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AZI, BUKI AND VEDI OF BULGARIAN GRAMERCY

Author: Emil Georgiev

Editor's Note: Since the history of venerable Paisi was published posthumously and its author was being deified on the occasion of its 200th year, subsequently we have adopted a rather guided approach to present this work in our booklist. The reason for this parsimony is manifold and not the least that we know almost nothing about the monk Paisi, except what he gives as a short auto-biographical note at the end of his book. Seemingly, the mere fate of this short piece of prose which was a first of its kind to be written in modern Bulgarian language - viz., this has become an intriguing start-point for a myriad of copyists and researchers at the wake of Reformation and Revolt of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Because the Bulgarian ethnos was aspiring for its self-esteem and viability, the book becomes twice more precious in its effort to be a successor to a Slavonic tradition and historical continuity of Cyrillic literacy. The vernacular of the writing is Church Slaveno-Bulgarian, rather than Latin, and this is the innovation that brings forth Paisi's "History". The parish of Mt. Athos didn't have cyrillic fonts to make a print-out, so the poor preacher went on foot across the country to popularize his writings. The year was 1762 and this is all we know about the event, ditto.       

 

FATHER PAISI'S "SLAV-BULGARIAN HISTORY"

That historians often exert decisive influence on nationalism is amply recognized. Conversely, historians frequently reflect the temper of their times and write in accordance with nationalistic rather than historical principles. The Athos monk Paisi is commonly credited with fathering the Bulgarian revival as well as Bulgarian historiography. The "Slav-Bulgarian History" Paisi wrote in 1762 may not have exerted all the influence attributed to it a century later, but it was the first Bulgarian history by a Bulgarian and was a striking manifestation of nationalism at a time when Bulgarian national consciousness seemed about to expire. The purpose here is to consider Paisi as a historian and to examine his role and that of Bulgarian historiography in the national awakening.

In pre-liberation Bulgarian historiography three Bulgarians stand out: Paisi, the first to attempt a history of the Bulgarians; Rakovski, his greatest Bulgarian disciple; and Drinov, his re-discoverer and benefactor. Three foreigners also made important contributions: Rajich, a Serb, author of the first published Bulgarian history; Venelin, a Russian, who discovered the Bulgarians and their history; and Jirechek, a Czech, who wrote the first complete, scholarly history of the Bulgarians. From Paisi and Rajich to Drinov and Jirechek about a century elapsed, in the course of which the Bulgarian Slavs emerged from the general mass of Greek Orthodox "rayah" and their vague sense of kinship with the Serbs into fully conscious Bulgarians on the verge of national independence, with strongly developed antagonisms toward their neighbors on all sides.

To a great extent Bulgarians had lost contact with their own past and with the free world, and for geographic and other reasons were more completely subordinated within the loosely organized Ottoman state than their Christian neighbors. The Rumanian principalities, enjoying a peculiar autonomy within the Ottoman Empire, were periodically involved in the dynastic and military adventures of Poland and the Hapsburgs and later in the imperialist schemes of the Muscovites. Transylvania served as a Rumanian bridge to the West, a fact not always appreciated by the Rumanians to the east. Greek connections with Venice originated long before the arrival of the Turks and lasted as long as Venice itself; the classical and religious interests of Europe in Greece and Greek Orthodoxy, the widespread and flourishing Greek mercantile activities and the privileged position of the Fanariotes in the Ottoman system helped preserve Greek continuity. Greek hopes as well as Greek waters were stirred by the Russian navy before Russian soldiers trod Bulgarian soil. Although in many ways the Orthodox Serbs shared the lot of the Bulgarians, they were more directly involved in Western efforts to push back the Turks, and for a short period some of them even enjoyed Hapsburg annexation. Even more important were their South-Slav kinship with the western-oriented Croats and contacts with their refugee brothers in liberated Hungary. Thus national consciousness survived better and revived earlier among the Serbs, the Greeks, and even the Rumanians, threatened though they were with Slavic as well as Greek cultural denationalization.

