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Czech Literature

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CZECH LITERATURE. The tested earliest document in the Czech language dates from the year 973 A.D. It was a hymn sung at the installation of Bishop Dietmar at Prague, beginning with the phrase: ny) (Lord, have mercy on us). When Czech literature had its resurrection, about the year 1800, and enthusiastic followers of the ardent movement everywhere searched for hidden records of the past, a number of MSS. turned up that were hailed with more or less plausibility as evidence of the ancient character of Czech letters. Some of these, it is now mitted by overwhelming authority among the Bohemian philologists themselves, were clever literary forgeries. The one MS. that aroused the greatest interest for many years was the so-called Koniginhof collection of poetry. It was alleged to have been discovered, in 1817, in an ancient deanery church of the small Bohemian town of Kralove Dviir (or hoe, and contained lyrical fragments, some of them charming, like (The Nosegay), which Goethe subsequently translated, ing to date from a very early age. However spurious this MS. maybe, there are still some moot points about it quite unexplained. The authenticity of another of these MSS., the one of Grlineberg, and a third one, of Saint Vitus, has likewise been assailed. But some of them, no doubt, are genuine enough, such as a frag ment of the Gospel of Saint John; which seems to have been written in the time of the Slavic apostles, Methodius and Cyrillus, in the 10th century. And it must further be borne in mind that during the 150 years of ruthless.Austrian oppression, about 1620-1774, it was the object of the Court of Vienna to wipe out, if possible, every vestige of separate Bohemian nationality and religious and literary life. The Jesuit, Konias, alone is recorded as having destroyed some 60,000 Czech books and manuscripts, many of them priceless and unique, in pursuance of this object. However, so far as susceptible proof is concerned, it is known that, aside from early folk songs, legends, etc., not distinctly traceable, poetry of no despicable order had penetrated Bohemia as early as the reigns of Wenceslas I and Ottokar II, about 1250, knight hood and its chivalrous lays drifting in apace, though most of it either in German or Latin. But we know of an adaptation in Czech of the (Alexandreis) of Walter de Chatillon, about 1300; also of similar adaptations or translations in Czech of the Arius cycle, of the version by Godefroy of Strassburg, and of (Tandarias a Floribella' (in the 14th century). Next we find the rhymed chronicle, ascribed to Dalimir, but in reality the production of an unknown Bohemian knight, about 1334; also a Bohemian history in verse, and the tale I Tkadle6.ek,) written in excellent Czech prose, some time before 1400. Didactic and satirical original ditties in Czech or serious poems also flourished, such as the (Nova Rada' (New Counsel), very popular in Bohemia (1394) and written by Smil Flaika, of Pardubitz, as alto the 'Quarrel between Body and Soul) and some other spirited dialogues, as well as allegorical poems, such as the after Alanus of Ryssel; also hymns, religious poems, legends, such as that of Saint Catharine, translations of psalms, mystery plays, such as about 1320. The monks of the Abbey of Sazava were distinguished in this way. Translations of portions of the Sacred Scriptures followed each other rapidly; the Lives of the Saints, mostly translated from the Latin, were collected in the reign of Charles IV, who was not only Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, but also hereditay King of Bohemia and a Czech and most enlightened monarch of his time. This collection made at his bidding was called the Passional. The foundation of the University of Prague, in 1348, gave a strong impetus to Bohemian science and letters. One of its first graduates, Thomas of Stitnr, wrote his theological disquisitions in Czech, whereas up to then the clerical Czech chroniclers and theologians had written in Latin, such as Kosmas of Prague (d. 1125). The oldest chronicle in Czech prose is that of the priest Pulkawa of Radomis (d. 1380). Marco Polo's Travels also were put into Czech at this time, and later those of Mandeville, de scribed by Laiirentifis of Brezova. Andrew of Duba, about 1375, wrote commentaries on the Laws of Bohemia. Then came one of the most important turns in Bohemian history, the ad vent and final death as a martyr (died at the stake, 6 July 1415, at the Church Council of Constance) of Jan Hus. This reformer was not only endeavoring to cleanse and popularise the Church of Rome and its teachings, but he, as did Luther for the Germans a century later, likewise did much to make the common ver nacular a more vigorous and an apter instrument in diffusing knowledge. The war of religious propaganda, the so-called Hussite War, that followed the death of this great and good man, brought, nevertheless, much turmoil and injury to Bohemia and eventually to the Czech cause. In 1487 the first printing press was put up at Prague, and a full translation, in Czech, of the whole Bible was published there the follow