Page images
PDF
EPUB

his book. What he has thought, has felt, reveals itself in the written word,

As joy in smiles; as sorrow in the tear.'*" Thus speaks Mickiewiczt-himself one of the most gifted of her sons

of the present literature of Poland. Nor can this praise, glowing as it is, be reproached with exaggeration. No one can open the books of the Polish writers of the last thirty years, without feeling that he reads the words of men thoroughly in earnest ; who write, not for the sake of bookmaking, not for popularity, not even for future fame; but because they feel they have that to say which the world should hear; or, as one of themselves has expressed it, “that they may declare the thought of God as it has rested upon them.”I At no period of the history of Poland has her literature been distinguished by a character so original as in the present time; never before has it been so completely the exponent

[ocr errors]

* Garczyński.

† A few general rules for the pronunciation of Polish words may perhaps be acceptable to the reader. The vowels are pronounced, – a as in futher ; e as in pěn, or as in fête; i as in pin, or as in pīque ; o as in the English alphabet; ó nearly as u; u as in rude; ą, represents a nasal sound, nearly resembling on in maison. Before a ‘labial, it is sounded as om; thus, dąb is pronounced domb; skąpy, skompy,, &c.

Before a dental, ą has the sound of on; as kąt, pronounced kont ; dokąd, dokond, &c. Before g and k, q_is sounded as ong; as drąg, pronounced drong. ę is sounded nearly as the French in in pin; but the nasal sound becomes în before the labials, and n before the dentals, as in the case of ą; as dęby, pronounced demby; weda, pronounced wenda. Of the consonants, c pronounced like ts, or as the German z, except when followed by i; before this letter it is softened; the sound of c before i might be expressed in English characters thus, tsyee; g is pronounced as in German, or as in the English word give; h is a deep guttural; j and i before a vowel are pronounced as y in English; the l is slightly mouillé ; w is pronounced as v; z nearly as in English ; ż as the French"j. The accented consonants are pronounced as if followed by a faint sound of i, or of y as it is sounded in English at the beginning of a word. The consonants take this softened sound also before the vowel i. Cz is pronounced like ch in chair ; sz as sh in shall; ch like the Greek These directions will, we believe, be found sufficient for the guidance of the general reader in the pronunciation of Polish words. There are, in every language, peculiarities of sound, of which it is impossible to convey an idea by description, or by illustrations from other languages. Such are in Polish the rz and the t (or crossed !), of which the exact pronunciation can be learned only from a native Pole. The direction usually given for the rz is to pronounce it like the French j with the sound of r before it. This is inadequate, but is perhaps as near an approach as can be made to a written description of this sound. The t is a sound extremely difficult for foreigners; it is made by a peculiar motion of the tongue, and no idea can be given of it in writing. The accent, in Polish words, falls on the penultimate.

# Zaleski.

[ocr errors]

of the character and genius of the nation ; never before animated by a spirit so truly Slavonian.

On each successive period of her former literature, we see the stamp of the fashion which prevailed, at the same time, in the other countries of Europe; the earlier authors followed classic and Italian, the succeeding ones French models. Among the disciples of each of these schools there were, indeed, men of true genius, who, with a nicer discrimination than falls to the lot of the mere imitator, knew how to distinguish what was essential in the works of their masters from that which was accidental, and have followed them in their excellencies, without copying their defects. These men have composed excellent and lasting works in each department of letters, and stand, of right, among the distinguished scholars and poets of Europe. In the field of science, the sons of Poland have done excellent service ; but in science there can be no nationality ; the names of Kopernik, of Zaluziański, of Ciołek, belong not to Poland, but to the world. Out of the long list of distinguished names which crowd the annals of Polish literature, we can, in truth, select comparatively few whose works could have been written only by a Slavonian. These few belong chiefly to that early period, , when the writers of Poland, regarding themselves rather as members of the community of letters than as citizens of any country, still composed their works principally in Latin. The men who at this time wrote in their native tongue wrote wholly for their own people ; and their works are imbued with a spirit truly national. However the form may be sometimes fashioned upon foreign models, the language, the thought, the feeling, are all Slavonian. To this class belong the prose writings of Rey ; the poems of Kochanowski ; of Rybinski ; of Szymonowicz.

Before entering on the works of the living authors of Poland, we will give a slight sketch of these their worthy predecessors, and take a rapid view of the course of Polish literature, from its dawn in the sixteenth century, under the auspices of the Jagellon princes, to the beginning of the present age.

Mikołaj Rey may be regarded as the first Polish author who made his native language the vehicle of finished literary compositions ; * for though the national tongue had been

#

We must not omit all mention of a remarkable book which appeared

rising in estimation from the time of the first Jagiello, in whose reign the earliest impulse was given to its cultivation, by the exertions of the wise and patriotic Jadwiga, yet no work of any importance had hitherto appeared in it, except some portions of the Scripture, translated by the order of that queen. It was not, indeed, until the reign of the last two princes of the Jagellon dynasty, that Polish was admitted as the spoken language of the court, where Latin and Italian had hitherto been almost exclusively used.

