Very little is known about the life of this elusive and extraordinary character, a dark horse
of Russian literature
These bits and pieces of his remarkable history have been collected as a token of gratitude for the ineffable influence Kozma had and continues to have on Russian character. He is, in fact, one of the most quoted Russian writers surpassing such giants of literary world as Pushkin, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. But while gripping the masses with his wit and unusual writing style, he managed to remain largely in obscurity, evading the scrutiny of omnipresent public eye. His aphorisms do occasionally sneak into Western writing, but the author remains equally mysterious to both Russian and Western reader alike.
Kozma Prutkov was born on April 11, 1803. In 1820, seeking a life-long and successful career in public service for himself he enrolled in military. His time in military service proved anything but long-lasting. On the night of April 11, 1823, Kozma Prutkov witnessed a dream that would radically change his life and eventually force him to abandon his hopes of a military career. There are conflicting accounts of what he really saw that night, but most historians concur that he saw one of his superiors naked! This character, a Brigadier General from some accounts, led Prutkov to a remote mountain peak where they entered a forgotten crypt together. In the crypt, the general started showing Prutkov precious fabrics placing them one by one in front of Kozma and letting him touch them. Upon touching the most expensive piece, Kozma felt a strong electric shock and woke up.
Undoubtedly, Kozma Prutkov was very perturbed by the dream, since the very next morning he asked for his resignation. When resignation was approved, Kozma obtained employment at the Ministry of Finances where he remained for the rest of his life. A public official for the greater part of his life, Kozma Prutkov was actively writing only during early 1850s and 1860s. All Prutkov's works were dated with the eleventh day of the month. Many thought he did so in reference to his birthday; however, he later admitted that the dream that haunted him was the cause of this peculiar habit.
Prior to 1850 Kozma Prutkov did not perceive himself as a writer by any stretch of imagination. He was very far from writing and literary circles until 1850 when he acquainted the brothers Zhemchuzhnikov and their cousin Count Aleksei Konstantinovich Tolstoy. Kozma's new circle of friends was very fond of him, and they eventually convinced him of his gift as a writer. His first play Fantasy was not a huge success, but the author was not deterred continuing to write incessantly. He soon changed the genre to fables producing three in rapid succession. While overly reticent in the beginning of his literary career, Kozma Prutkov eventually became somewhat arrogant after his new success with the public. It was then when he became known as Kozma Prutkov.
Kozma Prutkov was published in several well-respected literary magazines of the time including Contemporary (Sovremennik), Spark (Iskra), Whistle (Svistok) and Entertainment (Razvlechenie). While his publications spanned over a very brief period of time, his writings appeared incredibly diverse. He is now recognized as a fable writer, poet, historian and even philosopher. Fruits of Pondering (Plodi Razdumiya) is perhaps his most well-known and familiar work. It is a collection of aphorisms in excess of one hundred entries. Kozma Prutkov died on January 13, 1863.
Having absorbed this incredible amount of information and enduring through this seemingly endless biography of an obscure Russian writer, it will probably come as a shock to anyone when they learn of one final piece to this puzzle...
Kozma Prutkov has never existed in flesh and blood!
No, I have not gone out of my mind and made this up. The work was already done for me! Everything about Kozma Prutkov, his arrogant character, his trials and tribulations in life, his numerous works, even his date of birth were all made up by aforementioned brothers Zhemchuzhnikov and Count Tolstoy. The ploy was used to forewarn of the demise of classic Russian literature and ridicule the emergence of the new type of writer like Prutkov. Although Kozma Prutkov was not a real person, there were plenty of people like him. Apparently, these new authors were not received well by older and more mature writers who were eager to expose incompetence and arrogance of their lesser siblings.
But what about Prutkov's writings? They were all produced in complete secrecy and submitted to the magazines by two brothers and Count Tolstoy. Kozma Prutkov was their outlet into the world through which they could speak without fear of public's indignation; he was their personal scapegoat for literary experiments. While Prutkov was entirely a product of their imagination or even boredom, he was more importantly a product of the era.
By the time the cover-up was discovered, Kozma Prutkov has acquired a sort of legacy of his own. His image did not simply disappear once it was announced that he did not exist. Prutkov not only lived on beyond his imaginary death in 1863, but he is still very much alive and well. The public felt comfortable giving him credit for the works he could not possibly author, and every now and then you see an aphorism or quote attributed to his pen.
Translation: yours truly