Михаил Петрович Драгоманов (1841-1895)

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Mykhaylo Drahomanov: A Symposium and Selected Writings, The Annals of the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences in the U.S., Vol. II, Spring, 1952, No. 1 (3), pp. 70-130.




Drahomanov's interest in Ukrainian folklore started in early childhood. His old nurse, Marynya, had told him fairy tales about animals in a lively and captivating manner; the boy servant, Kindrat, had been a master at telling epic tales of the battles of heroes with three-headed dragons, etc.; and Drahomanov's mother had told him many Ukrainian fairy tales and fables. Ukrainian folksongs were never lacking in the little thatched house in the town of Hadyach. The maids spun in their room with songs on their lips, and Mykhaylo Drahomanov's mother always sang folksongs while she worked at her sewing or embroidery. Drahomanov's family followed all the Ukrainian folk customs and observed the ceremonies, among which were the poetic Christmas rites with the beautiful Christmas carols. Drahomanov's father noted down Ukrainian folksongs and was in close touch with A. Metlynsky and M. Makarovsky, Ukrainian writers and folklorists who had been born in Hadyach.1 His childhood impressions gave Drahomanov the first stimulus to interest in Ukrainian folklore.

In 1867, together with a few friends, Drahomanov started the preparatory work for the publication of collections of Ukrainian folk literature. This resulted in two books of fairy tales and two books of songs. Two years later Drahomanov and the well-known historian V. Antonovych started to prepare a collection of Ukrainian political songs with a historical commentary. The first two volumes were published in Kiev in 1874 and 1875 and were entitled Historical Songs of the Little Russian People, with Notes by V. Antonovych and M. Drahomanov. The first volume covered the period of the princes (10th to 15th centuries) and songs from the Cossack period during the struggle against the Turks and the Tatars; the second was devoted to the struggle against the Poles up to the death of Bohdan Khmelnytsky in 1657.

Drahomanov took an active interest in the work of the Southwestern Section of the Russian Geographical Society, organized in 1872, which had become the center of Ukrainian scientific activity. From separate and uncoordinated publications, these Ukrainian scholars proceeded to systematize the ethnographic material gathered from the Ukrainian oral tradition, and to publish definitive editions of folklore material. The newest West European methods were applied to the study of these materials. The most outstanding member of this research group was M. Drahomanov. Thus from the study of ancient history and of Indo-European mythology, he came to Slavic ethnography and then to his own people's folklore. This study had considerable influence on the development of Drahomanov's political views:

The study of our rich and beautiful Ukrainian folk literature, and especially of those songs which reflect the political history of the Ukrainian people as they themselves told it, brought me to love my people deeply and to feel in myself all the particularities of the Ukrainian cause in Russia and in Austria-Hungary.2

The volumes of Historical Songs edited by Antonovych and Drahomanov have an unusual place among the publications on Ukrainian folklore. The authors undertook the enormous task of collecting all the variations of the songs, comparing them, and giving a scholarly commentary citing historical evidence. Moreover, in using other collections, it was necessary to eliminate falsified and counterfeit texts from the authentic material. The accomplishment of this vast and delicate work gave honor to both men.

Many amateur correspondents contributed songs. Among these were the country intelligentsia and students. With enthusiasm they noted down the historical songs in their villages, on the farms, at fairs, in the fields, at weddings, and so on. It was a truly popular undertaking, carried out with energy and animation, and it gave the people a chance to express themselves about the past and to declare their historical right to the country, against the pretensions of the Russian and Polish imperialists.3

Drahomanov's work on these historical songs had a political meaning also. He believed that for an illiterate person a song plays the same role that a book does for the literate one, perhaps an even more important one, since the illiterate keeps a song in his memory, not on paper. If a song is remembered by thousands of people, it must have made a special impression on them. Drahomanov considered historical songs to be one of the most important means of understanding the popular opinion on Ukrainian history. He believed that the songs still current gave a key to Ukrainian social history. Historical Songs evoked an appreciative response abroad. The famous French scholar Rambaud noted that, thanks to this work, the membra disjecta of the Ukrainian nation were being reunited.

