Pavel Josef Šafařík

From New World Encyclopedia

Pavel Jozef Šafárik

Pavel Josef Šafařík, also known by the Slovak spelling of his name "Pavol Jozef Šafárik" (born May 13, 1795 in Kobeliarovo, Slovakia, then part of the Kingdom of Hungary – died June 26, 1861 in Prague, Czech Republic, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) was one of the major figures of the Czech and Slovak national revival movements and Slavic philologist of European acclaim.

Studies and work took him to several European countries, where he absorbed local culture while realizing the extent of Slavic oppression. While most of his fellow revivalists favored Russia as the head of Slavs, he defended the rights of individual Slavic nations in the formation of their national destiny and heritage. Coming from a poor, educated Protestant family, his father provided him with an early start in the world of learning. In the beginning of his career he wrote mostly poetry, which was soon replaced by science, literary history, history, and ethnography. Šafařík is known as the founder of Slavic ethnography.

In his scientific work he defended Slavs, who were downtrodden and considered inferior by their Austrian rulers. Since most of his greatest and most influential works were conceived in Prague, they were composed in the Czech language in order to resurrect the glory of the Czechs. For this reason, he is claimed as one of the greatest patriots by both Czechs and Slovaks. However, his ideas of the Slovak language as a vernacular of the Czech language used by Slovak Lutherans were quickly surpassed by demands for a new standard of the Slovak language. Šafařík also wrote in German.

A hard-working man with a large family, he experienced political repression and persecution, accentuated by poverty and dependence on the generosity of friends. Eventually he yielded to the external pressures and attempted to take his own life. He was rescued but died a year later. He is remembered as a man who loved truth, and who went to great pains to discover, prove and defend it.

It is said that what his fellow countryman Ján Kollár accomplished through his poetry, Šafárik did through his scientific work; both aimed at the promotion of the ideology of Pan-Slavism, which was the backbone of the patriotic movement of that time. Unlike Kollár and many Czech Slavists, Šafárik's concept of Pan-Slavism did not hinge on the adulatory worship of Russia; during the Polish uprising in 1830, Šafařík was the only leader of the national revivalist movement to take the side of the Poles.


“I never detested work, but I could not always follow the voice of my heart; mostly I had to act on duty and deprivation, and many a time did I shiver, even sink, under the weight of life." [1]

“The nation which, aware of the importance of a natural language to its higher spiritual life, condemns it and gives it up, commits suicide and violates God’s eternal laws.” [2]

Europe in the Eighteenth century

The Czech National Revival Movement (1800s to 1820s) was a reaction to the new ideological stream, Enlightenment, spreading from France and its encyclopedias authors such as Denis Diderot, D’Alambert, Voltaire, and Rousseau. Enlightenment is derived from two schools of thought – Rene DescartesRationalism, which introduced natural sciences, and John Locke’s Empiricism, which heralded Sensualism. It set in motion the disintegration of the feudal system and social reforms, which were to be achieved through reason and science that would surpass the religious dogma and political absolutism.

Enlightenment affected even European monarchs: Empress Maria Theresa introduced compulsory education, extended it to children from poor families, and separated it from the Church. Her son and successor Joseph II abolished serfdom in the Czech Lands and enacted freedom of religion. He also eliminated the censorship of the press. However, his brother and successor Leopold II was forced to revoke most of the previously instituted patents except the one that brought an end to serfdom and the existence of one religion. Leopold’s son Francis Joseph I took a radical, anti-revolutionary, course and introduced severe censorship and monitoring of foreigners’ activities.

The Czech National Revival Movement was marked by strong patriotism and, as a reaction to the enforcement of the German language as the official language of the centralized Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, anti-German sentiment. The focus was on rational thought and science, hence the flourishing of scientific literature. The Czech nation and equalization of its culture within the monarchy was the crucial goal in culture and politics. Initially these ideas were spread by patriotic priests and teachers.

The first, “defensive,” stage (1770s to 1800s), highlighted science, the Czech language, national history, and culture. This period also saw the development of editing and opening of scientific and educational institutions.

