Two Letters of Mikhail Vasilevich Lomonosov (1711-1765) to his Patron, I. I. Shuvalov.

[excerpted from Anthology of Russian Literature From the Earliest Period to the Present Time, Leo Wiener, ed. and Tr. Pt. 1 (New York, 1902), pp. 242-246]


Dear Sir, Ivan Ivanovich: -- Your Excellency's kind consideration in honouring me with a letter assures me, to my great joy, of your unchanged feelings to me, and this I have for many years regarded as one of my great fortunes. How could the august generosity of our incomparable Empress, which I enjoy through your fatherly intercession, divert me from my love and zeal to the sciences, when extreme poverty, which I have endured voluntarily for the sake of science, has not been able to distract me from it ? Let not your Excellency think it self-praise in me, if I am bold to present to you my defence.

When I was studying in the School of the Redeemer, I was surrounded on all sides with powerful obstacles that made against science, and in those years the influence of these tendencies was almost insurmountable. On the one hand, my father, who had never had any other children but me, said that in leaving him I, being his only son, had left all his possessions (such as they were in those parts), which he had acquired for me in the sweat of his brow, and which strangers would carry away after his death. On the other hand, I was confronted with unspeakable poverty: as I received but three kopeks a day, all I dared spend a day for food was half a kopek for bread and half a kopek for kvas, while the rest went for paper, shoes and other necessities. In this way I passed five years, and did not abandon study. On the one hand, they wrote to me that, knowing the well-being of my father, well-to-do people of my village would give me their daughters in marriage, and in fact they proposed them to me, when I was there; on the other hand, the small schoolboys pointed their fingers at me, and cried: " Look at the clodhopper who has come to study Latin at the age of twenty!" Soon after that I was taken to St. Petersburg, and was sent abroad, receiving an allowance forty times as large as before. But that did not divert my attention from study, but proportionately increased my eagerness, though there is a limit to my strength. I most humbly beg your Excellency to feel sure that I will do all in my power to cause all those who ask me to be wary in my zeal to have no anxiety about me, and that those who judge me with malicious envy should be put to shame in their unjust opinion, and should learn that they must not measure others with their yardstick, and should also remember that the Muses love whom they list.

If there is anyone who persists in the opinion that a learned man must be poor, I shall quote on his side Diogenes, who lived in a barrel with dogs, and left his countrymen a few witticisms for the increase of their pride; on the other side I shall mention Newton, the rich Lord Boyle, who had acquired all his glory in the sciences through the use of a large sum of money; Wolff, who with his lectures and presents had accumulated more than five hundred thousand, and had earned, besides, a baronetcy; Sloane, in England, who bad left such a library that no private individual was able to purchase it, and for which Parliament gave twenty thousand pounds. I shall not fail to carry out your commands, and remain with deep respect your Excellency's most humble servant, Mikhaylo Lomonosov. St. Petersburg, May 10, 1753.


Dear Sir, Ivan Ivanovich: -- I received yesterday your Excellency's letter of May 24th, in which I see an unchangeable token of your distinguished favour to me, and which has greatly pleased me, especially because you have deigned to express your assurance that I would never abandon the sciences. I do not at all wonder at the judgment of the others, for they really have had the example in certain people who, having barely opened for themselves the road to fortune, have at once set out on other paths and have sought out other means for their farther advancement than the sciences, which they have entirely abandoned; their patrons ask little or nothing of them, and are satisfied with their mere names, not like your Excellency who ask for my works in order to judge me. In these above-mentioned men, who in their fortune have abandoned science, all can easily perceive that all they know is what they have acquired in their infancy under the rod, and that they have added no new knowledge since they have had control of themselves. But it has been quite different with me (permit me, dear sir, to proclaim the truth not for the sake of vainglory, but in order to justify myself): my father was a good-hearted man, but he was brought up in extreme ignorance; my step-mother was an evil and envious woman, and she tried with all her might and main to rouse my father's anger by representing to him that I eternally wasted my time with books; so I was frequently compelled to read and study anything that fell into my hands, in lonely and deserted places, and to suffer cold and hunger, until I went to the School of the Redeemer.

Now that I have, through your fatherly intercession, a complete sufficiency from her august Imperial Highness, and your approbation of my labours, and that of other experts and lovers of the sciences, and almost their universal delight in them, and finally no longer a childish reasoning of an imperfect age, - how could I in my manhood disgrace my early life ? But I shall stop troubling your patience with these considerations, knowing your just opinion. of me. So I shall report to your Excellency that which your praiseworthy zeal wishes to know of the sciences.

First, as to electricity: There have lately been made here two important experiments, one by Mr. Richmann by means of the apparatus, the other by me in the clouds. By the first it was proved that Musschenbroek's experiment with a strong discharge can be transferred from place to place, separating it from the apparatus for a considerable distance, even as much as half a mile. The second. experiment was made on my lightning apparatus, when, without any perceptible thunder or lightning, on the 25th of April, the thread was repelled from the iron rod and followed my hand; and on the 28th of the same month, during the passage of a raincloud without any perceptible thunder or lightning, there were loud discharges from the lightning apparatus, with bright sparks and a crackling that could be heard from a great distance. This has never been noticed before, and it agrees completely with my former theory of heat and my present one of the electric power, and this will serve me well at the next public lecture. This lecture I shall deliver in conjunction with Professor Richmann: he will present his experiments, and I shall illustrate the theory and usefulness arising from them; I am now preparing for this lecture.

As to the second part of the text-book on eloquence, it is well on its way, and I hope to have it printed by the end of October. I shall use all my endeavour to have it out soon; I do not send your Excellency any manuscript of it, as you have asked for printed sheets. As I have promised, I am also using all my endeavour in regard to the first volume of the Russian History, so as to have it ready in manuscript by the new year. From him who delivers lectures in his subject, who makes new experiments, delivers public lectures and dissertations, and besides composes all kinds of verses and projects for solemn expressions of joy; who writes out the rules of eloquence for his native language and a history of his country, which, at that, he has to furnish for a certain date, -- I cannot demand anything more, and I am ready to be patient with him, provided something sensible will result in the end.

Having again and again convinced myself that your Excellency likes to converse about science, I eagerly await a pleasant meeting with you, in order to satisfy you with my latest endeavours, for it is not possible to communicate them all to you at a distance. I cannot see when I shall be able to arrange, as I had promised, the optical apparatus in your Excellency's house, for there are no floors, nor ceilings, nor staircases in it yet, and I lately walked around in it with no small degree of danger to myself. The electric balls I shall send you, as you wish, without delay, as soon as possible. I must inform your Excellency that there is here a great scarcity in mechanics, so that I have not been able to get anywhere, not even at your estate, a joiner for any money, to build me an electric apparatus, so that up to the present I have been making use, instead of a terrestrial machine, of the clouds, to which I have had a pole erected from the roof. Whatever instruments your Excellency may need, I be- you to permit me to report in the office of the Academy in your name that the orders for them should be given to the mechanics, or else the business will be endlessly prolonged. In fine, I remain, with the expression of deep respect, your most humble and faithful servant, Mikhaylo Lomonosov. St. Petersburg, May 31, 1753.