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Dmitry Merezhkovsky

Dmitry Sergeyevich Merezhkovsky, (Russian: Дми́трий Серге́евич Мережко́вский; August 14, 1865, St Petersburg-December 9, 1941, Paris) was one of the earliest and most eminent ideologues of Russian Symbolism. His wife Zinaida Gippius, a poet like him, ran a fashionable salon in St. Petersburg. Both he and his wife were freemasons.


Early career

He was the sixth son of a Privy Councillor who had access to the Tsarist court. From 1884 until 1889 he studied History and Philology at the University of St. Petersburg, becoming fluent in several languages. His PhD was on Montaigne.

In 1888 he met his wife, Zinaida Gippius, in Borjomi in the Caucausus. They married the following January and settled in St. Petersburg. He and his wife supported themselves modestly through their writing, and their salon would later become a centre of the Silver Age of Russian poetry. Merezhkovsky is credited with first articulating the basic tenets of Russian Symbolism with his essay On the Causes of the Decline and on the New Trends in Contemporary Russian Literature (1892).

After 1900 he and Zinaida, along with Dmitry Filosofov and Vasily Rozanov, were promoting a new religious consciousness through the group Bogoiskateli, or God-seekers. This group of "spiritual Christians" regularly met with representatives of the Othodox Church until 1903 when these encounters were banned by the notorious Konstantin Pobedonostsev, procurator of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church . In 1901 they founded The Religious-Philosophical Society which published Novyi put ("New Path") as its mouth piece. They lost a large portion of the readership following Pobedonostsev's ban. In 1904, publication of Novyi put was interrupted, as they departed on a trip across Russia, extending beyond the Volga river and meeting representatives of various mystical sects, with many of whom Merezhkovsky kept in touch.

Between 1896 and 1905 Merezhkovsky wrote a trilogy of historical novels entitled Christ and Anti-Christ, including The Death of the Gods (1896, on Julian the Apostate), The Resurrection of the Gods (in Russian, The Romance of Leonardo da Vinci - in English and French, 1900) and Antichrist: Peter and Alexis (1905) about Peter the Great and Tsarevich Alexis. Whilst providing a platform for the author's historical erudition, it invited scathing criticism from the underground magazine Osvobozhdenie:

It would be convenient to ask the author: "well, then, and the police department, the regulations on intensified control, the Moskovskie vedomosti, the Grazhdanin, Cossack whips and gallows and other attributes of protection, are they also objects of "mystical order"? Do they also contain the 'inutterable secret of God'?" We would like to say to gentlemen like Merezhkovskij: mysticism obliges. If the idea of monarchy is a mystical one and you are not promoting it in vain, not as a ringing phrase, but with fear and respect, then this conviction obliges you to fight with fury against the Russian police-order (....) You say that autocracy is a religious idea, but the defence of this idea is a matter for God, not the Police-department.

Impact of 1905

The defeat of the Imperial Russian Navy by the Imperial Japanese Navy led to the 1905 Revolution, which Merezhkovsky saw as a religious event announcing a religious revolution, of which he declared himself the prophet. Merezhkovsky became an ardent supporter of the civil unrest, writing much revolutionary verse, particularly during his two-year stay at Paris.

While an erstwhile editor of Novyi put, Georgy Chulkov, turned to editing Nikolai Ryabushinsky's Zolotoe runo, Aleksandr Blok published his critique of Merezhkovsky's "psychological extremism" in this journal. Merezhkovsky no longer submitted material for Chulkov's journal, which more and more became identified as a mouthpiece for Chulkov's Mystical Anarchism, which had been based to some extent upon his metaphysical views.

Merezhkovsky's later books include Pavel Pervy (Павел Первый, "Paul The First", 1908, on Emperor Paul), Аleksandr Pervy (Александр Первый, "Alexander the First", 1911) and Chetyrnadzatoye Dekabrya (Четырнадцатое декабря, The 14th of December, 1918) - the last two on Alexander I of Russia and the Decembrists uprising of 1825.

His views on the philosophy of history were expounded in Christ and Antichrist (1895-1905) and The Kingdom of Antichrist (1922). Among his critical works, a study on Tolstoy and Dostoevsky (1902), is best known.

After the October Revolution, Merezhkovsky again fled to Paris, where he ruthlessly attacked Bolshevism. With his wife he joined the Social Revolutionary Boris Savinkov in Poland as he headed an army of 20,000-30,000 Russians (largely POWs) for a march on Moscow. Merezhkovsky proclaimed that Marshall Josef Pilsudski was fulfilling a messianic mission to free Russia. He was repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, but his alleged support for Hitler prevented him from winning the award.


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