It is not an uncommon thing to revise considerably over time the significance of past events and facts. Once considered to be inconspicuous or ordinary they may afterward, within a new historical environment, change their image and become more or less significant. This observation can be confirmed once again in the case of the First Gentry Cadet Corps of the Army, which marked the beginning of the regular military training in Russia. The subject drew the attention of historians, who are now customarily called prerevolutionary, and it is they who made it the object of a thorough study and introduced into scholars' use a large body of archive material.(1) As regards our scholars of today, and military historians among them, they, as a rule, merely touch upon the subject of the Russian Cadet Corps, remarking in passing that those institutions were actually strongholds of autocracy and a breeding ground for reactionary thought. Some works, however, mention such recognized facts as the keeping at the First Cadet Corps of its own theater, one of the best Russian libraries, a press etc., but this does not change the general bias of the authors' judgments. Besides, the public mentality still keeps alive the image of cadets, aroused by a certain kind of film and literature, according to which they appear to be juvenile champions of autocracy and adversaries of the radiant future. Such an obstructive simplicity, to be sure, didn't favor the objective study of the history of Russian military training.
It is noteworthy that those few Soviet researchers who attended Russian military educational institutions did avoid the cadet topic, which consequently did not get its proper treatment at the up-to-date scholarly level. Yet the rise and evolution of that kind of school greatly influenced, particularly in the 18th century, the entire educational system in the country.
The First Russian Cadet Corps was established in 1731 in accordance with the edicts of Empress Anna Ioannovna.(2) Actually it was the only innovation undertaken during the period of the so-called Bironovschina, marked with the absence of great ideas and actions, particularly in comparison with the Petrine time. After Peter's death, the essence and the very spirit of his reforms were gradually vanishing.
Yet the principles of kameralistik, the theory of the regular state to which Peter adhered, remained alive. Peter's successors on the throne, as far as possible, tried to preserve the foundation of the system of state governing and to adjust it to new demands. In its turn the situation promoted the growing role of the administrative formation and the army, which was a very important instrument of foreign and domestic policy.
The Russian gentry attempted to take an active part in the functioning of the military and bureaucratic structures, and the events of 1730, connected with the election of Anna Ioannovna were a real evidence of this. Probably it was these circumstances that had the effect of creating high demands for the educational level of the Russian gentry. It was clear that the educational system needed drastic improvement. Elementary schools established during the Northern War could only provide special applied training, which was the result of the extreme situation of that time due to the strained struggle against Sweden. Meanwhile the shortage of comprehensively educated officers was pressing. For a certain period Peter had been satisfied with the personnel of his administrative institutions, but the more complicated mechanism of government implied a higher level of education.
Besides that, the westernization of Russian culture carried out by the government stimulated the transition to the new policy of enlightenment which was manifested in the foundation of new kinds of schools intended for juvenile sons of gentry families.
In this connection it should be said in all fairness that M. Raeff, an American historian, was quite right in noting that in the Petrine time the young servants of His Majesty were interested by no means in technics,... the acquisition of general culture became desired by itself.(3) Probably their desire might find its satisfaction in the corresponding kind of schools, but those were not established by Peter the Great.
Subsequently, the Cadet Corps would become a school of a new type.
P.I.Yaguzhinsky, an associate of Peter the Great, is considered to be the author of the concept of the First Cadet Corps in Russia. He had familiarized himself with the activities of the Danish and Prussian Corps, and composed a project of a similar school in St.Petersburg. It was not a straight adoption of European patterns: he tried to take into account the difference in social development between Russia and those countries. On the other hand, he proposed to establish two Cadet Corps with 500 cadets in each, but he did not realize what difficulties would arise of that, first of all with the staffing of lecturers and provision of material facilities. According to this proposition, only juvenile representatives of gentry had the right to enter the new military school. Its educational program was partly borrowed from
Ritterakademien' where side by side with applied sciences humanitarian subjects were also studied. This system was made the basis of the teaching process in the cadets' classes, which were called the Russian Academy of Knighthood. The cadets studied foreign languages - German, French, English, Italian and Latin.(4) Besides that the program of the Corps included history, heraldry, genealogy, literature, natural and applied sciences. A special branch of subjects was formed by painting and drawing. There were represented also noble items, like fencing, riding and dancing.
Undoubtedly this kind of school was absolutely original for Russia, and its foundation was an important step toward the westernization of the entire educational system in the country. However, in only a few years the Cadet Corps would convert into one of the centers of the Russian culture and education. At once after its establishment some obstacles arose that hindered the beginning of the Corps activity.
