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The subject will be divided, for convenience of treatment, into historical periods.
Of the literature of Poland before the advent of Christianity (965) very few traces indeed are extant. Even when converted, the country long remained uncivilized. The laity were engaged in perpetual wars; and a few schools founded by the clergy were wrecked when (1138-1306) the country, after suffering from a divided sovereignty, was again and again invaded by the Tatars. The schools, however, were restored, and Casimir the Great founded, in 1364, the academy which was destined to become the University of Cracow in 1400. Chroniclers, writing in medieval Latin, appeared: Gallus, Kadlubek, and Martinus Polonus, in the thirteenth century; John of Czarnkow, in the fourteenth. In the fifteenth century the University of Cracow was famous and attracted many students; Poles began to study abroad, and came back Humanists and men of the Renaissance. But though both Dlugosz (Longinus), the first great historian of Poland, and John Ostrorog, an excellent political writer, flourished at this time, they wrote in Latin. The national language, though it was being gradually formed by sermons and translations, was not mature for such work until the second half of the sixteenth century, circumstances favourable to its development having arisen only in the beginning of that century. Books printed in Polish translations or paraphrases date from 1520; from this time, too, the influence of Italian culture, fostered by Queen Bona, increased notably. Latin versification became fashionable, books on historical and political subjects appeared, as well as the early attempts of some writers (Rey, Orzechowski, and Modrzewski) who afterwards became famous.
More political treatises, together with books of religious controversy, followed in and after the days of Sigismund Augustus (1550-70). Catholic literature represented by the Jesuit Wujek, who translated the Bible into Polish, by Hosius, the great theologian who wrote "Confessio fidei Christianæ" and presided at the Council of Trent, by Kromer, and others, increased in volume and importance. Nor was there less activity in the opposite camp, where Budny, Krowicki, and the preacher Gregory of Zarnowiec were distinguished. Poetry in the vernacular now first appeared: Rey and Bielski produced didactic poems and satires; John Kochanowski, in 1557, wrote the first of his poems, the beauty of which has not been surpassed by any save those of Mickiewicz. Towards the close of the century the political tractates of Cornicki and of Warszewicki were written, also many works of history, notably Heidenstein's "Rerum polonicarum libri XII". At this period, too, the Jesuit Skarga, the purest embodiment of Polish patriotism in literature, preached and wrote, calling upon all Poles to save their country, though that country was then so powerful that his cry of alarm was like the voice of a prophet. Rey and Kochanowski, and many another, had the like misgivings, but none felt them so deeply, or could express them with such eloquence. This was the Golden Age of Polish literature. Kochanowski, indeed, can scarcely be called versatile, though as a lyric poet he excels, and did much for his country's literature, adding beauty to its poetry, which, until then, had been only mediocre. Historical and political writing flourished, and the Polish controversial writers were excellent on both sides.
A decided falling-off took place after the beginning of the seventeenth century. Poets merely imitated John Kochanowski, badly-set phrases often taking the place of inspiration. Those who aspired to bring about a new departure (if we except Peter Kochanowski, the translator of Tasso and Ariosto) were not sufficiently talented, while most writers were careless, though often brilliant, amateurs who felt no such need. Szymonowicz, indeed, was a humanist of the old school and a true artist; so were his disciples, the brothers Zimorowicz; but of these two, the one died young, having produced very little, while the other, though he maintained the good traditions for a long time, was unable to raise the level of Polish poetry. Szymonowicz's idyls, perfect as they are, show the poverty of a period that can boast of nothing else. Sarbiewski, a contemporary poet of great talent, unfortunately wrote only in Latin. The prose writers of this period are also inferior to their predecessors, the historians being the best, and the best among the historians, Lubienski and Biasecki, were perhaps worthy successors to those of former times. Memoirs began to abound, curious and important as sources of history, the best of them being those of Stanislaus Olbracht Radziwill and Zolkiewski. As a political essayist similar to those of the former period, but less eminent because not so original, Starowolski deserves mention; nor must we forget Birkowski's sermons, which, though often in bad taste and full of literary shortcomings, are strikingly representative of the ideal of religious chivalry admired in Poland when patriotism and piety vied with each other.