The proposed continuation of the Historical Songs (from the death of Khmelnytsky in 1657 to the first destruction of the Zaporozhian Sich in 1709) contained much very interesting material, but it never saw the light of day. There were new persecutions of the Ukrainian movement -- the ukase of 1876 prohibiting the use of the Ukrainian language in publications, the closing of the Southwestern Section of the Geographical Society, and the complete impossibility of providing an objective commentary because of increasingly strict censorship -- and Drahomanov was forced to leave the country. Later part of this material was published abroad in two volumes entitled Political Songs of the Ukrainian People, Geneva, 1883 and 1885. This project demanded considerable effort.4 Drahomanov even had to overcome the objections of his compatriots, who considered this work politically inopportune. However, Drahomanov thought that the publication of the Political Songs, as well as of the works of the great Ukrainian poet Shevchenko, without distortion by the censor, was of first-rate importance in the Ukrainian people's struggle for national freedom. After various preparatory essays, Drahomanov intended to write a complete history of Ukrainian folk literature, which was to form a considerable part of his proposed crowning work: A History of Civilization in the Ukraine. In a letter to political friends he wrote:

I said that I would consider it my greatest happiness if I could write the history of civilization in the Ukraine in a truly European way . . . , my work on the songs and other monuments of folk literature I consider as an introduction to this.5

Drahomanov tried to cast an objective light on historical events in the Ukraine of the 18th century. The folksongs from this period could not be published in Russia because in these the people depicted their oppression by the Russian government and protested against serfdom. That is why Drahomanov was so eager for the publication of these songs abroad.

I would absolutely not agree to cut this volume for the censor, or send it to a certain death at his hands, because this contains the most striking political songs of the most striking political period of our history.6

Surmounting the passivity of his compatriots, overcoming technical handicaps, sacrificing his health, depriving his family of their scanty means, Drahomanov continued his work and crowned it with three new volumes. They were Political Songs of the Ukrainian People, 18th and 19th Centuries in two volumes, the first covering the Zaporozhe from 1709 to 1739, and the second the territory of the Hetmanate and the Slobidska Ukraine from 1709 to 1765, and New Ukrainian Songs on Social Matters (1764-1880). Songs about the destruction of the Zaporozhian Sich; about forced labor under the tsars digging canals and building St. Petersburg amidst the swamps, where thousands of Ukrainians perished; songs the haydamaks, the peasants uprising against their enslavers; songs about serfdom; about the long hard twenty-five years of military service; all are presented in these works. Drahomanov's historical explanations give them added value.

In his New Ukrainian Songs on Social Matters Drahomanov uses the evidence of folklore to prove the existence of the Ukrainian nationality and of national unity in the whole ethnographic area from the Tisa to the Kuban, a unity which existed in spite of the division by State frontiers. Although they were Orthodox as were the Russians, the Ukrainians in the Russian empire had their own way of life and their own customs. They were not easily assimilated by the Russians, even in the provinces of Kursk and Voronezh, where the two peoples meet. On the other hand, peoples who did not rule over the Ukrainians, such as the Byelorussians and the Slovaks, mixed readily with them. The Ukrainians in areas contiguous to the Slovaks were ready to adopt Slovak customs and dress, and the Byelorussians took much from the Ukrainians. Drahomanov said:

It is necessary to add that although the Ukrainians keep themselves a nationality separate from those that dominate them, on the other hand, as even foreign investigators say, they do not despise foreign nationalities or the customs of peoples who live among them, as long as these live peacefully and do not oppress them.7

In comparing Ukrainian songs to the Russian, Drahomanov pointed out some characteristic differences. In the Ukrainian songs there is no monarchism, no feeling of loyalty to the dynasty, whereas the Russian songs continually praise the tsar.

In analyzing the songs of the second half of the nineteenth century, Drahomanov came to the conclusion that the Ukrainian songs, even those of the soldiers, are superior to the Russian ones in their moral tone. Russian soldier songs are noted for their roughness and immorality.

Since, until the eighteenth century, the Ukrainian people moved along with the current of European civilization, Drahomanov concluded his New Songs on Social Matters by pointing to the necessity of making the Ukrainian people known to the European world. He called upon the Ukrainians to turn to Western Europe and Western European culture.

Only the quasi-impenetrability of the Russian frontier and the denationalization of the Ukrainian upper classes succeeded, from the eighteenth century on, in dividing the Ukrainians from the European world. However, even now the influence of enlightened European thought can still be found in the strivings of the Ukrainian peasantry. The time has come when we must use all our strength to bring modern European education and culture to the Ukraine. At the same time we must present the ideas and aims of the Ukrainian peasants to the European world, which will certainly once again acknowledge the Ukrainians as brothers.8


Drahomanov was a sharp critic of those students of Ukrainian folklore who did not make use of European studies in the field, and therefore could not use a comparative method. He himself tried to study ancient Ukrainian literature and folklore from all angles. In a letter to his sister, the well-known writer and ethnographer Olena Pchilka, Drahomanov wrote that in studying the puppet theater he examined and analyzed all variations, then looked for parallels in European literatures.

