Alexander Herzen

Alexander Herzen

Alexander Herzen (1812, Moscow – 1870, Paris) was a famous Russian writer, public figure, and philosopher. He was the illegitimate son of landowner Ivan Yakovlev and 16-year old Henriette Wilhelmina Luisa Haag, daughter of a German minor official from the treasury chamber in Stuttgart. As the child was born out of wedlock, his father had to invent a family name for him. He chose Herzen (meaning “heart” in German).

Moscow played an important role in Herzen’s life. Even now, there are quite a few places in the capital where the memory of him lives on. One of the main addresses is Herzen’s HouseRussian: Dom Gertsena or Дом Герцена near the ArbatRussian: Арбат, where he spent four years with his family before they eventually moved to Europe.


1891_image2_sOne of Herzen’s best-known addresses is a house in Tverskoy Boulevard (25, Tverskoy boulevardRussian: Tverskoy bulvar or Тверской бульвар). This is senator A. Yakovlev’s house, who was A. Herzen’s uncle on his father’s side. The house was built in the 18th century in the form of a town mansion and was later rebuilt by A. Kaminsky. A. Herzen was born here in 1812 (during the war with Napoleon) and it is here, too, where he spent the first five months of his life. Herzen’s father later became one of the “parliamentaries” whom Napoleon sent to the Russian government to hold peace negotiations. Herzen mentions this fact in the first volume of his memoirs “My Past and ThoughtsRussian: Byloe i Dumy or Былое и думы”.

Today Muskovites call the house on Tverskoy Boulevard ‘Herzen’s House’. As an adult, Herzen came to this house to visit his cousin. Later the house was owned by diplomat D. Sverbeev. In the mid-19th century it hosted Sverbeev’s FridaysRussian: Sverbeevskie pyatnitsy or Свербеевские пятницы – one of many literary salons which existed at that time. Philosophers and writers P. Chaadaev, K. Aksakov, and Y. Baratynsky also visited it at various times.

1892_image3_sIn his father’s house, young Herzen read 18th century French books of the enlightenment period. It was there too that he first started to contemplate political events: “The execution of Pestela Russian revolutionary and ideologue of the Decembrists and his comrades woke my soul from its childish dreams for good”. At present, this old building is occupied by the Maksim Gorky Literature InstituteRussian: Literaturnyi institut im. M. Gorkogo or Литературный институт им. М. Горького – a treasure trove of national literary talent.

A monument to A. Herzen was erected in the courtyard of the institute in 1959. It was created by sculptor M. Milberger and architect K. Sapegin. The bronze monument faces Tverskoy boulevard and is placed on a base of black polished granite. In his left hand, Herzen is holding an issue of “KolokolRussian: Колокол”, a social and political newspaper he published, strongly denouncing serfdom and the monarchy in Russia. The publishing of this paper brought him fame in Europe.

Along with the heritage of world-famous people and great museums, there are many sights in Moscow, which are not so popular, but still very remarkable. Beautiful temples in the Orthodox style, the unusual architecture of the Russian Middle Ages or the recent Soviet era, ballet and drama theaters – on our website you can learn more about Moscow attractions.


One of A. Herzen’s addresses in Moscow was the Levashovs’ estate in PokrovkaRussian: Покровка (13, Armyansky side streetRussian: Armyanskiy pereulok or Армянский переулок, 1, Pokrovka street). The estate changed hands several times; the Golitsyns, the Khitrovos, and others owning it during different periods. In 1818-1821 it was rented by Herzen’s father Ivan Yakovlev. The writer’s uncle Lev lived in this house too. “It was a common household, the estate was inseparable, and a huge number of domestics inhabited the ground floor. The servants comprised 30 men and an almost equal number of women”. Later, in the early 20th century a shop was built running parallel to the facade of the building with its windows overlooking the street.

1894_image5_sFrom 1829 to 1833 Herzen studied at the Physical and Mathematical Sciences Department of Moscow UniversityRussian: Moskovskiy universitet or Московский университет (11, MokhovayaRussian: Моховая street).

«I owe so much to the university and lived its life and with it for so long after my graduation that I cannot recall it but with love and respect. It cannot blame me for lack of gratitude, at least, in relation to the university gratitude comes easily and is inseparable with love, the clear reminiscence of young development… and I bless it from the remote outland!”

It was as far back as during his university years that Herzen began his fight for liberation of the people. In particular, Herzen was a participant in the “Malov case”. Professor of the Department of Civil and Criminal Rights Procedures Mikhail Malov roused indignation in the students with his constant rudeness. After a conflict, students forced him out of the lecture hall. The professor was dismissed but the instigators of the conflict were themselves also punished. A. Herzen and Y. Kostenetsky were arrested and imprisoned. M. Lermontov also took part in this incident.