The writers of this period lack originality and interest; they merely tread in the beaten track. Morsztyn and Twardowski translated some medieval romances and Italian tales, which might have proved mines of fresh interest, but were not adequately worked. One form of literature then becoming effete while no other was developed, decay set in. French and Italian authors were studied to the detriment of the ancients, badly exploited, and imitated amiss; conceits were sought after, bad taste became fashionable, the Baroque style obtained vogue everywhere, the pest of "macaronics" raged. Never had there been so many writers, never so few earnest literary artists; most wrote merely to divert themselves and friends, and did not even care to print their own slovenly work. Much of it was lost, or was only recovered generations later, in manuscript like Pasek's "Memoirs", found in 1836, and Potocki's "War of Chocim", in 1849, and many other works invaluable to the historian. Translations from French and Italian writers appeared, some original novels, some good poems e.g. those of Kochowski, instinct with patriotic feeling, of Wenceslaus Potocki, whose epics have the true heroic ring, the pleasant idyls of Gawinski, Opalinski's satires, which, though very inferior in style, were extremely bitter and often hit their mark, Andrew Morsztyn's "Psyche", also his "Cid", translated from Corneille. In prose, eloquence, both religious and secular, was blighted by the same affectation and bad taste. History remained what it had been, a mere chronicle of facts; the political essays were woefully inferior to those of former times. In short, at the end of the seventeenth century, Polish literature was in full decay, the only worthy representative of the national spirit being Kochowski, in a few of his lyrical productions, and W. Potocki.
It was fated to fall still lower so low, indeed, that it scarce deserved the name of literature. Among the writers of this time, Jablonowski, Druzbacka (the first Polish authoress), Rzewuski, Zaluski, and Minasowicz were the least wretched; history was represented only by the "Memoirs" of Otwinowski. Yet even at this lowest ebb we find everywhere a spirit of sincere, unaffected piety, untouched as yet by French flippancy and unbelief, together with a feeling of discontent with existing conditions and a desire for reform. Karwicki, Leszczynski (King Stanislaus), and Konarski were thinkers who did noble work in the sense of political regeneration. The tide was now at its lowest, and about to turn.
As to the necessity of reform, the nation was divided into two parties. The reforming party was considerably strengthened after the first partition of Poland, and the Four Years' Diet followed with a most liberal constitution, to which Russia and Prussia replied by dividing Poland a second time. Kosciuszko took up arms for his country, but failed; the third partition took place, and Poland, as a separate polity, existed no more. Meanwhile, though the nation itself was tottering to its fall, its literature had already begun to revive. New tendencies, new forms, new talents to realize them, were appearing, the very humiliation of belonging to a people barren of literary creations stirred up patriots to write. The influence of French letters, which had originated with Marie Louise Gonzaga, queen of John Casimir, continued and increased, not indeed without injury to faith and morals; Voltaire's Deism, Rousseau's false sentimentality, the materialism of Diderot and his followers, had their echoes in Poland. Every form of Liberalism too, from its first parliamentary shape to the sanguinary terrorism of later times, was in turn adopted from French patterns. But during all this time public opinion was ripening. Konarski's labours had already doomed the "liberum veto" (the right of any one member of the Diet to prevent a bill from becoming law); Stazic, followed by Kollataj, attacked the system of elected kings. A lively discussion followed, and many pamphlets were published on either side; but at last the reformers' ideas triumphed in the Four Years' Diet. At the same time poetry was making great strides forward, though as yet inadequate to the utterance of Poland's sorrow.