That is why I decided to compare in detail the texts of our mystery plays and interludes with the Polish, German, and Latin ones, in order to establish which were the closest relations. In addition, I compare them with the French, Provencal, Italian, Spanish, and Dutch ones, so as to see exactly the national particularities of our versions.9

In these words Drahomanov sketched his scientific methods. In 1874 Drahomanov outlined his theory at the Archeological Congress in Kiev, in a report on the first version of his important work on the Oedipus legend, on which he was to work for over twenty years.

Folk literature is considered one of the most fruitful sources for the study of the life and character of a people. But folk poetry can be a useful source only when studied with the help of suitable historical and comparative methods. Folk poetry may be compared with the layers of the earth's crust. Every epoch, like the influences of neighboring peoples, leaves behind its traces. Unless each influence is identified, you cannot use folk poetry to characterize a people's past and present way of life.10

In his research Drahomanov paid special attention to those subjects which it had hitherto been impossible to place in a definite historical epoch and social and political world outlook. After familiarizing himself with the scientific works of Pypin, Benfey, Max Miller, and others, Drahomanov used their scientific methods for the study of Ukrainian folklore. Comparative historical criteria made it possible for him to explain the evolution of a given subject and to identify the borrowed and the original elements.

Only when our people's literature has been explored by the method of international comparison will it be possible to speak exactly of its national element.11

In such research the discovery of the channels through which the motifs of these works came to the Ukraine is very important. There were several such paths, although Benfey indicated only the one through Byzantium and the Slavic South. But Drahomanov showed a channel of West European influence from France, Germany, and Poland through the "Presov gates," the Ukrainians' point of contact with the Slovaks, through which a number of West European stories entered the Ukraine. In addition a mutual interchange of stories went on between the Ukrainians and their eastern neighbors in the Don region.12 The study of Bulgarian religious legends showed Drahomanov their amazing resemblance to the Ukrainian ones. As a result of this comparative study, he came to the conclusion that

the Bulgaria of the Bogomils [a Manichaean sect] served as a bridge for most of the Eastern legends which penetrated into Europe, especially to the Slav lands. Therefore the examination of Bulgarian legends is an indispensable preliminary to the understanding of Ukrainian folklore.13

Drahomanov discovered yet another channel, a south-eastern one from southern Asia through western Siberia or the Caucasus. In one of his interesting scholarly works, "The Tale of Sholudyvy Bunyaka," Drahomanov established that the Ukrainian version of this legend was nearer

to the Mongolian version than to the European ones, including that of the Serbs, who are near the Ukraine and of the same racial stock. Evidently this can only be explained by the fact that this fairy tale came to us not from Europe but from Asia, by means of the meeting of the tribes which took place on our steppes in the Middle Ages.14

Using the comparative historical method, Drahomanov criticized the conclusions of those Ukrainian folklorists who frequently claimed national originality where this was not justified. Drahomanov refuted these erroneous opinions and proved that many folklore subjects are common to a great many peoples.

In the second half of the 19th century scholars such as Alexander Veselovsky, Vsevolod Miller, and V. Mansikka advanced the idea that oral folk poetry stemmed from church literature. They wanted to show that

all oral folk literature and the entire system of ethnographic folk-lorist symbolism presents nothing more than a reworking of medieval literary works. Thus the first place belongs not to oral literature as claimed by the romanticists, but to written literature. It is not the written literature which arises from the oral tradition, but the oral from the written.15

Drahomanov did not share this extremist point of view, but approached folklore without preconceptions and acknowledged the mutual influence of folklore and literature.

Especially in his last years, Drahomanov became more cautious about adopting the Benfey school of the migration of motifs, and was ready to consider the mythological-tribal school, and the anthropological school of Lang and Gedosa, acknowledging the useful application of each in its proper place.16

After analyzing these three methods and characterizing them briefly, Drahomanov came to the following conclusion:

It is true that all three scientific approaches have a rational foundation and that they should not be considered to invalidate each other, but each should be applied suitably. . . . In order not to be carried away by doctrinarism or to be willing to accept strained explanations, it is necessary, in comparative investigations, to give great attention not only to the motif of the story, but also to the details: the development of the theme, the indications of the way of life, geographical and historical clues, moralistic tendencies, etc. Comparing the details of the different versions among different peoples must lead to the discovery of the paths by which a story spread, of the reasons for the alterations, and, finally, of the time and place of its creation. In this the investigator will be satisfied only when he can demonstrate that the theme and details of the version which he considers the original correspond to the geographical, social, and moral conditions of a definite country in a definite epoch. Such an investigation may reveal that at its origin the motif of a story is derived from an ancient cosmic myth, while its transformations in other periods and countries may well have ethical and even social tendencies worked in.17

As a folklorist Drahomanov is notable for his remarkable critical analyses of folklore material, his wide comparative study made possible by his erudition, his investigations of the differences and similarities in subjects that travelled from one people to another, and, finally, his search for that which was truly Ukrainian in the Ukrainian versions of subjects that had ranged the world.

