Adam Mickiewicz

Adam Mickiewicz: The Life of a Romantic

Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 568
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    Adam Mickiewicz
    Book Description:

    Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855), Poland's national poet, was one of the extraordinary personalities of the age. In chronicling the events of his life-his travels, numerous loves, a troubled marriage, years spent as a member of a heterodox religious sect, and friendships with such luminaries of the time as Aleksandr Pushkin, James Fenimore Cooper, George Sand, Giuseppe Mazzini, Margaret Fuller, and Aleksandr Herzen-Roman Koropeckyj draws a portrait of the Polish poet as a quintessential European Romantic.

    Spanning five decades of one of the most turbulent periods in modern European history, Mickiewicz's life and works at once reflected and articulated the cultural and political upheavals marking post-Napoleonic Europe. After a poetic debut in his native Lithuania that transformed the face of Polish literature, he spent five years of exile in Russia for engaging in Polish "patriotic" activity. Subsequently, his grand tour of Europe was interrupted by his country's 1830 uprising against Russia; his failure to take part in it would haunt him for the rest of his life. For the next twenty years Mickiewicz shared the fate of other Polish émigrés in the West. It was here that he wrote Forefathers' Eve, part 3 (1832) and Pan Tadeusz (1834), arguably the two most influential works of modern Polish literature. His reputation as his country's most prominent poet secured him a position teaching Latin literature at the Academy of Lausanne and then the first chair of Slavic Literature at the Collége de France. In 1848 he organized a Polish legion in Italy and upon his return to Paris founded a radical French-language newspaper. His final days were devoted to forming a Polish legion in Istanbul.

    This richly illustrated biography-the first scholarly biography of the poet to be published in English since 1911-draws extensively on diaries, memoirs, correspondence, and the poet's literary texts to make sense of a life as sublime as it was tragic. It concludes with a description of the solemn transfer of Mickiewicz's remains in 1890 from Paris to Cracow, where he was interred in the Royal Cathedral alongside Poland's kings and military heroes.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6052-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-XIV)
    (pp. XV-XVIII)
  5. CHAPTER ONE CHILDHOOD (1798–1815)
    (pp. 1-8)

    As family legend would have it, on 24 December 1798/6 January 1799,* a midwife lay Mikołaj and Barbara Mickiewicz’s second-born on a book and cut his umbilical cord, hoping in this way to “predestine him to be an intelligent man.” Where, exactly, this happened—an inn? a home?—will probably never be known, but if it did, it was somewhere on or near a farmstead called Zaosie in a far northeastern corner of Europe known then as Lithuania. The midwife’s superstitious gesture would prove providential.¹

    Adam Mickiewicz was born and raised in what is now western Belarus, at the time...

  6. CHAPTER TWO YOUTH (1815–1824)
    (pp. 9-55)

    On 12/24 September 1815, “his head filled with stories about bandits,” the sixteen-year-old Mickiewicz set out from Nowogródek in a Jewish wagonnette for the day-long trip to Vilnius. Within a few days of his arrival there, he registered at the university and settled in with a distant relative, who also happened to be the dean of the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics. Mickiewicz was to live in the university-owned building for the next two years. Before long he became fast friends with a few of its other young residents, like him petty gentrymen from the provinces for whom a university...

  7. CHAPTER THREE EXILE (1824–1829)
    (pp. 56-118)

    After a journey of two weeks, Mickiewicz, Malewski, Jeżowski, Sobolewski, and Pietraszkiewicz arrived in St. Petersburg on 9/21 November 1824, two days after the Neva had inundated the city. The devastation of the flood notwithstanding—thousands were killed and hundreds of buildings damaged—the city filled the young men with awe:

    One can’t compare it with anything. The magnificence of the various buildings, their number and beauty surpasses the imagination, the wide streets, the sidewalks covered with dressed stone, the granite lining the canals and banks of the Neva astonish with their size. I who, I think, know how to...

    (pp. 119-158)

    The first two letters Mickiewicz sent from the West were to Malewski and Szymanowska. The one to Malewski avoided sentimentality. It boasted, rather, of the poet’s ability to fend for himself: to get a carriage to Lübeck; to haggle when necessary; to exchange currency “with all the cold-bloodedness of a banker” (ducats, it appears, were at a premium). Everything Mickiewicz reported seeing or doing was new and interesting and exciting—“in a word, a real tourist.” The letter to Szymanowska was demonstratively nostalgic, full of longing for the familiar: “I myself wanted this trip and I’m not lamenting my fate...

    (pp. 159-181)

    Mickiewicz left Rome on 19 April 1831 in the company of Sobolevskii, a Russian prince, his Polish wife, their son, their painter, and another Russian. He was “sad” to leave a city that he had come to “love like a second fatherland.” The poet’s immediate destination was Geneva; but beyond that, he was still uncertain. On the eve of his departure, Mickiewicz had said good-bye to Henrietta with a gift of Byron, in which he underlined the poem “Farewell! If Ever Fondest Prayer”:

    My soul nor deigns nor dares complain Though Grief and Passion there rebel: I only know we...

