Dmitrii Alekseevich Miliutin, The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Count Dmitrii Alekseevich Miliutin/Vospominaniia general-fel' dmarshala grafa Dmitriia Alekseevicha Miliutina.
In November 1911, the Nicholas Imperial Military Academy celebrated the 75th anniversary of the graduation of its most famous student, Dmitrii Alekseevich Miliutin (1816-1912), Alexander II's influential minister of war. Count Miliutin was still alive, living out his days in the Crimea; and so the academy decided to send a delegation to him with a warm letter of appreciation. Miliutin came to his guests in a housecoat, complaining he could no longer squeeze into his uniform. He listened impatiently to their letter (which took nearly an hour to read) and then whisked them into his gigantic library, the core of which he had inherited from his illustrious administrative predecessor--and uncle--Pavel Dmitrievich Kiselev (1788-1872). There, in the presence of his daughters, he informed the delegation that he intended to leave this library, his equally copious personal archive, and a large set of memoirs to the academy, to do with as it sought fit. He hoped the school would publish what he somewhat casually called the "remembrances of an old man" (moi starcheskie vospominaniia). (1) Having served as minister for nearly 20 years, he spent the next 20 years reconstructing his life using his library and vast personal correspondence, leading some in his circles to speculate he was writing an inside history of Alexander II's reign. In the end, Miliutin's "remembrances" ran to 32 volumes of closely written notebooks, or roughly 3,500 pages of printed text in this marvelous edition, now complete at seven volumes. (2)
Heretofore, Miliutin's memoirs have had a checkered publication history. Obeying Miliutin's wishes, the Imperial Military Academy struggled throughout the 1910s to publish his notebooks. First the project was hampered by the court and then by World War I. In the end, it took the academy's flight to Tomsk in 1918 to break the book loose. (Miliutin's White editors note with bitter irony that the "whirlwind of revolution created at least one extremely important precondition for this edition," namely "the absence of all censorship, and especially that of the court.") (3) Yet that same whirlwind then swallowed up the Tomsk government, and with it the Imperial Military Academy, before any more volumes could be published. In the 1940s, Petr Andreevich Zaionchkovskii published Miliutin's diaries from the late 1870s (by then in the hands of the Lenin Library in Moscow), leaving the memoirs for later. His American student W. Bruce Lincoln republished the Tomsk volume--covering the early years of Miliutin's life, 1816-43--in the United States in the late 1970s; and now the distinguished Moscow historian Larisa Georgievna Zakharova has finally completed the gargantuan labor of publishing the rest. (4) When the first volume of Zakharova's edition first appeared in 1997, the late Daniel Field rightly praised it as an "elegant and exemplary publication." (5) The volumes published since have all been produced to the same high scholarly standard, with extensive editorial commentary and thorough, biographically informative indices. Necessitated by Miliutin's own formidable attention to detail, these commentaries themselves amount to an encyclopedia of mid-19th-century Eurasian power politics, ranging in their reference from the empire of Napoleon III to the emirate of Bukhara.
Now that Miliutin's memoirs have seen the light of day, what news do they offer historians? Thanks to Zaionchkovskii and his many scholarly disciples, the state apparatus that Miliutin inhabited in the mid-19th century--the Russian military and the imperial ministries during the so-called era of Great Reforms--has been thoroughly studied. (6) Miliutin's own archive has been available to Soviet and foreign scholars since the late 1950s, the early, published volume of his memoirs aided Professor Lincoln in his memorable attempt to create a typology of Russia's "enlightened bureaucrats," with Dmitrii Miliutin and his brother Nikolai (1818-72) as two of the most illustrious examples. (7) To evaluate what Miliutin's dense narrative of people and events has to offer this formidable scholarly tradition would require a careful, case-by-case analysis, far beyond my scope or ambition here. Yet the first and most obvious thing that springs to mind is that Miliutin's memoirs provide a dizzying (and ultimately disconcerting) sense of the imperious range of Russian politics in the mid-19th century. Where often our conception of the "reform era" centers on the imperial government's attempts to recover from the Crimean War and to rationalize and "socialize" imperial political institutions, Miliutin's memoirs show his vision constantly turning toward Poland, Central Asia, and the Caucasus as well. As a result, when history is viewed through Miliutin's memoirs, it is a lot less easy to isolate "the reforms" as a special object of study apart from the broader political life and expansion of the Russian empire in the 19th century.
