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Alexandra Lublinskaya:
A "valedictory salute" by Andrew Lossky

 published in Nouvelles de la République des Lettres, 2 (1981), pp. 204-08

Our collection of off-prints brings surprises and memories every time a foray is made into them. Here is a particularly memorable one from Andrew Lossky. Alexandra Lublinskaya and I exchanged our books, and John Elliott facilitated the translation and publication of her French Absolutism.... by Cambridge University Press.         OAR


Historians of medieval and modern Europe have suffered a grievous loss with the death of Alexandra Dmitrievna Lublinskaya, who died of a heart attack on January 22, 1980, shortly after taking part in a defence of a doctoral thesis at the Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences in Leningrad.

Alexandra Dmitrievna was born in 1902, a daughter of the Rev. Dmitri Stefanovitch, a historian of the Russian Church, who was made, in 1911, rector of St. Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg. She enrolled in the Petrograd University, where she attended the courses of the noted medievalists I.M. Grevs, L.P. Karsavin, and Olga Dobiache-Rozhdestvenskaya, a disciple of Ferdinand Lot. It was Professor Dobiache who soon recognized the talents of her student and put her, in 1922, on the staff of the Public Library with its rich collection of medieval West European manuscripts. This was fortunate, for soon thereafter regular teaching of history was discontinued in Russian universities, not to be revived until 1935. At the Public Library, Alexandra Dmitrievna, under the guidance of Dobiache, fully developed her talents as a paleographer. The features peculiar to this science ­ attention to minute detail that often leads to a significant discovery ­ put a special imprint on all her subsequent scholarly work. In the 1930's she began to teach courses in West European paleography in the Leningrad University, and in 1949 was appointed to the chair of Medieval History. Eight years later she joined the Institute of History in the Academy of Sciences, while continuing her active involvement in the life of the Leningrad University.

The scholarly output of Professor Lublinskaya comprises close to 200 publications dealing with a great variety of topics. It is quite impossible to do justice to them all in this short review. Very roughly they can be subsumed under three categories: works on paleography, critical publication of historical documents, and monographs and articles on the social and political history of medieval and early modern France. It should be noted that in the periodization of history commonly accepted in the Soviet universities, the "Middle Ages" extend to mid-seventeenth century. One of the results of Lublinskaya's many years of paleographic studies was the publication, in 1969, by her and several of her disciples of a manual on Latin paleography from the first century to the eighteenth. This textbook is a model of clarity and conciseness; its chronological and geographical breadth is quite unusual in works of this sort.

During her work in the Leningrad Public Library, Mrs. Lublinskaya began a systematic study of the Dubrovsky Manuscript Collection housed in it since 1805. This collection comprises over 14,000 documents dealing with France, Italy, Spain, England, Germany and other countries from the 13th century to the 18th. P.P. Dubrovsky, a secretary of the Russian legation in Paris, acquired in 1791-92 a mass of manuscript materials from the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, among them many of the papers from the collections of Achille de Harlay and of Chancellor Séguier. The Harlay collection contains a large number of letters from the official correspondence of Catherine de Medici and of Constable Anne de Montmorency. In 1962 Lublinskaya published 128 documents from this collection under the title Documents pour servir à l'histoire des gueres civiles en France (1561-1563). These documents fully vindicate the views of L. Romier and R. Mandrou that the Wars of Religion had started much before the "Vassy Massacre" of March 1562; they also reveal the impotence of royal government in those years.

The Séguier papers have enabled Lublinskaya to direct the publication of 587 official letters addressed to the Chancellor from the provinces between 1633 and 1649. They have appeared under the title Vnutrenniaia Politika Frantsuzskogo Absolutizma, 1633-1649 ("Internal policies of French absolutism," 2 vols., published in 1966 and 1980, the second one posthumously. Of these letters, 359 are from Languedoc, Provence, and Dauphiné (Vol. I). These two volumes are a necessary complement to the two volumes of Lettres et mémoires adressés au chancellier Séguier drawn from the Parisian archives and published by R. Mousnier in 1964. These documents contain much information on the functions and activities of the intendants; they also tend to show that the Fronde in the provinces was in full swing for a number of years before 1648.

In 1791, Count P.A. Stroganov acquired in Paris a large number of documents from the former collection of First President Guillaume de Lamoignon. Since 1929 the Stroganov papers have been housed in the State Archives of Historical Documents (Arkhiv Drevnikh Aktov) in Moscow. These Lamoignon papers contain well over 4,000 diplomatic dispatches addressed to Henry II and Constable Montmorency from Italy and Turkey in 1547-59, as well as some of the drafts of the king's and Montmorency's letters. In 1963 Lublinskaya directed the publication of 146 of these documents dated from April 1547 to early June 1548 (Documents pour servir à l'histoire des guerres d'Italie, 1547-1548). Since the middle of the eighteenth century no one has used this part of the Lamoignon Collection and it was believed to have been lost. Attempts to reconstruct French foreign policy in Italy during the reign of Henry II have so far had to rely mainly on materials available in the various Italian archives. Thus Lublinskaya's publication goes far to fill a significant lacuna in the sources available to us. Among other things, the documents published by her disprove L. Romier's contentions about the basically peaceful nature of Henry II's and Montmorency's policy in Italy. Mrs. Lublinskaya's letters to me indicate that she was preparing to publish some of the same collection of letters of 1552-53, covering the beginning of the Sienese War; let us hope that this volume will appear soon.

