And in 1790, he [Radishchev] wrote, anonymously, one of the immortal works of Russian literature: Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow. Nationalistic, insightful, mindful of the human condition, and understanding of the forces of human history, Radishchev envisioned a better world: His book was both a document and a pamphlet, the narrative of a simple pilgrim’s fantastic journey and wondrous musings about it. It was also a deeply subtle and learned work, and, at bottom, an ardent tirade against the evils of serfdom and corruption in Russia. It paid homage to religious orthodoxy, yet it assailed the superstitions of the clergy; it professed obedience to the monarchy, yet it justified popular rebellion against rulers who ran roughshod over the law, whether “a tsar, shah, khan, king, bey [or] nabob.” It described the dismemberment of families by conscription, and the abuse of serfs by masters…. He did not advocate revolution, but he asked for a merciful understanding of its advocates. … His language was poetic: “Let yourselves be softened, you hardhearted ones; break the fetters of your brethren, open the dungeons of slavery.”
- From The Great Upheaval: America and the Birth of the Modern World 1788—1800 by Jay Winik, Chapter 8
He [Radishchev] has come to be regarded by the radical intelligentsia as its first spokesman and martyr. The sincerity of his book has been questioned both by his early advocates and by his later detractors. It would seem that he wrote it merely out of literary ambition and that it is no more than a rhetorical exercise on a subject suggested and familiarized by Raynal. However this may be, the book is devoid of literary merit.
- From A History of Russian Literature: From Its Beginnings to 1900 by D. S. Mirsky, Chapter 3
More coming on this work soon, but I love the comparison of comments. Not that they are mutually exclusive or fully contradict each other, as I'm finding out.
I seem to be suffering from literary ADHD, following leads of interest while postponing what I want to finish. I'll get to things mentioned yet, I promise (to myself), but wanted to post on these comments I found the other day.