The second, “offensive,” stage, was influenced by Napoleonic Wars and nationalist movements in Europe. It was marked by the evolution of poetic and scientific language, expansion of vocabulary, study of history, rehabilitation of the Hussite heritage and other famous moments in the history of the Czechs, but also the creation of new values. Pre-Romantic enthusiasm and faith in the future of the nation was widespread, along with the resurrection of epic and international cooperation. Fundamentals of the Pan-Slavic program, which addressed the issues of all Slavs as a whole headed by the Russian Empire, were formed. This was when the leading figures of the movement — Pavel Josef Šafařík along with Josef Jungmann, Kollár, and František Palacký, were most active.

The third stage (1830s to 1850s) was distinctive by the culmination of nationalist activities, with their focus on the linguistic needs of the nation. The concept of Pan-Slavism underwent its first major crisis when the younger generation of Czech patriots realized the gap between the needs of Slavic nations and the despotism of Russian czarism. This disenchantment, intensified by the efforts of the German nationalist movement to unite Germany, which would include the heavy German population in the Czech Lands, grew into a new political definition of Slavism in 1840s — Austro-slavism — which replaced Kollár’s abstract concept of mutual cooperation among Slavs with the program of cooperation among oppressed Slavic nations within the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and transformation of the monarchy into a constitutional federal state, where Slavic needs would be addressed.

The Neo-Absolutism of the 1850s, under the reign of Emperor Francis Joseph I, stamped out all political rights and, consequently, brought the Czech political life to a halt. Political activism was thus assumed by national culture. When the Neo-Absolutist experiment ended, the Czechs rejected the Austro-Hungarian dualism; instead, they insisted on the formation of the Czech state.

Family Life and Education

Pavel Josef Šafařík's father was a teacher and Protestant clergyman in the east Slovakian municipality of Kobeliarovo. His mother, Katarína Káresová, came from a lower gentry family and juggled several jobs in order to help sustain the family. After her death in 1813, Šafárik's father married the widowed Rozália Drábová against the wishes of Pavel and his siblings.

His father, being well aware of his son's extraordinary talents, decided to bring him up as his successor. Pavel was sent to a Protestant educational institution in Kežmarok (1810 to 1814) following graduation from the high school in Rožňava and Dobšiná, and afterwards to university in Jena, Germany from 1815 to 1817. Šafárik, not being fond of theology, opted for the career as teacher, which brought him to Bratislava, the contemporary capital of Slovakia, where he worked as a tutor. Here he also met [František Palacký]]. In September of 1819 he assumed the position of high school director in Novi Sad, Serbia. In his 14 years of working in this city, Šafárik occupied himself with scientific research, so that when he moved to Prague in 1833, he was already a recognized expert.

In 1822, while in Serbia, Šafárik married the 19 year old Júlia Ambróziová, a highly intelligent member of Slovak lower gentry who spoke Slovak, Czech, Serbian, and Russian and encouraged her husband in his scientific efforts. They had 11 children, of which seven survived. The eldest son Vojtech, an accomplished chemist, wrote a biography of his father’s life Co vyprávěl P. J. Šafařík (What Šafařík Talked About). Daughter Božena married Josef Jireček, a Czech literary historian and politician and previously a tutor in Šafárik's family. Vojtech together with Božena’s son and husband penned a study entitled Šafařík mezi Jihoslovany (Šafárik among Yugoslavs).

Slovakia (1795 - 1815)

Šafárik spent his childhood in the Kobeliarovo region, known for its beautiful scenery and rich folk traditions. As his son Vojtech wrote in his book What Šafárik Talked About: "When, at the age of 7, his father showed him only one letter of the alphabet, he taught himself to read, and from that time on was always sitting on the stove and reading. By the age of eight, he had read the whole Bible twice, and among his favorite activities was preaching to his brothers and sister as well as to local people."

Between 1805 and 1808, Šafárik studied at junior high school, described by some sources as Protestant, and then at the Latin high school for older children in Rožnava, where he learned Latin, German, and Hungarian languages. For lack of finances, he had to continue his studies in Dobšiná for two years, because his sister lived there and gave him shelter. In the Slovakia of that time, no one could practice science successfully in the Kingdom of Hungary without having a good command of Latin, German, Hungarian, and Slovak. Since the school in Rožňava specialized in Hungarian language and the school in Dobšiná in German, and Šafárik was an excellent student, plus both schools were reputable, all prerequisites for a successful career were met by the time he was 15.