The increased national self-unconsciousness of the Bulgarian people was accompanied by individual denationalization in all directions. The occasional diaries and travelogues of Europeans going to and from Constantinople - to whom we owe much of the little that is known about Bulgaria under the Turks until the nineteenth century - report progressive decline, demoralization, and ignorance as seen from the main travel routes. Nevertheless, there existed a vestige of intellectual and political activity, which is obscured for the historian and was lost to the Bulgarian cause because it frequently lacked a Bulgarian label. The disguise of Bulgarian elements was fostered in particular by the peculiar confusion between religion and nationality under the "millet" system prevailing in the Ottoman Empire, which for administrative convenience placed all Greek Orthodox under the Greek "millet", or nation, and the Patriarch. Thus the eventual upsurge of Greek nationalism swept along many Bulgarians who were conscious only of their Greek Orthodox label.

A few examples may illustrate the dissipation and dispersal of Bulgarian effort. The counter Reformation undertook to conquer new territories in the Balkans, where there had been relatively few losses to the Reformation. In addition to the notable gains made in eastern Europe through the Uniate formula, Rome, aided by Catholic Ragusan traders and Croat-Bosnian missionaries, succeeded in the seventeenth century in stirring up considerable political as well as religious activity among Bulgarians. Although a number of Bulgarian converts achieved prominence in this movement, its essentially alien nature and the preponderance of non-Bulgarian elements deprived the Catholic Reformation in Bulgaria of lasting significance. For example, the energetic bulgarian Peter Bogdan-Bakshich wrote edifying works in Illyrian and Latin, further established himself as archbishop of Antivari in Montenegro; another bulgarian, archbishop Peter Parchevich, preached Romanism and revolted to convert Bulgarians in behalf of Catholic Austria, but Turkish retribution led to mass emigration and the discrediting of the Catholic cause. There was also a Jesuit abbot of Czanad in Hungary who signed himself Christophorus Peichich Bulgarus, and devoted his literary efforts to proving - mostly in Latin - to Illyrians the superiority of the Western over the Eastern Church. Another jesuit, Filip Stanislavov as Catholic Bishop of Nicopolis, might have been the author of the first printed Bulgarian book, the "Abagar", published in Rome in 1651 and presenting a collection of prayers for Bulgarian Catholics, himself had been more Croatian than Bulgarian.

The constant seepage of refugees across the Danube, beginning with the Turkish conquest and continuing intermittently until independence was achieved, might have been more debilitating to the Bulgarian national resources but for the ultimate advantages which accrued. At one time, much of the left bank of the Danube was more Bulgarian than Rumanian and principality of Wallachia came to be looked on as an extension of Bulgaria, a situation which lasted almost to the liberation. In addition to seeking asylum - which reached the proportions of an exodus following the recurrent Turkish wars with Austria and later with Russia, often accompanied by native revolts - Bulgarians were drawn by the freer economic and political climate north of the Danube, by the richly endowed Moldavian monasteries, and by the less definable attraction of Moscow as the Third Rome. But in the long run this emigration served the same function performed by Serbs in liberated Hungary and by the other South Slavs in the Hapsburg territories. Ultimately it was the Bulgarians in Transylvania, The Principalities, Bessarabia, and Odessa who were the chief agents of Bulgaria's cultural and political liberation.

In another direction also there were both losses and gains for the Bulgarian patrimony. Had the Hapsburgs been more farsighted and less involved in dynastic affairs, the problem of the Balkans and Bulgaria might have received a less Orthodox and more Austro-Slav solution. Until well into the nineteenth century the differentiation between Orthodox Serbs and Bulgarians was less than between Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs. Some of the earliest indications of national revival, including Paisi's "History", are found in Macedonia and western rather than eastern Bulgaria and have much in common with similar developments among the Serbs. A more vigorous and enlightened Austrian policy might have reduced Russian Orthodox inroads and had Bulgarians and Serbs looking to Vienna instead of Moscow.

