Mikhail Evgrafovich Saltykov-Schedrin (real surname Saltykov, pen-name N. Schedrin) occupies a special place in a number of Russian literature celebrities that was admitted even by his contemporaries. In I.S.Turgenev's opinion, he «separated» («otmezheval») «the whole field» in Russian literature, in which he appeared as an «undoubted master and the first man». This «field» is satire and its weapon - laugh - was skillfully used by Saltykov-Schedrin, who struggled against social and moral sins. A «prosecutor of Russian social life» and at the same time a defender of «muzhik» (peasant), of peasant Russia, from « internal enemies» - that is how the writer was taken by the progressive circles of Russian society.
An hereditary nobleman, a graduate of a privileged Aleksandrovsky (earlier Tsarskoselsky) Lyceum, having an opportunity to climb the very top of the social pyramid, Saltykov-Schedrin from his first steps in literature embarked on the path of principal accusation of social regime based on injustice, producing privileges for one class and making the others destitute. Neither the eight-year exile to Vyatka for his «harmful way of thinking» nor permanent attacks of conservative press could make the writer change his opinion. As Saltykov-Schedrin thought, the dominant principles that had lost their significance and truth were just «phantoms», according to him, they continued to sway only because the nation was not developed morally, «lacked» consciousness. The satirist urged «common» to put an end to «thoughtlessness» («bessoznatelnost»). Denying the principles of the «old» structure full of critical oppositions and «disharmony», Saltykov-Schedrin proceeded from notions of social system, necessarily based on equality and freedom. The writer's ideal corresponded with the »immortal common statements» of Utopian socialists Sen-Simon, Fourie and other thinkers, whom he was taken to in his youth when attending the society of a free-thinker M.V.Petrashevsky and which he - avoiding dogmatism - sympathized with for the rest of his life.
These ideas defined the current of a magazine «Otechestvennye Zapiski» (1868-1884), that was turned by its editors - Nekrasov and Saltykov-Schedrin - into a tribune of progressive intellectuals and a «possessor of thoughts» («vladetel dum») of democratically orientated readers.
Disorder in native social life, sharp-sightedly marked by the writer, did not, however, belittle his tender love to the country: «I love Russia up to heart pain and can't even imagine myself in any place except Russia».
Saltykov-Schedrin modestly characterized himself as a «chronicler of the minute» («letopisets minuty»), a topical writer. However, his deep analysis of recent past decay and modern life led to common conclusions about the «march of history». Considering objective reality, accepting inevitability of social and historic «turns», the writer «warns» of those negative consequences which «the nearest future» will be faced with because of the «advent» of a new social power and prop - bourgeoisie, and that means: pragmatism, forcing out spirituality, «rapaciousness» («khischnitchestvo»), a complete power of money, the deterioration of culture and «loss of consciousness»...
In the conditions of increasing demoralization of the society Saltykov-Schedrin raised his voice of «stydouchitel» (someone who appeals to human consciousness) summoning with religious passion to sacrifice souls for the good and the true and not for any doubtful signs of prosperity (for «poltina» - 50 kopecks - as he said). The plan made before his death, the literary «testament» of the writer – «Zabytye Slova», as it is known represented a protest against the fact that the mercantile century forgot its elevated moral values.
«He is a great writer, much more instructive and important than he is spoken about», as M.Gorky stated correctly. Saltykov-Schedrin's importance and instructiveness correlate with his topicality. Works by Schedrin help a thoughtful reader of our days to understand contradictions of modern life, realize more precisely the meaning of the «moral principle» in solving social problems.
Pushkinsky Dom is the main repository of the writer's manuscripts. The largest part of his work autographs, numerous samples of his correspondence are concentrated in Saltykov-Schedrin fund. Besides that, there are proof-sheets of a series of articles and essays, different notes, business documents (mainly concerning the publishing of «Otechestvennye Zapiski»), papers dealing with his service in Vyatka (1848-1855), at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1856-1857), at the State Board in Tula (1867). The family files of Saltykov are included in the fund as well (they contain household papers and letters of his father, mother, brother and their relatives who lived in the XVIII century).
The Literature Museum disposes several memorial items, including a portrait of M.E.Saltykov-Schedrin in his early childhood made by a serf artist Lev Grigoryev (1827?), another portrait of M.E.Saltykov-Schedrin by I.N.Kramskoy (1879, the author's copy of the original made for the writer), his table-clock, a series of photos including that with a donating sign to Prince A.I.Urusov (1868). The books by Saltykov-Schedrin with his donating signs to P.V.Annenkov, V.M.Garshin, F.M.Dostoevsky, A.N.Ostrovsky and other men of letters are of undoubted interest.
Pushkinsky Dom is one of the leading centres of studying Schedrin's legacy. Here the scientific description of the writer's manuscripts was realized, the bibliography of literature about his life and works (1848-1897) was constituted, a series of monographs on the problems of contents and forms of Schedrin's satire was produced, and lots of textual and commenting work was done for the edition: The Collection of Works by M.E.Saltykov-Schedrin in 20 volumes (1965-1977).