This only makes sense. Following his graduation from the Imperial Military Academy in the 1830s, Miliutin did not aspire to be a "reformer," per se, so much as a military historian and statistician. He won his first awards and recognition in precisely this line of work. While the call of making rather than writing history eventually seduced him, the narrative conceits that govern his "remembrances" suggest he never lost his desire to imagine his life and activity against a massive, and truly global, historical, cultural, and sociological framework. The volumes that cover the 1860s--for example--are systematic in their revolving concern for the whole of imperial politics. Every year divides itself into a description of the life of the court, events in Poland, discussions of reform, diplomatic relations with Europe, notes on the Caucasus, and a history of "affairs in Central Asia." It is true that Miliutin was a central player in decision-making about each of these realms at different points in his career; yet he was not uniformly involved all the time. Even so, his "memoirs" make sure to reconstruct events in each of these arenas with a uniform depth, year after year after year. One result is that Miliutin, the ostensible witness and narrator, disappears for pages and indeed entire chapters at a time. Miliutin fills this void with a vast array of facts drawn from the resources at his disposal (his library, archive, and prodigious memory). He is tireless in his desire to document, even when he himself was not present, the names of those who participated in official receptions or military reviews. (He does so, he tells us, because "I know from my own experience how even the most trifling commentary by a contemporary can be precious" for a historian, and that "it happens that a haphazardly preserved piece of paper means a great deal.") (8)
Yet one effect of this is to gradually submerge the statesmen's memoirs in a large imperial "we," where Miliutin's life and point of view become not so much his own as those of the Russian state apparatus as a whole. Noting meticulously that one Captain Rozenbakh commanded the rifle battalion that marched before Alexander II on 30 December 1863, Miliutin concludes: "That is how the troublesome year 1863 ended--one of the very hardest for Russia. Toward its end the situation became calmer; we almost relaxed from our long, stressful condition; but still we could not look forward with complete assurance. Who could say that our troubles would not return, with the arrival of spring?" (Vosporninaniia [1863-64], 343). Characteristically, the one person whose presence Miliutin does not establish at this parade is his own.
From the point of view of genre, such a text creates problems for scholars. The Imperial Military Academy mocked the "legend" that Miliutin was pretending to write a history: "Miliutin's work is not a history for the simple reason that it is impossible to write history without having archival material at hand." (9) Yet Miliutin's broad historical vision clearly extends far beyond the conventional contours of the memoir as well. (Zakharova correctly calls her publication a curious mix of" historical study" and "memoir source.") (10) Those looking for Miliutin's own understanding of the past will often be left wondering whether his presentation of this or that event is based on his experience at the time or his subsequent (and evidently lengthy) researches in his retirement in the Crimea. Given the impersonal character of his narration, it is often difficult to establish point of view, which in itself may be instructive about the psyche of this, amongst the most industrious and influential of Russia's ministers. This reader, in addition, was struck by the often sentimental vision of history cultivated by these memoirs. As a boy, we are told, Miliutin read all of Karamzin; and while he grew to be a man of astounding industry, erudition, and experience, he still opts for a presentation of his past that divides Russian history into clear heroes and villains. The master narrative of the memoirs is this statesman's struggle against the reactionary tendencies of Russian life, on the one hand, and the "impudence of mountain-people" (derzkost' gortsev), the "evildoing" (zlodeianiia) of radicals, and the ever-threatening specter of "disorder" (bezporiadok) in Russian society, on the other.
Some of this sentimentality without psyche may be explained by Miliutin's desire to combine his historian's objectivity with the fiercely statist partisanship of Russia's bureaucracy. In his review of the first (and in many respects most autobiographical) volume of this series, Professor Field rightly contrasted the "plain, unstudied" narrative provided by Miliutin with the more overtly ideological story told in Herzen's Past and Thoughts. (11) Herzen's aim--and achievement--was to provide a progressive vision of history into which any thinking man could readily insert himself; whereas Miliutin writes with the conviction that he was one of the privileged few who stood exactly where history was being made (even when his knowledge of the events in question was indirect). Historians today may or may not find themselves agreeing with this conceit; but Zakharova's fine edition will allow them to consider the innumerable factual gems Miliutin collected at their leisure, while wondering somewhat less certainly about the sense of self that was cultivated at the very heights of imperial Russia's power structure. For both of these opportunities, we should be thankful.
