I. V. Michurin Reference Archive

Brief Autobiographical Note

Source: I. V. Michurin: Selected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1949;
First Published: Sadovod, So. 6, 1914;
Online Version: Sally Ryan for the I. V. Michurin Reference Archive (marxists.org) 2002.

It will soon be forty years since I entirely devoted myself and all my work to horticulture, which I still love passionately. It may be that this was a heritage from my grandfather who put a great deal of personal labour into the cultivation of a big orchard on his family estate in Ryazan Province, or, perhaps, even a heritage from my great-grandfather, also a well-known horticulturist, who lived in Kaluga Province, where to this day there are several varieties of pears known as Michurin pears. Possibly the personal example of my father, who likewise devoted much effort to the cultivation of his orchard, also had a great influence on me from very early childhood. At any rate, as long as I can remember myself I was always completely engrossed in the work of cultivating plants. And my enthusiasm was so strong that I scarcely even noticed many other details in life; it is as if they all passed me by, hardly leaving any impression on my mind. Yet, thinking things over, what a vast amount of strength I spent, what a vast amount of arduous physical labour I performed and what a host of hardships I suffered because of the dire lack of means to achieve the aims set....

Now I myself can hardly comprehend how, with my weak and frail constitution and not trained from childhood for heavy manual labour, I could have endured all this. Only an all-absorbing passion, amounting to complete self-oblivion could have instilled in me that incredible fortitude of constitution that makes one capable of performing work that is beyond his strength.

After completing my studies in a secondary school, the breakup and impoverishment of my family compelled me, against my desire, to abandon the idea of continuing my education in a higher school. I had to take a position with a private concern, in a railway office, where I received extremely small remuneration, hardly sufficient for living most modestly in the city. But despite all this, it was absolutely beyond my powers to give up my work with plants, for which I had such an affection. To continue this work I rented, at first, a small empty city lot which included a small neglected orchard where I spent all my free time. The insignificant sums I managed to save from my salary at the office often denying myself the barest necessities, were spent on the purchase of plants and seeds.

Soon the orchard lot I rented was so crowded with plants that I could not continue my work on it. Fortunately, I managed at the time to acquire a small plot of meadowland, about six versts from town, on a long-term purchase agreement, and I gradually removed all my plants there, carrying them on my own back. Then, when my gardening developed, I was able to give up my position and devote all my efforts to work in horticulture.

Already at the very beginning of my work in horticulture, I arrived at the conclusion, based on personal observations and partially on information gathered from well-known, experienced horticulturists during a tour of orchards in Central Russia specially undertaken for the purpose, that the quality of the varieties of fruit-bearing plants in all parts of Central Russia was very low. Consequently, I set myself the task of eliminating, by one method or another, so very grave a shortcoming in my favourite field. Unfortunately, I at first was enthusiastic about Grell's ideas of those days concerning the acclimatization of the best foreign varieties by grafting them on to hardy wildings. Much labour and time were lost on these erroneous experiments before I finally became convinced that the method was useless. Then, following the advice of Dr. Betling, I began to breed my own new local varieties of fruit-bearing plants from the seeds of superior-quality fruits. But it soon became clear to me that I could not expect to accomplish much without artificially crossing local varieties of plants with the best foreign varieties, because it is difficult to obtain higher qualities from mediocre varieties. To achieve this, the fruit of one of the parent plants must possess better, outstanding qualities. Consequently, it was necessary to resort to hybridization. For many years, step by step, I assiduously studied hybridization on the basis of comprehensive practical experiments, taking due account of the few theoretical findings which I had managed to gather at the time. I made tens of thousands of experiments. I grew a vast amount of new varieties of fruit-bearing plants from which several hundred new strains suitable for cultivation in our orchards were obtained, many being in no way inferior in quality to the best foreign varieties.

Further, I accumulated an extensive archive of rough notes pertaining to various observations on plant breeding and numerous photographs of plants. And all this was done on the small income derived from the sale of plants produced in a small commercial nursery specially established for the purpose. This income served to cover all expenditures, but practically nothing remained by way of savings.

Throughout the many years of labour devoted to improving varieties of fruit plants in Central Russia, I never received any subsidies or grants from the state, let alone thousand ruble salaries.

I worked the best I could on the means which I obtained by my own labour. Throughout the past period I constantly struggled against poverty and endured all kinds of hardship silently; I never asked for assistance from the government so that I might more extensively develop this work, so highly useful and so very necessary to Russian agriculture.

On the advice of eminent horticulturists, I submitted several memoranda to our department of agriculture in which I tried to explain the vast importance and the necessity of improving and increasing native varieties of fruit-bearing plants by raising local varieties from seeds. Nothing came of these memoranda. And now, at last, it is too late--the years have gone by and my strength is exhausted. For my part I have done what I could; it is time to rest and to take care of myself, especially since I constantly feel the effects of failing health and diminishing strength.

It is very painful, of course, to have laboured so many years for the common good with no recompense and then to be deprived of security in old age. The consequences are that I shall have to go on with my arduous work to the end--an unenviable prospect....

And that, too, gentlemen, is the reason why I was compelled to close the nursery to visitors. I simply have no time to entertain sundry inspectors, gardening instructors, forestry experts and others who make almost daily visits to the nursery. I have absolutely no free time; I have no hired gardeners, I spend the whole day in the nursery and the better part of the night answering letters. The number of these letters from all parts of Russia, and lately from abroad, has, by the way, reached such proportions that my replies to the inquiries of orchardmen are sometimes delayed for several months.