Portrait by Per Kraft, 1767. National Museum, Warsaw.
|Born||February 3 1735
|Died||March 14 1801 (aged 66),
|Occupation||Writer, Primate of Poland.|
Ignacy Krasicki (February 3, 1735 - March 14, 1801), from 1795, Archbishop of Gniezno (thus, Primate of Poland), was Poland's leading Enlightenment poet ("the Prince of Poets"), Poland's La Fontaine, author of the first Polish novel, playwright, journalist, encyclopedist, and translator from French and Greek. He was best known for his fables and parables. A fable is a brief, succinct story, in prose or verse, that features animals, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature which are anthropomorphized (given human qualities), and that illustrates a moral lesson (a "moral"), which may at the end be expressed explicitly in a pithy maxim.
A fable differs from a parable in that the latter excludes animals, plants, inanimate objects, and forces of nature as actors that assume speech and other powers of humankind.
Ignacy Krasicki was born in Dubiecko, on southern Poland's San River, into a family bearing the title of count of the Holy Roman Empire. He was related to the most illustrious families in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and spent his childhood surrounded with the love and caring solicitude of his own family. He attended a Jesuit school in Lwów, then studied at a Warsaw Catholic seminary (1751-54). In 1759, he took holy orders, and continued his education in Rome (1759-61). Two of his brothers also entered the priesthood.
Returning to Poland, Krasicki became secretary to the Primate of Poland and developed a friendship with the future King Stanisław August Poniatowski. When Poniatowski was elected king in 1764, Krasicki became his chaplain. He participated in the King's famous "Thursday dinners" and co-founded the Monitor, the preeminent Polish Enlightenment periodical, sponsored by the King.
In 1766, Krasicki was elevated to Prince-Bishop of Warmia, with the title of Prince and ex officio membership in the Senate of the Commonwealth. This office gave him a high standing in the social hierarchy and a sense of independence. It did not, however, prove a quiet haven. The chapter welcomed its superior coolly, fearing changes. At the same time, there were growing provocations and pressures from Prussia, preparatory to the seizure of Warmia in the First Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Krasicki protested publicly against external intervention. He also wished to save Warmia from civil war.
In 1772, as a result of the First Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, instigated by Prussia's King Frederick II ("the Great"), Krasicki became a Prussian subject. He did not, however, pay homage to Warmia's new leader.
He would now make frequent visits to Berlin, Potsdam, and Sanssouci at the bidding of Frederick, with whom he cultivated an acquaintance. This created a difficult situation for the poet-Bishop who, while a friend of the Polish King, was forced to maintain social and administrative contacts with the Prussian King. These realities could not but influence the nature and direction of Krasicki's subsequent literary productions, perhaps nowhere more so than in the Fables and Parables (1779).
Soon after the First Partition, Krasicki officiated at the 1773 opening of St. Hedwig's Cathedral, which Frederick had built for Catholic immigrants to Brandenburg and Berlin. In 1786, Krasicki was called to the Berlin Akademie der Künste (Arts Academy). His residences at Lidzbark and Smolajny became centers of artistic patronage.
In 1795, six years before his death, Krasicki was elevated to Archbishop of Gniezno (thus, Primate of Poland).
Krasicki was honored by the King of Poland with the Order of the White Eagle and the Order of Saint Stanisław, as well as with a special medal featuring the Latin device, "Signum laude virum musa vetat mori;" and by the King of Prussia, with the Order of the Red Eagle.
Upon his death in 1801, Krasicki was laid to rest in St. Hedwig's Cathedral in Berlin, which he had consecrated. In 1829, his remains were transferred to Poland's Gniezno Cathedral.
Krasicki's literary writings lent splendor to the reign of Poland's King Stanisław August Poniatowski, while not directly advocating the King's political program.
Krasicki, the leading representative of Polish classicism, debuted with the strophe-hymn, Święta miłości kochanej ojczyzny (Sacred Love of the Beloved Country). He was then about forty years old. It was thus a late debut that brought the extraordinary success of this strophe, a fragment of song IX of the mock-heroic poem, "Myszeidos" (Mouseiad, 1775). Krasicki here formulated a universal idea of patriotism, expressed in high style and elevated tone. The strophe would later, for many years, serve as a national hymn and see many translations, including three different ones into French.