One final note: Dr. Zakharova is currently preparing a complete edition of D. A. Miliutin's diaries as well. Miliutin began these diaries in 1873--while he was still war minister. Their initial, explicit purpose was to chronicle his side of the bureaucratic struggles of the time, but he continued to write his journal long into retirement (until 1899). This daily chronicle also became the seed from which his later memoir project grew, as Miliutin decided to fill in with memory the material not covered in his diaries. Zaionchkovskii published the first part of these diaries (1873-82) in the late 1940s. Zakharova's new edition will not only reintroduce this early material to scholars but provide a fascinating opportunity to consider the mind of a late-imperial minister in retirement. In doing so, they will undoubtedly help us untangle the web of perspectives (ministerial, historical, personal) that criss-cross his memoirs.
Clearly, someone needs to write a book on the Crimea as the retirement community (daresay the Florida) of late imperial Russia. How many officials--how many intellectuals, how many erstwhile zemstvo leaders--spent what turned out to be the waning years of the empire warming their aching backs in the sun and writing at their desks? The cultural production of this internal emigration exercised no small influence on history and memory in 20th-century Russia. Miliutin's diaries will no doubt open a window onto this topic as well.
Dept. of History
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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(1) In addition to these volumes, consulted by this reviewer, another volume has appeared: D.A. Miliutin, Vospominaniia general-fel 'dmarshala grafa Dmitriia Alekseevicha Miliutina, 1865-1867, ed. L. G. Zakharova (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2005).
(2) A colorful description of this process is provided in the first, abortive, Imperial Military Academy edition of his memoirs (see G. G. Khristiani, "Predislovie," in D. A. Miliutin, Vospominaniia general-fel' dmarshala grafa Dmitriia Alekseevicha Miliutina, ed. Khristiani (Tomsk: Voennaia akademiia, 1919), 1: i-xiii, esp. ix. See also Zakharova's introduction to the first volume of this series (Vospominaniia 1816-1843) for a discussion of the publication history of these memoirs.
(3) Khristiani, "Predislovie," xii.
(4) Miliutin, Vospominaniia, ed. Khristiani; D. A. Miliutin, Dnevnik D. A. Miliutina, ed. P.A. Zaionchkovskii, 4 vols. (Moscow: n. p., 1947-50); Dmitrii Alekseevich Miliutin, Vospominaniia, introduction by W. Bruce Lincoln (Newtonville, MA: Oriental Research Partners, 1979).
(5) Daniel Field, review of Vospominaniia general-fel' dmarshala grafa Dmitriia Alekseevicha Miliutina, 1816-1843, Slavic Review 57, 3 (1998): 658-59, esp. 658.
(6) To name but a tiny few of these many works, one might list P. A. Zaionchkovskii, Krizis samoderzhaviia na rubezhe 1870-1880-kh godov (Moscow: Izdatel'stvo Moskovskogo universiteta, 1964), trans. Gary Hamburg as The Russian Autocracy in Crisis, 1876-1882 (Gulf Breeze, FL: Academic International, 1979); Alfred J. Rieber, ed., The Politics of Autocracy: Letters of Alexander Il to Prince A. L Bariatinskii, 1857-1864 (Paris: Mouton, 1966); Daniel Field, The End of Serfdom : Nobility and Bureaucracy in Russia, 1855-1861 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976); W. Bruce Lincoln, In the Vanguard of Reform: Russia's Enlightened Bureaucrats, 1825-1861 (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1982); L. G. Zakharova, Samoderzhavie i otmena krepostnogo prava v Rossii, 1856-1861 (Moscow: Izdatel'stvo Moskovskogo universiteta, 1984); and Ben Eklof, John Bushnell, and L. G. Zakharova, eds., Russia's Great Reforms, 1855-1881 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994). See also Forrest A. Miller, Dmitrii Miliutin and the Reform Era in Russia (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1968).
(7) See Lincoln, In the Vanguard of Reform; and W. Bruce Lincoln, Nikolai Miliutin: An Enlightened Russian Bureaucrat (Newtonville, MA: Oriental Research Partners, 1977).
(8) D. A. Miliutin, "Predvaritel'noe ob"iasnenie dlia chitatelia, v ruki kotorogo kogda-nibud' popadut moi zapiski," in Vaspominaniia [1816-43], 35.
(9) Khristiani, "Predislovie," ix.
(10) L. G. Zakharova, "Predislovie," in Vospominaniia [1863-64], 5.
(11) Field, review of Vospominaniia, 658-59.
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2008|
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