Playful Teddy. Not an Easy Hero of Polish-Russian Dialogue

Jan Tadeusz Krzysztof Bułharyn, also Faddiej Vieniediktowicz Bulgarin, Russian: Фаддей Венедиктович Булгарин. Photo: I.Friederik – The Complete Works of Bulgarin, Vol. 3, Public Domain, Wikimedia

There are few eponyms from which the term vice is derived. Molière’s Harpagon, synonymous with ‘miser’, is the most famous. But the surname “Bułharyn” (Bulgarin) also received this honor.

Where hadn’t he been, whom didn’t he know! Tadeusz Bułharyn (1789-1859) was educated in the St. Petersburg Cadet Corps and in Vilnius, he served under the future Grand Duke Konstantin, but also under General Józef Chłopicki, he knew Adam Mickiewicz and Aleksander Pushkin, drank with the Vilnius free-masons and Muscovian Decembrists, and used his cravat to polish a ring, evidence of the special favor of His Imperial Majesty Nicholas I. But probably most of all, he valued his acquaintance with Count Alexander von Benckendorff, founder of the 3rd Department of His Imperial Majesty’s Own Chancellery, i.e. the famous Russian secret police.

Who was he? In writing about his ancestors, he sometimes claimed that the nickname “Bułharyn-Skenderbeg” was inherited by the sword. Let us recall that Skenderbeg is the surname of the 15th-century ruler of Albania, fighting (but also dealing with) the Turks. Yes, part of his family escaped to the lands of then Bulgaria, where they could keep their family name. However, how an Albanian-Bulgarian immigrant ended up in the lands of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and achieved a small fortune and honors there, Tadeusz did not explain.

More plausible are the roots of the family going back to the tribes of the Volga Bulgars (“Bułhars”), subjugated by Russia from the 16th century onwards. But even from there, it is not easy to get to Volhynia, where the Bułharyns are first mentioned in Adam Boniecki’s armorial [collection of coats or arms]. Or maybe the Lipkas, so the Tatars who settled in Lithuania, who in turn are mentioned in the coat of arms disquisitions by Seweryn Uruski, come into play?

Mińszczucy from time immemorial

We won’t get to the bottom of it. Suffice it to say that in times closer to Tadeusz, the Bułharyn family lived in the Mińsk Voivodeship on the borderlands of the pre-partition Commonwealth. The typical middle nobility, citizens of the Commonwealth, Uniates by faith, with a slight trace of foreignness or originality: legends of Skenderbeg, documented participation of one of the ancestors in the Polish-Muscovite War (1605-1618), or expeditions to Moscow with the intention of enthroning a usurper there... At the same time, they were property owners and possessors of a coat of arms (the mother even came from the house of Buczyński, the Strzemie coat of arms, which was highly regarded in Lithuania). Their Pieryszewo estate allowed him to participate in public life. Tadeusz’s father, Benedykt, was supposedly devoted to the cause of the Constitution, and then the Insurrection – apparently (but maybe it’s also a family legend?) the name of their firstborn was given in honor of the Leader [Tadeusz Kościuszko].

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By Wojciech Stanisławski

Translated by Nicholas Siekierski