The Prince Bishop of Warmia gave excellent Polish form to all the genres of European classicism. He also blazed paths for new genres. Prominent among these was the first modern Polish novel, Mikołaja Doświadczyńskiego przypadki (The Adventures of Nicholas Wisdom, 1776), a synthesis of all the varieties of the Enlightenment novel: the social-satirical, the adventure (à la Robinson Crusoe), the Utopian and the didactic. The novel is a tale of a certain Nicholas Wisdom (Mikołaj Doświadczyński), a Polish noble. Throughout his life in Warsaw, Paris and fictional Nipu island he gathers numerous experiences that lead him to rationalism. His life teaches him how to become a good man thus becoming a good citizen. Such a view, often underlined by Krasicki in his works, was an apology of the Age of Enlightenment and the idea of physiocratism. The Adventures of Mr. Nicholas Wisdom provides an interesting portrait both of the eighteenth century Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth society and the broader problems of the broader European culture.
Tradition has it that Krasicki's mock-heroic poem, "Monachomachia" ("War of the Monks," 1778), was inspired by a conversation with Frederick II at the palace of Sanssouci, where Krasicki was staying in an apartment once used by Voltaire. At the time, the poem's publication caused a public scandal.
The most enduring literary monument of the Polish Enlightenment is Krasicki's fables: Bajki i Przypowieści (Fables and Parables, 1779) and Bajki nowe (New Fables, published posthumously, 1802). The poet also set down his trenchant observations of the world and human nature in Satyry (Satires, 1779).
Other works by Krasicki include the novels, Pan Podstoli (Lord High Steward, published in three parts, 1778, 1784, and posthumously 1803), which would help inspire works by Adam Mickiewicz, and Historia (History, 1779); the epic, Wojna chocimska (The Chocim War, 1780, about the Khotyn War); and numerous other works, in homiletics, theology, and heraldry. He also published, in 1781, a two-volume encyclopedia, Zbiór potrzebniejszych wiadomości (A Collection of Needful Knowledge), the second Polish general encyclopedia after Nowe Ateny (The New Athens) of Benedykt Chmielowski. He wrote Listy o ogrodach (Letters about Gardens), and articles to the Monitor and to his own newspaper, Co Tydzień (Each Week). He translated Plutarch and Ossian into Polish.
Emulating the fables of the ancient Greek Aesop, the Polish Biernat of Lublin, and the Frenchman Jean de La Fontaine, and anticipating Russia's Ivan Krylov, the Pole Krasicki populates his fables with anthropomorphized animals, plants, inanimate objects, and forces of nature, in masterful epigrammatic expressions of a skeptical, ironic view of the world.
That view is informed by Krasicki's observations of humanity and of national and international politics in his day, notably the predicament of the expiring Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Just seven years earlier (1772), the Commonwealth had experienced the first of three partitions that would, by 1795, totally expunge the Commonwealth from the political map of Europe.
The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth would fall victim to the aggression of three powerful neighbors, much as, in Krasicki's fable of "The Lamb and the Wolves," the lamb falls victim to the two wolves. The First Partition had rendered Krasicki—an intimate of Poland's last king, Stanisław August Poniatowski—involuntarily a subject of that Partition's instigator, Prussia's King Frederick II ("the Great"). Krasicki would (unlike Frederick) survive to witness the final dismemberment of the Commonwealth.
Krasicki's parables (e.g., "The Blind Man and the Lame," "The King and the Scribes," and "The Drunkard"), while generally less striking than his fables, nonetheless point elegant moral lessons drawn from more quotidian human life.
The Fables and Parables are written as 13-syllable lines, in couplets that rhyme "aa bb."
Polish critics generally prefer Krasicki's more concise Fables and Parables (1779) over his later New Fables (published posthumously in 1802).
Below are examples of Krasicki's Fables and Parables (1779) in English translation by Christopher Kasparek.
There was once a young man whose temperance never flagged;
There was an old man, too, who never scolded or nagged;
There was a rich man who shared his wealth with the needy;
There flourished an author, for renown never greedy;
There was a customs man who did not steal; a cobbler who shunned alcohol;
A soldier who did not boast; a rogue who did not brawl;
There was a politician who never thought of self;
There was a poet who never put lies on his shelf.