But the element which above the others siphoned off Bulgarian spiritual forces and which came closest to being fatal was Hellenism. It was not only the Moslem Turks and European Christians who confused Greek Orthodoxy and nationality; it was also the Greeks and even the Bulgarians themselves. The fact that the Greek neo-classical revival, sparked by Evgenios Vulgaris, came during the second half of the eighteenth century when Bulgarian national consciousness was at its lowest, and found sympathetic reception in both Classic and Romantic Europe made it easier for Bulgarians to succumb to its undeniably strong appeal. It is not surprising, then, to find Bulgarians participating in the Greek revolutionary "Hetairia Philike" and suffering alternately for the true Faith ("Velchova Zavera"), as the Greek Revolution and, in fact, any revolt or plot against the Turks was called. Alexander Ypsilanti might have had more success had he raised the flag of Greek Orthodoxy in Bulgaria instead of in Rumania. But the Greeks were eventually hoist by their own Hellenism. The encroachments of the Fanariotes in church and school, coupled with the unabashed greed of the Greek Church and the nationalism of the Greeks in general, flushed with their victory over the Turks and made enlightened Bulgarians realize that what was triumph for their neighbors was a further demise for the Bulgarians themselves. The reluctance of the Fanar to give up its golden eggs brought about the head-on clash between the Greek Church and the nascent Bulgarian nationalism so that the Bulgarian Church Question merely became the first phase in the battle for Bulgarian independence.

Yet as early as the middle of the eighteenth century there was already at least one Bulgarian who was acutely worried by the encroachments of the Greeks and by the growing decline of national consciousness among his fellow countrymen. In 1745 a twenty-two-year-old Bulgarian came to Mount Athos from Bansko in Macedonia and entered the monastery of Hilendar under the name Paisi. In 1798 he died and was buried in unknown grave. Little else is known of Paisi except that he occasionally solicited Bulgarian pilgrims and alms for his monastery, that he made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and that in 1762 he compiled a "Slav-Bulgarian History of the People and Kings and Saints and of all the Bulgarian Acts and Events", which was an extraordinarily eloquent warning to the Bulgarians of the threat of national extinction. By supplying them with a glorious past he hoped to remove their sense of inferiority, arouse their national pride, and liberate them from Greek bondage.

Once Bulgarian independence had been achieved, it is understandable that Bulgarians should have placed Paisi on a pedestal and ascribed to him an array of qualities and ideas which would establish him not only as the prime instigator of liberation but also as a remarkable personality for his age and environment. As a historian also Paisi enjoyed a high reputation. To quote a Bulgarian history professor, "Father Paisi stands much higher than many first historians of other nations whose attempts to write the histories of their people stand beneath all manners of criticism on the score of invention, credulity, and ignorance". Yet Bulgarians continue to find difficulty in reconciling idealized conceptions of the presumed progenitor of their country and its history with the uniform ignorance or neglect of Paisi by his successors until 1871, when he was discovered by the Bulgarian historian Marin Drinov and put at the head of the national revival.

The fact that Paisi had the vision to perceive the dangers of denationalization, to diagnose the causes, and to supply a remedy by compiling an ultrapatriotic history, no matter hoe stirring, is not in itself enough to credit him with authoring the movement which led to liberation. Paisi might perhaps be compared with Yuraj Krizanic, the Croat Roman Catholic priest who already in 1666 discovered the formula of nineteenth-century Russian pan-Slavists. Yet his "Politics or Conversations on Government", composed during the author's exile in Siberia, was not published until 1859, and then anonymously and in a badly translated and incomplete Russian version. Without denying Krizanic's originality and foresight, one may question his contribution to modern pan-Slavism. On a smaller scale, Paisi also was the victim of isolation and of his too-prophetic foresight. Because of presumed causes and after-effects, Paisi too has perhaps been taken out of the context of his time.

Between 1765, when the first known copy was made, and 1844, when as adaptation was printed, some forty copies or versions of Paisi's history are on record. It was copied even after it was printed (1844) as late as 1871 in Macedonia, where conditions continued to give meaning to Paisi's exhortations. Copies have been found as far apart as Macedonia and Bessarabia and continue to be found, one as recently as 1941. Until the nineteenth century it was reproduced more or less verbatim; after that almost half the copies are adaptations. It was most frequently copied in the 1830s, when young Bulgaria was forming and the Church Question began to be raised. A contemporary reader left this reaction on a copy of Paisi: "And you, brethren, endeavor to read it for your own good, glory for Bulgarians and harm to the Greeks".

