Sergey Kashchenko is Head of Russian Historiography and Source Study (Department of History) St. Petersburg State University. Professor Kashchenko’s fields of research include: economics, culture and politics in Russia; history of St. Petersburg and Moscow in the XVIII-XX centuries; and the military history of Russia XVIII-XX centuries.
PROFESSOR SERGEY KASHCHENKO
Archival research on Ouspensky in Russia
Since 2003, at the request of Mr George Steven and then Professor Robert Simmons, representing the Study Society, we have been conducting a search through the archives and major libraries of Moscow and St. Petersburg for books, magazines, newspapers, materials and documents related to the philosopher P. D. Ouspensky’s life in Russia.
I would like it to be known that my lecture will discuss Ouspensky’s biography rather than his philosophical views. The latter topics are so complex and extensive that, in my opinion, one lecture is not enough to cover them.
I undertook a search for documents related to the life of Ouspensky, his relations, colleagues and acquaintances, in the State Archives of the Russian Federation (Moscow), the Central Historical Archives of Moscow, the Russian State Historical Archives in St. Petersburg, the Central State Historical Archives of St. Petersburg and the major libraries of Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Helsinki. The books, materials and places related to Ouspensky’s life in Moscow and St. Petersburg were copied or photo-graphed. What follows are the basic results of this search.
Having acquainted ourselves with the publications about P. D. Ouspensky issued in Russian and English, it became clear that at present Ouspensky’s philosophical works are quite extensively published and studied in Great Britain, Russia, and other countries; much has been done in the cause of understanding and popularising the philosopher’s ideas, his creative legacy. Thus, in 2006 the second edition of Arkady Rovner’s well-known book Gurdjieff & Ouspensky was published in Moscow and in the same year the book by Yu V. Shichanina, P. D. Ouspensky. Esoteric philosophy, appeared in the series 20th century philosophers1. At the same time, we are still far from having ascertained many facts of Ouspensky’s biography. Thus, in some modern Russian books, articles, and works of reference the data contradict each other. This poses certain difficulties both when studying Ouspensky’s works and in understanding the development of his ideas.
Acquaintance with the biographical sketches showed that there is little reliable information on Ouspensky and his closest relatives in Russia. For instance, there are practically no data in Russian literature on Ouspensky’s mother or his maternal relatives. The data on his father are quite brief and contradictory. At the same time, knowledge of genealogical facts can enable one to organise searches for Ouspensky’s relatives in the paternal and maternal lines and possibly to discover certain documents from family archives. It is unnecessary to explain how important it is to know the facts of the lives of Ouspensky himself and those surrounding him in order to understand this scholar’s ideas.
Comparing data on P. D. Ouspensky’s birth cited in English and Russian publications, it should again be noted that they are full of contradictions.
In 1978, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Ouspensky’s birth, Merrily E. Taylor (Special Assistant to the Yale University Librarian) prepared a brochure Remembering Pyotr Demianovich Ouspensky, which says: ‘Born in Moscow, Russia on March 5, 1878’ (p.5). However, in some Russian publications on the history of philosophy (as well as on Russian internet sites) the date of P. D. Ouspensky’s birth is given as May 5 (17), 1878.
In 1995 in Moscow, through a respectable Russian publishing house, Nauka, with the support of George Soros, the State Committee of Russia for Higher Education published an encyclopaedic dictionary Russian Philosophy. This contained, among others, an article entitled ‘Ouspensky, Pyotr Demianovich (5/17.5.1878–2.10.1947)’ written by V. Kravchenko.
It is well known that Ouspensky was born in March, but in the subtitle of the article V. Kravchenko actually states that Ouspensky was born on May 5, 1878 according to the so-called Old Style (until the end of January 1918 Russia used the so-called Julian calendar, differing from the one used in most of Western Europe, so that in the 19th century the difference in dates in Russia and Great Britain, which adopted the so-called Gregorian calendar in the 18th century, was 12 days. Thus, March 5, 1878 in Russia corresponded to March 17).
Thus, analysing V. Kravchenko’s article (and some other Russian editions), we find an error in the date of birth, possibly related to a certain consonance in the names of the months (May–March).
Unfortunately, some Russian and European writers, being unfamiliar with this ‘double system’ of calendars, do not always take account of the differences between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ styles.
I would like to emphasise again that nowadays Ouspensky’s birthday should be celebrated both in Great Britain and Russia on the 17th, not the 5th, of March.
V. Kravchenko’s article also contains additional biographical information on Ouspensky.
According to Kravchenko, the philosopher’s father was a military officer. Ouspensky himself was a student at Moscow University, where he studied biology, psychology, and mathematics. It also states that Ouspensky had a family, with children, and that in 1920 he and his wife, daughter and one-year-old son left Russia.
All these data require thorough examination.
Issues relating to Ouspensky’s date of birth and baptism would be resolved if it was possible to find the authentic records of P. D. Ouspensky’s birth, which might have been preserved in Moscow’s archives.
Such records state the names of parents and people present at the child’s baptism. The registry records usually give the names of the godfather and godmother of a baby, which is of considerable importance in the Russian tradition.
So in what church was Ouspensky baptised?
From his Autobiographical Fragment2 it is known that P. D. Ouspensky was born in 1878 in Moscow. (‘My first memories are connected with my maternal grandmother’s house on Pimenovskaia Street’).
In the late 19th–early 20th centuries there were three streets in Moscow (situated close to each other) with similar names (Pimenovskaya ulitsa (‘street’), Pimenovsky tupik (‘alley’), and Pimenovsky proyezd (‘passage’)). The names of these streets were related to the Church of the Venerable St. Pimen (at present the church’s address is Novovorotnikovy pereulok 3) which is well preserved.
In the neighbourhood where this church stands, even as early as in medieval Moscow the so-called ‘vorotniki’ (gatekeepers) settled (the guardsmen of the city gate) and the title ‘Vorotniki’ has come to denote the place to this day.
St. Pimen the Great, according to Christian tradition, was born in Egypt ca. 340; together with his brothers he led a coenobitic life in one of the Egyptian monasteries. He was regarded as the patron saint of Moscow ‘vorotniki’.