Rey was the son of a nobleman of moderate fortune ; his childhood and youth were passed in the country, in the midst of rustic occupations and field sports. The home of his early life was in Red Russia ; and here, among a people song and music loving, even above other Slavonians, his mind became wholly penetrated with the spirit of rural life, and he acquired that familiarity with the customs and modes of thought of the people, which afterwards gave to his works the simplicity and freshness which make their peculiar charm. His early education was neglected by a too indulgent father ; the talents, which were afterward to make him the favorite of a king and the delight of a nation, discovered themselves only in his superior daring and address as a sportsman ; the woods and wilds along the Dniester knew him as the boldest hunter and the most successful fisher. It was not until his age, and the habits of independence which he had formed, had unfitted him for the restraints of a school, that his father became sensible that it was time the abilities of his son were directed to higher objects. The neglect, however, which would have been fatal to the progress of a less vigorous intellect, served only to preserve to Rey his freedom and originality, and to deter his ambition from the beaten paths of scholarship, in which he might perhaps have achieved the

in the fifteenth century, which is, indeed, the earliest monument of the Polish language. It is entitled “ Memoirs of a Polish Janissary,” and is the work of a Pole, who, being made captive by the Turks, entered the service of the Sultan. He traversed, with the Turkish army, Greece, Syria, and Mesopotamia, was in all the battles of Mahomet II., and was witness of the taking of Constantinople. His object in writing this book was to warn his countrymen of the danger which threatened Europe and the Christian religion, through the increasing power of the Turks. This work, however, of which only fragments now remain, stands alone in the time which produced it, and can hardly be regarded as belonging to the literature of Poland.

honors of a mediocre Latin author. As it was, when the impulses of an ardent and energetic mind compelled him to express its convictions, it was in his own language that he must speak them ; for although Rey afterwards acquired a competent knowledge of the ancient tongues, and entered with interest into the philosophic and religious discussions of the day, which, up to his time, were conducted wholly in Latin, he never composed in that language with such ease and pleasure to himself as could tempt him to abandon for it the use of his native tongue, which he wrote with vigor and felicity. The father of Rey at length resolved to send his son to Cracow, then the centre of intellectual life in Poland, and to place him in the house of one of the great nobles, that he might enjoy the advantages of cultivated society. The Wojewode, who was chosen as the guardian of Rey, was a man of refined taste and accurate judgment; he discerned the capacities of his charge, and aided him by his counsel and instructions. The society of this excellent nobleman, and that of the literary men who frequented his house, quickened the intellect of Rey, and inspired him with the ambition to repair the defects of his early education. A few years of resolute study enabled the rustic noble to stand on equal ground with the trained graduates of the schools. In after life, he felt and acknowledged the benefits which his mind had drawn from this early association with men of refinement and learning ; and in his directions for the education of youth, he mentions especially the conversation of distinguished men as among the most important means of instruction.

The first literary productions of Rey were books of devotion and religious songs ; he was afterward distinguished for his polemical and philosophical writings; but his most remarkable work is that entitled “ Zwierciadło Szlacheckie,The Mirror of the Noble, otherwise known by the title, “ Zywot Poczciwego Człowieka,” The Life of an Honorable Man. In this work he lays down rules for the conduct of each class in the state. The soldier, the deputy, the senator, the private man, has each his peculiar duties pointed out and inculcated. He gives many rules for a prudent choice in marriage ; and especially dissuades men from allying themselves above their condition, instancing many pleasant examples of the inconveniences attending this unwise ambition.

rising in estimation from the time of the first Jagiello, in whose reign the earliest impulse was given to its cultivation, by the exertions of the wise and patriotic Jadwiga, yet no work of any importance had hitherto appeared in it, except some portions of the Scripture, translated by the order of that queen. It was not, indeed, until the reign of the last two princes of the Jagellon dynasty, that Polish was admitted as the spoken language of the court, where Latin and Italian had hitherto been almost exclusively used.

Rey was the son of a nobleman of moderate fortune ; his childhood and youth were passed in the country, in the midst of rustic occupations and field sports. The home of his early life was in Red Russia ; and here, among a people song and music loving, even above other Slavonians, his mind became wholly penetrated with the spirit of rural life, and he acquired that familiarity with the customs and modes of thought of the people, which afterwards gave to his works the simplicity and freshness which make their peculiar charm. His early education was neglected by a too indulgent father ; the talents, which were afterward to make him the favorite of a king and the delight of a nation, discovered themselves only in his superior daring and address as a sportsman ; the woods and wilds along the Dniester knew him as the boldest hunter and the most successful fisher. It was not until his age, and the habits of independence which he had formed, had unfitted him for the restraints of a school, that his father became sensible that it was time the abilities of his son were directed to higher objects. The neglect, however, which would have been fatal to the progress of a less vigorous intellect, served only to preserve to Rey his freedom and originality, and to deter his ambition from the beaten paths of scholarship, in which he might perhaps have achieved the

in the fifteenth century, which is, indeed, the earliest monument of the Polish language. It is entitled " Memoirs of a Polish Janissary,” and is the work of a Pole, who, being made captive by the Turks, entered the service of the Sultan. He traversed, with the Turkish army, Greece, Syria, and Mesopotamia, was in all the battles of Mahomet II., and was witness of the taking of Constantinople. His object in writing this book was to warn his countrymen of the danger which threatened Europe and the Christian religion, through the increasing power of the Turks. This work, however, of which only fragments now remain, stands alone in the time which produced it, and can hardly be regarded as belonging to the literature of Poland.

« PreviousContinue »