- Салон В. П. Мещерского: Патронат и посредничество в России рубежа ХIХ–ХХ вв
M. M. Leonov's The Salon of V. P. Meshchersky: Patronage and Brokerage in Russia at the Turn of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries is an important addition to studies of Silver Age elite Russian society. Leonov's work displays a refreshing interest in the complexity of salon interactions, and offers potential for speaking to many questions of late imperial Russia. As a social history, the book offers a thorough microhistory of the networking within one specific noble salon. Although Leonov's monograph leaves the reader with several questions, his chief point – that the salons served an important role as a networking site between the bureaucracy and the social elite – is quite convincing.
Leonov's book is situated against modern Russian imperial historiography that looks beyond the traditional suggestion of Russia's "special path" and instead closely examines interactions [End Page 521] between society and government. As historians have considered nineteenth-century Russian history more carefully and compared Russia with Western Europe, he argues, they have seen the noble salon as an example of Russia's "European" qualities (Pp. 10, 13). Scholars have done little with the change in salons over time (from literary to political in focus), he argues, and so have overlooked the full extent of the Silver Age salon's power. To remedy this oversight, Leonov discusses the salon of Prince Vladimir Petrovich Meshchersky (1839–1914) of Petersburg. The prince, who frequently held a favored position in the courts of Alexander III and Nicholas II, simultaneously ran a Wednesday salon and his own publishing career, represented by his journal, Grazhdanin, among other works. Although notorious due to his sexual history (as a homosexual man, he was alleged to have participated in various scandals), Meshchersky's influence at court was quite significant, making his an excellent example of the salon at full power.
That salon was marked, Leonov shows, by a network of relationships. Inspired by both historiography on west European courts and sociological studies (especially Jeremy Boissevain's Friends of Friends: Networks, Manipulators, and Coalitions (Oxford, 1978)), Leonov seeks to show three relationships in Meshchersky's salon life: that of the patrons, the brokers, and the clients (Pp. 20-22). The simplest explanation of this would be to show, as Leonov does, Meshchersky acting as a social broker and putting forward the requests of his clients (for a job, for example) to his patrons (including tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II). But Leonov's analysis goes much deeper than that, and reflects the complexity of salon life.
Leonov makes this argument across five chapters, covering various sides of Meshchersky's life, based largely on archival documents (letters and diaries, in particular) and published works (memoirs, Meshchersky's public writings, and the articles of Grazhdanin). These chapters reflect the extent of Meshchersky's power, rippling out from the source of his power, his connection with the autocracy. In the first section, "A Court Man," Leonov discusses the roots of Meshchersky's relationship with the last tsars. As a personal associate of the tsars, he had his hand "on the pulse" of government politics (P. 52). His acquaintance with the crown provided a boost to Meshchersky's salon – he could attract powerful guests, which in turn made his salon more sought after. Whereas the classic image of the Russian noble salon reflected a literary audience (particularly early in the century), Meshchersky's took on a distinctly political cast, [End Page 522] as government officials mingled with socially and culturally prominent private citizens. Meanwhile, the tsar, whether Alexander III or Nicholas II, respected Meshchersky's salon as a place to test ideas or questions in an informal atmosphere (P. 57). So influential was the salon that politicians from across the political spectrum sought entry, both conservative politicians and liberals, including Sergei Witte, who actively cultivated him.
The salon, under Meshchersky's guidance, therefore served multiple parties: those currying favor with the government, social elites wanting to exert influence on the government (including Meshchersky himself), and the autocratic government itself. His salon was recognized by the last tsars as highly beneficial: Meshchersky's journal was subsidized...