1895_image6_sIn 1823 – 1824 Herzen made friends with N. Ogareva Russian poet, historian and political activist, who was a student at the Ethics and Politics Department of Moscow University. There is a well-known moment which occurred during their friendship. While walking on Sparrow HillsRussian: Vorobyovy gory or Воробьевы горы, the young people, who were captivated by the ideas of liberation, made an oath to take part in reforming Russian society, resuming the DecembristsRussian revolutionaries who led an unsuccessful uprising on Dec. 14 1825’ cause, and establishing a republic in Russia.

This is what Herzen recalled about this conversation with Ogarev, “Out of breath, with our cheeks flushing, we stood there wiping sweat. The sun was going down, the domes were glittering, the city was stretching over the endless space at the bottom of the hill, and a fresh breeze was blowing. We stood and stood there, then leaned against each other and – suddenly – embraced each other and made an oath in view of the whole of Moscow to sacrifice our lives for the fight we chose. However exaggerated and fanciful the scene might seem, twenty six years later I am still touched when recalling it. It was sacred in its sincerity, which all of our life has proved”. Ogarev was 15 and Herzen was 16 years old.

1896_image7_sA memorial sign (by sculptor M. Shmakov, architects Y. Iliyin-Adaev and R. Kananin) was unveiled on the site where the oath was made on Lenin (Sparrow) Hills in 1979. This memorial includes an obelisk, a bas-relief depicting Herzen and Ogarev, and a small spring. The memorial is located on the hillside between the trampoline and the metro bridge. The memorial pylon fell into decay in the 1990s, but it was refurbished by the famous British playwright Tom Stoppard in 2006. The author of “The Coast of Utopia” visited this place during his stay in Moscow and subsequently organised a volunteer clean-up with students of the Youth TheatreRussian: Molodyozhnyi teatr or Молодёжный театр to restore Herzen’s memorial corner to its original condition.

In 1831, Herzen and Nikolai Ogarev founded a political student coterie. “Our friendship was meant to obtain a serious nature right from the start. We respected our future in ourselves. We saw each other as vessels chosen and predestinate”, – Herzen wrote. They studied works of French socialists, philosophers I. Fichte, F. Schelling, B. de Spinoza, J.-J. Rousseau, discussed events in France, in particular the revolution of 1830. The coterie had a republican focus.

1897_image8_sAfter his final exams, Herzen was granted a silver medal and a Master’s title in honour of his academic excellence. His thesis was titled, “Analytical presentation of Copernicus’s Solar system”.

At present, there is a monument to A. Herzen and his friend and comrade N. Ogarev in front of the building of M. Lomonosov Moscow State University. Double monuments by sculptor A. Andreev were installed in 1922. It is interesting that the figures were cast of granite concrete, as funds were too limited in post-revolutionary Russia to make a monument from bronze.

In this monument, Herzen adopts a tense pose and is depicted as a thinker and a fighter. At the same time, the names of the neighbouring streets were changed in honour of revolutionaries: Bolshaya NikitskayaRussian: Большая Никитская street and Gazetny side streetRussian: Gazetnyi pereulok or Газетный переулок became Gertsena streetRussian: ulitsa Gertsena or улица Герцена and Ogareva streetRussian: ulitsa Ogaryova or улица Огарёва, respectively (their original names were restored in the 1990s).


Nikitskaya str 23In the 1830s, the forward-thinking young people gathered in N. Ogarev’s house (23, Bolshaya Nikitskaya). It was the building on an old estate purchased by P. Ogarev, N. Ogarev’s father. A. Herzen, V. Passek, and others visited it. Herzen described them as “wonderful youth”, “talented, pure, well-developed, smart, and devoted” people. Once, in a meeting in 1834, the participants of the coterie dropped and broke a sculpture of the tsar. Soon afterwards Herzen, Ogarev, and others were arrested, although they had not been present at the meeting when the accident occurred. They were framed as “persons reciting libelous poems”, for which they were convicted. In exile, they frequently recalled that house and the “cherished room”, “with red wall paper with golden stripes and a marble fireplace where they spent time in smoke of pipes” discussing philosophy and freedom.

Herzen was sent to Prechistenskaya police stationRussian: Prechistenskaya politseyskaya chast or Пречистенская полицейская часть (27-29, Kropotkinsky side streetRussian: Kropotkinskiy pereulok or Кропоткинский переулок). This police station had been located in that district for nearly a hundred years (from 1818). The small two-storey building of the police station still exists today. It faces the side street with its gable facade. The writer remembered it as the “house under the watchtower”. The building is presently occupied by the Serbsky Institute of Legal PsychiatryRussian: Institut sudebnoy psikhiatrii imeni Serbskogo or Институт судебной психиатрии имени Сербского.