The contemporary poets, Krasicki and Tremlicki especially, were men of their time, sober, sensible, humourous, witty, aiming at perfection of language and clearness of style; what they produced was not unworthy of an enlightened nation, but in no wise truly great work. Kniaznin, however, and Karpinski have left us productions more lyrical in tone, in which scenes of peasant life, together with religious sentiments, are often to be found. About this time, too, a multitude of songs without any claim to style began to express the sorrows of the nation; these were the seeds which later produced fruit in the poems of Mickiewicz and his contemporaries. The drama had hitherto been barren in Poland; it now showed signs of fruitfulness in the comedies of Bohomolec, of Czartoryski, and especially of Zablocki, a comic writer of no mean powers. Science, too, law, philosophy, art-criticism, geography, grammar, and philology now found exponents in Sniadecki, Poczubut, Czacki, Nagurczewski, Dmochowski, Wyrwicz, and Kopczynski. History was completely transformed by Naruszewicz, less great indeed than Dlugosz, but the only historian at all comparable to him until after the fall of Poland. If the former laid the foundations of her history, the latter rebuilt it with his critical studies and strict investigation of sources. In the same field, Albertrandi, Loyko, and Czacki were also able workers; nor should we omit to notice many memoirs, not all equally valuable, but for the most part very important and instructive. During this period then there was rapid progress. The direction of studies was completely changed. The literature run wild of the former era was succeeded by good, sensible, carefully written work; the unruly nobility of former Diets was replaced by men like Niemcewicz, Wybicki, Andrew Zamoyski, Ignatius Potocki, and Bishop Krasinski. No wonder that their achievement, the Constitution of the Third of May, was proclaimed by Burke and Sièyés the best in Europe. In a word, this period may be judged by its results the realization of Poland as a true political organization, the notion of equality before the law, a culture higher than any since the sixteenth century, a literature both serious and worthy of respect, great examples of strenuous work, and an intense sentiment of patriotic duty.
The silent stupefaction of the first few years after Poland's downfall was followed by an awakening prompted by the instinct of self-preservation, which in the first place made for the preservation of the national language and literature. This sentiment became strong, ardent, universal. The Society of the Friends of Learning was then founded in Warsaw. Of its members, many have already been named as men of note in the sixth period. It did admirable work, and was not dissolved until 1831. Prince Adam Czartoryski, having become minister to Alexander I, prevailed upon him to sanction a vast plan for public education in Lithuania and Ruthenia, embracing all studies from the most elementary to those of the University of Vilna, whence Mickiewicz was one day to come forth and endow the national poetry with new life. And as Vilna University was inadequate to the needs of so vast a country, the Volhynian Lyceum was founded in 1805. During this period, the general course of literature was very like that of the preceding epoch, but more strongly marked with patriotic sadness as became a generation imbued with the constitutional ideas of the Four Years' Diet, but grown up under the shadow of a great catastrophe. To keep the memories of the past and the love of the fatherland was now the aim evidently pursued by Niemcewicz in his "songs", by Woronicz in his "Sybil" (an anticipation of the poetry that was soon to come), by Kozmian in his "Odes", by Wezyk and Felinski in their tragedies; but the form was still French. Poles had come to be ignorant of any other literature, and the pseudo-classic taste of the time, together with the glamour of Napoleon's victories, had an excessive influence upon both literature and politics, upon language and social life.
It was through the French themselves that the Poles came to know the existence of other sources of inspiration. But this revelation once made, though Kozmian and Osinski still held exclusively to Latin models and the ideas of Laharpe, Wezyk began to study German æsthetic writers, Niemcewicz imitated Scott and pre-Byronic English poets, and Morawski translated Byron. The drama especially, though still following French models, was making great and much needed progress. Felinski's "Barbara" deserves mention as a successful play, and the actors who played it were better than had ever been seen in Poland. Romanticism was yet to come, but it had a forerunner in Brodzinski, who, though somewhat stereotyped in his diction, was nevertheless familiar with German poetry and tended to simplicity of thought, seeking his inspiration where the Romantics were wont to seek it. In the fields of science and scholarship, also, we meet with great names Lelewel, Sniadecki, Bandtkie, Linde, Ossolinski, Betkowski, Surowiecki, Szaniawski, Goluchowski, and others already mentioned. In a word, this period presents a steady and continual upward trend in every direction.
