• Українська
  • Русский
  • English
Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Leafing Through A Young Genius’s Diary

8 February, 2005 - 00:00

I wish to be the son of truth,
not evil, the son of a divine,
not earthly, kingdom.
A diary entry by the 22-year-old student
Mykhailo Hrushevsky

Have you ever earnestly considered why people keep diaries? There is no doubt that as a young student Mykhailo Hrushevsky used to record daily notes to reflect on things, to understand himself better, and to describe his reactions to certain events in his life.

Hrushevsky kept a diary while he was a student at Kyiv’s St. Volodymyr University. His notes are a source of interesting information on his sociopolitical activities as a member of the Old Society and on such well- known scholars and academics as Volodymyr Antonovych, Oleksandr Konysky, Oleksandr Barvinsky, Oleksandr Ohloblyn, and many others. Now that a new school of historiography, Hrushevsky studies, has been established and is being promoted by researchers from many institutions in Ukraine and abroad (especially Ukrainskyi istoryk edited by Liubomyr Wynar), it is important to use as many sources as possible to explore the life and work of one of this country’s most prominent historians. The archives of Ukraine and Russia contain many documents and materials that have a direct bearing on Hrushevsky’s biography and academic heritage. Numerous historians, including Ruslan Pyrih, Oleksandr Kopylenko, Yaroslav Dashkevych, Y. Malyk, Volodymyr Potulnytsky, V. Kukhar, and others are unearthing, studying, and publishing these sources.

The young Hrushevsky began to keep a diary when he visited his parents in Vladikavkaz after completing his second year of studies at the History and Philology School of Kyiv’s St. Volodymyr University. His notes cover the period between August 16, 1888, and December 12, 1893. Actually, Hrushevsky was an undergraduate until 1890, and in 1891-1893 he was working toward his Master’s degree on a professorial scholarship at this university. Diaries are generally a very valuable source for studying the life of a certain individual or a historical fact. Small wonder: diaries are documents that reveal a person’s state at a certain moment, their reaction to a certain event, and their overall spiritual and psychological state. In our case, Hrushevsky’s diary reflects the thoughts and feelings of a young student who is hesitating over his choice of career: a monk or scholar. Leafing through his diary, we see the figure of an extremely emotional, sensitive, deep-thinking and, at the same time, slightly naive youth who is already blazing a trail.

Hrushevsky began keeping a diary after he graduated from high school in Tiflis (now Tbilisi). He considered his school days one of the worst periods of his life. As Hrushevsky later wrote in his Reminiscences, the high school “saddened me with its monotony; it would brutally fray and injure my nerves, which were accustomed to a mild and loving atmosphere and were incapable of resistance and struggle.” The following entry reveals his gnawing doubts about his choice of profession: “Worldly temptation still lingers in me; it carries me away, like before. I want neither glory, nor wealth, nor joys. Let me go, unrecognized, all through my lifetime and descend into the grave. All I want is to work, learn, and teach.” At the same time, the young student, still under the impression of meeting a female friend of his parents, notes cautiously “...maybe, I’ll be a professor?” Doubts about his chosen occupation vanish in January 1892, when Hrushevsky, now a graduate student, writes that he is not sorry about dropping his plans to take monastic vows and thinks he has taken the only right decision in favor of scholarship.

The diary entries trace the young Hrushevsky’s spiritual growth and his maturity as a scholar. Interestingly, he always evaluates himself from the viewpoint of Christian dogmas and church rules, so either consciously or unconsciously he occasionally applies disparaging terms to himself, such as “despicable creature,” “accursed,” “the most accursed of the accursed,” etc. Praying to God, he asks for help to overcome “forgetfulness, laziness, ignorance” and “all kinds of false pride, malice, and evil.” At the same time, the young Hrushevsky regards as sinful even his natural reaction to his first achievements in the scholarly field. The entry dated October 2, 1888, states: “I am proud of my work: those lousy opuscula (small opuses) have made a bloated frog out of me.” After passing his M.A. exams in 1890, Hrushevsky writes: “From the viewpoint of the church and prayer, I am a bit lazy: I’d like to relax and be free and untroubled by worries.”

From 1888 the young scholar begins to attach great importance to God’s blessing, which he would seek at the beginning of every new undertaking. Prayer-like entries occur quite often: he prayed for success when he began writing a book on the history of Kyiv, for “these sinful desires” to leave him when thoughts about marriage distracted him from work, and for personal happiness (one of the last entries). The young Hrushevsky’s notes show how important penance and the Eucharist were to him. Whereas in 1880- 1890 he described the way he was morally preparing for the Holy Sacraments, in later years he tried to analyze the way penance and the Eucharist were important for his inner reflection and “returning to his inner self.” An entry dated 1891 reveals that the young scholar receives the Eucharist “rather to enlighten my mind, increase my strength, and bless my willpower.” At the same time, there are very explicit entries about the sins that he confesses to a priest. Some confessions are quite intimate in nature.

In an entry recorded during his graduate studies, the young Hrushevsky says he began “to seize earthly pleasures.” In anticipation of a confession, he writes, “...and what if he (the priest) tells me to give away everything I own to beggars? I felt this would be too hard for me to do, I would ask him to be more compassionate or would not obey him.” Obviously, this love for the benefits and pleasures of a worldly life makes the young scholar feel guilty before God: “I am aware of being guilty for not being able to cast off self- adoration, for seeking personal happiness in this world, for sinking too deeply into worldly activities and struggles; and I try to justify this — is it a good thing to do?!”

As a second-year student Hrushevsky did a great deal of soul searching. He never stopped trying to find out for what purpose in life he was born and what his vocation is. Since he was already a student and had taken his first steps as a researcher when he recorded his first diary entries, he was opting for the career of a scholar, not a monk. The student defends his perhaps ill-considered choice: “Oh, my God! I am not repudiating Thee, and if Thou told me to follow Thee, I would obviously do so.” The young Hrushevsky made this entry on the first day that he began his diary, on August 16, 1888.

Hrushevsky the student had long viewed the two linchpins, religion and scholarship, as totally incompatible notions, and only on September 21, 1888, did he write down the result of his reflections: “Instead of mixing up religion with secular things (in this context, scholarship), one must do these things in such an exalted manner that they may be elevated to religion.”

From the very beginning of the diary, one can easily trace the way the young student was preparing himself to serve the nation. Even his dreams prove that he took national issues very close to heart. An entry dated October 6, 1888, reads: “I dream of all kinds of nonsense. For example, I meet the empress and kneeling before her, beg her to grant freedom to the Ukrainian language.” He regards even such a trivial thing as buying books from the angle of a committed citizen and altruist: “This library is a valuable thing for now and for the future, for me and for others.”

In one of his last entries (April 16, 1893), the M.A. student writes: “The Lord gave me the will to work for my people, adding to this at least some talent, circumstances, and material means.” This confidence in his mission was untypical for Hrushevsky the student, who four years before recording this entry, wrote: “Who knows if my malt will make good beer?” Naturally, the young graduate student could not foresee what future awaited him and that his name would be inscribed in gold letters on the tablets of this country’s history.

Undoubtedly, his successes in the field of scholarly pursuit were possible not only thanks to his innate talents but also because from the very outset the young Hrushevsky considered that hard work was the duty of every Christian. “Work is better than sinful idleness; work is a duty, not lust,” he used to say.

By Larysa ANTOSHCHUK, M.A. student, Ostrih Academy