Yet for the most part Paisi circulated anonymously or at least without recognition until 1852, and then he received only incidental mention until Drinov publicized him in 1871. Even the first printed version, under the title "Tsarstvenik" (Book of Kings), the name under which Paisi and similar compilations were popularly known, makes no mention of Paisi himself but lists a string of foreign authorities on the title page. Perhaps the anonymity with which Paisi's "History" circulated is a token of the effectiveness of his preachments. Also to some extent, Paisi contributed to this relative obscurity by his monastic modesty in disclaiming ability and credit for his own writings.

Few of Paisi's readers became distinguished exponents of his historical gospel, and seldom can his influence be traced directly. Instead of looking for immediate or direct results one may consider Paisi's work in the light of his age. The most striking feature is the intensity of his Bulgarian convictions and his appreciation of the role of history in developing and maintaining national consciousness. This makes his sermon on Mount Athos a patriotic tract unique for its time and place. Five years after Paisi finished his "History", the last formal vestige of Bulgaria, the technically autonomous Bulgarian patriarchate of Ohrid was abolished at Fanariote prompting. Twenty-five years later, Bulgarian language was not even included among the two-hundred-odd languages covered by Empress Catherine's polyglot solution to knowledge, the Russian Academy's "Comparative Lexicon of All Languages and Dialects", a project originally inspired by Leibnitz. Such ignorance or confusion in Europe over the Bulgarians continued well into the nineteenth century until scholarly interest in national problems focused attention on its modern descendants.

About fifteen years before undertaking his project, Paisi entered at Hilendar - one of the four great Athos monasteries - which half a century before had led all others with eight hundred inmates. The situation which prompted Father Paisi to engage in two years of labor and provoked his patriotic outburst was brought about by the impact of reviving Greek nationalism and influence on the Athonite community. With the material and political advancement of the Fanariotes in the eighteenth century a number of previously Slav monasteries came into Greek hands. In addition, one of the prime instigators of the neo-Hellenic revival, Evgenios Vulgaris, effectively preached the secular gospel as headmaster of the famous Athonite Academy until conservative religious elements forced him out in 1758.

At Hilendar, founded as a Serbian monastery in the twelfth century, the Serbian element vied with the Greeks in national boasting and with the then-Bulgarian majority under control. A famous contemporary Serbian pilgrim, Dositej Obradovich, also noted the fierce competition between Serbs and Bulgarians. To quote Paisi, "Many times have Serbs and Greeks reproached us for not having our own history". This lack of point Paisi was determined to remedy. On the one hand his tract is a passionate appeal to Bulgarians to wake up to their Slavic and Bulgarian heritage; on the other, it gathered together conveniently all the necessary envy and hatred. In his search for material Paisi states that he also went to Germany - meaning, the Serbian patriarchate-in-exile at Sremski Karlovtsi in Southern Hungary - where he found Mavrubir's history of the Serbs and Bulgarians. In his manuscript there are also a dozen references to Baroni's history.

Actually, most of Paisi's historical material, except for his fifty-eight saints, was taken from a 1719's Russian (Slavonic) edition of a sixteenth-century Polish condensation of Cardinal Caesar Baronius' "Annales Ecclesiastici". Although Paisi speaks of translating from the Russian, he often copies verbatim from Baronius, notably when he hesitates to argue with or improve on the original where he feels that complete justice has not been done to the Bulgarian side. Paisi's task was made easier inasmuch as he shared Baronius' anti-Greek point of view, and as further the Orthodox Russian editor had already expurgated the most offensive Catholic elements.

If much of the content of Paisi is Baronius, the spirit is that of the Ragusan Benedictine abbot Mavro Orbini (Mavrubir), whose "Il Regno de gli Slavi, hoggi Corrottamente Deiti Schiavoni" (Pesaro, 1601) he found in a Russian version when he was sent to Karlovtsi in 1761 to bring back alms collected for Hilendar by a fellow monk, who died there. Paisi may not have had time in Karlovtsi fully to exploit Orbini, but he was obviously strongly influenced. There is even a parallel between Orbini's preface to the reader and Paisi's preface on the importance of having a history. Imbued with pride in his Slav ancestry ("mia natione Slava") and determined to put the Slavs on the map, the Croat Orbini literally created an ancient and glorious history for them. Paisi adopted his derivations of the Slavs coming from Scandinavia and identification of the Bulgars and other Asiatic people with Slavs. He also took Orbini's genealogical tree which made Noah's son Japhet the progenitor of the Slavs. For Paisi, obviously, Orbini's Catholicism was partly offset by his ardent Slavism.