Between 1810 and 1814, he studied at the high school in Kežmarok, where he met Polish, Serbian and Ukrainian students and made an important friend of Ján Blahoslav Benedikti, with whom he read texts of Slovak and Czech national revivalists, especially those by Josef Jungmann. He also read Classical literature and texts on German aesthetics and became interested in Serbian culture. He graduated from philosophy, politics and law, and theology. What he learned here was a foundation for his future life, as he noted, and since it was a largely German school, it opened doors for a partial scholarship in university in Germany.

As a student, Safarik supported himself as a tutor. He also started publishing &ndash his first major work was a volume of poems The Muse of Tatras with a Slavonic Lyre published in 1814. The poems were written in the old-fashioned vernacular based on the Moravian Protestant translation of the Bible, the language the Slovak Lutherans used for published works. It was interspersed with Slovak and Polish words.

Germany (1815 - 1817)

In 1815 Šafárik took up studies at the University of Jena and converted from poetry to science. This university was selected based upon the wish of his father, who sponsored his son's studies there.

Here Šafárik attended lectures in history, philology, philosophy, and natural sciences. He read German poet, critic, theologian, and philosopher Johann Gottfried von Herder and philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte, as well as contemporary and classical literature. He translated into Czech Aristophanes' The Clouds and Schiller's Maria Stuart. In 1816 he joined Jena's Latin Society (Societas latina Jenensis). Seventeen of his poems appeared in Prvotiny pěkných umění in Vienna, which brought him fame both in Slovakia and Bohemia. He liked Jena; here he learned to apply scientific methods and found a lot of friends, such as Slovak writer Ján Chalúpka. Although Šafárik was an excellent student, he had to leave the university in May 1817 for unknown reasons, most likely the lack of finances.

On his way back to Slovakia, he stopped in Prague to search for a tutor position and ended up spending one month there. He joined the literary circle of the famous Czech national revivalists Josef Dobrovský, Josef Jungmann, and Václav Hanka.

Teaching and Writing Careers

Return to Slovakia (1817 - 1819)

Between the summer of 1817 and June of 1819, Šafárik worked as a tutor in Bratislava in the family of the well-known Gašpar Kubínyi. He befriended the founder of modern Czech historiography František Palacký, with whom he had already exchanged letters earlier. Palacký was also tutoring in Bratislava, the social and intellectual center of the Kingdom of Hungary. In the spring of 1819, Šafárik's circle of friends grew to include major Slovak writer and politician Ján Kollár.

In 1819, Benedikti helped him earn a Doctorate degree, necessary for the position of the headmaster of a newly established high school in Serbia's center of culture Novi Sad. Benedikti, together with some major Serbian figures, even manipulated the selection procedure to make sure that Šafárik, being the youngest and thus the least qualified applicant, landed the job.

Before he departed for Serbia, Šafárik spent some time in his hometown; the last time he was to see his native country.

Serbia (1819 - 1833)

In Serbia Šafárik held the position of headmaster and professor at the Serbian Orthodox high school in Novi Sad, then the southern part of the Kingdom of Hungary. Being the only non-Serbian professor, he taught mathematics, physics, logic, rhetoric, poetry, stylistics and classical literature in Latin, German, and even in Hungarian when Hungarization ("Magyarisation") intensified. From 1821 on, he also tutored in a family related to the Serbian patriarch – head of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Being a man of great intellectual acumen, he also found time to study Serbian literature and archeology. He acquired numerous rare, especially Old Slavic sacred books and manuscripts, which came handy later in Prague. He poured his love of his native country into a collection of Slovak folk songs and sayings, to which Kollár and others contributed. In 1826 followed Geschichte der slawischen Sprache und Literatur nach allen Mundarten – the first attempt at a systematic account of Slavic languages.

In 1824, the Austrian government prohibited employment of Protestants from the Kingdom of Hungary by the Serbian Orthodox Church, causing him to lose his job as headmaster, his chief source of income, at a time when his family had grown substantially. He looked for a professorial position in Slovakia but without luck.