The Church of the Venerable Pimen is one of Moscow’s most interesting churches. It was built in the late 17th century and is a typical monument of Moscow architecture, described in many publications. The church was repeatedly rebuilt, in 1881–1883 and 1893, the interior being considerably altered from the late 1890s to the early 20th century. Of particular interest are the iconostasis made according to a design by the famous Moscow architect F. O. Schechtel and the wall paintings, the composition and ornaments of which are quite close to the famous works executed in Kiev by such outstanding Russian painters as V. M. Vasnetsov, M. V. Nesterov, and others.
Under the Soviet regime the Church of the Venerable Pimen was not closed and remained in permanent operation, which was unique for Moscow.
Since the church was parochial, it can be assumed that P. D. Ouspensky was baptised in it (or a nearby parochial church) in the spring of 1878.
In 2004, working in the Central Historical Archives of Moscow and looking through the registry books for 1878, I found the authentic record of the birth and baptism of Pyotr Demianovich Ouspensky in Fund No. 2124 (The Churches of Nikitsky Sorok). Inventory 1, Case 2491. The registry book for 1875–1878. Sheet 270.
The text of the record reads:
The year 1878 The month of March.
Month and date of birth 5
Month and date of baptism 12
From the Borisov house.
Names of the newborn: Pyotr
Rank, name, patronymic, and surname of parents, and their denomination. An official of the Imperial Moscow Foundling Hospital, Collegiate Assessor Damian Petrov Ouspensky and his lawful wife Yekaterina Semyonovna, both of Orthodox denomination.
Rank, name, patronymic, and surname of godparents. Merchant Semyon Borisov, of Moscow Second Guild, and daughter of Collegiate Assessor, Aleksandra Stepanova Skvortsova, unmarried.
Performer of sacrament of baptism. Local Archpriest Aleksandr Grigoryevich Nikolsky with all the clergy of the said church.
Archpriest Aleksandr Nikolsky
Deacon Fyodor Kagantsev
Deacon Mikhail Tsvetkov
Psalmodist Nikolai Tsvetkov
Thus, now we know with absolute certainty that Pyotr Demianovich Ouspensky was born March 5 (17), 1878.
The boy was born in a house owned by Borisov.
In the Soviet period Pimenovskaya ulitsa was renamed Krasno-proletarskaya (the words ‘krasny’ [red] and ‘proletary’ [proletarian] gave names to many a Russian street and square after the revolution of 1917). Most buildings in this street were recently rebuilt. One side of the former Pimenovskaya ulitsa has actually disappeared, although a row of old buildings on the other side of the street has been preserved – they house a manufacturer of ‘precise measuring devices’ and the printing works ‘Krasny Proletary’ (from the early 1870s until the 1917 revolution one of the best printing works of Moscow was situated here).
Ouspensky’s father’s name was Damian (Demian) Petrovich; his mother’s name was Yekaterina Semyonovna. Ouspensky’s father held the rank of Collegiate Assessor in 1878 (according to the hierarchical system in military, civil, and court service existing in Russia for over 200 years, from the reign of Peter the Great, the so-called Table of Ranks, all officials were subdivided into 14 class ranks; Collegiate Assessor was a Class 8 rank, approximately corresponding in the early 1880s to the rank of a captain in the army) and was a civil official, working in the Imperial Moscow Foundling Hospital. Foundling hospitals in Russia were charitable closed teaching and educational institutions which admitted foundlings; children born out of wedlock were also sent here as well as legitimate children abandoned by their parents on account of poverty. Later, documents of P. D. Ouspensky and his sister mention that their father served long enough to attain the rank of Court Counsellor (Class 7) at the end of his life. It should be noted that a Class 8 rank already entitled the holder to so-called ‘individual’ nobility. A spouse of such an official also became an ‘individual’ noblewoman. It is interesting that in 1883–1886 P. P. Drashusov published Materials for the history of Moscow Foundling Hospital in two issues.
Thus, V. Kravchenko’s assertion that Ouspensky’s father was at the time a military man is not true. Possibly this is not the only error in his article.
It is evident from the documents that the baptism of Pyotr was attended by the godparents, a merchant Semyon Borisov (the possible owner of the house where the Ouspenskys lived) and Aleksandra Stepanova Skvortsova.
The boy was baptised by the church’s archpriest Aleksandr Grigoryevich Nikolsky (1813–08.07.1885), son of a village priest, later a graduate of Moscow Theological Academy. Nikolsky was well-known in Moscow; he was senior priest of the Pimen church from 1865 for 20 years, until his death. Under Archpriest Nikolsky the church was rebuilt, and, according to contemporaries, was ‘transformed into a wondrous, radiant, and brilliant house of God.’
A. G. Nikolsky was buried in Moscow in the Vagankovskye Cemetery.
Little is known of P. D. Ouspensky’s early childhood spent in Moscow, in the house of his grandmother in Pimenovskaya ulitsa. In his Autobiographical Fragment 3 he wrote of his grandfather, a painter, who died in 1882: ‘He was a painter, chiefly a portrait painter and in his young days a good pastelist. Later he became a church painter, which means that he had a studio and undertook contracts to paint pictures in churches or for churches. Church painting was a special industry and church painters almost a special caste.’
He gave a few details about his grandmother, mother, and father: ‘My grandmother was a very clever woman. I never forget the wonderful stories of old Moscow life which she told me and my sister. My mother was also a painter and she had very good taste in Russian and French literature. My father, at the time I was born, was an officer in the survey. He was very fond of music and painting and was a good mathematician. He had a particular interest in the problems of the fourth dimension to which he gave much of his spare time. All his writings were lost. He also died when I was quite young.’
It appears to us that the interest of Ouspensky senior in the issues of the ‘fourth dimension’ is very characteristic of Russian intelligentsia interested in mathematics. It is enough to remember that it was in Russia, in the family of a junior official, that a mathematical genius, Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky (1792–1856), was born, the founder of ‘non-Euclidian geometry’. Lobachevsky, transcending millennial conventions, created a fundamentally new geometric theory based on a new axiom of parallel lines: ‘on a plane through a point off a given straight line more than one straight line passes which does not cross the given one’. Moreover, Lobachevsky believed that only scientific experiments may show which of the geometries exist in physical space. It is important to note that Lobachevsky’s geometry later found application in the theory of relativity. Lobachevsky’s work On Origins of Geometry, highly appreciated by the greatest European mathematicians, was published for the first time in 1829–1830 and Ouspensky’s father must certainly have known it.
