Foreigners in Russia: Count Montfort
Count Montfort was a French nobleman who immigrated to Russia and served as the first tutor and governor to Aleksandr Pushkin, arguably the greatest Russian poet, from 1806 until 1811, when Pushkin enrolled in the prestigious “Tsarskoye Selo” (Tsar’s Lyceum) academy to continue his education. Montfort proved to have a large influence on Pushkin, instilling in the young poet a great love for music, art, and language. With his love and aptitude for poetry firmly in place at such a young age, Pushkin would come to dominate and redefine Russian literature and culture in his lifetime.
Departure from France and Invitation to Tutor
In the imperial Russian courts of the 18th and 19th century, French was the official language, and noblemen would often hire foreign governors or governesses from Europe (usually of either French or German origin) to tutor their children in multiple languages and arts, ensuring that their children received the highest formal European education possible. Adding in particular to the number of tutors from France in Russia at that time was the recent French Revolution. Tensions between the French citizens and their former nobility were inflamed at best, with noblemen routinely being executed by the guillotine in the wake of the revolution. Faced with the prospect of losing one’s head, several members of the French nobility fled to Russia to serve as tutors in a societal system they were accustomed to, and in turn save themselves from the angry mobs of the French public.
It was at the age of seven that Pushkin became difficult, rebellious, and adventurous, leaving his parents at a loss as to how to control their young child. Both came to the conclusion that the time might have come to invest in a professional governor or tutor for their children’s further education. Montfort came highly recommended by friends of the family, and Pushkin’s upbringing (as well as that of his sisters) was entrusted to what would grow to be a long line of foreign governors, and governesses. Montfort, however, was Pushkin’s first tutor, and the French immigrant would provide Pushkin with a different impression than any foreign tutor that would follow.
Montfort and Pushkin
As a result of having a tutor from France, Montfort was responsible for Pushkin’s eventual fluent knowledge of the French language: all Pushkin’s lessons were conducted in French. Montfort himself was extremely well educated, as well as being a talented musician and painter. Montfort, through his own love for the arts, inspired in the young Pushkin a similar affinity. Pushkin would develop various opinions about the tutors that would follow Count Montfort, but the French immigrant would ultimately prove to be Pushkin’s favorite. The great poet wrote about him “I cannot put on the same board with these eccentrics (governors), educators of children, the French immigrant Count Montfort, a man educated and humane: to educate me in French was Montfort’s idea…” Montfort’s artistic and free spirit would enable him to establish a bond with the young Pushkin. As Pushkin grew older, Montfort would educate him about the city of Moscow, acquainting the budding poet with the city’s history. Pushkin would write “We walked with Montfort around all of Moscow. I knew the city far and wide: The Kremlin, the embankment, the Kammeny Most (Stone Bridge), the house of education, the Petrovsky Theater, the University…”
While Montfort’s free and cheerful spirit allowed him to foster a close relationship with the rambunctious young Pushkin, the poet’s parents would eventually come to think differently, favoring a stricter approach to their child’s education. Eventually the decision was made to release Montfort, which would start them on a search through several other tutors they thought could provide a firmer hand. None however would have the lasting effect that Montfort had on Pushkin, and none would prove anywhere near as endearing to Russia’s greatest poet.