This period, though brief, is the most brilliant in Polish literature. It may be divided into two parts: before 1831, the search after new and independent paths; after 1831, the splendid efflorescence of poetical creations resulting from this search. What gave its tone to all the poetry of the time was the downfall of Poland, an influence that was patriotic, political, and at the same time mystical. But this factor alone, strong as it was, was not enough; other elements co-operated. There was the great Romantic movement of revolt (in England and Germany especially) against the French Classical school. In Poland the first efforts to cast off the yoke were feeble and timid, but little by little the new forms of beauty kindled interest, while the idea of a return to the poetry of the people proved particularly attractive. Both external influences and popular aspirations now tended in the same direction: there was needed only a man able to lead the movement. The needed pioneer appeared in Adam Mickiewicz, after whom the Romantic period of Polish literature should rightly be called. From the outset his verse marked the opening of a new poetical epoch. It was hailed with delight by the younger generation. New talents sprang up around him at once the "Ukraine" school, whose most characteristic exponents were Zaleski, his friend Goszczynski, whose best poem was "The Castle of Kaniow", and Malczewski, whose one narrative poem, "Marya", made him famous. Hitherto the prevailing tone in Mickiewicz's poems had been purely literary and artistic; but he was exiled to Russia, and wrote there his celebrated "Sonnets" and his "Wallenrod". The latter work shows him for the first time inspired by the history and the actual political state of Poland. Patriotism apart, the characteristics of his school were the substitution of simpler methods of expression for the old conventional style and vivid delineation of individuals instead of abstract general types. National feeling, present from the first, predominated only after the calamitous insurrection of 1831. Among the pioneers of the movement were many men of talent, but only one of genius, and two Zaleski and Malczewski whose talents were really eminent. For the drama in this period we must notice Fredro, most of whose excellent comedies were written between 1820 and 1830, and Joseph Korzenniowski's first dramatic attempts. Prose literature had changed but little as yet, though in one beautiful historical novel by Bernatowicz, "Pojata", Scott's influence is distinctly traceable. History continued to be represented by Lelewel.
Among the most important consequences of the insurrection of 1831 must be reckoned an emigration unparalleled in history for numbers, which continued until 1863 to be a factor of the highest importance in the destinies of the nation, both political and literary. Men of the highest talent emigrated to countries where literature was free and untrammeled, and where the national sorrows and aspirations might be uttered with impunity. Poetry was the only fitting outlet for the emotions which then stirred the spirit of the nation; poetry, therefore, played a part in the life of the people greater, perhaps, than has ever been the case elsewhere. There were few poems of that time but called to mind Poland's past, present, or impending woes. This patriotic element stamped its character upon the whole period. Poets endeavoured to answer two questions in particular: Why had this doom fallen on the nation? What was its future to be? Now essaying to treat the philosophy of history, now endeavouring to raise the veil of the future, however feebly a versifier might write, he was sure to attempt some answer to these questions.
And here writers were influenced by the two contrary currents of Catholicism and Messianism. The strong revival of religion in France could not but influence the men of the Polish emigration. Until 1831 Poland had been outside of that movement. Most Poles were traditionally Catholic, but not all Polish Catholics possessed deeply grounded convictions; some lived in eighteenth-century indifference; some were influenced by the opinion, as common as it is baseless, that Rationalism is the first condition of progress. Under the stress of conflicting tendencies in France, some Polish refugees entirely abandoned religion. Others learned that religiosity and practical religion are not the same thing; that Poland had in latter days, to a great degree, lost touch with the essentials of the Catholic Faith, through sheer ignorance, torpor, and thoughtlessness, and that ere its political regeneration could be thought of, the nation must be born again by a return to truly religious life. The men who thought thus Zalenski, Witwicki, Stanislaus, John Kozmian, and others rallied round Mickiewicz, whose idea that a new religious congregation, consisting of refugees, was necessary to set them all on the right path, became the germ of the Congregation of Our Lord's Resurrection. This congregation was founded by two priests who had been soldiers in the rising of 1831, Kajsiewicz and Semenenko. Their example did much for pulpit eloquence in Poland. Excepting Skarga, Father Jerome Kajsiewicz was the greatest of Polish pulpit orators; he was also a great writer. His inspired utterances, the truth and wisdom of his judgments in matters of learning, proceeded from his love for God, for the Church, and though he well knew her faults and blamed them with much severity for his country too. He was one of the greatest figures in the Church and in the literature of Poland.
