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munity a share in public affairs. This grant of
citizenship to all members of the State had ten yearsr
earlier been recommended tb the Poles by Jean
Jacques Rousseau, who had been consulted on the
subject by some patriots. Even at the present day
one reads with astonishment of the boldness with
which Koll^taj spoke against the deeply-rooted
prejudices of the all-powerful nobility. These foolish
men showed their traditional selfishness ; they were
preparing the ruin of their country. Especially did
this fine patriot devote himself to education, and it
was to his strenuous efforts that its progress in the


country at that time is to be attributed. He was
convinced that the system upon which the republic
was based, with the election of its kings and other
anomalies, could no longer be maintained, being an
absolute anachronism among the nations of Europe.
It would be useless to apply mild remedies to such
diseases ; the root of the evil was the elective system :
he, therefore, proposed to make the king hereditary.
In this opinion he was supported by many intelligent
and educated men. But he found opponents, who
would not hear of any curtailment of this privilege of
the' nobility. Severyn Rzewuski, hetman of the
Crown, answered him in a pamphlet on the succession
in Poland, in which he contended for the old privilege
of election. He brings forward Franklin and Washing-
ton as the heroes of liberty against hereditary
sovereignty, of which he says, giving the lie to his
fine-sounding phrases about liberty, that such an
institution might lessen the privileges of the nobility,
and even make it possible for a peasant to bring a
nobleman before a court of justice !

It will be remembered from a previous chapter that
this Severyn Rzewuski was one of the members of the
infamous confederation of Targowica, who sold their
country in 1792.

On reading the letters of Kollg.taj it is impossible
to say with what we are most struck : the sharp-
sighted views of the man and his grasp of the
situation, or the blindness of his opponents, who
still haggled while their enemies were all round
them. Perhaps, as Herr Nitschmann says, to whom
we are indebted for many just remarks upon this


interesting man, he was too fond of extreme measures,
and too much of a democrat ! But this was no time
t(^ borrow the expression of the ancients, to sing in-
cantations over a disease which demanded the knife.
On the day of the storming of Praga, when Koll^taj
saw that all hope was lost, he departed to Galicia,
but was taken prisoner by the Austrian authorities
in the palatinate of Sandomir, and imprisoned at
Olmlitz, where he remained eight years in confine-
ment, only obtaining his release in 1803. Even
when he regained his liberty he could not recover
his lost property. He now played no further political
part, but betook himself to writing. He died on
February 28, 18 12. His historical and political
works are not much remembered, but he has earned
for himself an ever-enduring record in the pages
of Polish history. One of the most active of his
coadjutors was the Priest Jezierski, who wrote many
severe satires on the political anomalies of his country.

But the literature of independent Poland was now
finished. She was to have a greater and more
original literature, but it was to be that of proscrip-
tion and exile. The old pseudo-classical school of
poetry, as it has been not inaptly styled, was now on
the wane throughout Europe ; the Romantic school
was to begin. We are obliged to omit the less
conspicuous names in this new school, although
perhaps a word may be said about Casimir Brod-
zinski, author of a pleasing idyl, Wieslaw who also
translated into Polish many of the Latin poems of
Jan Kochanowski.

The reputation of Julian Niemcewicz, once so


widely spread among his countrymen, has not been
maintained as an author; still it would not be pos-
sible to omit all mention of a man who played such
an important part in his country's history. He was
born in Lithuania in 1758. During his protracted
life he was first adjutant of Kosciuszko ; then his
companion in captivity at St. Petersburg ; afterwards
secretary to the Polish Senate, and lastly president
of the Royal Scientific Society of his country. He
died as an emigre d^t Paris in 1841. Besides all these
public services, discharged in the most critical days
of Poland's history, Niemcewicz was a very prolific
author. He wrote novels, plays, odes, epigrams,
fables, and translated a great deal from English,
among other works Pope's " Rape of the Lock."
His patriotic comedy, " The Return of the Deputy,"
was first played on the 15th of January, 1791, at
Warsaw, and had great success. It was to the credit
of Niemcewicz that he endeavoured to interest his
countrymen in the condition of the peasant. In the
year 1788, when elected a deputy in the four-years'
diet, he defended the rights of the burghers and serfs.
On the ruin of his country he retired to America,
where he lived ten years and married a rich widow.
In 1807 he returned to Warsaw, but left it after 1813,
and did not revisit it till the establishment of the
kingdom of Poland. It was during this period that
he composed his historical songs, Spiewy Historycz-
ne)^ which it would, perhaps, be unfair to criticise
from a mere poetical point of view, as they are
written mainly in a weak, sentimental style. They
had, however, an immense effect at the time, and arc


still popular among the Poles. They roused the
spirit of dormant patriotism by presenting the most
salient epochs of Polish history.

