastery storerooms, and so on. A history of our district town I would have found easier, but it would interest neither the philosopher nor the man of affairs and would offer little raw material for eloquence: —- was only named a town in 17–, and the one significant event recorded in its archives is the terrible fire that took place ten years ago and destroyed the market and government offices.

An unexpected occurrence resolved my uncertainties. A laundry woman hanging linen up in the attic found an old basket full of wood chips, rubbish and books. The whole house knew of my fondness for reading. While I was sitting at my notebook chewing a pen and contemplating an attempt at some rustic homilies, my housekeeper dragged the basket triumphantly into my room, exclaiming gleefully: “Books! Books!”

“Books!” I repeated eagerly and rushed to the basket. There I beheld a whole heap of books bound in green and blue paper. It was a collection of old yearbooks. This realization cooled my enthusiasm, but even so I was pleased at the unexpected discovery; they were books, after all, and I generously rewarded the washerwoman’s initiative with half a rouble in silver. Left alone, I began to look through my yearbooks, which soon gripped my attention. They constituted an unbroken series from 1744 to 1799 – that is, exactly fifty five years. The sheets of blue paper regularly bound within yearbooks were all covered in old-fashioned handwriting. As I cast an eye over these lines, I saw with surprise that they included not only household accounts and notes about the weather, but also snippets of historical information concerning Goryúkhino village. I quickly undertook an analysis of these precious records and soon discovered that they presented a complete history of my ancestral estate over nearly a full century, in the strictest chronological order. On top of that they contained an inexhaustible fund of economic, statistical, meteorological and other scientific data. From then on the study of these records occupied me exclusively, since I realized the possibility of extracting from them a narrative that would be well-ordered, interesting and instructive. Once I had familiarized myself enough with this precious archive, I began to look for new sources on the history of Goryúkhino village, and I was soon astonished by the abundance of them. Having devoted six whole months to preliminary research, I finally embarked on the task I had so long looked forward to, and with God’s help I completed it on the 3rd of this month, November 1827. Now, like a certain fellow-historian whose name I cannot remember, having come to the end of my arduous enterprise, I lay down my pen and walk with sorrow into my garden to reflect on what I have achieved. It seems to me too, now that I have written the History of Goryúkhino, that the world no longer needs me: my duty is fulfilled, and it is time for me to take my rest…

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