« PreviousContinue »
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 age. 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. 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 1907, 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
Krzeminiec, and by his talents and distinguished diligence won the particular regard of the celebrated Czacki, the founder of that college. Malczewski had just completed his academic career at the time of the invasion of Russia by Napoleon. He entered the army of the French emperor as a volunteer, and served during the disastrous campaign of 1812. After the overthrow of Napoleon, he passed several years in travelling through the various countries of Europe. During his foreign sojourn, he formed acquaintance with the literature of England ; his mind was particularly impressed with the genius of Lord Byron, then at the height of his popularity. This influence is plainly to be traced in his writings. Malczewski is, however, no imitator ; he is one of the most original of Slavonian poets ; a true son of the Ukraine, full of fire and of gentleness.
The fame of Malczewski as a poet rests upon his “ Maria,” a poem which, little appreciated during the life of the author, has become since his death the object of the warmest admiration of his countrymen. Maria is a narrative poem founded on an actual event. The story is shortly this. The son of a Polish magnate has married the daughter of a nobleman of ancient family, but narrow fortune. The Wojewode, enraged at his choice, refuses to sanction the alliance, and endeavours to persuade him to abandon his bride, and to break his marriage. His attempts to shake his son's resolution are fruitless ; but the old Miecznik (sword-bearer), the father of Maria, as proud as the magnate, refuses, on his part, to receive the young Wacław as his son-in-law, until the Wojewode shall himself make overtures for a reconciliation. The father of Wacław, despairing of compelling him to obedience, feigns compliance. Affecting to be overcome by the grief and the entreaties of his son, he feigns to reconcile himself with the Miecznik, and sends Wacław, under the command of this old warrior, to repel an incursion of the Tatars, that he may prove himself, by knightly deeds, worthy of the hand of Maria. Wacław obtains a victory over the Tatars, and hastens home in triumph to claim his bride. The treacherous Wojewode, however, has, during the absence of his son, sent a party of armed servants to the house of the Miecznik with orders to take the life of Maria. When her husband returns, it is to find her murdered.
The characters in this poem are sketched with great life.
The descriptive passages are of singular beauty. The scene, in especial, which the Wojewode beholds, as he looks out from his gloomy room, upon the gathering of his household troops, in the early dawn, is exquisitely painted. “Maria” reminds us often, as we have before remarked, of the narrative poems of Byron. The resemblance, however, is chiefly in the versification, in the brilliancy of the images, the vigor of the language, and a certain passionate fervor which equally characterizes the poems of Byron and of Malczewski. The religious feeling which breathes through the Maria stamps this poem with a character totally different from that of the works of the English poet.
The poem was written in Włodzimier, where, after his return to his native country, Malczewski had purchased a small village, intending to lead a life of retirement and quiet. This period of his life was, however, embittered by an unhappy and misplaced attachment; while pecuniary embarrassments added their anxieties to his other griefs. He left Włodzimier for Warsaw, where he died in poverty and sorrow, in the thirty-fourth year of his age.
Casimir Brodziński began his career as a soldier, and his first literary efforts are the enthusiastic lays of a youthful patriot and hero. He was of those who believed in Napoleon, and looked for the restoration of the father-land through him. When, with the fall of the emperor, fell his hopes for his country, he withdrew his thoughts from public concerns, and gave himself wholly to the pursuit of literature. The later poems of Brodziński glow no longer with the hopeful ardor that characterized his early lays and those of his comrades, the poet-soldiers of the legions of Napoleon ; but they are not the less national, not the less patriotic. They are instinct with the very spirit of Slavonian life. His song is of rural pleasures ; of the field and fireside life of the villager ; of the delights of a tranquil existence among the scenes of nature. He seeks to reawaken in his nation the gentle, contented spirit of ancient Slavonian life, and, despairing to see revive the former greatness of his country, would at least restore to her the old simplicity of manners. If his tones had been more stirring, if the griefs and wrongs of his country had thrilled through them to the hearts of his nation, they could hardly have seen the light in those iron days of the “Constitutional Kingdom,” when even singing
tuting a wise patriotism for an unreasoning and selfish nationality, — that her aristocracy no longer regard themselves as the whole nation, but have learned, that, in order rightly to love one's country, it is needful to love even the humblest of her sons. Through all the works of the author of ". Przedświt " and the “ Nieboska Komedyia,” breathes a spirit truly liberal, thoroughly humane, and profoundly religious. He accepts in its entireness the Christian law, and looks forward with a confident hope to the time when this law shall be not merely the rule for the conduct of individuals, but shall govern in the councils of states, and be heard from the throne and the senate-house.
Przedświt (Morning Twilight) is the last published of the works of this author. As his other writings are in the dramatic form, and his character and opinions are rather to be inferred than directly gathered from them, we shall begin our selections from his works with some extracts from the Preface to this poem, that the reader may form an acquaintance with the mind and cast of thought of the poet before proceeding to the consideration of his dramatic compositions.
In the Preface to the Przedświt, the author draws a parallel between the condition of the ancient world immediately before the time of Cæsar and that of the modern world before the coming of Napoleon. He believes, that, as the ambition and conquests of Cæsar made the path smooth for the reception of the Christian religion, it was, in like manner, the office of Napoleon to prepare the world, not indeed for a revelation, but for the more perfect reception of the Christian doctrine, and for its introduction into the political sphere.
“During the day of Cæsar, preceding the great day of Christ, the world had arrived at the last results of its history ; in religion, to absolute doubt, — in philosophy, to the entire overthrow of the principles of polytheism. Augur laughed at augur, the Greek sophist at himself. The critic Reason annihilated all ancient faith, all existing life among the people, and established nothing more living, or equally living, in its place. The view into the world of the soul discovered only ruin, license, discord ; - quot capita, tot sensus. Epicureanism, Stoicism, Platonism, passed like phantoms over the widowed breast of humanity. After so many wars, proscriptions, and revolutions, there remained in the hearts of men only a sense of weariness and exhaustion. All political faith