Niemcewicz vigorously supported the insurrection
of 1830; when it had failed he was again obliged to
leave his country. He was then seventy- four years
of age, but he survived ten years longer. Shortly
before his death he composed the following pathetic
epitaph for himself: —

•' Wygnancy, co tak dlugo bladzicie po swiecie,
Kiedyz znuzonym stopom spoczynek znajdziecie?
Dziki gol^b ma gniazdo, robak ziemi bryl^
Kazdy c/lowiek ojczyzn?, a Polak mogile."

(** O ye exiles, who so long wander over the world,

Where will ye find a resting place for your weary steps ?
The wild dove has its nest, and the worm a clod of earth,
Each man a country, but the Pole a grave !")

We now come to Adam Mickiewicz, the greatest
poet whom Poland has produced.

He was born at Nowogrodek, near Wilno in 1798,
and was educated at the university of the latter place,
which we have spoken of as having been founded by
Stephen Batory. Owing to the discovery of some
secret societies which had been formed there among
the students, he was sent to live as a kind of hostage
in Russia, and while in that country visited the
Crimea, to which he consecrated some beautiful
sonnets. He left Russia in 1829, having obtained
permission from the government to travel ; but he
had made up his mind never to return, and soon
afterwards took up his residence in Paris. Before
leaving the country of his exile he published his




Konrad Wallenrod, a story in verse of the ven-
geance taken by the Lithuanians upon their Teutonic
oppressors. As a specimen of the manner of Mickie-
wicz we will here find space for a short lyric from the
last- mentioned poem : —


il \ river of Lithuania, which flows by Kovno, and empties itself into
the Niemen.]

Our Wilia, the mother of wild forest-torrents,

Rolls sands of pure gold 'neath her clear azure currents ;

But purer in heart is our Litva's fair daughter,

And brighter in cheek as she drinks of the water.

'Mid the sweet vales of Kovno our Wilia is flowing ;
Around her narcissi and tulips are growing.
But gayer than roses' or tulips' proud splendour,
At the Litvinka's feet are the youths that attend her.

These vales which the flowers with their soft beauty corer.

How Wilia despises for Niemen her lover !

The Litvinka is sad, and she slights every maiden ;

For a youth that's a stranger her heart is love-laden.

Niemen with arms of wild force, as a giant

On its cold wintry breast its young lover doth pillow ;

Then hurries her onward, triumphant, defiant.

And sinks with her lost in the sea's maddened billow.

And thee, sweet Litvinka, the harsh fates shall sever

From thy dear native vales, the wild haunts of thy gladness 5

Absorbed in the gulf of oblivion's dark river,

Thou shall perish alone ! thou shalt fade in thy sadness

Madden'd stream, madden'd heart, 'tis in vain one deploreth
Wilia speeds, and the maid with love's spell is o'ertaken;
Wilia is lost in the Niemen she adoreth.
And the maiden laments in the lone tower forsaken.

As a Lithuanian by birth Mickiewicz naturally
turned to the legends of his own country, and in the


beautiful poem of Grazyna we have another piece
on the wars between the knights and their heathen
adversaries. This poem is said to have inspired the
brave EmiHa Plater, who was the heroine of the
Revolution of 1830, and after having fought in the
ranks of the insurgents found a grave in the forests
of Lithuania. One of the largest and most cele-
brated pieces of Mickiewicz is his Pan Tadeusz,
by many considered his masterpiece, written in the
year 1834. In this production we have a picture of
Polish life at the time of the expedition of Napoleon
to Russia in 181 2. Together with a slender love
story, which is a necessary ingredient of all tales,
Mickiewicz has given us a picture of the homes of
the Polish magnates, with their old-fashioned and
somewhat boisterous hospitality. The family feuds,
the patriarchal manners, the luxury of the nobles,
the Jews, and peasants, are all brought before us.
To Mickiewicz it was a labour of love to describe the
customs and scenes of his native Lithuania, to which
he ever cast the longing eyes of an exile. The
whole poem is steeped in the most delightful de-
scriptions of scenery, in which Mickiewicz showed
his greatest power. We do not consider him one whit
inferior to Wordsworth or Shelley in his splendid
cloud and forest pictures. Lithuania is the land of
forests, and in that country in old times the trees
were held sacred. He has described all the weird
sights and sounds which are to be met with in the
recesses of these primeval woods. We agree with
him when he introduces his hero Thaddeus, as
railing at the monotony of Italian skies : —


