His parents were a Russian prince of Rurikid stock, Prince Andrey Vyazemsky, and an Irish lady, Jenny O'Reilly. As a young man he took part in the Battle of Borodino and other engagements of the Napoleonic Wars. Many years later, Tolstoy's description of the battle in War and Peace would appear inaccurate to him and he would engage in a literary feud with the great novelist.
In the 1820s Vyazemsky was the most combative and brilliant champion of what then went by the name of Romanticism. Both Prince Pyotr and his wife Princess Vera, née Gagarina were on intimate terms with Pushkin, who often visited their family seat at Ostafievo near Moscow (now a literary museum). Unsurprisingly, Vyazemsky is quoted in Pushkin's works, including Eugene Onegin. The two friends also exchanged several epistles in verse.
In the thirties, like all the "literary aristocracy", Vyazemsky found himself out of date and out of tune with the young generation. He had the great sadness of surviving all his contemporaries. Though it was precisely in his last years that his poetical talent bore its best fruit, he was forgotten and abandoned by critics and public long before he died. He grew into an irritated reactionary who heartily detested everyone born after 1810.
At that time, the elderly poet gained admission to the Russian court, in part through his daughter's marriage to Pyotr Valuev, the future Chairman of the Committee of Ministers. In the 1850s, Vyazemsky served as a deputy minister of education and was in charge of the censorship in Russia. In 1863, he settled abroad on account of bad health. Prince Vyazemsky died in Baden-Baden, but his body was brought to St. Petersburg and buried there.
Vyazemsky is probably best remembered as the closest friend of Pushkin. Their correspondence is a treasure house of wit, fine criticism, and good Russian. In the early 1820s, Pushkin proclaimed Vyazemsky the finest prose writer in the country. His prose is sometimes exaggeratedly witty, but vigor and raciness are ubiquitous. His best is contained in the admirable anecdotes of his Old Notebook, an inexhaustible mine of sparkling information on the great and small men of the early nineteenth century. A major prose work of his declining years was the biography of Denis Fonvizin.
Though Vyazemsky was the journalistic leader of Russian Romanticism, there can be nothing less romantic than his early poetry: it consists either of very elegant, polished, and cold exercises on the set commonplaces of poetry, or of brilliant essays in word play, where pun begets pun, and conceit begets conceit, heaping up mountains of verbal wit. His later poetry became more universal and essentially classical.
- Собрание сочинений Вяземского в 12 тт. СПб. 1878—1886, его переписка, «Остафьевский архив», т. I—V.
- Грот Я., Сухомлинов М., Пономарев С., в Сборнике 2 отделения Академии наук, т. XX, 1880.
- Трубачев С. С. Вяземский как писатель 20-х гг., «Исторический вестник», Ї 8, 1892.
- Спасович В. Вяземский и его польские отношения и знакомства. Сочинения Спасовича, т. VIII, 1896.
- Языков Д. П. Вяземский. — М. 1904.
- Кульман H. Вяземский как критик. Известия Академии наук. книга 1. 1904.
- Гинзбург А. Вяземский литератор, Сборник «Русская проза», под ред. Б. Эйхенбаума и Ю. Тынянова, Л., 1926.
- Венгеров С. А. Источники словаря русских писателей, т. I, СПб. 1900.
- Бондаренко В.В. Вяземский. М., 2004 (серия "Жизнь замечательных людей")
- This article incorporates text from D.S. Mirsky's "A History of Russian Literature" (1926-27), a publication now in the public domain.