Because he included non-Catholic sources, Orbini's book was put on the Index, ditto. Until the publication of the 1722 Russian version it was generally not knoen to the South Slavs. Whereas the original edition devoted seventy-five large pages to Bulgaria, the 1722 version has only forty-five small pages. As most of this material was on Catholic activity it was unsuitable for Paisi, as well. Consequently, he gives the impression of minimizing Orbini. But Paisi went the master and one better. Whereas Orbini is the spiritual ancestor of a Romantic rather than political pan-Slavism, Paisi is a fierce Bulgarian chauvinist. Yet at times one feels that he has not quite convinced himself of the validity of his own thesis of Bulgarian superiority. Taking out some content from Orbini's history, he falls back on the comforting thought that the Greeks must have deliberately suppressed favorable information. Nor can he refrain from pointing out that the medieval Bulgarian state succumbed to the Turks at the invitation of the Greeks.

The first Bulgarian history by a Bulgarian reflects the limitations of the author, who humbly admits he is neither a scholar nor a writer. Its ten discernible parts are poorly organized, repetitious, and sketchy. Here they are in chronological order: 1) On the benefits of history; 2) Preface to the reader; 3) Historical sketch of the Bulgarian people; 4) Summary of Serbian kings; 5) Continuation of the history of the Bulgarian kings; 6) Names and succession of Bulgarian rulers; 7) Summary of notable Bulgarian rulers; 8) Conversion of the Bulgarians centuries before the other Slavs; 9) List of Bulgarian saints; 10) A postscript.

Except where Paisi is addressing the reader or dealing with contemporary matters from his own experience, his language is essentially the early eighteenth-century ecclesiastical "Russianized Slavonic" of his main sources. The fact that only after deserting Hilendar for the Zograph monastery, where he did discover new materials, suggests that his original search was less extensive than he implies. Yet Paisi seems to have succeeded in accomplishing his purpose, explicitly, to produce a history for Bulgarians to outmatch that of their rivals and to furnish them with convenient arguments for refuting attacks from all sides, and thus to inspire or shame his readers into acknowledging their Bulgarian nationality.

As Paisi specifically addresses himself to hearers as well as readers and as most of his copyists naturally were priests and teachers, it may be assumed that the "Slav-Bulgarian History" furnished texts for patriotic sermons and lessons, no doubt also by the author himself. Paisi's spirit and historical method characterized Bulgarian historiography, whether consciously or not, almost until the liberation. For the modern reader, however, the "History" has value mainly as a contemporary document illustrating the ebb and flow of national consciousness and rivalry in the mid-eighteenth century Balkans.

While Paisi's manuscript was circulating from hand to mouth, a more enduring basis for Bulgarian historiography was being already prepared in neighboring Serbia. Hristofor Zhefarovich, artist by profession, produced in 1741 a book of fifty-four largely imaginary heraldic emblems and historical portraits with doggerel captions for all the Slav states. The whole was copper-engraved for lack of Cyrillic type. Zhefarovich, an ordained monk from Doiran in Macedonia, was neither Bulgarian nor Serb but alternatively a Slav, which was possible in the eighteen century. He died in Moscow in 1754, and was labeled a Bulgarian. The author-artist states that his book was translated into Slaveno-Serbian, i.e. mixture of Russian, Slavonic and Serbian, and although quite archaic it ranks as the first Serbian book published in the eighteenth century. The model here was Paul Ritter's "Stemmatografia" published in Latin in 1701. Ritter was half Croat, half German, but wholly dedicated to the Illyrian-Slav cause promoted by Orbini, from whom he took some of his material. The graphic nature of Zhefarovich's creation, as well as its brashness, naturally appealed to Bulgarian readers, for whom it was one of the principal sources of historical lore.