Let us return, though, to Ouspensky’s memories of his family. P. D. Ouspensky wrote: ‘The house on Pimenovskaia Street had several unusual features. It was in many ways a very old-fashioned house and, in other ways very much ahead of its time. And in both cases it was my grandmother’s influence. The family did not belong to any particular class and was in touch with all classes. I think this was possible only in Russia.’
The first bright impressions were already beginning to leave their mark on the impressive child’s memory by the age of 2 to 3. P. D. Ouspensky wrote: ‘I remember myself at a very early age. I have several quite clear mental pictures of events which happened before I was two years old. From the age of three I remember myself quite clearly. I remember Moscow River about thirty miles west of Moscow. I remember the river there, boats with a smell of tar, hills covered with forests, the old monastery, etc. I remember the exhibitions of 1882 in Moscow and the coronation of Alexander III in 1883, chiefly the illuminations.’
From this description we can almost certainly determine the city and the monastery which Ouspensky visited in his early childhood.
Fifty-three kilometres north of modern Moscow on the bank of the Moscow River there is an ancient Russian city, Zvenigorod4, the first recorded evidence of which dates back to as early as 1339. Even nowadays it is one of the most beautiful places in the vicinity of Moscow. The city is graced by the ancient Ouspensky5 Cathedral erected ca. 1400 by Prince Yuri of Zvenigorod. Near the city, where the Storozhka river flows into the Moscow River, the famous Savvino– Storozhevsky Monastery was founded in 1398–1399, becoming a czar’s residence in the middle of the seventeenth century. The Cathedral of the Nativity of the Mother of God, the Palace of the Czar Aleksey Mikhailovich (father of Emperor Peter the Great) and the Czarina’s chambers were erected on the territory of the monastery. Even now these buildings, though not in very good condition, are nevertheless extremely impressive, to say nothing of the period when Ouspensky visited the still operating and well-attended monastery. The nature, the life of a provincial town, would have been unusual for a Moscow-dweller, and the monastic customs would have remained long in the little boy’s memory.
The child must also have been profoundly impressed by the major events of Russian history of the early 1880s which took place in Moscow. One of them was the All-Russian Artistic and Industrial Exhibition of 1882, another the coronation in 1883 of a new sovereign, Alexander III, who ascended the Russian throne after the assassination by revolutionaries of his father, Emperor Alexander II in St. Petersburg on March 1, 1881.
The exhibition in Moscow was organised on an extraordinarily large scale. Such exhibitions had been real festivities for the populace of the capital. Exhibition pavilions were built on the Khodynka Field, near the city border.
Even more impressive were the coronation festivities of 1883. Coronations of Russian emperors had always taken place in Moscow, in the Ouspensky Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin.
In the early 1880s electrical illumination in the city was used only on exceptional occasions, such as a coronation undoubtedly was. On the coronation day the grandiose Moscow temple of Christ the Saviour was consecrated and then floodlit by electricity, then a technological miracle for Moscow inhabitants.
‘About 8 o’clock in the evening the entire Kremlin was illuminated’ – a witness of these events recalled – ‘with the last stroke of 9 o’clock on the Spasskaya tower, as if by a wave of a magic wand, the belfry of Ivan the Great flashed from top to bottom. All the architectural lines of the Kremlin towers and walls were lit up; the towers were additionally illuminated by Bengal lights blazing from the windows, and electrical revolving suns which cast shafts of blinding light from the upper tier of each tower’.6 At that same place, in Krasnaya [Red] Square, near the Kremlin wall, there was a choir of 10,000 alumni of Moscow educational institutions, who glorified the Emperor.
Of no less interest for the child were the events which took place on the days of the coronation on the Khodynka Field. Here, four theatres were built in the so-called ‘Russian’ style, in which performances for the general public were given. The main characters of the plays were the heroes of Russian fairy tales.
Surely, such impressions must have remained in the little boy’s memory all his life.
Pyotr learned how to read early and soon he developed his own taste in literature. ‘When I was about six I read two books which produced an enormous impression on me’, Ouspensky wrote later7. They were Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time8 and Turgenev’s A Sportsman’s Sketches9. These were short stories written in a wonderful literary language, which were traditionally read to children in families of liberally minded Russian intelligentsia.
It is interesting, however, that the boy grew fond of a particular mood of these works. In his book A. Rovner thus defined this situation10: ‘Naming the two books which greatly impressed him in early childhood, Ouspensky points to the prototypes of his first real models.
The book by Turgenev gave him the image of a ‘wanderer’, an observer of life, a nobleman and a sportsman spending his days in fields and woods and his nights in peasants’ homes or old barns. The protagonist of the book by Lermontov is also a stranger to his surroundings, but he is a wanderer of a different kind: an officer exiled to the Caucasus for some minor offence (most probably a duel). Like a plague, he moves through life, ruining people whom he encounters on his way and who love him. Lermontov’s hero is a Russian version of Byronic disillusionment and such restless ‘wanderers’ as Manfred, Don Juan and Childe Harold, an ‘eccentric’, ‘paradoxical’, and ‘roaming spirit’, lonesome in his rebellion against social depersonalisation’.11
Nevertheless, this happy family environment did not last long.
The father’s early death probably affected the family’s financial position. The child was dispatched to study in the 2nd Moscow Classical Gymnasium for Boys.12 (its address in the 19th century was Yelokhovskaya ulitsa 2, at present Spartakovskaya ulitsa 2/1). He studied in the gymnasium (high school) at public expense, being admitted on full board. It can be assumed that permission to take Ouspensky on full board (virtually as in a boarding school) was justified by the position of the boy’s late father.