In the course of her research at the Leningrad Public Library Professor Lublinskaya's interests came to center more on France of the first half of the seventeenth century. Her magnum opus was to be a new history of the administration of Richelieu. In her letters and conversations she came to refer to him simply as "the Cardinal." She soon realized that the Cardinal did not appear on the state like a deus ex machina in 1624, and that a thorough re-examination of the years before his rise to power was essential for a proper understanding of his role. This is the origin of her book Frantsiia v nachale XVII veka (1610-1622 gg.) ­ "France at the beginning of the 17th century, 1610-1620" ­ published in 1959. In it she presents much that is new, but perhaps the most original feature of this work is the detection of persistent continuity in the policies followed by Marie de Medicis's and Louis XIII's governments through all the many changes and chaos of the years she examines. It was this line of policy that Richelieu was later to pick up and make his own. Lublinskaya's book has been translated into English by Mr. Brian Pearce, but this translation has yet to find a publisher.

A book on French absolutism in the first third of the 17th century followed in 1965; skillfully translated by Mr. Pearce it appeared in English in 1968 under the title French Absolutism: the Crucial Phase, 1620-1629. In the first two chapters of it, Lublinskaya subjects the varioius theories of the "general crisis of the 17th century" to trenchant criticism. (Later, in a letter to me, of April 29, 1977, she says: "As for that term 'crisis' it simply begins to irritate me by its indefinite and airy quality. Soon it will appear that all the countries and all of Europe in the 16th-18th centuries did nothing crawl from one crisis to another, leaving rest periods of 4-5 years between them.") In the rest of this book Lublinskaya picks up the theme of her preceding volume and carries it to the fall of Huguenot resistance in La Rochelle; Richelieu is organically tiedin with his predecessors. She devotes especial attention to the Assembly of Notables of 1626-27 which is usually treated rather offhandedly, because the tangible results of its deliberations on reform were so meagre. This is precisely the reason why this assembly was so important, not just because it proved to the king's government the uselessness of such gatherings, but because it thwarted Richelieu's favourite scheme of reforming government finance by redeeming the royal domain and forced the Cardinal to relay on the taille and other traditional taxes to pay for his ever more expensive policies. The consequences for French society were incalculable. Incidentally, Lublinskaya shows that it was not the extravagance of the court, but the military establishment that was mainly responsible for draining the treasury.

Fortunately, just before her death, Lublinskaya managed to complete the third volume in her Richelieu series, covering the years 1630-42. I understand that it consists of four chapters: 1. Financial structure of French absolutism; 2. Finances, 1630-42; 3. Popular commotions; 4. French absolutism and its class nature. The appendix contains 25 letters from Richelieu and to him. Let us hope that this volume will soon see the light of day.

Another major work recently published by Lublinskaya is her Frantsuzskie krest'iane v XVI-XVIII vv. ("French peasants in the 16th-18th centuries") which appeared in 1978. It deals mainly with problems of peasant agriculture and economy, with the nature of peasant communities, and with peasant leasehold. It is quite impossible to do justice here to all of Lublinskaya's monographs, articles, and other contributions to scholarly publications that appeared in Russian, French, and other languages. Most of them deal with France from the ninth century to the eighteenth and reflect the great variety of her interests: the nature and typology of feudalism and of absolutism, institutions of central government and of local self-government ­ she liked to stress the importance of the survival of provincial estates in France ­ peasant communes, problems of finance and of land-holding, political and social ideas of individuals and groups, personal character of key people.

The salient characteristic of Lublinskaya's scholarship is her dislike of schematic generalizations. What matters most for her is the significant concrete detail that opens up new perspectives; this is evident even in her writings on the peasants, on social movements, or on the typology of absolutism ­ subject that so often call forth sweeping abstract generalizations having little to do with real life. She embodied in herself what has been best in Russian historical scholarship: its universalism, its wide erudition, and its scrupulous attention to sources, enabling it to penetrate the innermost recesses of other times and other lands.

Mrs Lublinskaya had a highly developed aesthetic sense. In examining the portraits of historical personages she would detect the peculiar details that reveal the person's character, and her comments on them, as on everything else, were invariably peppered with a sense of humor. Talking long walks in the country, she noticed the color of every leaf, the scent of every flower, and the condition of every field, forest, or meadow; this attention to nature colours her treatment of peasant economy. But she was most at home in Leningrad ­ that quintessence of eighteenth-century Europe ­ in which she knew and loved every stone, and whose orderly and majestic beauty she liked to show to visitors whom she took on long walks.

A person of boundless energy, Mrs. Lublinskaya gave freely of herself to her students and to her many friends, offering them valuable advice and generous criticism. It is gratifying to know that many of her former students are acquitting themselves worthily in continuing the work so ably performed by her.

In writing this valedictory salute to an old friend I seek to repay a small part of the debt that many of us owe her for the inspiration she provided. I also have another, very personal reason: when on that November night in 1922, our family, driven into exile abroad by government decree, was being loaded aboard ship in Petrograd, Miss Alexandra Dmitrievna Stefanovich was one of those who came to bid us adieu on the pier. Civic courage was not the least of the virtues of this grande dame of Russian scholarship.

Andrew Lossky