" I mial rozum, zawolal Tadeusz z zapalem
Te pantswa niebo wloskie, jak o niem slyszalem
Blekitne, czyste, wszak to jak zamarzla woda.
Czyz nie pi^kniejsze stokroc wialr i niepogoda."

('* * And he was right,' cried Thaddeus, with warmth.
* For that Italian sky of yours, as I have heard of it,
So blue and pure, is just like frozen water.
Are not wind and storm a hundred times more beautiful ? ' ")

After his marriage in 1834, Mickiewicz wrote no
more poetry ; his muse was perhaps silenced by the
hard duties of every-day Hfe. The poet was very
poor, and had difficulty in maintaining himself and
family. In 1839 he received a call to Lausanne as
professor of classical literature ; but before he had
been a year in his new vocation, he was brought back
to Paris by the offer of a Slavonic professorship in the
College de France, which had been recently founded.
Since the death of Pushkin, he was the undoubted
head of Slavonic literature, and therefore the position
seemed peculiarly appropriate. He delivered his
lectures at first to a large and appreciative audience,
but they cannot be said to have added to his reputa-
tion. In the first place, he was but imperfectly
acquainted with Slavonic literature outside of Polish;
of the other Slavonic languages he knew but little
besides Russian, and of Russian Hterature nothing
since the death of Pushkin, who in earlier days had
been his intimate friend. The lectures are also dis-
figured by many fantastic derivations of words, which
prove too clearly, how little scientific method was to
be found in the poet's philological studies. Still
Mickiewicz had a name which worked like a spell on
his countrymen, and he might have continued with


much popularity in his office to give his audience
magnificent aesthetic critiques and improvisations,
such as those in which he excelled, had he not fallen a
prey to the visionary ideas of a certain fanatic, named
Towianski. Owing to the influence of this man, he
became a religious mystic, and one part of his creed
was, the belief that the Napoleonic family was
destined to furnish the Messiah of the Polish nation,
who would deliver them from the house of bondage.
As his lectures were filled with these speculations he
became obnoxious to the Government and was removed
from his office. This was a great blow to him ; he was a
man of simple habits, but with a wife and six children
to maintain, his position became very precarious.
His wife, moreover, was a constant invalid, and
became ultimately insane, so that the poor poet had
not the pleasures of a happy, if simple, household.
We have now a portrait of him, wasted and stricken,
but still retaining something of his old fire. He was
invited to undertake the editorship of a French news-
paper. La Tribune des Peiiples, which was established in
the earlier days of the Republic, but was not destined
to last long. The Russian socialist, Herzen, in his
interesting memoirs, published in the "Polar Star"
{Poliarnaia Zviezdci)^ has described the dinner which
was given at Paris, to celebrate the foundation of this
journal, on which occasion he first met the poet. The
account is so interesting in its details, and . brings
Mickiewicz so vividly before us, that our readers will
probably be glad to have a translation of a portion of
it : — " When I arrived," says Herzen, *T found already
a good number of guests assembled, among whom