The gymnasium left a marked imprint on the development of Ouspensky’s personality. It is believed that his work The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin, London 1947, reflects biographical facts related to the years of studying in a gymnasium. In the introduction to A New Model of the Universe Ouspensky also recalls the evening preparatory classes in 1890 (or 1891). This gymnasium-fraught memory indelibly retains Zeifert’s Latin grammar which he was forced to cram, the book ‘fully comprised of exceptions which I see in my sleep even now’ and a prohibition on reading Malinin and Burenin’s handbook of physics, which the ‘stupid and unpleasant’ hands of a tutor on duty, a lanky German nicknamed by students Giant-Steps, confiscated from him.
School life was boring for Ouspensky. He wrote: ‘Work at school was dull. I was lazy; I hated Greek and school routine in general. Happily the boys at school were left very much to themselves, and although I lived in school I managed to read a great deal. About thirteen I became interested in dreams and consequently in psychology’.13 Certainly, the environment in the gymnasium was not uncomplicated.14
At the age of 14, A. Rovner writes, Ouspensky left the gymnasium.
Here, however, I would like to make a little digression. The history of the building of the 2nd Moscow Gymnasium is quite interesting.
It is closely linked with the history of 18th–19th century Moscow.15 Inhabitants of Moscow in the nineteenth century believed that this house was by legend linked to the name of a Scotsman,
Jacob Bruce, an associate of the Emperor Peter the Great, a somewhat enigmatic personality, even surrounded by a mystic aura. Thus, Bruce was said to have been a ‘wizard and black magician’, who read ‘satanic books’. Muscovites tried to give a wide berth to this building, not only at night, but even in the daytime.
Certain Russian authors (both professional historians and amateurs) relate the name of J. Bruce to the activities of Masonic lodges in Russia, considering him ‘the Grand Master of the first Masonic Lodge’.
The gymnasium students were certainly well acquainted with the legends related to the building. In the students’ recollections published in various Russian magazines and compilations one comes across descriptions of their searches for the immured secret room where Bruce died. This created a certain mystic aura around the building in which the gymnasium was situated.16
The 2nd Moscow Gymnasium was well-known in the city.17 In various years many people who later became famous in Russia studied here: a brother of the great Russian author A.P. Chekhov; also an author, M.P. Chekhov who left biographical notes; the Bishop of Smolensk and Dorogobuzh Pyotr (A.N. Drugov); Chair of the Third State Duma A.I. Guchkov, a major industrialist, and art patron S.T. Mamontov; A.N. Veselovsky (an internationally recognised Russian philologist); an outstanding therapist A.I. Shcherbakov; historians N.M. Lukin and M.N. Pokrovsky, astronomer A.A. Belopolsky, biochemist V.S. Gulevich, physical chemist I.A. Kablukov, zoologist N.V. Nosonov and, finally, one of the most talented Russian scientists of the late 19th–first half of the 20th century, honorary Academician and famous Russian revolutionary N.A. Morozov, with whose philosophical works P. D. Ouspensky was well acquainted.
The biography of N.A. Morozov is particularly interesting. Entering the 2nd Moscow Gymnasium in 1860, Morozov organised there The Society of Natural Science Amateurs, which issued a manuscript journal and heard students’ reports. In the early 1870s Morozov got in close touch with revolutionaries, then emigrated to Switzerland and became a member of the International Comradeship of Workers (also known as the First International). After returning to Russia Morozov became a member of the revolutionary organisation ‘People’s Will’ which carried out the assassination of the Emperor Alexander II in 1881. He was arrested and later condemned to life imprisonment. For 25 years he was imprisoned in the dreadful political prison, the Schlisselburg fortress, where he carried out intensive scientific work in various spheres of science, writing 26 volumes of manuscripts. He was released from the fortress cells in 1905.
After his release Morozov was elected a member of the Russian Physico-Chemical Society (where he delivered a report Apocalypse from an astronomical point of view), and in 1907 he was elected a full member of the Russian Astronomical Society. Morozov gave lectures in astronomy in Paris and was elected a permanent member of the Société astronomique de France and the British Astronomical Association. He was engaged in biology and mathematics, and lectured on aeronautics. He was again condemned, for some verses printed in the compilation Star Songs in 1912–1913; while in the Dvinskaya fortress he wrote a major mathematical research treatise.
In 1932 Morozov was elected an honorary member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR; a small asteroid was named after him, as well as a settlement in the Leningrad region. Morozov died in 1946, having outlived four Russian emperors and many heads of the Soviet state who came to power after the 1917 revolution.
As can be seen, Morozov was a man of encyclopaedic knowledge. His scientific interests also covered philosophy. In Morozov’s research an attempt was made to come to an awareness of the world’s multidimensionality. Also interesting are his works touching upon other areas, related to alchemy, magic and mysticism. They were to a certain extent popular among the intelligentsia and could not help attracting P. D. Ouspensky’s attention.
In 1908 Ouspensky learned about Morozov’s letter to his fellow inmates in the Schlisselburg Fortress. This letter, published in the magazine Sovremenny Mir (The Modern World) contained a discussion of what might exist in the sphere of the fourth dimension. Ouspensky grew interested in Morozov’s conclusions, but criticised them in the pages of his book A New Model of the Universe (Chapter 2) published in London in 1931.18
Of course, it would be interesting to know whether Morozov and Ouspensky got into contact and whether they knew that they had both studied, though at different times, in the same Moscow Gymnasium.19
Unfortunately, it has so far been impossible to find any sets of documents of significant size in the archives of Moscow relating to the history of the 2nd Moscow Gymnasium. The Central Historical Archives of Moscow reveal only small fragments of relevant materials. Thus, for instance, there is an interesting amateurish drawing by a local physician, A. F. Dementyev, which depicts the gymnasium’s tutors (including its principal, S. Gulevich).
We have identified the archives which might contain such materials. A search there might result in interesting finds related to Ouspensky’s biography. Searches of the archives can be continued if the Study Society shows an interest in further research.
At present the building of the former gymnasium houses a higher education establishment, the Moscow Institute of Construction Engineering. Unfortunately, the 19th century interiors have been preserved only in fragments. For instance, the Main Stairway decorated with sculptures has been repaired, copies of paintings depicting former owners of the building hang on the walls, the old cast-iron staircase ascending to the top floor is also quite well preserved.
