Kriloff’s Original Fables
Does culture profit bring to all?
It does, we cannot doubt it ; But if so, why do we so often call Vicious corruption culture, as we fall In luxury’s net, now seldom found without it ?
We must be careful, then, if we would tear
‘ From men’s hearts all the roots of roughness there,
That we touch not the virtues we should spare
For, manly worth, simplicity away, The rest is tinsel flashing for a day,
Which never yet hath earned an honoured name,
Begins in weakness, and must end in shame.
A truth like this might fill With gravest details books on books, and still Be half untold
But grave discourse doth suit not every mind,
So let me find The same truth in a joking fable old.
A country boor, simple as such boors are, Once found a Ducat on the ground,
With mud and dust all stained, the Ducat far From looked its price : A passer-by, who thought it sound,
Offered a shilling for it twice. The boor, who thought the man would take him in,
Scratching his head, as if he ought to win
The double, said ” Not if I know it,” Meaning to his strong arm to owe it. Away he went, got chalk and sand,
And scraped to dust a brick. Sure that he’d found the trick, He scoured and scrubbed the Ducat o’er and o’er,
Till he could rub no more ;
For like a red-hot coal he meant
To make it shine and glow.
He worked out his intent,
Like to live embers did the Ducat show,
Only his labour he had cause to rue,
The Ducat’s weight had gone, its value too.
[Intended as a friendly warning to those, who in the
earlier half of the reign of Alexander I. directed the efforts made to educate the people. The good these measures
did cannot be doubted. Even in the midst of the terrible Moscow campaign, fifty-one new schools were opened.
At the same time, however, the inspiration of the time came from the new French ideas, and Russia was overrun
with a mass of foreign teachers, even for the sciences, who
taught in most imperfect Russian, and the private boarding schools were in the hands mostly of foreigners, too
frequently incompetent persons, who taught their pupils
to look down upon the national language.
The above is the opinion of Kenevitch, but, with all deference to his authority, I cannot entirely accept it. There seems to me no special allusion to foreigners here, as there clearly is in ” The Peasant and the Snake,” to be
afterwards noticed. The warning is, I believe, intended
for that tendency to over-teaching, that crowding of too many subjects into each year’s study, which has always
been characteristic of education in Russia, and which does
so much harm up to the present day. Such study must
be superficial. This point of view seems to me to agree both with the opening moral and with the conclusion of
the fable. The Ducat is a mind that has been rubbed
too much. The allusion to ” luxury ” at the commencement may possibly have been intended to hint at a foreign influence corrupting the national manners, but, even if it be so, I must still consider the main idea of the fable to
be directed against over-teaching and superficial study.
This inevitably destroys the ” simplicity ” for which Kriloff pleads, and, weakening the intellect and character, paves
the way for the vice and corruption of which he accuses modern culture. It should be remembered that the educational reforms of Alexander were directed towards educating the people, and in schools for them foreigners
clearly could not teach. Moreover, the opening of the
subject with “culture” raises the question above elementary
schools, and gives to it a more general character.]
Kriloff’s Original Fables