there was hardly a single Frenchman ; but, on the
other hand, various nations, from Sicilians to Croats,
were well represented. One person especially in-
terested me, Adam Mickiewicz ; I had never seen him
before. He stood by the fireplace, leaning with his
elbow on the mantelpiece. . . . Much care and suffering
were expressed in his face, which was Lithuanian
rather than Polish, The general impression produced
by his appearance, especially by his head with its
abundant grey hair and his weary look, was ex-
perience of unhappiness, familiarity with mental
distress, trouble amounting almost to madness — the
very embodiment of the fate of Poland. Something
seemed to restrain, to pre-occupy, to distract Mickie-
wicz. This was his extraordinary mysticism, in which
he was now further and further advancing. I went
to him, and he began to interrogate me about Russia.
His intercourse with the country had been interrupted.
He knew but little of the literary movement since the
days of Pushkin : he had stopped at the year when he
left Russia. In spite of his fundamental idea of the
fraternal union of all the Slavonic peoples, an idea
which he was one of the first to develop, there re-
mained in him something of a feeling unfriendly to
Russia. . . . Ch. [The name of Herzen's friend
which he does not give in full] told me that at the
dinner he would propose a toast to the memory of
the 24th of February, 1848, and that Mickiewicz
would give a reply in which he would enunciate the
programme of the future journal. He wished me as
a Russian, to answer Mickiewicz. Not being in the
habit of speaking publicly, and especially since I had


made no preparation I declined his request, but
promised to propose the health of Mickievvicz, and
to add a few words to it, stating the circumstances
under which I had first drunk it. At Moscow, at
a public dinner given to Granovski [a celebrated
professor of history, and intimate friend of Turgue-
niev, the novelist], in 1843, one of the guests raised his
glass with the words : ' To the health of the great
Slavonic poet, who is now absent' There was no
need of mentioning the name. . . . All rose, lifted up
their glasses and standing, drank in silence to the
health of the exile. Ch. was satisfied. Having
arranged our extempore speeches in such a manner
we sat down to dinner. At the close Ch. proposed
his toast : Mickiewicz thereupon rose and began to
speak. His discourse was elaborate, clever, and
extremely adroit, i.e., Barbes and Louis Napoleon
might have publicly applauded it ; I began to feel
disgusted at it. The more he developed his ideas,
the more I felt something oppressive, and waited for
just one word, one name, so that there might be
no doubt. It was not slow in making its appear-
ance. Mickiewicz at length proceeded to say that
democracy is now taking a new position, at the
head of which is France. That she will again
rouse herself to the rescue of all oppressed peoples
under those eagles and those flags, at the sight of
which all emperors and governments had trembled,
and that they will be again led forward by one of
the members of that dynasty, crowned by the
people, which has been appointed as it were by
Providence jtself, to carry on the revolution in the



regular path of authority and victory. When he
had finished, with the exception of some slight
applause from his supporters, there was a general
silence. Ch. saw clearly the mistake which
Mickiewicz had made, and wishing to remove the
effects of the speech as soon as possible, came up
with a bottle, and pouring out a glass, whispered
to me, ' What are you going to do ? ' 'I will not
say a word after that speech.' ' I entreat you to
say something.' ' Not on any consideration.'
The pause continued ; some fixed their eyes on
their plates ; others continually looked at their
glasses, and others maintained private conversations
with their neighbours. Mickiewicz changed coun-
tenance and wished to say something, but a loud,
'Je dtinande la parole' was heard, and put an end
to the disagreeable state of affairs. All turned to
the person who rose. A little old man of seventy
years of age, entirely grey, with a strikingly energetic
expression in his face, stood up, with a glass in his
trembling hand ; in his large black eyes and troubled
countenance anger and displeasure were written. It
was Ramon de la Sagra. ' To the twenty-fourth of
February,' he said, ' that was the toast which our
host proposed. Yes, to the twenty-fourth of February,
and to the destruction of every kind of despotism,
whether it be called regal or imperial, Bourbon, or
Bonaparte. I do not share the opinions of our
friend Mickiewicz. He looks upon things as a poet,
and may be right from his own point of view, but
I cannot allow his words to pass without a protest
in such a meeting as this.' And he continued in the


same strain with all the fervour of a Spaniard and
the authority of his seventy years. When he had
finished, twenty hands, my own among the number,
were stretched out to him with their glasses.
Mickiewicz wished to justify himself, and said some
words by way of explanation, but they were not
successful. De la Sagra would not give in. Finally,
all rose from the table, and Mickiewicz went