The next period of Ouspensky’s life is described in Autobiographical Fragment quite laconically. ‘At sixteen I first found Nietzsche. In 1896, when I was eighteen, I began my first independent travels, and at the same time I began to write. I was very anarchistically inclined at that time; I particularly distrusted all forms of academic science and never intended to take any degrees. At the same time I worked very intensely on biology, mathematics and psychology. I was enormously excited by the idea of the fourth dimension, and subsequently, terribly disappointed by the usual ‘scientific’ treatment of it’.20
It is known that in 1898 he visited Paris with his mother and later, after her death, he made a number of trips to the far distant corners of Russia.21
In these years he started his journalistic and publishing activity.
Among the documents found in Moscow archives and in the police funds of Moscow and St. Petersburg, the materials connected with P. D. Ouspensky’s publishing activity attracted our attention.
The earliest documents we found dated back to the summer of 1903. The papers dating from this time bear a relation to the publication in Russia of the Russian–English Journal of Trade, Industry and Engineering, undertaken by a citizen of Great Britain, Stafford Talbot: ‘Stafford Talbot, a national of Great Britain and publisher of the Russian–English Journal of Trade, Industry and Engineering solicits approval for Pyotr Demianovich Ouspensky, the son of the Court Counsellor living in Moscow in Maly Kharitonievsky Lane in the house of Kotov, apt. 11, in the title of the aforenamed journal’s editor’.22
The Central Department of Printing in the Ministry of Internal Affairs studied this matter and asked the Police Department to enquire into the ‘loyalty’ of P. D. Ouspensky.
In the papers we found, Ouspensky is given the most positive character: ‘Ouspensky has not been and is not under examination and nothing blameworthy has been observed in relation to his political and moral character; he was educated at home, formerly served as a reporter in one of Moscow’s private bureaux; at present has no occupation, and we have encountered no obstacles in connection with the enquiry in question.’
The Moscow address (Maly Kharitonevky Lane) where Ouspensky lived is of interest but the house remains to be identified.
Ouspensky’s negative attitude to socialism and secret revolutionary organisations is well known. He spoke directly about that in his Autobiographical Fragment: ‘I mistrusted and disliked all kinds of socialism even more than industrialism and militarism, and did not believe in any kind of secret revolutionary parties, with which all Russian ‘intelligentsia’ sympathised. But when I became interested in journalism I could only work on ‘left’ papers, because ‘right’ papers did not smell well. It was one of the complexities of Russian life’.23
However, not all Ouspensky’s relatives shared these views. And this contradiction was shown distinctly during the first Russian revolution of 1905–1907.
His sister Margarita played an active part in revolutionary events in Moscow; she was arrested for belonging to one of the most radical parties in Russia – ‘Socialist Revolutionaries’ – she spent some time in Butirskaya gaol (Butirka) and died in prison. Later, in his book A New Model of the Universe, Ouspensky described his meetings with his sister in Butirka.
We managed to find archives containing the documents of the legal case and the verdict of ‘guilty’ on Ouspensky’s sister.
It appears from the documents that Margarita Ouspensky engaged in active publishing activities (printed revolutionary materials – political leaflets and brochures). Under other names she lived in three secret flats where literature and arms were kept.
In the investigation documents there are descriptions of the flats and personal effects of Ouspensky’s sister, made after her arrest; the detailed circumstances of the arrest itself and the results of her interrogation.
It is interesting that when searching the flat the policemen found the ‘service record’ of her dead father, Demian Ouspensky.
The Butirskaya gaol where Ouspensky’s sister was imprisoned, is still a gaol today.
In the same book, A New Model of the Universe, Ouspensky mentions his work in 1906–1907 in the editorial office of the Moscow daily newspaper Morning. A selection of copies of this newspaper is in the book-stocks of Moscow and Petersburg.
In the authoritative dictionary by I. F. Masanov, containing numerous data about Russian pseudonyms, we found a mention of P. D. Ouspensky. Masanov wrote that in 1907 Ouspensky wrote for the metropolitan newspaper Morning under the pseudonym ‘PU’.24 We managed to find interesting commentaries about Ouspensky’s writing, journalism and publishing activities in those years. These commentaries were found in one of the latest Moscow editions of collections of letters, documents and memoirs of the famous Russian artist K. S. Malevich, published in 2004. As Malevich was acquainted with Ouspensky’s books his name occurs quite often in the pages of these documents. The present-day editors of this collection, having listed the titles of the books by Ouspensky, whom they call ‘mathematician and philosopher’, wrote that at the end of 1913 he headed the publication of a series of books entitled A New Man, founded by A. A. Suvorin, in which ideas of the transformation of the spiritual and physical nature of man were promoted. In this publishing house Ouspensky edited a number of his own works, the second edition of the book A New Man by A. A. Suvorin and a great deal of translated philosophical- religious literature. Further, the same editors wrote: ‘In 1914 P. D. Ouspensky went to London on the instructions of the editorial office and from there to India to gather ‘new facts’ in the field of Indian theosophy. The reports of this trip were printed in nearly every number of the newspaper Nov, published in Moscow.’ In 1916 the reviewer of theosophical literature Andrew Cratov, mentioning this, said: ‘As far as we know this is the first occasion in the world when theosophical ideas have been published in a daily newspaper.’
We managed to find the Police Department documents dated January 1914, in which they mentioned the newspaper Nov published in Moscow, the editor of which was P. D. Ouspensky. In this case the famous literary men who worked with him were mentioned, and also the address in Petersburg (house No 11 in Karavannaya Street, where Ouspensky had been living at that time). It is interesting that this house, standing on the corner of Karavannaya Street and Nevsky Prospect, was quite close to the artistic café-cabaret ‘The Stray Dog’ which Ouspensky quite often visited.
In the early 1900s Ouspensky was writing a great deal. It is known that in 1905 he created his first and ultimately his only (semi-)autobiographical novel, which only saw the light of day a decade later, under the title Kinemadrama (not for cinematograph). Occult novel from the cycle of ideas of eternal recurrence (Petrograd, 1915).25 In 1910 his famous and very popular book The Fourth Dimension. Review of Theories and Attempts at Research in the Sphere of the Immeasurable26 was published in Petersburg.27 In 1911 there followed TERTIUM ORGANUM. A key to the enigmas of the world.28 In 1912 he published his new book The Symbolism of Tarot. Philosophy of Occultism in Pictures and Numbers (a review of this book was written by the outstanding Russian poet Valery Brusov and published in Russian Thoughts, Book VII, 1912). In 1913 he published two books, The Inner Circle. About ‘The Last Line’ & ‘The Superman’, and Searching for a New Life. What Is Yoga.
