Page images

Among the other names that gave lustre to the reign of the last king of Poland are those of Naruszewicz, of Szymonowski, of Trembecki, Kniaźnin, Zablocki. Naruszewicz was one of the earliest favorites of Stanislaus. He possesses greater power and depth of thought, but less grace and versatility, than Krasicki. He is the author of poems in various styles, that won for him a reputation in their time, and of a version of Pindar which is said to be unsurpassed. But his fame as a historian overshadowed his renown as a poet. His history of Poland, and his memoirs of Chodkiewicz, are regarded as models for strength and clearness of style. Naruszewicz attached himself to Augustus, with all the zeal of a loyal subject, and all the affection of a friend. After the fall of his patron, he wrote no more. He withdrew from the capital, forgot all his former occupations and pleasures, refused to hear any tidings from the outer world, and thus died, forgotten and alone. Melancholy, indeed, was the end of most of those gifted writers, whose brilliancy lent a false splendor to the mournful reign of Stanislaus Augustus. There were among them men who, in a time when a higher taste and nobler tone of feeling prevailed, might have risen to the highest excellence; but, living in an age of skepticism and frivolity, they shared its levity and its indifference. When they were at once called to serious thought by the downfall of their king and the ruin of their country, they were struck by sudden despair. Zablocki, the poet of mirth, was silent from the day of his king's dethronement; he hid himself for ever from the world in a cloister. The hour that brought the tidings of the defeat of Maciejowice overthrew the reason of the pleasant, genial Kniažnin. From that day he never smiled; but for thirty years mourned darkly over a grief he no longer comprehended. The variously gifted Trembecki, who, of all the writers of his time, possessed the richest fancy and the highest poetic power, survived the genius he had too often squandered upon trifles, or had perverted to the adulation of the enemies of his country. Amidst the ruins of his intellect, he retained so much of the poetic sense as to feel the charm of his own verses, when they were read to him by a stranger, but shook his head with mournful incredulity, when he was told that it was himself who had been their author.

One name stands alone in this age of foreign imitation and

century, had already acquired great popularity among the cultivated classes of Poland. A French theatre was, in 1650, established at Warsaw, in which the plays of the French tragedians were performed in the original, while translations of French authors supplied to the reading public the place of original Polish works. The prevalence of French taste continued to exert an unfavorable influence over the literature of Poland, even when, the pressure of Jesuitic domination being withdrawn, the national mind started into new life and activity, and poetry and the arts bloomed afresh, under the auspices of the amiable and cultivated Stanislaus Poniatowski. A crowd of scholars, eloquent men, and poets gave lustre to his court; but the titles of the Polish Voltaire, the Polish Boileau, the Polish Bossuet, which were accorded to them, prove that they drew their inspiration from foreign sources, and not from the wells of Polish genius and sentiment. The writers of this period may not stand with the elder bards of Poland, nor with her patriot poets of a later day; they were men of shining talents, rather than of genius, and never reached that moral height whose attainment is needful to the full development even of the intellect. Yet they take a high place as scholars and elegant writers, and may claim to rank with the contemporary authors of the other countries of Europe.

The most eminent among them is the Bishop Krasicki, author of elegant and finished compositions in almost every department of literature. His works are distinguished for their piquant wit and easy gracefulness of style, rather than for depth of feeling or glow of fancy; yet there are times when a higher spirit seems to kindle in him, when the patriotic ardor never wanting in any Pole lends a temporary glow to his pencil. There are passages in his "Wojna Chocimska " eloquent and stirring, and though this work cannot claim to be regarded as a great poem, it rises, in many parts, far above the level of modern epics. The fables of Krasicki are gracefully and pleasantly written, and have deservedly enjoyed great popularity; but the most esteemed of his works, and those which have the best preserved their first reputation, are his satires. To this style of composition his powers were peculiarly adapted; for satire addresses itself to the intellect, and, making no demand upon the feelings, leaves us the less sensible of the absence of enthusiasm.

[blocks in formation]

The very gentleness and docility of character, however, which hereafter, in a more humane period of the world's history, will fit them to exhibit the highest degree of civilization, is one of the causes of that proneness to submit themselves to foreign influence, and govern themselves by foreign models, which has been for ages known as the prevailing error of the Poles. This disposition, in vain rebuked by their historians and satirists of every time, has led them to the constant attempt to introduce into their social and political life customs and institutions inconsistent with the Slavonian character, and with the original constitution of their government; and the same spirit has exerted an influence over their men of letters, unfavorable to originality of thought and design. But the severe lessons of the last half-century have not been profitless to the Poles. They have been taught, at length, how feeble a reliance is to be placed in the regard of the stranger; how worthless, compared with that of their own countrymen, is his sympathy and applause. They have learned to rely upon their own energies; to feel that it is to themselves alone they must look henceforth. Paradoxical as it may seem, the Poles were never so truly patriotic as since they have no more a country; never have they so fully displayed the nobler attributes of the national character, as since they have, in name, ceased to be a nation.

