The Russian writer, publicist and historian, the honorary member of Petersburg Academy of Science (1818). Nikolai Mikhailovich Karamzin was the son of a wealthy provincial family. He received a fine education which began with domestic tutors and ended at the University of Moscow. After a brief period of service in the army, Karamzin settled in Moscow in 1784. He joined the leading literary and intellectual circle of the time, which was led by the publisher and journalist, N. I. Novikov.
Here, two main influences were exerted upon Karamzin. First, he was impressed with a favorable attitude toward the goals of the Enlightenment, a movement, experienced throughout Europe, in favor of the spread of education and the advance of material progress. Novikov was the acknowledged leader of this movement in Russia. The second major influence on the young Karamzin was that of Freemasonry, at that time of great intellectual and cultural importance in Russia. Nearly all of the well-known figures of that period were Masons. Especially important to Karamzin was the work and friendship of M. M. Kheraskov, a Mason who had been one of Karamzin's teachers at the University of Moscow. Early Masonry (1740-1780) had provided enthusiastic support for the goals of the Enlightenment, but in the 1780s the emphasis (especially in that offshoot of the Masons known as the Rosicrucians) began to shift from social to personal concerns, and a cult of emotional friendship became very popular.
Karamzin began his literary career in the mid-1780s. His first efforts were as a journalist and a translator. He read widely, especially contemporary European authors such as Rousseau, Richardson, Sterne, Thomson, and Young. He derived the basic elements of the Sentimentalist style from these writers. Karamzin's first original work was published in the late 1780s. His first celebrated success was his Letters of a Russian Traveller, which he published serially during and after a lengthy tour of Europe. Following his return to Russia in 1791, Karamzin settled down in Moscow to the life of a professional writer. He founded a literary magazine called The Moscow Journal and edited it for two years. Later in the 1790s he edited a number of literary almanacs. In 1802, he founded one of the most important of the nineteenth-century Russian journals, The Messenger of Europe.
Also in this period, from 1791-1804, Karamzin established himself as the first major short-story writer in Russia. He wrote more than a dozen stories. All were in the Sentimentalist style and most were extremely popular. The best remembered are "Poor Liza" (1792) and "The Island of Bornholm" (1793). These stories inspired a large number of imitations and provided the basis for literary Sentimentalism in Russia.
In 1804 Karamzin was named historiographer to the court of Tsar Alexander I. He devoted the rest of his life mainly to the compilation of his mammoth History of the Russian State. At his death he was halfway through the twelfth volume and had carried the story of the Russian state as far as the early seventeenth century.