In 1916 one more work by Ouspensky: Talks With a Devil. Occult Stories was published in Petrograd (the new name for St Petersburg).29 The Ouspensky books were very popular in metropolitan society and were republished several times. Thus, in 1919 the publishers of M. B. Pirozhkov in Petrograd published the third (‘newly revised and supplemented’) edition of the book The Fourth Dimension.
However, it is interesting that not only was this popular book republished, but the cover gives a list of the books by Ouspensky which were already sold by Pirozhkov or were still in print. Among them is The Symbolism of Tarot. Philosophy of Occultism in Pictures and Numbers. (2nd edition. Petrograd, 1917) and the same book translated into English by A. L. Pogossky (St. Petersburg, 1913). The Pirozhkov list also refers to the third edition of Ouspensky’s book Searching for a New Life (What is Yoga) (Petrograd, 1918).
During these years the relation between Ouspensky and the Russian theosophical society were described rather interestingly.
In his Autobiographical Fragment Ouspensky noted that he had already discovered theosophical literature for himself in 1907. ‘In 1907 I found theosophical literature, which was prohibited in Russia – Blavatsky, Olcott, Annie Besant, Sinnett, etc. It produced a very strong impression on me although I at once saw its weak side’.30 By the early 1910s he was working with the Russian Theosophical Society very actively. Looking through the journal Bulletin of Theosophy, copies of which are well preserved in the library of Helsinki University (Finland), we found out that in 1912–1914 he was often published in this journal, which often contained reviews of his books and articles, and he himself was a member of the editorial board of this journal.
There are references in the pages of the Bulletin of Theosophy of the lectures delivered by Ouspensky in the capital and of the reports of the meetings of the Russian Theosophical Society.
These references are doubly interesting as his later lectures (delivered in the years of World War I) in the Petersburg City Duma and Tenishevsky College are more famous. Ouspensky himself mentions this in his Autobiographical Fragment: ‘At the beginning of 1915 I gave, first in St. Petersburg and later in Moscow, several public lectures on my travels and my search for the miraculous’.31 Actually, Ouspensky’s lectures for big audiences were delivered in the Alexandrovsky (Alexander) Hall of Petersburg State Duma (this building could be rented for public lectures). Of course, the lectures bore no relation to the governmental activity of the Duma.32
For an explanation of the content of Ouspensky’s lectures it was necessary to examine the Petersburg press of the early 20th century, as the description of similar lectures and their content were usually reflected in the pages of newspapers and journals.
Announcements about the lectures delivered by P. D. Ouspensky were placed in some Petersburg papers: Exchange Report, Day, New Time, Petersburg Newspaper, Speech, Modern World.
However, the most interesting documents were found among the materials in the office of the Petrograd town governor from February 1915.
It is necessary to remember that it was war time and the delivery of lectures required special permission. Permission of this kind and also posters, programmes and financial documents (lectures were chargeable) were found in the Central State Historical Archives of St. Petersburg.
Among them are manuscripts of posters of lectures of the 10th, 17th and 19th February 1915 ‘In Search of the Miraculous. Visit to India in 1914’ and ‘The Problems of Death (In Search of the Miraculous)’ enclosing detailed programmes of lectures and the list of ‘pictures’ to be shown by a projector during the lectures.
We discovered that Ouspensky delivered the lecture ‘The Problem of Death’ in the Concert Hall of Tenishevsky College on February 27.
In the book Mokhovaya Street by A. Dubinin and L. Broitman there is an interesting description of the building and interior of this house (Nos. 33–35, Mokhovaya Street) in which the college was situated; it was built in 1899–1900 by order of the prominent entrepreneur and scientist, Prince V. N. Tenishev. The college had a solid reputation in the capital. During the first Russian revolution 1905–1907 and later in the big lecture hall built as an amphitheatre, meetings were held where V. I Lenin, poets A. A. Block, V. J. Brusov, S. M. Gorodetsky, N. S. Gumilev, S. A. Esenin, N. A. Kluev and V. V. Mayakovsky gave their speeches. Here V. Meyerhold gave his performances. Here P. D. Ouspensky also delivered his lectures.
Today in the former Tenishevsky College there is a small exhibition devoted to its history. Unfortunately, we could not find anything there connected with the name of Ouspensky; however we could not fail to notice the poster for one of the lectures delivered there, on January 25 1917, by one of the leaders of the Russian vanguard of 1910 onwards, the famous Petersburg scientist, writer and artist N. I. Kublin. The topic of the lecture was announced as ‘New World-outlook (philosophy)’ and the speech was about a new art and a new science, new philosophy: the fourth, the fifth and even the sixth dimension.
The short note on the poster – ‘After the lecture – discussion in “Dog”’ is rather interesting. The famous Petersburg artists’ and writers’ café ‘Stray Dog’ was referred to as ‘Dog’; Ouspensky visited it quite often.
This café, on the corner of Italianskaya Street and Mikhailovskya Square, was officially named ‘The art society of intimate theatre’. It was opened ceremonially on New Year’s night 1912 and existed until the spring of 1915, when it was formally closed (during a police search alcoholic drinks, forbidden in Russia during the war, were found there).
This café was the favourite meeting place for Petersburg writers, artists, actors, composers and ‘metropolitan Bohemia’. Among those who regularly visited the ‘Stray Dog’ and joined in the parties were the outstanding Russian poets Anna Akhmatova, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Mikhail Kuzmin, Nikolay Gumilev, Igor Severjanin, Osip Mandelstam, Georgy Ivanov, Sasha Chorny; artists Nataly Goncharova, Kazimir Malevich, Mikhail Larionov, Ivan Bilibin and Mikhail Dobuzhinsky (creator of the café’s emblem), producer Vsevolod Meyerhold, famous Russian ballerina Tamara Karsavina, composers Yury Shaporin and Sergei Prokofiev, architect Vladimir Tshuko and many others.