Bohemia (1833 - 1861)

While in Novi Sad, Šafárik maintained contact with Czech and Slovak revivalists, especially with Kollár, but isolation in a foreign country was hard to bear. Only in 1833 was he able to move to Prague, after an unsuccessful search for a teaching or librarian tenure in Russia. It was Palacký, assisted by his influential friends in Prague, who made this possible through a promise to finance his sojourn in Prague, which was to become Šafárik’s adoptive homeland until his death. He literally depended, especially in the 1840s, on 480 florins annually, a stipend from his Czech friends under the condition that, as Palacký explicitly said, "From now on, anything you write, you will write in the Czech language only." Ironically, Šafárik became one of the leaders of the national revival movement in a country that was not his homeland.

Šafárik supported his meager income as an editor of the Světozor journal until poverty compelled him to accept the job of a censor of Czech publications in 1837, which he abandoned ten years later. For four years he was first editor, then director, of the journal Časopis Českého musea. In 1841 he became a custodian of the Prague University Library. He also edited the first volume of Vybor (selected works by early Czech writers), which came out under the auspices of the Prague Literary Society.

During the Revolution of 1848, he was mainly collecting material for books on old Slavic history. In the same year he assumed the post of head of the University Library of Prague and professor of Slavic Philology at the University of Prague, but resigned from the latter a year later. The reason for this resignation was that during the revolution he had participated in the Slavic Congress in Prague and fell under suspicion of Austrian authorities. He was one of the protagonists of the Congress. Other sources attribute this to the fact that he wanted to make possible the return of writer František Ladislav Čelakovský to Prague. During the political absolutism following the defeat of the revolution, he lived a secluded life and studied mostly older Czech literature and old Slavic sacred texts and culture.

Between 1856 and 1857, as a result of persecution anxieties, overwork, and ill health, Šafárik burned most of his correspondence with important Czech and Slovak figures, including Kollár. His poor health took a visible turn for the worse compounded by the stressful, suffocating atmosphere of Alexander von Bach’s political Neo-Absolutism and fears of police persecution. Exhaustion coupled with mental disease drove him to a suicide attempt at the age of 65 by jumping off the bridge into the river Vltava in Prague. He was rescued, but after this suicide attempt, he requested retirement from his post as University Library in 1860. Emperor Francis Joseph I put himself in, sending Šafárik a letter and granting him a pension that corresponded to his previous full pay. He died one year later, in Prague.

Voice of Slovakia

Slovanské starožitnosti

In Prague, Šafárik pioneered numerous fields of Slavic studies and published most of his works, especially his greatest, Slovanské starožitnosti (1837), devoted to the history of old Slavs. It describes the history of the Slavs from their origin to the end of the first millennium, backed by an extensive collection of material. It effectively proved their ancient origin and thus the irrefutable share in the formation of European culture and history. He lashed out against the view of Slavs as slaves and barbarians, the prevalent opinion voiced in German literature. On the contrary, Slavs were put on par with the Greeks, Romans, and Germans.

This was an important statement not only for Czechs but also for other small Slavic nations, struggling with the lack of national sovereignty and underestimation. It served as a point of reference for the Slavs during the Revolution of 1848. As the first major treatise on the culture and history of Slavs, it was translated into many languages and earned him European acclaim and scientific awards. This work soon became the textbook at Slavic departments of universities. The second edition, published in 1863 was edited by Jireček, but its expanded version was published only after Šafárik's death.

On Slovak language and Slovakia

In Hlasowé o potřebě jednoty spisowného jazyka pro Čechy, Morawany a Slowáky (Voices on the Necessity of a Unified Language Proper for the Czechs, Moravians and Slovaks) published by Kollár in 1846, Šafárik expressed criticisms of Ľudovít Štúr's introduction of the new standard of the Slovak language in 1843. Štúr namely replaced the previously employed Lutheran vernacular, which was closer to the Czech language. Slovak Catholics used a different vernacular.

Contrary to most of his Czech friends, Šafárik considered the Slovaks a separate nation from the Czechs, and he said so in his Geschichte der slawischen Sprache (Slavic Ethnology)… and in Slovanský národopis. However, he did not advocate a separate Slovak language, only the Slovak vernacular of it, as the language of Slovak literature.

Open political activities

Šafařík shunned open political activities, with an exception of 1848. He was working in Vienna on the commission for the reformation of education and cultivated contact with some government representatives, acting as a self-designated emissary of Czech liberal politics in Vienna. He submitted and publicly defended the requirement for education in the Czech language.



