Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 5.4 (2004) 779-790
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In introducing the 18th-century Dmitrov merchant and diarist Ivan Alekseevich Tolchenov, David Ransel reminded readers that only a handful of diaries survive from Russian merchants of this era, handicapping our understanding of their values and self-consciousness.1 If Tolchenov developed an articulated individuality, relied on an extensive network of friends, kin, and colleagues, and demonstrated a penchant for conspicuous charity and equally conspicuous consumption, whether he was unusual in these respects is difficult to know; most of his equals neglected to leave any record of "self-fashioning."2 Even among the diaries and memoirs that survive it is difficult to discern a "social personality" or self-conscious biography from the bare-bones chronicle style usually featured in these texts.3 [End Page 779]
Nataliia Vadimovna Kozlova, author of an earlier volume that examined the relationship between Russia's 18th-century merchantry and the state,4 offers here a different set of sources with which to probe the values and identities of Russia's 18th-century merchants and their fellow urbanites. Kozlova examined the archives of the Moscow Gorodovoimagistrat (Town Magistracy), the Iustits-Kollegiia (Justice College), and the Krepostnoiprikaz (Documents Chancellery) to present 383 previously unpublished documents that originated with 18th-century Muscovites. Just over half (197) of the documents represent wills or abstracts of wills, and approximately 60 percent of these come from the hands of Moscow merchants and their wives, widows, and daughters (women agents figure in more than a quarter of the texts). The remaining testaments record the last dispositions of lesser townsfolk, including some foreigners, clerics, and chancellery personnel. Marriage contracts (sgovornye zapisi) account for about a quarter (104) of Kozlova's collection, and various property arrangements comprise approximately a fifth (82) of the total.
Sadly, the chronological distribution of the documents does not represent the entire 18th century equally. As Kozlova herself points out (11), approximately 85 percent of the texts come from the first half of the century, and most of those from the first quarter. A few years, like 1727 and 1728, claim disproportionately large shares of the whole (28 and 25 documents, respectively), while other years have no representatives whatsoever. Three-quarters of the marriage agreements produced here date to the first three decades of the century, and over 90 percent of the miscellaneous property arrangements originated in the 1720s, leaving whole decades unattested and unrepresented.
A further disadvantage to exploiting these materials is that the documents that Kozlova publishes here are not the originals, but rather copies or extracts of the originals entered into state registers, as Petrine legislation increasingly required. Threatening to withhold legal recognition from documents not entered in chancellery registers, a series of laws required citizens to deliver to government copyists the originals of all private transactions.5 Some texts survive in complete form, but because the completeness of texts entered in registers depended on the size of fees collected, others seem more telegraphic, confirming only the most basic elements of the agreement and identifying principals and witnesses. [End Page 780]
Despite these limitations, Kozlova's collection offers fascinating material for a portrait of Moscow's urban society in the 18th century. The usual view of 18th- and early 19th-century Russian merchants has been that they identified too closely with the premodern world of Muscovite Russia, acting and even dressing the part of Muscovite tyrant rather than progressive liberal.6 Alfred Rieber, for example, characterized the merchantry of imperial Russia as having been dominated by "patriarchal authority, religious piety, and insecurity of status," a complex of values that "paralyzed independent action and retarded the development of political consciousness."7 By the final decades of the empire, however, the last representatives of Moscow's merchant elite had...