Alexander Nikitenko Responds to the Emancipation Manifesto

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Alexander Nikitenko responds to the Emancipation of the Serfs, 1861

Alexander Nikitenko (1804-1877) was born a serf of the Sheremetev family in Voronezh Province.  Through an extraordinary concurrence of events, Alexander was able to receive an education, develop his intellectual abilities and ultimately, in 1825, obtain his freedom.  He went on to become a professor of literature at St. Petersburg University.  Throughout his life Nikitenko kept a detailed diary of his daily activities and responses to ongoing events.  Published soon after his death, the diary provides a intimate view of Russian intellectual and cultural life.  In the passage below, Nikitenko reports his reaction to learning of the emancipation of the serfs.

March 5 [1861], Sunday.  A great day: the manifesto on freedom for the peasants.  They brought it to me around noon.  With an inexpressible feeling of joy, I read through this precious act the likes of which has surely not been seen throughout the thousand year history of the Russian people.  I read it aloud to my wife and children and one of our friends in the study before the portrait of Alexander II at whom we all gazed with deep reverence and gratitude.  I tried to explain to my ten year old son as simply as I could the meaning of the manifesto, and I instructed him to enshrine forever in his heart the fifth of March and the name of Alexander II the Liberator.

I could not say sitting at home.  I had an urge to go outside and wander through the streets and, as it were, merge into the reborn people.   At intersections announcements were posted from the Governor-General and around each of them clumps of people were assembled: one read while the others listed. Constantly the words "decree on liberty," and "freedom" rose up to met the ear.   One person, reading the announcement and having reached the please where it was said that household serfs were remain in obedience to their master for two years, exclaimed with indignation: "The devil take this paper!  Two years--as if I'm really going to obey!."   The others were silent. 

From among my acquaintances, I met up with Galakhov.  "Christ has risen!" (1) I said to him.   "Truly he has risen," he together we expressed our common joy.  Then I dropped in on Rebinder.  He ordered that champagne be served and we each drank a glass in honor of Alexander II.


1. Christ has risen" (Khristos voskres!)  The tradition Russian Orthodox Easter greeting.

Source: Aleksandr Nikitenko, Dnevnik v trekh tomakh (Leningrad: gosudarstvennoe izdatel'stvo khudozhenstvennoi literatury, 1955), v. 2, pp. 179-180.

Translated by Nathaniel Knight