  10. CHAPTER SIX EMIGRATION (1832–1834)
    (pp. 182-224)

    Although they were all traveling as private citizens, Mickiewicz and his companions were greeted no less effusively by the natives of Saxony, Bavaria, and Baden than the thousands of emigrating veterans who had preceded them over the previous ten months. “At every stop,” recalled Aleksander Jełowicki, one of the young officers accompanying the poet,

    committees organized by friends of Poland . . . would greet us. A Pole could make his way from the first German town to France without a penny; in every town his needs were seen to and the [Polish national anthem] was sung to see him...

    (pp. 225-252)

    In the late fall of 1833, Mickiewicz received a visit from his old Petersburg acquaintance Dr. Stanisław Morawski. Besides precious news of mutual friends in Russia—Malewski settling in with his new wife Helena Szymanowska; Pietraszkiewicz exiled to Tobolsk; Zan still in Orenburg; Czeczot languishing in poverty in Tver—Morawski brought Mickiewicz a proposition, hatched, it seems, together with Helena Szymanowska. The proposition was simple: would Mickiewicz consider marrying her sister Celina. As far as the poet was concerned at the time, or so he assured Odyniec, the whole thing was less than serious and he responded in kind, with...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT ACADEME (1839–1841)
    (pp. 253-280)

    The trip to Lausanne was leisurely, taking the Mickiewiczes through Dijon, Besançon, and Geneva. This was Celina’s first excursion outside of the Department of the Seine since her arrival in Paris five years earlier; that she “had not a spot of the trouble with the children that [she]’d been expecting” seems to have made it all the more enjoyable. For Mickiewicz, the journey was an opportunity to relax and take stock. Like the group of émigrés that had organized an ambivalently heartfelt farewell for him on the eve of his departure, he understood that his decision to go to Lausanne—...

    (pp. 281-355)

    On 15 December 1840, close to a million people gathered on a route from the Arc de Triomphe to the Invalides, stamping their feet in the fourteen-degree cold, to witness the arrival of Napoleon’s remains from St. Helena. Like most of his fellow émigrés, Mickiewicz watched entranced as the towering catafalque drawn by sixteen magnificent horses carried the remains of the emperor past plaster statues of French heroes and kings, smoking braziers, and escutcheons inscribed with the names and dates of his victories. And right then and there, “in broad daylight,” the poet had a vision (or so he later...

  14. CHAPTER TEN SCISSION (1846–1848)
    (pp. 356-375)

    Mickiewicz arrived in Paris on 10 April 1846. Four days later—it happened to be the Tuesday after Easter, the fifth since the foundation of the Circle of God’s Cause—Sister Alix Mollard called a meeting of the brethren, during which Brother Adam was to make some sort of restitution. For whatever reason, Sister Alix was not satisfied. She accused the poet of having “introduced Satan into the Circle.” Anyone, she threatened, unwilling to “recognize the Sisters surrounding the Master as Holy” would be “crushed.” Mickiewicz responded by announcing that he was breaking with the Circle.¹

    “Just like a plant,...

    (pp. 376-417)

    The journey from Paris to Marseilles took over two weeks, “more on foot than by carriage,” as Mickiewicz would later recall. From Marseilles it was another two days by boat to Civitavecchia, where as Poles he and Geritz had their passports stamped for free by “sympathetic” Italians—a good thing, no doubt, since upon his arrival in Rome on 7 February the poet had only nine paoli (about five francs) to his name; as always, he was certain “that God would provide.”¹

    After a few days in the Hotel di Minerva—and a futile search on Geritz’s part in the...

    (pp. 418-438)

    On the eve of the declaration announcing his resignation from the editorial board of La Tribune des Peuples, Mickiewicz decided to break his six-year, Towiański-induced silence to Ignacy Domeyko. “We write to you in difficult times,” he confided to his friend in Chile,

    from amidst fog and storm. God’s disfavor continues to hang over us and our Fatherland. . . . The eruption in France that we had foreseen and predicted has ended, plunging the world again into darkness. The emigration is paying dearly for the pride and impudence with which it made such a fuss here. . . The...

    (pp. 439-462)

    In May 1851, as Mickiewicz retreated from the public arena after his frenzy of activity in 1848–1849, Zygmunt Krasiński predicted to one of his correspondents, “Just wait and see, he’ll soon throw himself once again into something else with fervor.” It would take another four years, but Krasiński once again proved that there were few who understood Mickiewicz better.¹

    On 28 April 1855, an embittered Italian patriot took a shot at Napoleon III as he was riding down the Champs Élysées. A week later, Mickiewicz joined Prince Adam Czartoryski and a handful of his loyal followers in a visit...

    (pp. 463-476)

    On 27 June 1890, as a delegation of dignitaries from Poland, a handful of émigrés, and surviving members of Mickiewicz’s family looked on, the poet’s remains were disinterred in preparation for their translation to Poland. Upon opening the coffin, the gravediggers found

    a covering of rotten grass . . . , which [they] began to rake away with pitchforks and to place into wheelbarrows. After two or three more clumps of soppy grass were moved, a pair of shoes appeared and then the skull . . . and the remains, which were difficult to examine satisfactorily on account of the...

  19. NOTES
    (pp. 477-518)
    (pp. 519-534)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 535-550)