In France, together with the revival of Catholicism, there were also movements in another direction; that of Saint-Simon, for example, and that of Lamennais, and these had affected the Poles of the emigration when the Lithuanian, Andrew Towianski, preached to them his new creed of Messianism. Readily explicable as a result of false conditions of existence, and the contrast between laws of conscience and facts of life, this outbreak was none the less deplorable on account of those whom it misled. But Messianism never had much, if any, weight with the emigrants; unfortunately, Mickiewicz was entrapped by the sect, and the beauty of his utterances gave its errors some appearance of truth. The national literature had now reached its zenith; Mickiewicz now produced his great national epic "Pan Tadeusz"; and it was now that Stowacki and Krasinski, lesser names indeed, yet of the first rank, wrote all their works. All three were intensely patriotic, and in some degree mystics. With them the idea of Poland as God's chosen nation, the martyr among nations largely, prevails and is strongly emphasized in the "Dziady" of Mickiewicz, though earlier poets were not without some traces of this doctrine. Of course Poles at the present day repudiate it as an exaggeration; but it was the first beginning of the error into which Mickiewicz fell later; and it was the only stain upon the immaculate splendour and high-souled patriotism of Polish poetry.
Mickiewicz, after "Pan Tadeusz" was published, gave up poetry as a vanity. But Stowacki wrote his magnificent "Kordyan", followed by many other poems of a still higher flight, as "Anhelli", "Cjclec Zadzumionych", "W. Szwajcarij", "Lilla Weneda", "Beniowski"; and his tragedies, though not perfect, are still the best in Polish literature. Zaleski produced his religious idyl, "The Holy Family", and an attempt towards the solution of many a problem in "The Spirit of the Steppe". Gosczzynski, Garczynski, Witwicki, and Siemienski, not to mention a great number of other poets of less renown, surrounded Mickiewicz in his exile. Sigismund Krasinski published his "Nieboska Komedya" (The Not-Divine Comedy) and "Iridyon", both full of deep philosophical and Christian thought, showing the contradictions of European civilization, and the supremacy of God's law over nations as over individuals. His "Przedswit" (The Dawn) told Poland that her present condition was a trial to purify her, which lesson was repeated in his "Psalms of the Future", together with a warning against acts that might call down a yet greater calamity.
In Poland itself, the literary movement, though cramped, still existed. Vincent Pol wrote his pleasing "Songs of Janusz" and the "Songs of Our Land", marked by much originality of feeling and a faithful portraiture of the national character. There were also some poets who exaggerated Romanticism with all its defects; Magnuszewski, for instance, Zeglinski, Norwid, Zmorski, and Zielinski. Of another type were Lenartowicz, whose first poems now appeared, and Ujejski, who won fame by his "Lamentations of Jeremias", so well suited to the actual state of Poland. Prose, particularly prose fiction, now began to flourish. As early as 1829 Kraszewski had begun to pour forth the multitudinous and varied stream of works which was to continue for more than fifty years. His first novels were feeble, his best are open to much criticism; but there is a great deal of truth and of merit in his work, taken as a whole, with all its wonderful variety. Korzenniowski, a very different kind of talent, a serious artist and a correct writer, less satirical in tone and of a merrier turn of wit, was another good novelist; he also wrote some dramas, chiefly with a comic tendency, which were successfully produced at Warsaw during the darkest days of the censure. His novels, fewer than Kraszewski's, were written with much care. In the historical novel Rzewuski was supreme, with his "Memoirs of Soplica" and "Listopad" (November). Chodzko, however, in his "Lithuanian Pictures", was not very far behind him.
Science and learning progressed, in spite of great difficulties. Of all the universities on Polish soil Cracow alone remained open and taught in Polish. Yet here the struggle for culture was successful. History broke with the last of the eighteenth century and took its stand upon the principle of severe research. The best historian then living, after Lelewel, was Bielowski. Mickiewicz, as a lecturer in the "Collegede France", sketched the history of Polish literature with a master hand, while Wiszniewski collected and studied vast stores of material of which he was able to exploit only a part. In science, both physical and medical, many names of distinguished men might be quoted. Philosophy was now more studied than ever; Gotuchowski, Libelt, Cieszkowski, Trentowski, and Kremer all tended towards the establishment of a Polish school of metaphysics, removed equally from German Transcendentalism and French Empiricism, and founded on the harmony of all our faculties (not on reason alone) and on a true reconciliation between science and religion. But all took the cue from German teachers, some from Schelling, others from Hegel, whom, however, they often contradicted; and they failed to produce any distinct system of philosophy.
