The Life of a Romantic
Publication Year: 2008
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.
Published by: Cornell University Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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Upon hearing of Adam Mickiewicz’s death in Istanbul in 1855, his sometime friend and rival Zygmunt Krasin´ski proclaimed, “We all stem from him.”1 Like all of his fellow Poles, Krasinski understood at that moment that with his works, no less than through his tempestuous life, Mickiewicz had come to define the very essence of modern...
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1. Childhood (1798–1815)
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As family legend would have it, on 24 December 1798/6 January 1799,* a midwife lay Mikołaj and Barbara Mickiewicz’s secondborn 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...
2. Youth (1815–1824)
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On 12/24 September 1815, “his head fi lled 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...
3. Exile (1824–1829)
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After a journey of two weeks, Mickiewicz, Malewski, Jez˙owski, 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:...
4. The Grand Tour (1829–1831)
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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...
5. Crisis and Rebirth (1831–1832)
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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...
6. Emigration (1832–1834)
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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...
7. Domesticity (1834–1839)
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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...
8. Academe (1839–1841)
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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...
9. Sectarianism (1841–1846)
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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...
10. Scission (1846–1848)
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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...
11. Politics (1848–1849)
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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...
12. Hibernation (1849–1855)
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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, Towian´ski-induced silence to Ignacy Domeyko. “We write to you in difficult times,” he confided to his friend in Chile,...
13. Rebirth and Death (1855)
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In May 1851, as Mickiewicz retreated from the public arena after his frenzy of activity in 1848–1849, Zygmunt Krasin´ski 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 Krasinski once again proved that there were few who...
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Among the herbs, the workers also came across “a metal figurine of Christ, from a cross, apparently, with its right arm broken off, as well as a rusty copper coin...and a white porcelain button, which objects Władysław Mickiewicz kept as mementos.” With the transferal completed, the gravediggers immediately set to cutting up the original zinc coffin...
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Page Count: 568
Publication Year: 2008