As one of the leading authorities on Slavic folklore, Drahomanov was well-known among the European scholars of his time. His articles and memoranda appeared in many technical periodicals: Melusine, La Tradition, Archivo per le studio delle tradizioni popolari, etc. The London Athenaeum published an article by Drahomanov on the famous kobzar Veresay, "the last minstrel of the Ukraine." Reports by Drahomanov were read at the International Folklore Congresses in Paris (1889), London (1891), and Chicago, (1893), personally at the first and in absentia at the two latter. At the London Congress Drahomanov was elected to membership in the International Council of the Folklore Society, and at Chicago he was made an honorary member of the board of the Congress.18

After Drahomanov moved to Sofia in 1889 he had particularly close connections with the scholars in the young Bulgarian State. From- the scientific point of view Drahomanov had long been interested in Bulgarian folk literature. For instance in 1888 he had published a study, "Legendes pieuses des Bulgares" ("Pious Legends of the Bulgarians") in the Parisian Melusine. After he moved to Sofia he published a series of articles in Sbornik, the bulletin of the Bulgarian ministry of education. As he thankfully said:

Bulgaria has made it possible for me to return to teaching, which I love so much, and has given me an organ in which I can print my studies on Slavic, including Ukrainian, folk literature.19

Not only was Drahomanov a scholar with a European reputation, he also had the gift of presenting his knowledge interestingly in his university lectures. In his last years he taught in Sofia, where his Bulgarian students admired him very much. One of his students later said that "Drahomanov was the tsar of our school!" the president of the University stated that, "through his activity Drahomanov belongs not only to the Ukrainians, but also to the whole world."20


. 1 Cf. Olena Pchilka, "My Memories of M. Drahomanov," Ukrayina, I-II (Kiev, 1926).

2 M. Drahomanov, "Autobiography," Selected Works of M. Drahomanov, I (Prague, 1937), p. 63.

3 Cf. M. Hrushevsky "The Fiftieth Anniversary of Historical Songs of the Little Russian People by V. Antonovych and M. Drahomanov," Ukrayina (Kiev, 1925).

4 Cf. M. Voznyak, "Drahomanov's Mission Abroad," Ukrayina, I-II (Kiev, 1929).

5 Ukrainian Scientific Institute, ed., The Archives of M. Drahomanov (Warsaw, 1937), p. 333.

6 M. Voznyak, op. cit.

7 M. Drahomanov, New Ukrainian Songs on Social Matters (Geneva, 1881), p. 7.

8 Ibid., p. 131.

9 M. Drahomanov's letter to O. Pchilka of Nov. 24, 1880 in I. Tsyhanenko, "Three of M. Drahomanov's Literary Contacts in the 1880's," Literary Archives (Kharkiv, 1930).

10 "Slavic Versions of the Oedipus Story," The Collected Studies of M. Drahomanov in Ukrainian Folklore and Literature, IV (Lviv, 1907), p. 143.

11 "The Puppet Comedy in the Ukraine," Collected Studies, I (Lviv, 1889), ap. 144-145.

12 Collected Studies, I, p. 136.

13 M. Drahomanov, "Autobiography," Selected Works of M. Drahomanov, I (Prague, 1937), p. 84.

14 Collected Studies, IV.

15 V. Petrov, "Methodological and Philosophical Tendencies in Ukrainian Ethnography," Ukrainian Encyclopedia (Munich, 1949), p. 186.

16 Z. Kuzela and P. Odarchenko, "History of Ukrainian Ethnography," Ukrainian Encyclopedia (Munich, 1949), p. 189.

17 "Slavic Versions of the Oedipus Story," Collected Studies, IV, p. 7.

18 Cf. the supplement by P. B. (P. Bohatsky) to the "Autobiography" in The Selected Works of M. Drahomanov, I (Prague, 1937), p. 86.

19 Drahomanov's "Message on the Occasion of his Jubilee, December 16, 1894" in Selected Works, p. 91.

20 A. Arnaudov, M. Drahomanov, His Life and Ideas and His Importance for Bulgarian Folklore (Sofia, 1933)

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