A short interval of transition, following the brilliant outburst of the eighth period, lasted until 1863. Newspapers and periodicals began to be very widely read; they sowed broadcast the seeds of culture, but with the inevitable shortcomings of inadequate criticism and superficiality. Vincent Pol continued to write; "The Senatorial Agreement" and "Mohort" came from his pen during this period. Syrokomla, an author resembling Pol in simplicity and originality of tone, was decidedly his inferior in other respects. Lenartowicz, too, still wrote with much talent, but, like Pol and Zaleski, with a certain monotony of diction and ideas. Two women should be mentioned here: Narcyza Zmicowska (Gabryela) and Hedwige Luszczewska (Deotyma). The former had strong imagination and great audacity; the latter, while yet very young, astonished Warsaw with the brilliancy and facility of her poetical improvisations. In later years she set about writing seriously, and produced much good and scholarly work. The old classics, Cajetan Kozmian, Wezyk, and Morawski, still lived and wrote on, possibly even with more spirit than in their young days. Odyniec, another relic of expiring Romanticism, made his mark about this time; his translations of Scott, Moore, and Byron are excellent. Contemporary with these are Siemienski's translations of Homer and Horace, and Stanislaus Kozmian's of Shakespeare. Romanowski gave great promise as a poet, but he died in 1863; and Joseph Szujski, destined to be one of the great historians of the present time, had already come forward as a narrative, dramatic, and lyric poet. In prose literature Kraszewski and Korzenniowski still held their places, and Kaczkowski now stood by their side. In history, besides the men already named, we find Maciejowski, Hube, and Helcel; these last, with Dzialynski and Bielowski, also did good work by editing ancient sources. Szajnocha, who with modern strictness of research united a most brilliant style, and Frederick Skarbek came to the front. Wojcicki's "History of Polish Literature" is a very good work; and Lukasiewicz Bartoszewicz, Mecherzynski, Przyborowski, Tyszynski, Malecki, Klaczko, and Kalinka wrote excellent tractates and essays on literary, political and æsthetic subjects.
A great change in political conditions supervened after 1863. While Austria granted autonomy to her Polish subjects, Russia attempted by a long and ferocious persecution to stamp out every vestige of national life, and in Prussian Poland, under Bismarck's rule, even the Catechism was taught in German. Thus Austrian Poland, having two universities (Cracow and Lemberg) besides an academy of sciences, became an important factor in Polish culture. The awful consequences of the rising of 1863 had taught the nation that, instead of fighting, it must employ peaceful means, increasing the national wealth, raising the level of culture, manæuvering dexterously to get what political advantages could be got, and strengthening religious convictions among the people. The former mystical ideas of patriotism, together with all the hopes of prompt restoration, now disappeared; in their place came truth the knowledge of former, and of present, shortcomings and errors which had contributed to the national ruin and the firm hope that Poland might live on, but at the cost of incessant and heroic struggles. No wonder that with such dispositions, prose had the upper hand. Poetry had had its day, though its stimulating effects still remained; its action upon the national imagination had been great; now was the turn of prose, with its appeal to the understanding and the will. History flourished: Szajnocha, Helcel, Bielowski, Szujski, Kalinka, Liske, Pawinski, Jarochowski, Wegner, Bobrzynski, Zakrzewski, Smolka, Kubala, Likowski, Korytkowski, Korzon, whose works are too numerous to be even noticed here, were all historians of great merit. In the history of Polish law, Piekosinski, Balzer, and Ulanowski must be named, besides others among those mentioned above. Estreicher published his extremely valuable and useful "Bibliografia Polska", in eighteen vols.; Malecki and Kallenback respectively wrote the lives of Stowacki and of Krasinski; Nehring, Tretiak, and Kallenbach took Mickiewicz for their theme, and Spasowicz, Tarnowski, Chmielowski, and Bruckner all published histories of Polish literature in several volumes, whilst Klaczko wrote in French his "Causeries Florentines", a very beautiful and serious study on Dante.