The real founder of Serbian historiography, and incidentally of Bulgarian, was the work of Jovan Rajich (1726-1801), a contemporary and possibly a fellow countryman of Paisi. His parents had emigrated to Karlovtsi in Hungarian Slavonia, albeit Srem, from Vidin in northwest Bulgaria. After the Great Migration of 1690 and long before the Ipek Serbian patriarchate was formally abolished in 1766, specifically Karlovtsi became the center of Serbian religious and intellectual life. With a Jesuit elementary and Protestant secondary education, in 1753 Rajich walked to Kiev to complete his studies with three years of Orthodox theology. On his return from a second trip to Kiev, where he got the idea of writing his history, he visited Paisi's monastery fro two months in 1758 in search of material and returned to Karlovtsi with some refugees from Hilendar. In 1768 he finished his principal work, an extensive and much-read history of the South Slav peoples. However, it was all twenty-six years before it was published. Although Rajich's mainstream and more accomplished contemporaries wrote that the first part on the Slavic origins had better not have been written, Empress Catherine liked it so well that she sent the author a gold medal and printed the first volume, engravings and all (St. Petersburg, 1795).

It is of course possible that Rajich met and inspired Paisi at Hilendar in 1758 or at Karlovtsi in 1761, but for this there is no evidence. Yet in spite of his vastly superior education and the greater scope and scholarship of his work (he cites sixty-four authorities), Rajich and Paisi came from the same Slav Orthodox mold and used the same sources, Orbini and Baronius. In addition, Rajich either slavishly copied from Ducange or altered him when his Orthodox or Slav feelings were injured. Rajich also began his work with a Biblical preface claiming to be the amateur of history and following established Slavic precedent, turned Goths, Vandals, Avars, etc., into Slavs. Before Rajich issued his own history, for some reason he published an annotated translation of the Serbian portion of the Catholic Gebhardi's "History of Hungary", based to a considerable extent on Stritter. However, Gebhardi's "History of Bulgaria", covering events to 1774, remained unpublished  for  some reasons and hence inaccessible to Bulgarians. This was true also of the more critical work of Engel, the protestant rationalist historian of Hungary, who allotted about two-hundred pages on Bulgarian history to A.D. 1444 in his four-volume "History of Hungary". Engel, a German who held to the Tatar theory of Bulgarian origins, had little use for Rajich's extreme eclecticism but does credit him with making a contribution to Serbian history.

The language used by Rajich was essentially Russian, with strong Slavonic influence and some Serbian and even Bulgarian traces. With the weight of considerable Orthodox prestige behind his work, it is not surprising to find the Bulgarian portion of Rajich's "History" republished in 1801 in a somewhat more popular form of "Slav-Serbian History" by Atanas Neskovich, a native of southern Hungary. Neskovich was commissioned to do this by certain Bulgarian merchants for the good of their people. It is possible that he, like Rajich, had Bulgarian origins. The choice of language seems odd, but Slaveno-Serbian of those days differed little from Slaveno-Bulgarian, both being derived from Russianized Slavonic, the common literary jargon of the eighteenth century. In any case it was in this roundabout fashion that Bulgarians obtained their first published history. By a coincidence, a Bulgarian translation was made and published by Peter Sapunov in 1844, the same year that Paisi's "History" first had the benefit of print.

Although it was the Serb Rajich who furnished Bulgarians with a more accessible history than Paisi's manuscript, it was the Russian Venelin who not only fired the historical and national imagination of the young leaders of the patriotic revival but whose meteoric appearance completely overshadowed Paisi until his resurrection by Marin Drinov.

Stimulated by the discoveries of the founding fathers of Slavic studies in Prague and Vienna, commensurably the president of the Russian Academy Admiral Shishkov had hoped to import the leading Austro-Slav scholars (i.e., including Hanka, Safarik and Jungmann) to occupy chairs of Slavic studies created in the leading Russian universities. Advised, however, to develop their own resources, the Russians found a constructive device in combining their growing political interests in the Balkans with officially sponsored field research. One of the first of these academic emissaries was a twenty-six-year-old fugitive from the medical profession, Yuri Venelin (1802-1839), whose mission was to collect historical documents in the wake of the Russo-Turkish war of 1828.