It was not until 1848 that the poet entirely freed
himself from Towianski. He remained in poverty
and neglect till 1852, when Prince Napoleon procured
for him the modest post of librarian at the Arsenal.
Mickiewicz continued till his death a staunch
adherent of the Imperial family, but his confidence
in its members was destined to receive some rude
shocks. The last production of the great Polish
poet cannot be called worthy of his genius. Follow-
ing the tradition of Kochanowski, Sarbiewski, and
others in using Latin, he addressed an ode in that
language to Napoleon III., on the taking of Bomar-
sund. The poem is a poor one, leaving out of all
consideration its completely anachronistic treat-
ment. In 1855 Mickiewicz was sent by the French
Government to Constantinople on a mission partly
literary and partly political. On the one hand, he
was to procure some information about the Christians
under Turkish rule, the state of education among
them (heaven save the mark !), and the manuscripts
to be found in libraries. On the other, he was to
assist in raising a Polish legion, in the pay of
Turkey, to serve against Russia. The commission


given by the Minister of Public Instruction to
Mickiewicz is indeed a curious document, and shows
how little the condition of Turkey and the East
generally was understood at that time. To us,
reading it in the light of later events, it might be
a document a century old. It will explain to a
younger generation, not contemporary with the war,
how the Anglo-French alliance with the Turks was
a possibility. It must be declared in all frankness
that whatever was to be done for the Christians in
the East could never be accomplished by Polish
agency. This is said in no depreciation of this
gallant and chivalrous people. The strong religious
barriers which separate such Ultramontanists as
the Poles from all sympathy with the Serbs and
Bulgarians, their Orthodox brethren, would alone
prevent it. M. de Vogue, in one of his clever essays,
has admirably sketched the Polish attitude in Slavonic
questions ; with the Russian his conflicts have been
for centuries both political and religious ; towards
the other Slavonic countries in their national struggles
he wears an air of haughty reserve, like a broken
aristocrat compelled to share the shabby gentility of
parvenus. But we must remember, in justice, that
we have to do with a proud and manly race which
has suffered many mortifications. Nothing, it may
be honestly said, could have been expected for the
Slavs from the poet's mission, but it was destined to
end in the saddest way for Mickiewicz himself He
was now a widower, and confiding his children to the
care of their aunt, was anxious to escape awhile
from his melancholy surroundings. On September


II, 1855, Mickiewicz parted with his family, having
as companion a Pole named Henry Sluzalski ; a
French friend, Armand Levy, who has given us
some interesting letters, joined him on the way.
Gn the 23rd of September the party was already
at Constantinople. The letters furnish all the old
impressions de voyage about that city, which have
now become so stale. It is the old story of the
splendid panorama and the disgust caused by the
dirty streets. The poet was brought into connexion
with some of the Polish officers in the service of the
Sultan who had turned, or affected to have turned,
Mussulmans, among others Ilinski, who fought at
Silistria, and went under the name of Iskinder Pasha.
Some extraordinary, and by no means creditable,
stories are told of him and his bashi-bazouks^ as the
irregular troops of the Turks were called. The
wretched man, unable to get assimilated to the
barbarism which he saw around him and be con-
tented, seems to have done little but drink and
gamble. In order to lull the suspicions of the
Turks, who doubted him, as the Egyptians did
Napoleon I., when he declared himself to be a
Mussulman, Ilinski carried a little flask of brandy
in a case made to look like that which a Turk uses
to carry his Koran. Thus, while pretending to pray
and kiss the sacred volume devoutly, he had an
opportunity of drinking at a secret hole in the box.
Verily misery makes a man acquainted with strange
bed -fellows !

The son of Mickiewicz, while writing about these
strange adventures in his life of his father, attempts


a few palliative expressions, but is not very successful
in his task. No doubt many Franks in the service
of the Sultan are playing the same tricks now. We
know that Bonneval, who became a Turkish pasha
last century, and lies buried at Pera, with a most
pious epitaph on his tomb, used to write letters to
his friend Voltaire, lavishing all a Frenchman's wit
in derision of the superstitions of Islam, to which he
appeared to conform. The health of the poet was
at first excellent, although he had to submit to many
inconveniences, and being poor had to content him-
self with humble lodgings. On the ist of November
Levy writes : *' We are going to see a little house
which we have taken at the end of Pera, with a view
on the Bosphorus and a room for each of us. We
are getting quite aristocratic ; Henry says wonderful
things of our new domicile. I have not yet seen it,
but I will tell you something about that which we

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Online LibraryWilliam Richard MorfillPoland → online text (page 18 of 23)