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Joseph Szujski

B. at Tarnow, 1835; d. at Cracow, 1883

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Szujski, JOSEPH, b. at Tarnow, 1835; d. at Cracow, 1883. He studied at Tarnow, then at Cracow (1854) and at Vienna (1858-9). He began his career as a poet, and continued to write verses till the end of his brief and fruitful life. Apart from many short lyrical poems, his first attempts were dramatic: “Samuel Zborowski”, “Halszka of Ostrog”, and a translation of the “Agamemnon” of Aeschylus. Before his marriage (1861) he had also published his “Portraits, not by Van Dyck”, in which various types of Poles are characterized perhaps too roughly, but with acumen, often with accuracy. He began working at a manual of Polish history, publishing two volumes in 1862, but was presently convinced of the necessity of independent research, of which volumes three and four (1864-6) give good evidence. The calamitous insurrection of 1863 was a terrible blow to Szujski’s buoyant hopes for Poland‘s future, and he resolved to devote his whole life to seeking the causes of his beloved country’s misfortunes, with a view to her regeneration. At the time that he was publishing the poems: “The Servant of the Tombs”, “The Defense of Czestochowa”, and the dramas, “George Lubomirski” and “Wallas”, he placed himself in the front rank of Polish historians by his work, “Some Truths of our History” (1865). “No nation”, he said, “can fall save through her own fault, nor rise again, save by her own intelligent labor and spiritual activity”; and he most courageously indicated all Poland‘s faults, not however omitting the means of reformation. He founded the “Polish Review” (1866), and the next year brought out “Hedwige” and “Twardowski”, both dramas. When the use of the national language was restored in Cracow University, Szujski was named (1869) professor of Polish history; later, he was chosen rector. As early as 1872, he was the life and the moving spirit of the Academy of Sciences at Cracow in his capacity of secretary. About that time, for his researches were not confined to Poland, he published a sketch of the literary history of the non-Christian world; studies on Marcus Aurelius and on Lucian; translations from 2Eschylus and Aristophanes; “Maryna Mnischowna”, and “The Death of Ladislaus IV”, dramas of his own, together with several other works. After his rectorate (1879) Szujski was made a peer. But his health, which had always been precarious, now failed completely, and consumption set in. He continued to work, however, till he could work no more.

As a historian, Szujski ranks with Kalinka. He united the most ardent patriotism with a supreme love for truth and a remarkable comprehension of political situations and the characters of those who played their parts in them; consequently no one could explain so well as he the sequence of events and the causes which, for good or evil, influenced the nation. His history, first sketched in four volumes, from the sixteenth century on, was supplemented by three other volumes, entitled “Relations and Researches”; the most admirable parts being those dealing with the Renaissance and the Reformation. It has been said of him that “the historian killed the poet”; and indeed his attempts to force into his historical dramas every incident relative to their times in many cases impede their proper development; but he allowed history to dominate his art through a feeling of duty to his country. The lessons which he found in the annals of the nation he sought to reproduce upon the stage. He was himself well aware of his shortcomings, and believed his plays destined merely to pave the way for a simpler expression of patriotic feeling, without morbid sentimentality. Though sometimes lacking in style, due to the great amount of work which he undertook, Szujski was a great historian, a poet of high ideals and aspirations, and one to whom the Polish nation of the present day owes much.


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