Today the walls of the new and restored ‘Stray Dog’ café bear dozens of portraits of outstanding figures of Russian culture of the ‘Silver Age’. A photograph of Ouspensky is among them.
We managed to find and obtain rare articles connected with the activities of this Petersburg café. These extensive publications contain detailed descriptions of all the parties which took place there, listing the scientists, writers and artists present and programmes of the performances.
The powerful effect of World War I on Russian society was sharply reflected in the fate of practically every Russian.
The Guards Sapper Battalion, in which Ouspensky served during the war, was quartered in Petersburg in Kirochnaya Street. Here, on the site where some school buildings now stand, (near the modern Chernishevskaya underground station) there was the battalion church of Kosma and Damian, which was pulled down in the late 1940s. Not far from it were the barracks, which are still preserved.
The terrible events of the February revolution in 1917, and the subsequent October revolution which caused the destruction of the old world became the main reasons for Ouspensky’s leaving Petrograd and staying away from Russia from then on.
To conclude the lecture, we would like to list some places in Petersburg which are connected with the name of Ouspensky.
For some time Ouspensky lived at No. 58, Liteyny Prospect, not far from Nevsky Prospect. This is mentioned in the reference book The Whole Petrograd and also in the papers to the Petrograd town governor, applying for a permit for Ouspensky to deliver lectures in the hall of the City Duma on February 19, 1915.
In his works Ouspensky himself repeatedly described his walks around this district of Petrograd during the war. In his book In Search of the Miraculous (London edition, p. 51) he recalled a scene: ‘I had seen two enormous lorries on the Liteiny loaded to the height of the first floor with new unpainted wooden crutches…In these mountains of crutches for legs which were not yet torn off there was a particularly cynical mockery of all those things with which people deceive themselves. Involuntarily, I imagined that similar lorries were sure to be going about in Berlin, Paris, London, Vienna, Rome and Constantinople.’
Another episode is described in this book (p. 120). Ouspensky, ‘remembering himself’ is going along Liteyny prospect to Nevsky; he fulfilled some ordinary and intentional actions: ‘Left tobacconist [it was on Nevsky Prospect – SK], called at my flat in the Liteyny, telephoned to the printers…Then again I went out of the house. I walked on the left side of the Nevsky up to the Gostinoy Dvor…I had taken an ivostchik [cab] and was driving to Kavalergardskaya to my printers…And suddenly I remembered that I had forgotten to remember myself.’
Also in the same book (p. 265) Ouspensky tells us how he was walking along Troitsky Street (now Rubinstein Street) not far from Liteyny and Nevsky Prospects and saw an unusual picture: he distinctly and indubitably realised that everything around was plunged into ‘sleep’, the citizens whom he met were sleeping, a sleeping cabman went by with two sleeping passengers. Thus began a three-week period when Ouspensky saw ‘sleeping people’; later, he wrote, everything returned to normal.
It was there, ‘in quarters on the Liteyny near the Nevsky’ (p. 268) that Gurdjieff was staying when he came to Petrograd and caught a chill.
Reyner33 described the meeting between Ouspensky and young Anna Butkovsky at a gathering of the Theosophical Society. Afterwards they met at the Philippov bakery, not far from the houses they lived in.
The famous Russian baker Philippov had some cafés in Moscow and Petersburg where you could have a cup of coffee and eat a splendid bun. Looking through Petersburg addresses for the Philippov cafés we actually found the bakery, situated on the corner of Troitsky Street and Nevsky Prospect. It was very close to Karavannaya Street and Liteyny Prospect.
Working on his books, Ouspensky undoubtedly needed to read a great deal of literature, in many European languages. The Imperial Public Library in Petersburg, situated on the corner of Nevsky and Sadovaya Street was indispensable to him. Ouspensky wrote about his studies here in Chapter 8 of his book A New Model of the Universe.
One more place where Ouspensky was repeatedly to be found, was Nicolaevsky (today Moskovsky) station. Here he arrived from Moscow and returned to it again; here he met and saw off Gurdjieff.
In conclusion we would like to say that there are not a few documents connected with the name of Ouspensky and not yet introduced into general circulation, which are kept in the archives and bookstores of Moscow, Petersburg and the south of Russia.
The prospects for continuing (prolonging) the search for information about Ouspensky’s life in Russia are good. However, while preparing the present research we had no opportunity to familiarise ourselves with the Ouspensky archives in Great Britain and the USA. We have probably collected some facts which are well known to our English and American colleagues.
1 Rovner A.B. Gurdjieff & Ouspensky. Moscow, 2006; Shichanina Yu. V. P. D. Ouspensky. MarT, Moscow, 2006.
2 Autobiographical Fragment in Remembering Pyotr Demianovich Ouspensky. Merrily E. Taylor (ed.). New Haven, 1978, p. 9.
3 Autobiographical Fragment, in Remembering Pyotr Demianovich Ouspensky. Merrily E. Taylor (ed.). New Haven, 1978. p.9.
4 In his book on Ouspensky, Arkady Rovner (referring to Ouspensky P. D. The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution. 2nd ed. New York, 1974, pp.121–128) speaks directly of Zvenigorod and its monastery as a place which Ouspensky saw in early childhood. (Rovner A. Gurdjieff & Ouspensky, 2006, p. 15)
5 The name Ouspensky refers to the Dormition or Assumption of the Virgin Mary.
6 In commemoration of the sacred coronation of their Imperial Majesties in Moscow on May 15, 1883. P. 37.
7 Autobiographical Fragment, in Remembering Pyotr Demianovich Ouspensky. Merrily E. Taylor (ed.). New Haven, 1978. p.9.
8 The great Russian poet Mikhail Yurievich Lermontov (1814–1841) wrote not only poems and verses, but also beautiful prose. His novel A Hero of Our Time was written in 1838–1839, not long before the poet’s death. It was composed as a series of narratives in various genres (romantic narratives, travel sketches, fantastic novellas, with a near-mystic story).
9 A Sportsman’s Sketches created in the late 1840s–early 1850s by the great Russian author Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev (1818–1883), was among the most read literary works in Russia. Written with an undisguised respect for the Russian peasant, they struck a huge blow against serfdom in Russia.
