Puškin’s German Professor: The Career of F. M. Gauenšil′d

The life of Professor Fedor Matveevič Gauenšil′d, sometime director of the Carskosel′skij Licej in Puškin’s days there, and also the founder of the Blagorodnyj carskosel′skij liceijskij pansion, illustrates many of the interesting characteristics of elite culture on the eve of its golden age of literature. Born in 1780 in Transylvania, the future professor eventually became acquainted with Count S. S. Uvarov, chief administrator of the St. Petersburg educational district, and Lieutenant-General Baron von Laudon, the son of the great Austrian Field Marshal, and a subject of the Russian Emperor. Despite his rather sketchy credentials, but on the strength of these connections, Gauenšil′d was recruited into the pioneer faculty of the Licej at Carskoe Selo when it opened in the summer of 1811. His subsequent meteoric rise and fall within the world of elite education is an interesting tale in itself, but also testifies to the possibilities inherent in an emerging culture with a restricted talent pool. It also provides a revealing glimpse of the unstable and dangerous world which would provide the setting for the lives of Puškin and his friends.

In 1813, with the car′ away liberating Europe, Gauenšil′d astounded everyone by opening up, right in Carskoe Selo itself, a private pansion that made Uvarov’s coveted St. Petersburg Gymnasium redundant. In the following year Minister of Education Count Razumovskij co-opted the institution, which became the Blagorodnyj carskosel′skij litseijskij pansion with Gauenšil′d as its director. Soon after this, a series of fortuitous events resulted in Gauenšil′d also receiving the top position in the Licej itself. It was during these eventful years that Puškin knew the professor, and deftly lampooned him in verse as “the pedant,” whose “horrible voice” announced doom to mischievous boys.

Eventually replaced at the Licej, but not at the Pansion, Gauenšil′d’s next coup was to secure, despite his notoriously weak grasp of the Russian language, the coveted appointment as German translator of N. M. Karamzin’s Istorija Gosudarstva Rossijskago. Gauenšil′d enjoyed a rather close collaboration with the Imperial Historiographer himself, and brought out his first volume at Riga in 1820.

Beginning in that year, however, Gauenšil′d involved himself in intrigues at Court involving the mystical new Minister of Spiritual Affairs and Public Instruction, Prince Aleksandr Golicyn. Affairs then began to fluctuate in harmony with the mood swings of a car′ grown paranoid about potential revolution. On 8 July 1820 an Imperial ukaz ordered the treasury to pay the director a yearly pension of a princely two thousand rubles for life. Further honors included the Order of St. Anne second class, the rank of Collegiate Councilor, and a Corresponding Membership in Imperial Academy of Sciences. But then, following rumors that the boys at the Pansion were out of control, on 27 February 1822 an Imperial command arrived, removing the highly-decorated Director “from the administration of the Pansion, and from all classes at the Licej.” On 4 May of the same year, Gauenšil′d crossed the Russian border, bringing to an end one of the most eventful careers in Russian elite education.