For instance, there was not a suitable house, because the palace of Prince A. D. Menshikov which was established as a place for cadets was very ramshackle. Menshikov was degraded and exiled to Siberia in 1727, and his palace for 4 years had no owner. Therefore its rooms were rather damaged and needed repair. Settling this problem was very difficult due to the lack of means.
Further, at the beginning the lecturers were not sufficiently educated and qualified, as their role was played by non-commissioned officers of the Line and the Guard. Sometimes their knowledge did not exceed the level of the cadets themselves.(5) The crucial problems were low salaries and almost total lack of housing. As a result, the knowledge level of cadets was very poor. According to one of the messages to the Senate in 1737, more than one fourth of cadets were not competent in all sciences.(6)
Gradually the Cadet Corps took root at the Menshikov Palace.
The cadets took part in the erection of a training ground and stables, the restoration of the park.
Many professors of the Academy of Sciences were drawn in lectures. By the middle of the 18th century the Corps was turned into a really notable center of culture and enlightenment in Russia. The library of the Corps was considered to be one of the best in St.Petersburg. The performances of the cadets' theater had a great success and was distinguished with a talented company of actors, one of whom was F. Volkov, the founder of the Russian dramatic theater.
There was also a cadets' magazine published in the Corps, in which their plays and verse appeared.
The pedagogical methods and programs used in the Corps influenced the entire educational system in the country. For seven years its director was I. I. Betskoy, one of the pillars of Russian pedagogy. It is common thing to consider the Cadet or Page Corps as just privileged schools, which allowed their students to obtain quick promotion. As it was said, only sons of gentry and nobility could be enlisted in the corps. But to the Page Corps only sons of nobles, military and bureaucratic élite usually were enrolled, while juvenile gentry were sent to the Cadet Corps. Their career depended mainly on their advancement. In some cases the most negligent cadets might be transferred to musician teams or sailor crews. Usually the graduates started their careers from low ranks. The only real privilege of these schools was the high level of education which could be compared with that of a university.
As to political mood in the Corps, worth mentioning is a special wall on which cadets expressed their emotions and thoughts, most of which had an oppositionist bias.
In the second half of the 18th century Cadet Corps were established in Moscow and other places. Later in the 19th century they were converted into military gymnasia, but soon would get back their original status and name.
After the events of 1917 all the Corps, including the First, were abolished, but up to now the look of the former Menshikov Palace reminds us about the period when the first Academy of Knighthood was placed there, where the Russian military and cultural élite was being brought up.
Captions for pages 2-4.
Downstream the Neva from the floating bridge. Part of the painting by an unknown artist after the drawing of 1749 by I. I. Makhayev. To the right is represented a part of the Vasilyevsky island and the Cadet Corps.
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P. I. Yaguzhinsky. Print by P.Borel. The middle of the 19th century. One of the most prominent associates of Peter the Great. Took part in the
ateyka(conspiracy) of the dignitaries striving to restrict the power of the would-be Empress Anna Ioannovna, later took her side. In 1732-1734 was the Ambassador in Berlin, in 1735 - cabinet minister. Prepared a draft on establishing cadet corps in Russia.
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1) F. G. Volkov. Portrait by A.Losenko. Volkov is considered to be one of the founders of the Russian theater, first national professional actor. Took active part in establishing and activities of the Yaroslavl company of comedians. In 1752 it toured to St.Petersburg where several performances were played, among which - those at the Court. Volkov and several of his comrades were sent to the Cadet Corps, where they formed the basis of the cadets' theater. That theater played an important role in the cultural life of the capital.
2) A. P. Sumarokov. Portrait by M.Rozokov. Prominent Russian author, dramatist and essayist. A graduate of the Cadet Corps, where he would afterward be teaching for several years. Was staging plays, including his own, in the Corps theater.
(1) See, for instance: Melnitsky V.N. The Collection of Data on
the Military Educational Institutions in Russia (of the Army). St.
Petersburg, 1857; Luzanov P.F. The Gentry Cadet Corps of the Army:
Historical Essay. Issue 1. St.Petersburg, 1907; Antonov A.N. The Petersburg
Cadet Corps. St.Petersburg, 1907, et al.
(2) The Complete Collection of the Laws of the Russian Empire. St. Petersburg, 1830. Vol.V. (further - CCL).
(3) Raeff M. To Understand Pre-revolutionary Russia. L., 1990. P.67- 76.
(4) CCL. Vol.IV; The Central State Archive of Military History. Fund 24. List 1. File 225. Sheets 14-20. (further - CSAMH).
(5) CSAMH. Fund 314. File 1650. Sheets 3-5, 10-30rev.
(6) Luzanov P.F. op. cit. P.3