Herzen spent almost nine months in solitary confinement. When he was questioned, Herzen said that “he talked with his acquaintances about the government, condemned some institutions and most often the strained condition of landlords’ peasants, proving it with the tax tyranny on the part of landlords”. As a result, Herzen was acknowledged to be an “outrageous freethinker, rather dangerous for society” and was later banished to Perma city located on the banks of the Kama River in the European part of Russia near the Ural Mountains and Vyatkathe present-day Kirov under administrative arrest. Herzen spent 6 years in exile working as a junior official in an administrative office. In Vyatka, Herzen made friends with the infamous Alexander Vitberg who had been building the Cathedral of Christ the SaviourRussian: Khram Khrista Spasitelya or Храм Христа Спасителя on Sparrow Hills before and subsequently been banished to Vyatka after the construction became disastrous.

Starting in 1836, Herzen’s works began to appear in the press under the pen-name of Iskander. He soon acquired the title of the leader of the “westerners’”, who stood for reforming Russia as per western ideologies.


1889_image10_sHerzen was rewarded in his hardships in his private life; his beloved Natalia Zakharjina agreed to become his wife. Natalia was Herzen’s cousin. “Even as a child I desperately loved you, I was frightened of you, and your every word was law to me…” Long-lasting correspondence and mutual feelings prompted thoughts about marriage. In exile, Herzen organised his fiancee’s escape with the help of his friends. On 8 May 1838, Natasha was brought to Rogozhskaya frontier postRussian: Rogozhskaya zastava or Рогожская застава, where Herzen was waiting for her. Alexander and Nataliya were immediately married in a small church. “This woman… is charming, quiet, humble, with a thin voice, but incredibly energetic”- Belinskyeminent Russian literary critic wrote. Both the happiest and the most tragic moments in Herzen’s life were connected with his wife.

In May 1840, Herzen returned to Moscow. At the time, he was very enthusiastic about the philosophy of Hegel, which he considered to be the “algebra of the revolution”. That year, Herzen moved to Saint-Petersburg, the capital and the hub of public life in Russia. However, very soon – in June 1841 – he was banished to Novgorodone of the most important historic cities in Russia and served in the local provincial government until 1942.

In 1843, he settled down in Moscow in Sivtsev VrazhekRussian: Сивцев Вражек (27, Sivtsev Vrazhek side street) where he lived with his family until their departure abroad in January 1847. Herzen’s father Ivan Yakovlev had purchased this small mansion especially for his son. This building has housed the A. Herzen Memorial HouseRussian: Dom-muzey A. I. Gertsena or Дом-музей А. И. Герцена (affiliated with the State Literary MuseumRussian: Gosudarstvennyi literaturnyi muzey or Государственный литературный музей) since 1976.

1890_image11_sIn Moscow, Herzen developed a good rapport with Stankevich and Belinsky’s Hegelians coterie. Everlasting arguments about philosophy and the fate of Russia led to the final division between the “Westernizersbelieved that Russia's development depended upon the adoption of Western European technology and liberal government” (with Herzen among them) and the “Slavophilsan intellectual movement of the 19th century that wanted the Russian Empire to be developed upon values and institutions derived from its early history”. The arguments were centred in the Yelagins’ house (4, Khoromny tupikRussian: Хоромный тупик street). The house owner, Captain A. Yelagin was married to Avdotiya Yushkova, “Slavophils” Ivan and Pyotr Kireevsky’s mother. The house was called “krasnovorotskaya"krasnye vorota" means "red gate" republic”. All the intellectuals of Moscow considered it a privilege to visit. Apart from Herzen and Ogarev, philosophers and writers A. Khomyakov, V. Zhukovsky, V. Odoyevsky, Y. Baratynsky, and P. Chaadayev visited the house. Later, Herzen recalled: “Literary salons in Moscow were absorbed by the war between us. Moscow was entering that epoch of heated mental interests when literary questions, owing to the impossibility of discussing political ones, became the questions of life”.

These years of intense work and philosophical discussions gave birth to his most significant creations like “Dilettantism in ScienceRussian: Diletantizm v nauke or Дилетантизм в науке”, “Letters on the Study of NatureRussian: Pisma ob izuchenii prirody or Письма об изучении природы”, “Public Readings of Monsieur Professor RoulierRussian: Publichnye chteniya gospodina professora Rul'e or Публичные чтения господина профессора Рулье”, “Who is to Blame?Russian: Kto vinovat? or Кто виноват?”, “The Thieving MagpieRussian: Soroka-vorovka or Сорока-воровка”, “Moscow and PetersburgRussian: Moskva i Peterburg or Москва и Петербург”, “Novgorod and VladimirRussian: Новгород и Владимир”.

At the beginning of 1847, after his father’s death, Herzen moved abroad for ever. He became a political exile and never again returned to his home city, Moscow.
Museum Of Herzen

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