I’m thrilled to see John’s post, because he brings up a point that I’ve been thinking about a lot, too–the incompleteness of the supposedly complete.
I also came to think about it through the 18th century, and through RGADA (the Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts). In my case, I was looking at files about people changing their legal social status (their soslovie, to use a word that was not then quite regularly in use), which meant presenting their cases to local Magistracies located in various provincial towns. The Magistracies examined the documents presented by individuals, looked through the various ukazes they found relevant, and came to a decision.
And a bunch of those ukazes the Magistracies treated as laws did not end up in the Complete Collection.
I also found this fascinating, and wondered a bit about it. John points out Speransky’s own stance in favor of the permanent, or of that which could be considered legal rather than purely administrative. Speransky even noted in the introduction to the first collection that his commission had excluded “all particular, all personal, all temporary and incidental matters.” 1
To me, it doesn’t negate the importance of the PSZ, of course, nor does it really affect my impression of Speransky. But it does make me far more wary of accounts that are based solely on the laws (something I’ve certainly done myself). It makes me boggle a bit at a statement by Kliuchevksy early in his famous lectures on sosloviia. As far as he was concerned, laws were the only sources capable of allowing a modern reader to understand the history of sosloviia. Any other sources were, he claimed, merely “fruits of individual consciousness,” not of the larger social world. 2 And yet, as John’s example shows, the law has been so codified as to obscure that larger truth.
I also, on a more pragmatic note, wonder about differences between the first, historical, Collection and the later contemporaneous (simultaneous? not sure which is the better word) Collections–and Svody, too.