ingyear. Before this, however, many cheap hand-written pamphlets in behalf of Hus and the equally inexpensive (Postilles) and the 'Net of Faith' oft he Moravian brother, Peter Chelnkky, and similar fugitive publications on religious topics had circulated throughout Bohemia. Next we see, toward the end of the Middle Ages, a group of Czech historians and annalists who claim attention. There is Bartoi Pisif, who is also known as Bartholomew the Scribe, and who recorded faithfully and in detail the shining political events of his day, more particularly the period from 1524-37. So does, slightly later, Sixt of Ottersdorf, of the years 1546-47; and Martin Kfithen does the like. Vaday Hajek of Libckan, in his 'Bohemian Chronicles,' writes often with reckless dis regard of the truth, but in his account of the Thirty Years' War, especially 1618-20, he writes as an eye witness and most interestingly. Prokop Lopa . has given a faithful 'History of Charles IV,' and Brother Blahoslav, in his (Historie Bratfska,) furnishes a good account of the Moravian Brothers' movement. The 'Captivity of John Angusta,' of 1547, by Jan Bilek is vividly descriptive, and Wenceslas Bfezan in his 'History of the House of Rosen berg,' toward the end the 16th century, gives a graphic survey of the life and manners of the Bohemian nobility and of their political lations with the Court of Vienna. Charles of Zerotin, b. 1564 at Brandeis, a Czech nobleman, spent his whole life traveling and seeking ad ventures, and his correspondence is replete with the political gossip floating about in the coun tries and courts he visited. His writings are, therefore, most entertaining and many of his historical anecdotes delightful, but rather un critical. He was in the service of Henry IV of France and died finally an exile from Bohemia. Wenceslas Vratislav, b. 1576, went to the Sultan's court at Constantinople with the Austrian ambassador, and shared his imprison ment there. His accounts of the Turks of those days are very amusing and graphic. Christo pher Harant, another Czech noble, was likewise a great traveler, to the Holy Land, the Orient, Hungary, etc., and particularly in the campaigns against the Turks. His writings are interesting and minute. Count Wm. Slavata, b. 1572, d. 1652, published several volumes in which he describes the stirring events of his day, in some of which, as in the historically famous ((fenes tration)" scene on the Hradiin in Prague, mark ing the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War, he was one of the main participants. Paul Skala, b. 1583 at Saaz, belonged to the burgher class. He wrote a 'Chronology of the Church,' a mere compilation, however. Lastly must be mentioned the voluminous writings of Jan Amos Komenslcy (or Comenifis), during the period both before and during the Thirty Years' War; those were mostly pedagogical or religious in tenor. His most pretentious book is 'Labyrint Sveta' (The Labyrinth of the World), of 1623. And then comes that long and un happy period in the annals of Czech literature w'aen it, together with the very language of Bohemia, came near being entirely obliterated, when it was suppressed and tabooed by the Austrian tyrants in Vienna. Toward the last quarter of the 18th century only do we see traces of a new life springing up. The Em peror Joseph II, an enlightened ruler, permitted the establishment of a Bohemian Society of Sciences. He also established a professorship of the Czech language at the University of Vienna, and later one at the University at Prague. Those were the beginnings of a literary resurrection for the Czech tongue as an idiom more than a mere rustic vehicle of intercourse and of Czech literature to boot. First in this new and amazingly fruitful period must be mentioned Joseph Dobrovsky, b. 1753,

d. 1829, the man chiefly instrumental in this process. He was a deeply learned philological scholar, not only of Bohemian but of all Slavic languages. His main work, a masterly gram mar of Czech, he wrote in German, as he did nearly all his works. But his 'History of the Bohemian Language and its Older Literature,' which followed some time after, in 1792, he himself rewrote in Czech, in 1818. And when the regular publication of the Journal of the Museum of the Bohemian Kingdom was pro posed, in 1827, he insisted it should appear solely in German. He was also a Jesuit priest and was by no means stirred by enthusiasm in his life work of fashioning Czech anew for the struggle for existence. On the contrary, he remained thoroughly dispassionate and on the whole disapproved of his countrymen's burning desire to look upon the whole task chiefly from the viewpoint of nationalism. For all that, Dobrovsky it was who dug out the Czech lan guage from the quagmire where it had been submerged so long and brought it to vigorous life again. Joseph Jfingniann, b. 1773, in his painstaking and wonderfully copious 'History of Bohemian Literature,' written all in Czech, as Czech now becomes once more the medium of thought for the Czechs, undertook a gigantic task in gathering in this work all the stray strands left of casual Czech writings during the past, especially the 150 years preceding. His dictionary, containing even many obsolete Czech