"No, you'll never convince me that that's the right label!"
"Nevertheless, I will call all of this a fable."
A blind man was carrying a lame man on his back,
And everything was going well, everything's on track,
When the blind man decides to take it into his head
That he needn't listen to all that the lame man said.
"This stick I have will guide the two of us safe," said he,
And though warned by the lame man, he plowed into a tree.
On they proceeded; the lame man now warned of a brook;
The two survived, but their possessions a soaking took.
At last the blind man ignored the warning of a drop,
And that was to turn out their final and fatal stop.
Which of the two travelers, you may ask, was to blame?
Why, 'twas both the heedless blind man and the trusting lame.
Eagle, not wishing to incommode himself with chase,
Decided to send hawk after sparrows in his place.
Hawk brought him the sparrows, eagle ate them with pleasure;
At last, not quite sated with the dainties to measure,
Feeling his appetite growing keener and keener—
Eagle ate fowl for breakfast, the fowler for dinner.
"Why do you weep?" inquired the young siskin of the old,
"You're more comfortable in this cage than out in the cold."
"You were born caged," said the elder, "this was your morrow;
"I was free, now I'm caged—hence the cause of my sorrow."
Lion, in order to give evidence of his grace,
Invited his intimates to join him in the chase.
They hunted together, and as token of favor
Lion ate meat and let his comrades the bones savor.
His beneficence having thus become established,
Inasmuch as to show them more favor yet he wished,
That they might more fully appreciate their leader,
Lion gave them leave to devour one of their number.
After the first, a second, a third, a fourth vanished.
Seeing the beasts grown fat, lion though scarcely famished,
So's to restrain their predations and blot out his shame,
Ate them one and all in justice and decorum's name.
Espying a worm in the water, the little fish
Did greatly regret the worm could not become his dish.
Up came a pike and made his preparations to dine;
He swallowed both worm and hook, which he failed to divine.
As the angler pulled ashore his magnificent prize,
Quoth the little fish: "Sometimes good to be undersize."
"Why do I freeze out of doors while you sleep on a rug?"
Inquired the bobtail mongrel of the fat, sleek pug.
"I have run of the house, and you the run of a chain,"
The pug replied, "because you serve, while I entertain."
The weak, if they're wise, will not take umbrage at the strong!
A bee, confident in the grievousness of her sting,
Approached an elephant as he grazed in the meadow,
Paying no attention to his wee apian fellow.
Bee resolved to chastise him and proceeded to sting.
What happened? The bee died, the elephant felt nothing.
The dog barked all the night, keeping the burglar away;
It got a beating for waking the master, next day.
That night it slept soundly, and did the burglar no harm;
He burgled; the dog got caned for not raising alarm.
Aggression ever finds cause if sufficiently pressed.
Two wolves on the prowl had trapped a lamb in the forest
And were about to pounce. Quoth the lamb: "What right have you?"
"You're toothsome, weak, in the wood."—The wolves dined sans ado.
The sheep was praising the wolf for all his compassion;
Hearing it, fox asked her: "How is that? In what fashion?"
"Very much so!" says the sheep, "I owe him what I am.
He's mild! He could've eaten me, but just ate my lamb."
Having spent at the bottle many a night and day,
The ailing drunkard threw his mugs and glasses away;
He declared wine a tyrant, reviled beer, cursed out mead.
Then, his health restored... he'd no longer abstinence heed.
Translated from the Polish by Christopher Kasparek.
Note on the translations:
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Krasicki's major works won European fame and were translated into Latin, French, German, Italian, Russian, Czech, Croatian, Slovene, and Hungarian, among others. The broad reception of his works was sustained throughout the nineteenth century.
Krasicki has been the subject of works by poets of the Polish Enlightenment—Stanisław Trembecki, Franciszek Zabłocki, Wojciech Mier—and in the twentieth century, by Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński. He has been the hero of prose works by Wincenty Pol, Adolf Nowaczyński, and Henryk Sienkiewicz.
|Primate of Poland
Archbishop of Gniezno
1795 – 1801
All links retrieved June 26, 2014.
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