The effect of this newly won self-reliance and self-respect is strikingly manifested in their writings. No fashion governing any other existing literature can be said to reign over that of modern Poland. Connected as are the Polish authors of this period with France, speaking and writing French with the same facility as their native tongue, and living, as many of them do, in the very vortex of her giddy, restless, uncertain literature, we yet find in their writings nothing of French. The works of the modern Polish authors certainly of all the most distinguished among them are characterized by a steady and high morality, not too conscious of itself, but simple and sincere; by a constant reverence for the domestic virtues; and by deep religious trust. If the influence of the genius of any foreign people is to be traced in their works, it is that of the English, and, in a less degree, of the German. But the obligations which the Polish writers are under to Shakspeare, to Byron, to Scott, are only such as one man of genius may owe to another without detriment

to his own originality. They have borrowed nothing from the great masters of English literature; they have but caught inspiration from their inspiration; they have been aided by them to think with decision and to speak with fearlessness. The thoughts which they express and the form of the expression are their own, are Slavonian; their literature is as distinct from that of any other people, as the English is from the French, or either of these from the Italian.

Julian Niemcewicz is the link between the old time and the new. His fame as a poet, and his sufferings as a patriot, date from the reign of Stanislaus Poniatowski. Like most of the distinguished writers of Poland, Niemcewicz won honors in the fields both of poetry and history. He essayed, indeed, and with success, every branch of literary composition. He was a dramatist, a novelist, a satirist, a writer of fables, of epigrams, of idyls; but, before all things else, he was a Pole. Niemcewicz never practised poetry as an art; he valued the gifts of fancy, and the power of expression, only as these furnished him with weapons against the enemies of his country, or gave him the means of reaching the hearts of her sons. Accordingly, a great part of his poems are written with an especial political aim; and many of the pieces which were most popular in their time are so connected with the politics of the period, and often so dependent for their interest on the passing events of the day, that they are scarcely to be appreciated out of Poland, and perhaps, in another age, will hardly be so, fully, even there.


Niemcewicz was a patriot after the manner of a former His love of his country is equalled only by his hatred of her foes. This passionate ardor in love and hate, which lends an added inspiration to his verse, detracts from his merits as a faithful historian. He dwells with glowing delight upon the triumphs of his country, but traces with a lighter touch the story of her reverses and her errors. His most celebrated work is the "Spiewy Historyczne," in which he unites the characters of bard and annalist. This work, though written in the spirit of a past time, must ever be regarded as a noble monument of genius and patriotism, and

* Born 1755, died 1841.

confers upon Niemcewicz the right to stand with the highest names in Polish literature.

The life of Niemcewicz was in itself a poem. His long career knew every vicissitude of human fate. A large portion of his life was passed in banishment from the land he so ardently loved. But amid all his reverses and wanderings, the thought of Poland, and the hope of yet working in her cause, went with and sustained him. His first exile was selfimposed. He quitted his country in sorrow, after the failure of the constitution of 1791, but returned to bear a part in the brilliant achievements of Kościuszko, and to share his prison after the fatal day of Maciejowice. Restored to freedom, he refused the clemency and the liberality of Paul, and, passing once more into exile, remained for ten years a stranger to his native soil. He returned to Poland in 1807, but the fall of Napoleon made him, in 1815, again a wanderer. Ardent longing for his country, and the hope, not yet relinquished, of serving her within her own borders, drew him irresistibly homeward. Niemcewicz listened to the promises of Alexander, and for a season, in common with many sincere patriots, believed that Poland might at least know peaceful days under the sway of Russia. This faith deceived, he entered zealously into those combinations against the existing government which resulted in the insurrection of 1830, whose unsuccessful issue drove him once more into exile, this time destined to be perpetual. Niemcewicz closed at Paris, in 1841, his stormy life, whose history covers nearly a century.

The extended career of this author has connected him with the writers of the present time. In spirit he belongs to the past; but rather to the ancient day of Poland's literary splendor, than to the cold, artificial period in which the lot of his own early days was cast.

Before we pass to the living writers of Poland, we must yet give the names of two authors whose works belong to our own century, and who are in spirit closely united with the modern school of Polish poetry, but who have been by death prematurely numbered with the past. These are Antoni Malczewski, a poet of the Ukraine; and Casimir Brodziński, Professor of Polish Literature in the University of Warsaw, before the insurrection of 1830. Malczewski was born in Wolynia, in 1792. He received his education at

« PreviousContinue »