  • Ode festiva… , an ode to the baron and colonel Ondrej Máriassy, the patron of the Kežmarok high school on the occasion of his return from the war against Napoleon – 1814
  • Tatranská múza s lyrou slovanskou (The Muse of Tatra Mountains with the Lyre of Slavic Languages), inspired by Classical and contemporaneous European literature (Friedrich Schiller) and Slovak traditions and legends (Juraj Jánošík) – 1814

Scientific Works

  • "Promluvení k Slovanům" (“An address to the Slavs”) published in Prvotiny pěkných umění. Inspired by Herder and European national literatures, he appeals to Slovaks, Moravians, and Czechs to collect folk songs.
  • Počátkové českého básnictví, obzvláště prozodie (Origins of the Czech Poetry, Particularly Prosody). Co-authored by František Palacký. A criticism of contemporary Czech poetry. It made great demands on the Czech language and included masterpieces of Czech literature, thereby positively influencing its development. Published in 1818.
  • Novi Graeci non uniti ritus gymnasii neoplate auspicia feliciter capta. Adnexa est oratio Pauli Josephi Schaffarik – 1819
  • Písně světské lidu slovenského v Uhřích 1-2. Sebrané a vydané od P. J. Šafárika, Jána Blahoslava a jiných. (Secular Songs of the Slovak people in the Kingdom of Hungary. Collected and Published by P. J. Šafárik, Ján Blahoslav and others. – 1823– 1827
  • Národnie zpiewanky – Pisne swetské Slowáků v Uhrách (National Songbook – Secular Songs of Slovaks in the Kingdom of Hungary), co-authored by Kollár – 1834-1835
  • Geschichte der slawischen Sprache und Literatur nach allen Mundarten (History of the Slavic Language and Literature by all Vernaculars) – 1826
  • Über die Abkunft der Slawen nach Lorenz Surowiecki (On the Origin of Slavs according to Lorenz Surowiecki) – 1828
  • Serbische Lesekörner oder historisch-kritische Beleuchtung der serbischen Mundart (Serbian Anthology or Historical and Critical Elucidation of the Serbian Vernacular) – 1833
  • Slovanské starožitnosti (Slavonic Antiquities), his most important work – 1837 and 1865
  • Monumenta Illyrica (Monuments of Old Southern Slavic Literature) – 1839
  • Die ältesten Denkmäler der böhmischen Sprache... (The oldest Monuments of Czech Language…) together with Palacký – 1840
  • Slovanský národopis (Slavic Ethnology), second most important work. A complete account of Slavonic ethnology; contains basic facts on individual Slavic nations, their settlements, languages, ethnic borders, and a map that formally treats the Slavs as one nation divided into Slavic national units, 2 editions – 1842
  • “Počátkové staročeské mluvnice” (“Origins of Old Czech Grammar”), published in Výbor – 1845
  • Juridisch-politische Terminologie der slawischen Sprachen Oesterreich (Legal and Political Terminology of the Slavic languages in Austria), a dictionary written together with Karel Jaromír Erben. Šafárik and Erben were members of the committee for Slavic legal terminology in Austria by order of Alexander von Bach – 1850
  • Památky dřevního pisemnictví Jihoslovanů (Monuments of Old Literature of the Southern Slavs) – contains Old Slavonic sacred texts – 1851
  • Památky hlaholského pisemnictví (Monuments of the Glagolitic Literature) – 1853
  • Glagolitische Fragmente (Glagolitic Fragments), together with Höfler – 1857
  • Über den Ursprung und die Heimat des Glagolitismus (On the Origin and the Homeland of the Glagolitic Script) – 1858
  • Geschichte der südslawischen Litteratur 1-3 (History of Southern Slavic Literature), edited by Jireček – 1864–1865

Collected works

  • Sebrané spisy P. J. Šafaříka 1-3 – 1862–1863 and 1865

Collected papers

  • Spisy Pavla Josefa Šafaříka I – 1938


  1. November 11, 2005, "Šafařík Pavel Josef" Curriculum Vitaes, [1]
  2. Quotations[2]

External Links

All links retrieved November 22, 2022.


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