In the philological field, particularly in the study of Polish and the other Slavonic languages, Malinowski, Baudoin de Courtenay Karlowicz, Krynski, Kalinka, and Hanusz did most distinguished work. Qepkowski, Luszkiewicz, Sokolowski, Mycielski, and many others laboured successfully for the advancement of archæology and the history of art, as also did Kolberg, for ethnography. Klaczko, already mentioned, wrote in French two political works, "Deux études de diplomatie contemporaine", and "Les deux chanceliers". Bishop Janiszewski's "The Church and the Christian State" is a remarkable work. In philosophy, Swigtochowski and Marburg represented the modern Positivist tendency, while the contrary attitude of thought was taken by Struve, and Fathers Pawlicki and Morawski, Straszewski, Raciborski, Twardowski, Wartenberg, and others. Pawlicki wrote his "History of Greek Philosophy", and Straszewski is the author of a work on Sniadecki and another on Indian philosophy. Poetry, as has been said, no longer occupies the same lofty position as formerly. A few dainty verses distinguished by nobility of thought and grace of diction have come from Falenski's pen. The late Adam Asnyk published many poems under the nom de plume of "Ely". They were singularly melodious and graceful, melancholy and sad in tone. Marya Konopnicka is a poet of the younger generation and possesses a really fine talent. Lucyan Rydel has shown much lyrical and also dramatic talent: "Na Zawsze" (For ever) and "The Polish Bethlehem" are fine plays. Casimir Tetmajer has great command of language, a stormy, passionate lyricism; he is at war with the world and with himself.
Patriotism is, as a rule, differently manifested in the poets of our days: there being no hope of victory by insurrection, the life of the people, its fortunes and its sufferings have now the first place. Poets, too, write more willingly for the drama. Many have produced very successful plays Anczyc, for instance, "Peasants and Aristocrats" and "Kosciuszko at Raclawice". Balucki has made good hits in his petite bourgeoisie comedies; Fredo the younger, Blizinski and Gawalewicz are also good comedy-writers. In fiction, a great and unexpected step forward has been taken. Kraszewski was still continuing to write with uncommon power (though at his age progress was out of the question) when Henryk Sienkiewicz came to the front. After a few short tales and sketches he took the field with his immortal trilogy: "With Fire and Sword", "The Flood", "Pan Wolodyjowski". To these he added "Without Principle", and "The Polaniecki Family", novels of contemporary life. He then published "Quo Vadis" and, reverting to national themes, brought out "The Teutonic Knights" and "On the Fields of Glory". Around him sprang up many another author of very considerable talent. There were Eliza Orzeszko (On the Niemen), Prus ("The Outpost", "The Doll"), Szymanski (Sketches), Rodziewicz (Dewajtys), Ladislaus Lozinski (The Madonna of Busowisk). Among the most recent are Zeromski ("The Homeless Ones", "Ashes", "The History of a Sin"), Rejmont (Peasants), and Przybyszewski (Homo Sapiens). At the end of the nineteenth century there came a decided change, especially in the drama, under the influence of Impressionists and Symbolists of Maeterlinck, Ibsen, Hauptmann, and Sudermann: the prose drama, often coarsely realistic, endeavoured to solve problems of real life; the poetical and tragical drama tried to create new forms and a symbolic atmosphere. Stanislaus Wyspianski, who died lately, is the principal and most successful exponent of this latter school, but John Kasprowicz has at the same time produced beautiful plays of his own and fine translations of Shakespeare and Æschylus.
Such is, in brief, the history of Polish literature remarkable in that, during the last century, and in spite of the cruel disasters which overtook the nation, it not only maintained itself, but showed a most wonderful and consoling vitality of development; remarkable, too, for the high ideal of uprightness and nobility of mind which the nation, notwithstanding many shortcomings, constantly set up for itself from the time of Dlugosz down to our own. It has fully understood, even when it has failed to fulfil, the idea of Christian civilisation.
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APA citation. (1911). Polish Literature. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12196a.htm
MLA citation. "Polish Literature." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12196a.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Gary A. Mros.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
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