To the coming of age of Peter the Great, 1689.
The influence of the Varegians in respect to the language, appears to have been inconsiderable; their own idiom on the contrary being soon absorbed by that of the natives. Rurik’s grandsons had already Slavic names. The principal event in those ancient times, and one which manifested its beneficent consequences in respect to civilization here, as every where, was the introduction of Christianity, towards the end of the tenth century. Vladimir the Great, the first Christian monarch, founded the first schools; Greek artists were called from Constantinople to embellish the newly erected churches at Kief; and poetry found a patron and at the same time her hero in Vladimir. Vladimir and his knights are the Russian Charlemagne and his peers, king Arthur and his Round table. Their deeds and exploits have proved a rich source for the popular tales and songs of posterity; and serve even now to give to the earlier age of Russian history a tinge of that romantic charm, of which the history of the middle ages is in general so utterly void. The establishment of Christianity was followed by the introduction of Cyril’s translation of the Scriptures and the liturgical books. The kindred language of these writings was intelligible to them; but was still distinct enough from the old Russian to permit them to exist side by side as two different languages; the one fixed and immovable, the voice of the Scriptures, the priests, and the laws; the other varying, advancing, extending, adapting itself to the progress of time.
That this latter, the genuine old Russian, had its poets, was, until the close of the last century, only known by historical tradition; no monument of them seemed to be left. But at that time, A.D. 1794, a Russian nobleman, Count Mussin-Pushkin, discovered the manuscript of an epic poem, ‘Igor’s Expedition against the Polovtzi,’ apparently not older than the twelfth century. It is a piece of national poetry of no common beauty, united with an equal share of power and gracefulness. But what strikes us even more than this, is, that we find in it no trace of that rudeness, which would naturally be expected in the production of a period when darkness still covered all eastern Europe, and of a poet belonging to a nation, which we have hardly longer than a century ceased to consider as barbarians! There hovers a spirit of meekness over the whole, which sometimes even seems to endanger the energy of the representation.
The genuineness of this poem has, so far as we know, never been questioned; but it is indeed a very surprising feature, that during the recent diligent search through all the libraries in the country after old manuscripts, not a single production has been discovered, which could in any way be compared with it. This remarkable poem stands in the history of ancient Russian literature perfectly isolated; and hence exhibits one of the most inexplicable riddles in literary history.