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How the poet Nekrasov, with the help of a bear, reasoned with the emperor

скульптура либериха
© Форпост Северо-Запад/ Горный музей

Alexander II personally harvested 150 bears during his not particularly long life. Some of the trophies went to the participants of the hunt, others were used as diplomatic gifts or donated to museums and educational institutions. The bear killed on 9 March 1865 in Lisino near St. Petersburg the emperor left in the form of a stuffed animal in the Winter Palace, as a reminder of his decisive role in saving the horn-bearer Nikonov on that hunt.

The poet Nikolai Nekrasov knew the art of hunting no worse than the sovereign. On the day of the mentioned triumph, in spite of the tsar, he announced a more useful to society use for one of the three bears he killed in one trip.

Let us try to reconstruct the picture of events. Nekrasov lived in St. Petersburg at the intersection of Liteiny prospect and the street that today bears his name. To Nevsky - 3 minutes on foot. It is known that Alexander II always went to Lisino by train, and only on Tuesdays. The poet could well see the movement of the imperial cortege toward the Nikolaevsky station and accurately determine the goal of the trip.

Николаевский вокзал
© Николаевский вокзал, акварель Августа-Вильгельма Петцольда, 1851.

Upon his return home, he writes a letter to Sergei Botkin, professor at the Imperial Medical-Surgical Academy:

"I have heard that there is no bear in the Medical Academy. On the third day I killed three bears, they are in my barn. I'm willing to give one of any to the academy if it needs one. The bears have not yet been taken down and are very handy for stuffing. Just need to turn them over to the master as soon as possible."

Why the message was not written immediately after the end of the hunt, but when the bear carcass could already have been damaged and the craftsman had to hurry? It is very likely that the desire to give the bear to the medics arose under the impression of a meeting with the highest cortege.

© Николай Некрасов, фотоателье Деньера, 1864

Nekrasov knew that the academy was unlikely to receive such a gift from the tsar. In addition, he was aware of the plight of its veterinary department. In those years there was a sharp increase in the deaths of horses in the army. Under the Ministry of Internal Affairs was even founded a special "Committee on the Improvement of the veterinary affairs in Russia and measures against the cattle deaths in the empire." Despite the critical severity of the situation, the veterinary department of the military medical school was about to close.

The author of the immortal lines, "I look, a horse is going uphill slowly, carrying a cart full of brushwood," could not calmly look at the obvious omission of state power. He did not write a revealing poem about it. He chose, perhaps, even a more elegant way to draw attention to the problem. He hinted that the educational institution, so successful in training doctors for the military, should not forget about animals.

© Николай Самокиш "Конная гвардия"

The Academy was favorably disposed to the gift. Soon the largest of Nekrasov's bears in the form of a stuffed animal took its place in the Academy's zoological study, which, like the entire veterinary field, was then under threat of closure.

The imperial bear, unlike the writer's bear, had no chance to serve science. But it is reflected in the art. The leading animal painter Nikolai Liberich made a bronze sculpture "The Foxy Bear". A year later appeared another of his works about the memorable hunt in March 1865. It captures the moment of the emperor's shot that saved the horn-bear. The beast from the den suddenly rose from the den when the hunters chased another animal toward the hunters. He jumped right out at Nikonov and mowed him down. If the tsar's bullet had not been fatal for the bear, the man would not have survived.

скульптура либериха
© Форпост Северо-Запад/ Горный музей

By the way, Liberich made sketches for future sculptures exclusively from life. He was part of the hunting retinue that Nekrasov might have encountered. Lush hunts with the court sculptor in the poet's mind became a ringing counterpoint to the fall of the army horses.

скульптура либериха
© Форпост Северо-Запад/ Горный музей

In the same year of 1865 the head of the Medical-Surgical Academy prepared for the Military Council a draft of veterinary reform with the transformation of the corresponding department of the Academy into an independent institute. In July 1866 the project was approved. It is unknown if the gift from Nekrasov helped or if it was just a coincidence, but the horses' health in the army has improved since then.

Today the sculpture of Liberich, which depicts a memorable hunt on March 9, 1865, can be seen in the exposition of the Mining Museum in St. Petersburg.

скульптура либериха
© Форпост Северо-Запад/ Горный музей