10 Rovner A. Gurdjieff & Ouspensky, 2006, p. 18.
11 In Russia, after serfdom was abolished in 1861, and liberal reforms implemented in many spheres of public life, a new system of education evolved, with the vital feature of ‘gymnasiums’ of two kinds – classical and practical. Owing to high tuition fees, education in gymnasiums was affordable, above all, to children of wealthy parents. In classical gymnasiums the education was based on instruction in classical languages, Latin and Greek. In practical gymnasiums instruction in mathematics and natural sciences prevailed over classical languages. The graduates of a classical gymnasium could enrol in a university without passing examinations; the graduates of a practical one were mostly admitted to polytechnic institutions of higher education.
However, as early as 1871 a new, more conservative regulation was passed which preserved only classical gymnasiums, where the period of tuition was increased from 7 to 8 years. The classical language curriculum increased by about half, with corresponding reduction in the programmes for other subjects. Contemporaries noted that in such institutions the independence of students was suppressed: memorising by rote was prevalent. Moral standards also noticeably deteriorated.
In 1872 practical schools were set up instead of gymnasiums, in which the course of study lasted six years, and the graduates of which were denied access to universities.
The position of the government became even more conservative after the assassination of the Emperor Alexander II. In 1882 a circular on secondary schooling was issued which emphasised summary punishments and in 1887 a circular appeared which prohibited admission to gymnasiums of ‘the offspring of coachmen, lackeys, laundresses, petty shop owners and other such people’. Now a reference of ‘reliability’ was required for entry to universities.
12 About a year ago at one of Moscow booksellers I happened to see an interesting book on sale, a four-volume History of the English People by John Richard Green, issued in 1891 in Moscow; the title page bore the stamp of the Foundation library of the 2nd Moscow Gymnasium.
13 In 1892 the Paris publishers Albatros issued a book by Aleksandr Davydov: Reminiscences 1881–1955. Davydov was raised in the 2nd Moscow Gymnasium, and he describes in detail his studies, customs that held sway there, the characters of his classmates and tutors. This comparatively small fragment of Davydov’s recollections is so interesting that we have had it translated into English.
14 Rovner A. Gurdjieff & Ouspensky, p.14.
15 A book by Ya M. Belitsy containing a number of interesting facts is devoted to the history of the building where P.D. Ouspensky studied. (Belitsy Ya M. Spartakovskaya ulitsa 2/1. Moscow, 1986.
16 For more detail on Jacob Bruce see, for instance: Filimonov A. N.: Jacob Bruce, 2003. 17 There is an interesting book: A historical note on the 50th anniversary of the 2nd Moscow Gymnasium. 1835–1885 compiled by S. Gulevich, 1885. However, as the title indicates, the description of the gymnasium ends here at 1885.
18 The book was translated into Russian by N. V. von Bok and published in St. Petersburg in 1993. For Ouspensky’s disagreement with Morozov see pp. 95-100 of the Russian edition and pp. 80-85 of the English edition.
19 The vast collection of N. A. Morozov’s documents (his correspondence, works, memoirs) are kept in Moscow in the Archives of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Fund 543). Materials related to Morozov’s activities in other Russian cities are also available. Thus, the Yaroslavl historical architectural memorial reserve has part of Morozov’s correspondence, including exchanges with the founder of cosmonautics Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. It is known that the latter was also involved with theosophy.
20 Autobiographical Fragment, in Remembering Pyotr Demianovich Ouspensky. Merrily E. Taylor (ed.). New Haven, 1978. p.10.
21 Reyner J. H. Ouspensky. The Unsung Genius. London, 1981. p.15.
22 In the papers there is some information about Mr. Talbot: ‘Stafford Talbot, 25 years old, Protestant, single, arrived in Moscow from St Petersburg on January 16, 1903, left for St Petersburg on March 7. On March 19 arrived in Moscow again, on April 4 left for St Petersburg. Stayed in the Boyarsky Dvor Hotel, occupied a room for 70 rub. a month.’
23 Autobiographical Fragment, in Remembering Pyotr Demianovich Ouspensky. Merrily E. Taylor (ed.). New Haven, 1978. p.10
24 Masanov I.F. Dictionary of Pseudonyms of Russian Writers, Scientists and Public Figures, 1960. Vol.4 p.483, Vol.2 p.328.
25 Ouspensky’s novel, re-titled The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin, was published in New York and London in 1947, shortly before the author’s death.
26 A. Rovner considered that in fact the book was published in 1909 (Rovner A. Gurdjieff & Ouspensky. 2nd edition, 2006, p. 406). This book was received by the reading public in different ways. For instance, the journal Modern World (No 7) contains a negative book review by P. Dnevnitsky.
27 In his book Ouspensky. The Unsung Genius J. H. Reyner (p. 5) wrote that the first edition of this work appeared in Moscow in 1898, when Ouspensky was only 20 years old.
28 There are different points of view concerning the date of this work. A. Rovner said that the book appeared in 1912. This fact was mentioned by Merrily E. Taylor (The Major Works of P.D. Ouspensky: An Annotated Bibliography. In Remembering Pyotr Demianovich Ouspensky. New Haven, 1978. P. 17) However, it can be clearly seen in the title list that the book was published in 1911.
29 In 1976 Talks With a Devil was translated into English and published in London.
30 Autobiographical Fragment, in Remembering Pyotr Demianovich Ouspensky. Merrily E. Taylor (ed.). New Haven, 1978. P. 11.
31 Autobiographical Fragment, in Remembering Pyotr Demianovich Ouspensky. Merrily E. Taylor (ed.). New Haven, 1978, p. 11.
32 Today Alexander Hall belongs to the Sberbank of Russia and is closed to visitors. We managed to get a special permit from the bank manager to inspect, photograph and visit Alexander Hall. At present, this huge hall, which can contain a thousand or so people, is seriously damaged. It has no floor or electricity, plaster is crumbling off the walls and ceiling. The building needs major repairs; staying there is life-threatening and admission is usually refused.
33 Reyner J.H. Ouspensky. The Unsung Genius. London, 1981. p. 28.