Venelin was of the stuff of which pan-Slavs were made. A Ukrainian born in Hungary, he was educated in Poland and studied medicine in Moscow, only to become an amateur archaeologist, philologist, and historian. The first product of his researches, "The ancient and Present Day Bulgarians in Their Relations with the Russians", not only created a sensation among the Bulgarian intelligentsia of the thirties, but more important it started the trend which drew the center of Bulgarian intellectual and eventually political gravity from the West to Russia.

Though oversensitive himself, Venelin frequently indulged in vigorous, tactless, and sometimes inaccurate pontifications on Bulgarian matters of all kinds. This generated heated controversy but also healthy activity. In any event, young Bulgaria's historical vanity was tickled, and all who saw him or his book were in turn transported by his infectious enthusiasm and the printed evidence of their almost forgotten history. There was no exaggeration in the epitaph grateful Bulgarians placed on Venelin's grave: "He reminded the world of the oppressed but once famous and powerful Bulgarian people and passionately desired to see their rebirth. Let almighty God fulfill the prayer of Thy servant".

Having stirred up the Bulgarians more than anyone before or since, Venelin's interest in Bulgarian affairs vanished, partly because of publishing and other difficulties and opposition his theories encountered, partly because his pan-Slav interests were broader than Bulgaria. Aside from a study of South Slav folksongs, which had considerable influence in initiating Bulgarian interest in this field, only one other item was published before his premature death in 1839, hence a biographical-bibliographical survey of modern Bulgarian literature. However, an unpublished Bulgarian grammar is also mute testimony to his failure to comprehend the essence of the Bulgarian language.

In contrast to the "History" of his unknown spiritual ancestor Paisi, further Venelin's work had both an immediate and a direct effect. His most ardent press agent was the former Hellenophile Odessa vodka merchant Vasil Aprilov, whom Venelin converted into a kind nationalist of the Bulgarian renaissance. In addition to promoting a variety of cultural causes and championing a Russian solution for Bulgaria, it was Aprilov who contributed to Bulgarian historiography an essay on Cyril and Methodius and a first history of contemporary Bulgarian education.

Although from the point of view of Bulgarian nationalism in general Venelin's influence was highly beneficial, it may also be said that his semi-scholarly pan-Slav enthusiasm had a retrogressive effect. It was eagerly adopted by a whole school of nationalist imitators, foremost of whom was the restless revolutionary Georgi Rakovski (1821-1867). Under Venelin's prompting a number of Bulgarians reverted to the outmoded Slavonic literary tradition in the belief they were getting back to the genuine Bulgarian. Rakovski himself became and ardent antiquarian and exponent of the ultra nationalism. With his bad philological punctuation he was able to interpret history as he chose - ultimately, he believed this was for the greater glory of Bulgaria. Carried to extremes, Rakovski's method led well past mere Slavic theory of Bulgarian origins to a theory of origin in distant Indic antiquity, as shown in the multi-voluminous verse invention of his contemporary Stefan Verkovich. The latter foisted his "Veda Slovena" on the learned and temporarily credulous Slavic world just in time for Moscow's pan-Slav exposition of 1867.

To a surprising degree it was the "Veda Slovena" that backed-up Rakovski's historical hypotheses, notably that Bulgarian was the modern form of Sanskrit and Zend. These ideas crop up in almost everything he wrote but in particular in several half-historical, half-polemical and philological essays. Among them was a "Guide or Handbook on how to investigate and discover the oldest features of our life, language, racial origins, government, glorious history, etc". Other extravagant effusions were a "Short disquisition on the obscure and false beginnings on which is based the ancient history of all European peoples", and "Several lectures on Asen the First, the great Bulgarian King", both written in Odessa but published in Belgrade in 1860 because of Russian censorship. In 1865 Rakovski published in Bucharest the first and only number of "Bulgarska Starina" (Bulgarian Antiquity), a periodical which was to have been devoted to the history of all the Slavic countries.

Replying to critical reviews on his works, Rakovski stated that his purpose was not to write history to be taught to children. Even more than Paisi and Venelin, further Rakovski's object was to resurrect the past glory in order to create a present and future for his country. Evidently he was much too restless and impatient to do much more than stir up historical dust. Yet he was the first Bulgarian to publish excerpts from Paisi's "History", most notably in his "Bulgarska Starina". He also published excerpts from Sofroni's autobiography in 1861.