words that be again included in the vocabulary, is unsurpassed in many respects even to-day. John Kollar, (1793-1852), b. in Mosovec, a Slovak village in northern Hungary, was for many years the pastor of the Protestant church in Pest; he advocated the literary unity of all Slav races. Later he held the chair of Slavic archmology at the University of Vienna. He was the author of (b. 10 Nov. 1810), died in 1836, in utter misery. He was one of the earliest Bohemian novelists of mark. His poetry was strongly imbued with the Byronic spirit, and Walter Scott formed his style of narrative. His chief work (MaP (May), a lyrical epic, and his group of tales, like 'The Gypsies,' survive him. Svatopluk Cech, b. in Ustredelc, Bohemia, in 1846, was successively editor and contributor of the periodicals (Pokrok,) zar) (Lumir,) (Kvety,' and has written many excellent tales, novels, humorous short stories and several volumes of bright verse. His chief works are Ziska,' (Vaclav 2 Michalovic,' (Jitrni pisne,> etc. Many judges consider him the equal of the best Thomas G. Masaryk, b. in Gading, Moravia, 1850, is chiefly a writer on sociological and political subjects. His writings, however, are nearly all in German; even his most sensational book, selbstmord als soziale Massenersch,' was translated in Czech only many years after its first appearance. His other chief works are den Hypnotismils,) d. Studium d. dicht. Werke,' (Grfindzfige einer konkreten Logik.> For many years he filled a chair in the Czech University at Prague. He has also been a great political radical leader of the Czech wple. At the outbreak of the great European War he fled to foreign parts, and was condemned to death for treason, in contumaciam. In 1918 he undertook a trip for purposes of political agita tion to the United States. Jan Rubei is the author of jsem Chech a kdo je (a Czech patriotic song became a sort of war hymn). Joseph V. Kamaryt (1797-1833) is the author of ; Jablonsky; (1813-81) ; J. Chmelensky and V. SOlc are all poets of deeply nationalistic tendencies. Other novelists and short story writers of distinction are the following: Bohilmie Havlasa (1852-77), author of (Still Waters' • Aloys Jirasek, b. 1851, the author of (At the Court of the Voyvoda' ; and Foreign Service' ; Sophia Podlipska (1833-97) ; Jan Neruda, 'Tales of Old Prague' • Gustav Pfleger Moraysky (1833-95), vivid tales; Jan Holly, a Slovak (1785-1849), author of an epic of the ancient glorious ruler of Moravia; J. E. Vocel (1802-71), 'Sword and Chalice,' a historical novel of the days of Ziska; Jaroslav Kalina (1816-47), a satirist and humorist; Jan P. Koubek (1805-54) ; Joseph J. Langer (1806-46), Aloys A. Smilovsky' (1g83333- 85), dramatic and lyric writings, both of excep tional quality; Joseph G. Staiikovskjo (1844 79), and Bishop,' 'The Patriots of the Booth); Karel Sabina (1814-77), one of the founders of the romantic novel in Bohemia, with Walter Scott as his model; Prokop Cholouiek Adalbert Hlinlca (pen name Francis Pravda); Benes TYebezky, author of many historical novels. Mrs. Bozena Nemcova deserves a word by herself. Her village tales have often been compared with those of Berthold Auerbach for their charm, but they are far more realistic. Her master piece, (Grandmother), has been translated into many languages. Emil Zibrt busied himself with the long-neglected subject of Bohemian folklore, publishing his results in (Cesky Lid' (The Bohemian People), of which he is the editor. His efforts are being ably seconded by Celakovsky, Suiil and Erben. Vrchlicky) (pen name for Emil Frida), born 1853, is one of the greatest living Bohemian writers. Of his many works, his 'Rok v Jihr0 CA Year in the South') and his (Ponti k Eldoradfi' ( to Eldorado') may be mentioned. He is also fertile as a dramatist 'Brothers' and (both tragedies founded on events in Bohemian his tory) deserve especial mention. He has like wise published many polished translations from the works of foreign, particularly early Italian, poets. His 'Moderni Basnici AngliZtP (Modern English Poets) is a volume of these. J. V. Slidek (b. 1845) has admirably translated Byron in metric form, also Coleridge and some Shakesperean plays. Julius Zeyer and Adol phus Heydiik are both poets and novelists of some distinction. Jacob Arbes (b. 1840) in his a volume of short novels pos sessing a distinctive flavor of their own, is very original. Eliika Krasnohorski (b. 1847) and Karolina Svetla (b. 1830), belong to the best women writers of modern Bohemia. The lat ter's admirable sketches from low life are un surpassed in realism and depth of feeling. Her novel in the Furnace' is certainly very good; and so is her (Zlato v ohni.> Her real name is Johanna Muialc. Jaroslav V1Zek is also worth noting among the better novelists. Among Bohemian historians of the day must also be mentioned V. Klgiek (1833-81), who has written a synchronous history of the Slavic peoples; ConstantineJiriEek (b. 1854), tory of the Bulgarians' ; Joseph Perwolf (1842 92), 'Mutuality among the Slays' ; Beda Dudik (1815-90), author of of Moravia'; Vincent Brandl (b. 1834), K. V. Zap (1812-72), (Bohemian-Moravian Chronicle); M. Kolar, J. Havelka.

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