15 JANUARY 1960, Page 21

Journey to Freedom

QUITE a parallel can be drawn between Pasternak and the eighteenth-century Russian writer Radish- chev, whom Mr. Lang calls 'the first Russian Radical.' It was in 1790, a troubled year in the reign of Catherine the Great, that Alexander Radishchev, author of an 'Ode to Liberty' but for years known to the St. Petersburg Court mainly as a sober Customs Inspector, brought out his startling Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow, modelled closely on Sterne's Sentimental Journey. In matter, it was highly different, an impassioned attack on serf-ownership and censorship and on the cruelty and corruption found everywhere in the Russian Empire. Whether Radishchev had thought he could get away with this remains un- known (for that matter, did Pasternak really think Zhivago would be accepted?). At any rate, the lightning quickly struck. The first reaction of the Empress was, 'Off with his head!' Friends got the sentence mitigated to banishment in Siberia. Radishchev himself finally returned from this, to live for a few overwrought years in St. Petersburg before he committed suicide, but his Journey, with its dangerous libertarian ideas, remained proscribed in autocratic Russia for generations. Portions of the text circulated secretly; they were known to the Decembrists, they inspired Pushkin, Turgenev mused about them. But the first full Russian edition was only published in 1858—in London. In our time the Soviet leaders naturally turned the eighteenth-century critic of Czarism into a classic, as naturally as they banned Paster- nak's attack upon themselves.

Through his influence on subsequent writers, Radishchev is a significant figure in Russian letters. Mr. Lanes full-length study of him, the first in English, is a little romanticised, discursive and weighed down with repetitive quotation, but all the same impellingly readable since it illu- minates an early phase of the struggle between. Russian autocracy and yearnings for freedom and so evokes constant parallels. The Imperial Russian Government of 1790 ruled uneasily over large, newly-conquered territories, yet plotted further expansion. The Empress Catherine, while signing decrees which compelled the serfs to toil harder, corresponded with enlightened French philo- sophers and maintained a claque of admiring Russophiles in the West. Radishchev, while a widely read admirer of British and American political institutions, remained basically a Russian visionary. 'I looked around me—and my soul was afflicted with the sufferings of mankind . . . I felt within myself sufficient strength to combat error; and—happiness unspeakablel—I felt that every man may contribute to the well-being of his fellows.' The words are from the preface to the Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow which, Mr. Lang thinks, stamps Radishchev as the father of the Russian intelligentsia. It is certainly true that Radishchev was one of the first exponents of that vision of the better future emerging from a present turmoil of wickedness and corruption, which the Russian intelligentsia has sustained throughout all tribulations—witness its most re- cent embodiment in Dr. Zhivago.