In 1859, Gavril Krustevich, who was a Paris-trained lawyer and heir to a portion of Stefan Bogoridi's exalted position, was to become the second governor of Eastern Roumelia. Krustevich complained that a Bulgarian history was still to be written. In actuality, mid-century Bulgarians were too preoccupied with practical issues to devote themselves to sober historical studies. Aside from the basic conflict with the Greeks over the Bulgarian Church - on the ultimate aims of which most Bulgarians were agreed though they differed violently over Orthodox, Uniate, or Protestant solutions - the energies of the Bulgarian ethnos were absorbed in a variety of other questions of the day. These ranged from violent quarrels over spelling to the decisive issues of "Ausgleich" with the Porte and down to outright revolutionary activities. Under these circumstances history served as a platform from which to preach national salvation according to the revelations of people like Rakovski or to some of his many opponents.

A second factor retarding the development of Bulgarian historical effort was the continuing lack of a suitable and safe national cultural center and the consequent diffusion of intellectual forces in Paris, Vienna, Athens, Belgrade, Bucharest, Odessa and Moscow. The closest similarity to a Bulgarian capital, oddly enough, was Constantinople itself, but the Turks were not entirely unaware of these cultural aspirations and didn't make much to hamper a third party expectations.

As early as 1876, when the Bulgarians were still away from liberation, Safariks's twenty-one-year-old grandson Konstantin Jirechek (1864-1918), published his "Geschichte der Bulgaren", and this remained the landmark and scholarly synthesis of history that was to stay unsurpassed for long years to come.

Since 1762, the Bulgarian historiography had kept pace with world history. Father Paisi launched his broadcast against the Greek clergy just as the Fanariotes were preparing to move in at the acclaimed Bulgarian Patriarchate of Ohrid. At the turn of the century Bishop Sofroni's patriotic exploits put into practice what Paisi had preached, while his more famous Serbian contemporary Rajich gave the Bulgarians their first published history. Venelin's ardent promotion of the Slav-Bulgarian cause helped those who were implementing an anti-Greek program in the 1830s. Rakovski's imagination furnished historical arguments for the revolutionary Bulgarian declarations of independence against the Greek Patriarch in 1860. Drinov's "Historical Survey of the Bulgarian Church" in 1869 was an appropriate introduction to the Porte's "firman" of re-establishing a Bulgarian national church and Exarchate in 1870. Jirechek's "History of the Bulgarians" hastened the Russian liberation of the country.

A survey of the origins of Bulgarian historiography might end with the concluding words of Paisi's "History", in which its author set down most of what is known about himself, his purpose, and his methods: "And I compiled this history in the monastery of Hilendar, when the abbot was Lavrenti, my brother born of one mother and older than I; he was then sixty and I forty years old. At this time Hilendar was giving the Turks 3000 grosh in taxes, and owed 27 000 grosh, and there was great brotherly unrest and disagreement. Hence I could not endure these things at Hilendar and left and went to Zograph and there I found many more accounts and writings about the Bulgarians; and I added to and completed what is said in this little history for the benefit of our Bulgarian race, for the praise of our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom is all glory, honor, and worship, and to His eternal Father and most holy and life giving Spirit, now and forever and ever. Amen".

 

Pictures 1 & 2: The original manuscript of Paisi's "Slav-Bulgarian History" was obliterated during the ages. Many reprinted and revised editions pretended to be close to the original, yet few of them retain the authenticity of the author and are still subject to antiquarian debates. The two most valid copies of the history are presented below.

(i). "Tsarstvenik ili Istoria Bolgarskaya. Budim: 1844", was published in 1844 by Hristaki Pavlovich ~ cf., a pedagogue and literate, born in Dupnitsa and has worked at the Svishtov semi-educational school. He is father of the famous bulgarian painter Nikolai Pavlovich.

 

(ii). "Istoriya Slaveno-Bolgarskaya. Sofia: Durjavna Pechatnitza, 1914", has been edited and published in 1914. This copy was revised by Prof. Yordan Ivanov, who attended directly at Hilendar Monastery and made the first photo-facsimile of the remaining parchments. The academic version of the "History" follows closely from this edition.

 

 

Copyright 2007 by the author.