Ivan Andreyevich Krylov (1769-1844)
Russian writer of fables in the tradition of Aesop and La Fontaine. Krylov satirized social and individual faults in the guise of beasts, producing 203 fables in nine books. They are still an integral part of Russian primary and secondary education. Krylov was in his country one of the great representatives of the Age of Reason. His writings appeared in a period, which was marked by increasingly repressive rule in Russia.
Ivan Andreyevich Krylov was born in a provincial town near St. Petersburg into an impoverished family. His father was an army captain in the bureaucracy and died when Krylov was ten. At early age Krylov played violin and composed poetry. He played the violin in innumerable family concerts, in quartets with the best virtuosi of the day, and as a soloist.
Krylov had little formal education in his childhood. He entered the imperial civil service and in 1782 he was transferred from Tver to St. Petersburg. Between the years 1783 and 1793 he wrote five comic operas. Krylov became the center of small intellectual circle in St. Petersburg. From 1789 to 1793 he edited with Nikolai I. Novikov and Alexander N. Radishchev a satirical magazine Pochva dukhov. It published social commentary in the guise of letters written by figures from the underworld and soon had troubles with the censor. Krylov's own contributions include 'Kaib, An Oriental Tale,' which depicts insufficiencies of autocracy, and the 'Eulogy to the Memory of My Grandfather', a satire in the best spirit of Enlightenment. Krylov faced political persecution from the repressive government of Catherine the Great and he left St. Petersburg c. 1797.
From the mid-1790s to 1802 Krylov virtually disappeared from the literary scene. He traveled widely and experienced some hard periods, which made him more reluctant to express his opinions openly. Only two plays, the comedy The Pie and a mock tragedy Trumpf can be dated from this period. He tutored at country estate of a patron and served as a governor's secretary in 1801-02. After 1801 he lived in Moscow for five years and then returned to St. Petersburg. In 1806 he wrote two successful plays, The Fashion Shop and A Lesson to the Daughters.
In 1805 Krylov started to translate the fables of Jean de La Fontaine, but he soon found that he could write fables of his own. He had become associated with the cultural circle of A.N. Olenin, which advocated the creation of national literature. Krylov published his first collection of fables in 1809, devoting himself entirely to that genre. After Krylov's books attracted the attention of the imperial family, he gained a post in the St. Petersburg public library, where he worked for 30 years as a librarian. When Alexander I promised to support Krylov if he writes "well', he did not write anyting. Between the years 1824 and 1926 he did not compose any poems, and he was commonly called the laziest man in Russia.
Krylov wrote over 200 satires during his life time. He often dealt with human follies, but also social defects, and current events. Many of his aphorisms have become part of everyday Russian speech. Krylov died in St. Petersburg on November 21, 1844. Some of his writings were not published until 1860s, among them the satire 'Multi-colored sheep' about Alexander I's policies. In it The Lion doesn't tolerate multi-colored sheeps, but as a merciful ruler of animals it cannot destroy them straightforward. It asks the advice of the Fox, who tells that it should hire a wolfs as their shepherd. The result is that after some time the multi-colored sheep disappear completely, and number of the others, too. The rest of the animals explain this to themselves that the Lion is good but the Wolf is a bad robber. The play Trumpf was an attacked the regime of Paul I and was published in 1871.
Heaven save you from a foolish friend;
The too officious fool is worse than any foe.
(from 'Hermit and Bear' in Fables, 1809)
Among Krylov's friends were Ivan Gnedich, translator of Iliad and Alexander Pushkin, whose first line in Evgeny Onegin is a reworking of a line from Krylov. In the last decades of his life, Krylov was a loved figure of St. Petersburg artistic circles. However, the canonized image of a wise and kindly 'Grandpapa Krylov' is far from the unsentimental message of his works, his bitter political analyzis and social criticism. Krylov's animal fables blend naturalistic characterization of the animal with an allegorical portrayal of basic human types. His miniature dramas capture problematic situations common to all people - such as relations between people of the different caste and class. Krylov's epigrams often attacked corruption and incompetence. Some of his tales dealt with the Napoleonic wars, such as 'Wolf in dog kennel' and 'Friendship of dogs' - Bonaparte was of course the wolf. In the latter two full dogs decide to be friends and help each other but they break all promises immediately when a bone is thrown between them. Krylov referred in the tale to the peace negotiations of the Vienna Congress of 1815.